Interview by Scott Preston
As anyone who’s seen his moving, funny, and unpredictable concerts already knows, Jeff Black never plays the same show twice, pulling from his commercial catalog Birmingham Road Arista 1998 Honey And Salt Blue Rose 2003, B-Sides And Confessions Volume One Dualtone 2003,” and the new music on Tin Lily, he responds to the moment and to whatever voodoo is floating through the air shared by a unique collection of people on any given night with the stories and songs that transcend the role of a singer/songwriter and his instrument. What makes a Jeff Black record or show exciting is that, as a listener, you know the singer is there not to perform for you, but to take you on a journey with him.
Cincy Groove: So I understand you are in the studio right now?
Jeff Black: Yeah, just doing some pre production work on some stuff, getting it ready for the next record. I don’t really have a studio per say, just a room with all the equipment I need. I can make some pretty rough stuff, but its nice to have everything all set up so all I have to do is come in here and record.
Cincy Groove: So I guess you could say your in the early stages of a new record?
Jeff Black: I guess the early stages for me would be right after you release the old one, then you start working on new songs. Most of the songs are written, I’m just playing them out live and finding out which ones want to live together.
Cincy Groove: I see how you used to be a road warrior, touring constantly and then your priorities changed when you got married and had a kid.
Jeff Black: Around the turn of the century I just took on a whole new attachment to everything. I moved to Nashville and spent the 90’s with my head down pretty much chasing the dream. Then I started thinking about everything that was affecting me , I lost my dad in 1999, actually a couple people in my family. Then I met my wife and then all of a sudden here comes some new itty bitty people (laughing). I’m really just trying to stay on the course that I’m on, and I’m not really sure what that is most of the time. I never came to Nashville to become a country music songwriter or to become a country artist. It made sense to me to come to Nashville because of the business side, New York and L.A. just seemed out of reach to me at the time.
There are just so many studios and players here and some publishing stuff going on as well. Nashville is only 560 miles from my hometown so I can easily make that drive when I want to. I was just so delighted to get out of my little town, when I came to Nashville I was here for the duration. There was no time line where I said I’ll give it a try for 6 months or 5 years or anything like that. I just jumped in and fell in love with the town. I came here with blinders on, ignorance is bliss you know?
Cincy Groove: How long were you in Nashville before things started to happen for you?
Jeff Black: I was pretty lucky, I think I got a publishing deal after being here for about 5 or 6 months. They weren’t giving me a lot of money, but it was just enough that it was making having a second job kind of difficult. I didn’t have a plan, I just wanted to play and make as much music as I could. I wanted to make a record, but didn’t really know anybody. So I just kept playing out live and I believe thats what landed me my first record deal. It turned out there were some fans of mine that came out to see me play a lot and they worked at a record company.
Cincy Groove: Do you have any specific plans for the new record?
Jeff Black: Well with this next record I’m not really sure, there are some very strong options. I actually have been writing some songs with Sam Bush for this record. I have also been thinking about the idea of co producing the record with Sam. I just want to find a way we can collaborate on this record, because I think he is such a legendary talent. I know he really digs my songs, but in the same mutual admiration society here, he is such a musical genius, such a force. Whenever we play together he raises my musicianship up to a higher level. I feel very lucky to be able to call him a dear friend.
Cincy Groove: So I understand Waylon Jennings covered one of your songs?
Jeff Black: Yeah, thats actually a great little story. It came about through a woman a different publishing company that actually had no interest in the song. She started pitching the song to two girls who worked in Waylons office. This went on for 3, 4, 5 years and she just kept sending copies of the song over to them. She just had it in her mind that Waylon Jennings needed to record that song. The song is called “The Carnival Song”.
Cincy Groove: Where is one of the strangest places you have had to play?
Jeff Black: Back when I first started playing outside my home town, there was this private party I was asked to play at for $30. They had built this stage that was 15 feet wide by 12 feet high. In front of the stage they had built this vertical maze, each passage was about 4 inches wide by 4 inches deep. They painted it white and covered it with plexi glass. At the top they drilled a big hole and at the bottom was a big block of cheese. They had taken these mice and put little stickers with numbers on them. So my first touring gig ever was opening up for the mouse races at an old converted horse barn. I was also supposed to play while they were wrangling the mice for the next heat.
Cincy Groove: Who did you listen to growing up?
Jeff Black: There were 2 stations in our town, I don’t think I ever knew my parents to have bought a record. That came later with my sister and brother. There was WDAF 610 AM, it was a country music station. Then there was 710 AM that was a top 40 station. Then my sister started ordering records from Readers Digest. I think some of the first records she ordered was the king Johnny Cash and the queen Tammy Wynette. Then my brother went into the Marine Corp and brought back all these great imports from Okinawa. He had a bunch of Jerry Jeff Walker records, Guy Clark, New Riders of the Purple Sage.
Upcoming Jeff Black tour dates:
Jeff’s website – jeffblack.com
06.12.08 Nashville, TN The Rutledge 7:00PM – FREE – TV & Film Showcase
07.03.08 Jacksonville, FL European Listening Room 8:30PM – $10
07.04.08 St. Petersburg, FL [email protected] 7:00PM
07.05.08 Gainesville, FL Womble Concert Series 7:00PM – $25
07.12.08 Bloomington, IN The Bluebird 8:00pm – $TBA – with The Del McCoury Band