Tom Russell – ” But He’s Big In Norway”
I met Tom Russell and his longtime guitar accompanist Andrew Hardin in 1981 in a cellar bar in Oslo, Norway. To my astonishment, they did a cover of a Gram Parsons song (at the time I thought I was the only person in Norway familiar with Parsons), and I shouted for more. They obliged with three more Parsons tunes; after the show, I went backstage and struck up a friendship that carries on till this day.
When Russell and Hardin came back the following year with a full band (including Fats Kaplin), we decided to record an album that became Road To Bayamon. Around this time, Russell also wrote “St. Olav’s Gate” (which translates to “St. Olav’s Street” in Norwegian).
Later, while we recorded Poor Man’s Dream, we took a break and put on a barbecue party at my cousin’s farm. The Tom Russell Band played the whole night, and the party thereafter became a yearly event under the name of Down On The Farm. This year, the festival celebrates its 10-year anniversary, with Nanci Griffith & the Blue Moon Orchestra and Son Volt headlining (on June 20-21).
Russell made three albums in Norway and in 1995 also put out his first novel, called Bloodsport, using his experiences from Oslo, to bring his main character through a hell of a ride on three continents. The Tom Russell Band’s annual trips to Norway (playing upwards of 60 nights in a row in Oslo honky tonk the Gamla) were the major inspiration for Norwegians picking up on country music in the late ’80s. Russell also wrote lengthy articles on Gram Parsons, George Jones and Peter LaFarge for BEAT, a monthly Norwegian music magazine I was editing at the time.
To my mind, Tom Russell is one of the great American songwriters; I don’t think anyone has written songs on such a high level for such a lengthy period of time. And the songs are still coming.