Tim O’Brien is a master at what he does. A multi-instrumentalist, he conjures up tunes on his guitar, banjo, mandolin, and fiddle and plays in a fluid and natural manner. Tim’s musical expertise and original lyrics quickly made him the darling of the bluegrass scene in the 1980s when he was part of the legendary Hot Rize. Since then he’s recorded more than a dozen solo CDs, played countless festivals and shows and continues to amaze and delight music fans the world over.
Your most recent recording venture was a collaborative venture with Darrell Scott. How long have you been friends? Tell us a bit about the genesis for the project.
Darrell and I met in 1994 when we were scheduled by our publishers to write together. We wrote a song that day that I recorded. Later I got him to play on another CD and asked him to tour with me to UK. The original idea was for us to each do separate sets but we played a little more together each night until it was a duo after about three nights.
Care to explain the humorous title of the album: We’re Usually Better Than This?
It’s a line I used in the mc work on that live show. “How many of you have seen us before? How many are new to us? Those of you who have seen us before know we’re usually a lot better than this.”
How would you compare this CD to your previous collaboration, Real Time?
It’s even more spontaneous than that one. The first one was pretty seat of the pants though and we just picked songs as we went, starting with the freshest one that Darrell had written the night before. We interact well with little discussion. The live set was a reunion after about four years of laying fallow. We played songs we’d never played before and extended a lot of them with jamming.
In addition to working with Darrell Scott, you contributed to your family project: O’Brien Party of 7. (Brilliant family band name, by the way). This CD is a tribute to the late, great Roger Miller. Were you all Roger Miller fans over the years?
I was certainly a big fan. My sister Mollie and her husband Rich Moore too. My son Joel learned a bunch of his songs as a young kid. The rest of the kids picked their favorites and we all played and sang together.
Many people only associate Roger Miller with his classic hits “King of the Road” and “Dang Me.” What do you feel he brought to Americana / country music?
He was the perfect thing at the time, irreverent but safe, kinda like the Beatles, except he came out of country and western swing. He would have been grouped with the Outlaw thing ala Willy and Waylon except just after he gave up on Nashville his song “Dang Me” changed everything. Really his lyrics and his music broke the mold and nobody was the same after.
How often does O’Brien Party of 7 get to perform together?
We hardly ever get together, each of the seven live in separate states! But we have done a few festivals and tours around the release. It’s dormant right now.
Tell us about your recent production work with Old Man Luedecke. How did he come into your musical radar? You must be pretty pleased that this CD Tender is the Night was nominated for a Juno Award. What is it about Old Man’s style and songwriting that attracted you to this project?
Like Darrell Scott, Chris Luedecke traveled with me in the UK as opening act. We enjoyed each other’s company and he asked me to help on an earlier CD. Then he asked me to produce this one. His songs are a survey of his quirky mind and quick wit.
What else is happening in your musical life?
I’m doing lots of recording this year. I just finished another studio thing with Darrell Scott, and I’ve got three more projects waiting to do on my own and one to produce. One is a Hot Rize recording, our first studio thing since 1990! I’m definitely flushing the system. Lots of new songs coming and I’m pulling out older ones that never saw the light of day. Will be playing a few of them at Me and Thee.
To learn more about Tim O’Brien, visit his website.
Tim will be playing at the me&thee in Marblehead, MA on Friday, April 5.