Nancy Apple, Doing Good in Memphis
Years ago at a music conference in Memphis, I met Nancy Apple and asked her about Al Green’s church in town. She kindly brought me there that Sunday on my way to the airport. Seeing the legendary singer on the pulpit was an experience I will always remember.
Bill Frater: What got you started in the music business and when and why?
Nancy Apple: I have always had music in me. I don’t remember a time without it being important. Memphis has always been home, no matter where I lived in the world. Its music is in every street, every building, every school, every park and playground, it’s just everywhere. It’s in the way people talk, live, dress, and act. Sure I did other stuff but only until I figured out that the other stuff was just doing me in.
What do you do now and how do you describe your music?
I write songs, I perform them when I get gigs, and I make records when enough gigs have been done so I can pay for a record. It’s Memphis music. Folk music. An acquired taste. A prescription diet. You will either love it or hate it and I can give you all the reasons for either.
Where and when did you start in radio?
I have only been a DJ at WEVL in Memphis – but have been there 20 years. I used to do two shows a week in the early days, and now I do Mondays from 4-6 p.m. It’s called CarTunes. When I was a kid, my big sister Sherry was a DJ in the Philippines for Armed Forces Radio when she was in high school. She sounded older than she was, and I often hung out with her and helped her pick out records. She was 17-19ish at the time. I was 9-11ish. Her show was called the “Middle Of The Road” show and it was broadcast all over Southeast Asia.
How do you describe your show?
I play what I want – free style – from Memphis music to twang and stuff all over the map. Depends on what kind of mood I am in, what mood my callers let me know they are in, the weather! I often play lots of singer/songwriters and I always play those songs I wish I had written myself. Lots of Dylan sometimes. Lots of Rob McNurlin sometimes. Lots of Al Green other times.
How do you prepare for your shows and do you have theme shows?
I sometimes do theme shows during pledge drive – but more often than not a spontaneous theme may occur. Songs by guys named John. Songs about Cadillacs. Not to sound like a slacker, but after 20 years, I don’t prepare like I used to. I keep it sort of like my recording technique. Just jump in there over at Sun Records and see what happens. Let the day, or the hour, play itself out.
How much new releases and independent artists do you play?
I say mostly indies or smaller indie labels – although I will take anything Wille Nelson or Bob Dylan or Dwight Yoakam will toss my way. I am very backed up on records that artists send me to listen to, that by the time I get around to playing them they are probably old releases. I can’t help it. I have a lot going on. I tend to put the artists I know on the top of the stack. Ones that are comfortable to me like an old flannel cowboy shirt. But, on the other hand, once in a blue moon I have a free block of time and I toss in new bands I am unfamiliar with and I am usually pleasantly surprised.
What was the first artist or album that got you into roots music?
As an artist, I come from a pop, punk, and rock and roll background. I really liked when Dwight Yoakam came on to my radar. I totally related to what he did. Also ZZ Top stuff that leaned toward country, like “She’s A Heartbreaker.” I’ve always loved George Jones, Merle, Buck – but also Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. So, I let my radio show bounce around just like my own tastes – much like radio was when I was growing up.
Who are your favorite artists?
I lean toward soul for my favorites – Carla Thomas, Al Green, Otis Redding. As far as Americana goes, I can’t define it because it seems to be ever changing and becoming more corporately driven. I like artists who don’t fall under any certain category except that they are exceptionally good.
How do you define what Americana music is?
Americana is a name given to musicians and bands who do what they do, but don’t fall in to any other box that is readily recognizable to the masses. It’s just a word, like peanut butter. There is creamy and smooth, regular and crunchy and extra crunchy and natural and organic and blah blah blah. It’s all peanut butter. It’s all music. I have trouble with boundaries inside boxes. I think that limits and inhibits the growth as an artist. To me personally, it’s all folk music when you break it down to vocals and one instrument.
Where do you see Americana radio, or radio in general, going in the future?
I have no idea, but I hope for a day when radio can be many styles, formats, and all music live together in peaceful harmony. The station I am with is pretty much like that.
What recent albums or artists are you excited about?
The last newish release I loved was Mavis Staples’ Livin’ On A High Note. An old friend had the title cut. I think Kevin Gordon has a new one, Long Gone Time, but not sure if it’s in my stack yet. I love just about anything he does. And my old pal Rob McNurlin has a new one coming out next year that I am looking forward to because we talked a few times after the end of the day of him tracking. Producer Kenny Vaughn has him out of his comfort zone, got him rockin’ harder. Oh, and I loved the Loretta Lynn record Full Circle that came out in March. My pal Mark Marchetti wrote “Lay Me Down” that she sang with Willie Nelson. It’s simply spectacular.
Do you have any other interesting hobbies or interests you wish to share?
Gosh, I am a girl that does a lot of stuff. I am also a visual artist. I take old unplayable or -repairable stringed instruments and turn them into assemblage art. Being a songwriter, I try to figure out the story that the guitar has in it that it wants to tell. Kids’ guitars, old Martin faces, broke-down beaten-up instruments I find in trash piles. Everything has a story behind it, and I tell it visually. I run my own record label, Ringo Records, where I put out my own albums. I also put together a tribute album to my late friend Audrey Auld, a fellow singer-songwriter originally from Australia, who passed away after a battle with cancer. It’s called Just Love: A Tribute to Audrey Auld Mezera.
How do you want to be remembered?
As Nancy Apple. Someone who saw the good in the worst. Someone who made the worst the best.