Quick Q and A with Slaid Cleaves

Slaid Cleaves has some major songwriting chops.  His name may not be known in every household in the country but it should be.  His songs are genuine.  When you listen to his music, you get the feeling that he’s seen a whole lot of life – emotions, situations, landscapes that you’ve never experienced…but, yet, through his lyrics and just the perfect arrangement of instruments that accompany those words, you know so much more than you knew before the song started.  You’re scooped up into others’ lives; you get to hear the stories of down and out veterans, lovers whose beloveds have gone their own way, and even a roadhouse yodeler whose unique charm and ability made him such a valued member of the music community down Texas way.

To learn more about former Maine resident, now Texas transplant, Slaid Cleaves, visit his website.

Everybody needs to hear this song: “Still Fighting the War.”  You won’t look at a veteran the same way ever again.

Slaid Cleaves will be at the me&thee in Marblehead, MA on Friday, September 6.

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“Still Fighting the War” is an important song because it reminds those of us who have not experienced the horrors of war and their after effects how important it is to acknowledge and help our veterans.  Have you received any feedback from any veterans about the song?  If so, how did they react?

 Several vets and family members have been in touch to communicate their gratitude.

Was there any particular incident or encounter that inspired you to write a song about veterans?

The song was originally more of a lament for the swindled, in general.  But with all the stories of veterans having a hard time coming home, I decided to focus on that issue.

Tell us about your work with Operation Homefront.  How did you become involved with that group?

It’s rare that I have a new song coming out that speaks to a current issue, and it seemed like a no-brainer that as I sang this song and asked people to share it I should put my money where my mouth is, so to speak.  So I spent some time on the internet checking out various veteran support organizations and I liked the way Operation Homefront was meeting the specific needs of certain vets: This guy needs $400 to get his car fixed so he can get to work; This couple is two months behind on the mortgage, etc.

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I love the song “God’s Own Yodeler.”  It makes me wish that I had known Don Walser, “the Pavarotti of the Plains.”  Your song brings his spirit alive; he sounds like he was bigger than life.  You’ve got some mighty fine yodeling chops yourself, did you get any tips from Don?  (I imagine you met him and got to know him after moving to Texas.)  

Indeed all of that is true.  After he finished a set I would go over and ask him to sing his more difficult yodel songs for me, but slowed down, so I could figure out what he was doing.

 I’d love to hear about the production of this CD. Please tell us something about your producer, Scrappy Jud Newcomb, who worked on the majority of tracks on the album.  With a name like Scrappy, I bet you have some interesting stories about working with him.

I’ve been a fan of Scrappy’s for 20 years, watching him play guitar in various bands over the years (Loose Diamonds, The Resentments, Beaver Nelson, Matt the Electrician, Ian McLagan).  I could never get him in my band because he was always booked up.  Finally I got a run of shows with him in Texas.  It was as much fun and as good a fit as I expected, so I immediately asked him to help out with the new record.

You also worked on a couple of tunes on the album with legendary Lloyd Maines.  Do you two go way back?  When I think of Texas producers, I think of him.  

I started running into Lloyd probably 12 years ago, and I see him a few times a year when he’s playing with Terri Hendrix, who I like to share shows with.  Again, I figured he would be a good fit, especially for “Texas Love Song” and  “God’s Own Yodeler”.  Plus he did most of the production work at his home studio while I was out on the road.  Very efficient!

 I noticed that you played Hammond B-3 on “Hometown USA.”  Have you ever played organ on any of your other albums?  And what was it about this song that screamed for a Hammond B-3?  Loved it!

My first instrument was piano, in grade school.  Then electric piano, B3 and synthesizer (Hey, it was the 80s!) in high school.  My favorite keyboard player was Benmont Tench from Tom Petty’s band, because most of his parts are pretty easy to play (and sound great, too).  “Hometown USA” is my first recorded B3 credit since about 1984.

Has this new album turned on a whole new audience to your music?  I’m wondering if you’ve noticed that people are discovering you more since the advent of the internet.  Just curious.

I’ve had an internet presence since the middle 1990s, so yeah, I’m sure a lot of people have found me there over the years.  It’s still too early to tell if Still Fighting the War is finding a new audience beyond my current fan base.  Let’s hope so!

Photo credit: Karen Cleaves

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