Interview: Singer/songwriter Scott McQuaig
Perhaps best known for his country-radio hit “Honky Tonk Amnesia,” veteran singer/songwriter Scott McQuaig has just released a new album, .
Q: What was your introduction to music? How old were you, and how did it affect you?
A: My first introduction to music was probably the jukebox in my grandfather’s restaurant, and at the same time the radio in my mother’s car. As a small kid, probably 6 or 7 years old, I heard everything from Ray Price to The Supremes. Looking back, growing up in Mississippi in the 1960’s gave me a broad appreciation of many kinds of music. Whether it was white country music on the jukebox or black soul music on the radio, I was fascinated and enjoyed both worlds.
Q: Did you grow up in a musical environment?
A: I did not really grow up in a musical environment. My mother played the piano some, and my sisters took piano lessons. When I was twelve I began taking guitar lessons from Carl Fitzgerald, a local disc jockey on AM country radio. Carl was the best in my hometown you could take from – I’m told he also taught Paul Davis and Steve Forbert – and he was very influential in my development as a country music player. It wasn’t until I was 18 or 19 years old that I got serious about the guitar and started writing songs. A particular moment that inspired me to write was hearing for the first time “That’s Why I’m Blue” by another Meridian native and Father of Country Music, Jimmie Rodgers. I wanted to learn that opening riff, and once I did it opened me wide up to start playing and writing.
Q: What styles of music had the greatest impact on you creatively?
A: Country music of the 60’s and 70’s had the biggest impact on me, because that’s what I was listening to when I was learning to play guitar. The delta blues ended up being a big influence on me as well, because growing up in Mississippi it is hard for a musician to escape the blues. I was particularly fascinated with Muddy Waters’ voice and electric guitar sound. My 2012 album, I’m Still Falling, contains a lot of songs with a blues sound. While I still consider it a country album, the idea was to present music that you’d hear if you came out to hear us play in the juke joints of Mississippi.
Q: How would you describe your musical style?
A: Describing my musical style is difficult because I’ve blended so many different styles that have influenced me. I sometimes call it “Country Contraband.” If you really tried to nail me to comparisons with other artists, it would be like Merle Haggard, John Hiatt, and Sonny Landreth going out and partying together. My vocal style comes from Merle more than from anywhere else. When I’m having writer’s block, John Hiatt is my go to because he’s such a brilliant songwriter. As a guitar player, my style of slide guitar is heavily influenced by Sonny Landreth, who is hands-down my favorite guitar player.
Q: What are your goals, artistically speaking?
A: First and foremost, my goal is to be a better songwriter. The goal of writing a good song is constantly moving, because there’s always a motive to push myself to the next level and write better songs. I also strive to be a great musician and to capture in the studio what my band does in its live performances. There’s an energy in a live performance that is sometimes hard to convey through a studio performance, but I think we’ve been able to achieve that and will continue to strive for that on future albums. Ultimately, my artistic goals are to be as honest with myself as I musically can. Years ago, I was the product of a major label where someone else determined what songs made it on an album and what kind of path my career would take. Having complete creative control enables me to be happy with what I’m doing, and if folks like it that’s just icing on the cake.
Q: When did you decide to be a musician, and what fueled this passion?
A: I started writing when I was 17 or 18 and never really had any plans to do more than write songs for someone else to record. I was a machinist by trade and played in bands on the side When I was 28 I won the Jimmie Rodgers talent competition and was approached about the possibility of a record deal. Within a year I found myself in Nashville recording with some of the best studio musicians in the industry, and not long afterward there was touring to support the album. I never set out to be a recording artist, but I was fortunate to have the opportunities that came my way and change the direction of my life. Those opportunities helped me realize that I could do more than than just write for others, and music has been my passion ever since.
Q: What artists influenced you the most growing up?
A: My biggest influence was Haggard, but I also listened a lot to Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and George Strait. Haggard’s tribute to Jimmie Rogers, Same Train, Different Time, and Willie’s Red Headed Stranger were major for me. The bottom beat of Waylon’s music and his soulful singing style were also huge in shaping how I wanted to sound.
Q: How have you evolved creatively?
A: I think I have become more comfortable with being myself and not worrying about what other people think or say. Don’t worry if you’re doing something right or wrong. Trust your gut feelings and let it go. These philosophies have enabled me to evolve as a musician overall, but especially as a guitar player. For many years people saw me as just a singer/songwriter because that’s what I did on my first album. After returning home from touring and being primarily a rhythm player, I was able to focus more on my playing. As my influences like Reggie Young and Sonny Landreth began to shape my playing and as I worked to develop my style and tone, I started getting really interesting results. More than anything, my guitar playing has evolved and developed into something that I am very proud of.