Rod Melancon’s SXSW Debut Fulfills Dreams and Brings New Vision
Sometime in 2007, Louisiana native, Rod Melancon flew into L.A. determined to launch an acting career. But, the Gods of roots music were looking out for him and had other plans. They reached down into his small-town Louisiana soul and shook out his love for his home, his family and friends. What followed became the stuff Americana music is made of. He had a country music Damascus road vision when he gifted his grandfather with Hank Williams Greatest Hits for Christmas while on a family vacation. As he saw his grandfather’s tears while listening to the legendary hillbilly bard, Melancon’s life was transformed. He soon found himself unearthing his own country songs from his 22 year-old psyche. He wrote like he’d just found gold. In a sense he had. The treasure was his own writer’s voice found deep within the earth of his Cajun ancestry. He also heard the haunting voices of country songwriters past offering a dream for his own future. His journey forward to Austin last week gave him a new vision for his own life. He would be a songwriter to be reckoned with no matter where he lived. Conventional wisdom would suggest a move to Austin or Nashville, but Melancon remained in Los Angeles and continued mining for gold in the seclusion of small apartments and in the community of Sonora Recorders with great studio session musicians like Don Heffington, Chad Watson, Vern Monnett and Dean Parks . In time, rather than going to them, both Nashville and Austin came to him with invitations to record and perform.
The early years of his history is still being written in the studios of Nashville and on Los Angeles and Austin stages. After his critically successful debut 2012 album, My Family Name, Melancon met Jamey Johnson’s producer, Dave Cobb. A collaboration ensued that led to session work with Jamey Johnson’s band in Nashville. The results can be heard on the new EP, Mad Talkin’ Man. The title song and the soul classic, “Mercy Mercy,” represent not so much a departure from the strong hard-core country leanings of My Family Name as they do an attempt to dig deeper into his roots with a strong focus on the rough and rugged, rockier end of the country tradition. The Nashville Mad Talkin Man sessions sound like Gene Vincent or Eddie Cochran introduced themselves to a young Merle Haggard and garage jammed for hours with a pint of White Lightening.
In a recent interview in Today’s Country Melancon was asked about the title song of the EP, “Mad Talkin’ Man.” He said, “The the sound is much grittier and true to the stories. I always wanted to write something loud and mean but was nervous to pursue it. Producer Dave Cobb really brought that out of me. I owe him a lot. He musically changed my life.”
To top things off for what is beginning to look like a whirlwind ride into a successful music career, Melancon was invited to appear at South by Southwest in Austin this year. On Thursday, March 14th he played with bass player, Ben Reddell at the Grand Ole Austin. Included along with Melancon and Reddell was actress, singer-songwriter, Ronee Blakley, the Carper Family, Brennen Leigh and Ted Russell Camp.
This week on March 21st, Rod Melancon will be headlining at The Satellite in Los Angeles’ Echo Park district. Benn Reddell, who will be on bass with Melancon, will be releasing his own EP on March 25. They will appear with Australia’s own Chris Pickering and Southern Tier featuring Mark Lennon and Coutney Sudbrink.
Below are some highlights of a recent interview with Melancon regarding this surge in his career and his first professional trip to Austin, Texas:
TR: What is the scene in Austin this week? How did it feel to you?
RM: Just going into those old venues and bars I could feel the presence of the ones I look up to so much. I went to a place called the Horseshoe Lounge. I felt like I had stepped back in time to the early seventies. I expected to see Willie Nelson around looking youthful and willing. Everyone was dressed like Charlie Daniels, but they were in there 20s and 30s.
TR: You’re finding a lot of kindred spirits there?
RM: Besides the shows and seeing old friends and family that was the highest point to me. I talked to folks about George Jones and early Emmylou Harris records. They had the same intensity about all these things that I hold close. It was amazing. For all I know maybe i did step into some kind of time traveling vortex.
TR: Who have you met that have had an impact on you this week?
RM: I met Waylon Payne. He plays Jerry Lee Lewis in Walk the Line. He was at the show I did on Friday. After we met I walked behind him and said, “She knows…She knows,” a line from the movie. He looked at me and said “She knows!” Then with a smile he said “I love you man”. It was cool.
TR: How were the shows you performed in?
RM: They went great! It felt good to walk around after and be approached by folks who said such good things and meant it.
TR: I hear you went all Kerouac and did a road trip from L.A. to Austin.
RM: I drove down here with Ben Reddell(who played bass). We drove it all the way through. All we had to listen to were these old Keith Whitley cassette tapes. But that was okay. Thanks to Shilah Morrow and Eddie Gomez the experience was great. Also, I have special gratitude for Kim Grant, Julie Richmond and Matt Farber for support this week. I also talked film with Ronee Blakley while drinking margaritas. This was a good trip. Maybe it was Austin’s way of saying ‘thanks for giving a shit.’
TR: How was your first day there?
RM: After we arrived, I didn’t get to bed until 7 30 Saturday morning. I woke up at 12. Ben and I had to play at 1: 20 that afternoon. I thought the show was gonna be a train wreck. It went great. It could have been because I still had Keystone light in my veins. After the show Ben looked at me with a smile. He grinned and said, “We just pulled a Johnny Paycheck. Also, that night I saw Billy Joe Shaver walk out of a place on 6th street and disappear into the crowd. That sighting may have helped me play better this week.
If you’re in the L.A. area be sure to head out to The Satellite where Rod will be appearing with Chris Pickering and Mark Lennon and the Southern Tier starting at 8:00 PM.