Nanci Griffith - Cherishing the Crickets
Nanci Griffith has always loved coming to Scotland. This is partly due to the Nashville-based Texan singer’s Scots-Welsh family background and partly due to the rapport she has with her audience, who make her feel, she says, right at home.
Now Griffith has found another Scottish connection in the shape of a recently hanselled songwriting partnership with Ricky Ross of Deacon Blue. Until Ross got in touch a few weeks ago, Griffith hadn’t written a song in almost two years, a long fallow spell that she puts down to her disaffection with her country in general and her fellow Texan in the White House in particular.
Having grown up near Austin with, as she says, ‘West Texan liberal’ parents, Griffith has never been slow to speak her mind on topics such as land mines and American foreign policy, and she long since earned a reputation as a Bush-whacker.
"I know this should be a good time to be a songwriter because there’s plenty of things going on in the world to write about," she says. "My writing is probably split 50/50 between social concerns and songs on a more personal level but I’ve been so angry at the political situation that I couldn’t come up with anything at all. Then Ricky sent me a note through my friend Edwina Hayes, said he was going to be in Nashville and asked if I’d be interested in getting together to write."
Co-writing songs is common practice in Nashville. Some artists get together with regular partners and arrange writing appointments to create hits or at least usable album tracks. But it’s not unusual for near or even complete strangers to meet up with wildly different results. Recent Glasgow visitor Mary Gauthier tells a hilarious story about a total mismatch that might well have been adapted into songwriting sit-com.
"It can turn out that way," laughs Griffith, preferring not to elaborate. "But I knew of Ricky through Deacon Blue’s music and as I suspected, he turned out to be fun to write with. We got one song off reasonably quickly that I’m really pleased with and I don’t know if there’ll be any more but just getting past that block has been a great help for me."
While she was enduring her dry spell, Griffith realised a long-held ambition, to record an album of torch songs featuring mostly cover versions of songs by some of her favourite writers. She’s put the spotlight on other writers before, notably with her Other Rooms, Other Voices and Other Voices Too albums in the 1990s. Released at the end of last year, Ruby’s Torch found her this time interpreting Tom Waits and Jimmy Webb and walking in the considerable footprints of Frank Sinatra, Crystal Gayle and Willie Nelson.
"They’re songs that have formed a soundtrack in my life," she says. "When I’m off the road, I don’t live surrounded by music, I enjoy the quiet. Some of these songs go back to my childhood, however: In the Wee Small Hours, for example. Taking on something so indelibly associated with Sinatra was quite daunting. So we used his arrangement and actually, just giving it a woman’s voice gives the song a different point of view, a new meaning."
Tom Waits allowed her to put Ruby’s Arms, one of three Waits songs Griffith included, into the third person, a gesture which, as a songwriter herself, she appreciated especially.
"It’s easy to get overprotective with your own songs and in a way that’s why I always consider myself an interpreter," she says. "There are songs that I’ve written that other people have gone on to have success with and I feel that when that happens, it becomes that other person’s song because they’ve taken it to heart and made it their own. So when I sing one of those songs, like Love at the Five and Dime, I feel I have to reclaim it."
After the tour that brings her to Glasgow tonight with her long-time backing group, The Blue Moon Orchestra, Griffith plans to go back to the music that, along with Woody Guthrie and Loretta Lynn, first got her excited and makes her proud to be a Texan.
"You couldn’t be around Texas when I was growing up and not love the Crickets," she says. "People always credit the Beatles for being the first band to write their own songs but Buddy Holly and the Crickets were doing it in the 1950s. Now the Crickets are about to celebrate 50 years as a band and I’m going to co-write an album with them to celebrate. They’re great guys and you know what I like about their music? It’s innocent."
From The Herald, July 12, 2007.