Darrell Scott is a musician’s musician. He has played with everyone and written songs for more people than that. The Dixie Chicks cover of his “Long Time Gone” earned him a 2003 Grammy nomination for Best Country Song. His 2009 single, “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive,” was chosen by American Songwriter as number 6 on its list of Top 25 Songs from the Last 25 Years. He writes of regular people seeking out little victories, and his songs resonate to the likes of Martina McBride, Keb Mo, Brad Paisley, Travis Tritt, and Garth Brooks, who have all covered at least one of his songs.
In 2011, when Buddy Miller was looking to put together a band for Robert Plant’s new incarnation of Band of Joy, the producer called on his old friend. No wonder. Scott has played on albums by everyone from Steve Earle and Guy Clark to Elizabeth Cook and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Scott played no less than six instruments, as well as backing vocals, on the album, and continued with the band for the tour.
Because of his skills, as well as his propensity for sharing them, many great artists jump at the chance to reciprocate. Friends such as Guy Clark, Kenny Malone, Rodney Crowell, and Patty Griffin are just of the folks who popped in to help lay down tracks on his seventh and most personal CD, 2012’s Long Ride Home. The album deals with Scott’s lifelong love affair with music, kindled by his father while Darrell was a small boy in Kentucky. Darrell was fortunate enough to produce his father Wayne’s first CD, at age 71, in 2005. This Weary Way, an album of original songs that Wayne wrote throughout his life, drew comparisons to the work of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. Not too shabby for a rookie release. But it was to be the elder Scott’s only recording before he died in a car crash in 2011.
Despite this most horrific tragedy, Darrell Scott knows his life is good. He plays music that he loves with friends that he loves even more. He has toured the world and shared stages with friends and legends. He took some time to talk about his fortunate life.
You and your friends, Guy Clark, Kenny Malone, Tim O’Brien, Roddy Crowell, etc., you all belong to that group of musicians that just seem like you would do this if you didn’t get paid. I know teacher friends get together and talk teaching, and steel workers get together and talk shop, but can you give me a glimpse of what it’s like when a bunch of you guys get together for fun? Do you realize just how cool your life is and how lucky you are?
Lately? Kenny and I talked about kayaks, bicycles and quantum physics- Rodney and I talked about our friend, Ben Bullington, and Ben’s songs. With Guy it was his new mandola and him learning to play it. I do have a cool life and I work at knowing it — gratitude — more and more.
Can you give me just one late night story from when you and your friends got together?
We kind of don’t get together and especially at night. When I am home I am the most boring dude I know; stay home, cook, read and maybe in bed by 10 on a good night.
You are in Robert Plant’s current version of Band of Joy. How did that come about?
Buddy Miller [who produced Robert Plant’s 2010 Band of Joy CD] called me to be in the album band for Robert. He liked the band so much that we were who Robert wanted for the tour.
In your country household growing up, did you listen to any Led Zeppelin?
No, as a lad, I did not own a Zeppelin recording. I wish I would have been so hip. I had Haggard, Dixie Dregs, Gordon Lightfoot and Pat Metheny records.
You have had so many people cover your songs. You don’t need to name the band, but have you ever heard someone do a horrible cover? What do you do in that case?
It is when someone misses the character (the soul, essence) of the song that I notice. It’s a “do I believe them?” kind of thing. Like if you were to see an actor in a play. Do you believe them? Melody and lyric are not the focus.
My guess is you’ve also heard some covers of your stuff that you thought were better than your originals. Can you give some examples of those? Do you ever feel envy in those cases?
Never felt envy of such a thing as someone beating my version, even I change my own version. I am not sure I have a version of a song. Songs are ever changing. People are free to do songs any way they feel. Feel has a lot to do with it.
People as big as Garth Brooks and Dixie Chicks have covered your songs. How do you think you would have handled it if you had the success they had in the past?
I would be even more road weary.
Your type of music gets pigeon-holed into Americana, or outlaw country, or alternative country, whereas I’m sure you just think of it as country, or maybe even just as music. What do you think of the country music that gets played on mainstream radio today?
I kind of don’t know what gets played on mainstream anything. I do not listen. It’s like asking me what I think of Taco Bells’ breakfast thing that has beans, potato cake, ground meat and microwave eggs. I do not eat Taco Bell.
If you were just coming up today, do you think you would be as successful a songwriter as you have been?
I have no idea. Success seems to be more about market place than songs or songwriting. I am better at songs than at business taste-making. As mentioned earlier, I know I am lucky.
Darrell Scott plays Eddie’s Attic On Saturday, October 25th, and Sunday, October 26th.