Robert Earl Keen interview below
Mike Whitman interview with Robert Earl Keen. Keen will be
appearing at the Wichita Orpheum on July 26th, 2015.
How’s the tour going?
It’s going very well. We just went from Salt Lake to Telluride to Arizona then all the way up the west coast to Bend and did a show we co-headlined with Steve Earl. Came back home and now were starting on the other junket that’s going to take us over to the eastern side of the United States and then all the way across. So we are having what we would consider maybe the biggest summer of our association as a band. We’ve been together 20 years and we’ve never filled up a summer like we have this year.
Are you having more fun on this tour?
I’d have to say it’s up and down just like any other tour. You know you play different places, I mean I play from I don’t know, cattle pens to the Kennedy Center. My thing is very, very inconsistent, I mean when you see like big league pop music those guys can’t even tell you what the difference is in the last place they played because they’re exactly the same. It would be just like staying every night at the Marriott or something and it never changes. My thing changes dramatically every day. We’ll play some little bar, we’ll play some huge festival. We’ll go out and play some botanical garden thing and then we’ll play some honkytonk. I mean really truly all over the map so a lot of times it just depends on the room and how things are set up. But in General all these things are going great.
Is this pretty much your normal band with a few additions like some of the people who played on your new bluegrass album?
Kym Warner of the Greencards played on the album and he’s with us on the tour. We also have Brian Beken from Milkdrive playing fiddle with us. We’re doing this in the bluegrass format that being said we’re also doing a lot of songs from my previous catalog because I found out that not only do people want to hear them but they fit really well in this particular musical format. We’ve been having a great time playing “The Road Goes On Forever” in a different key with fiddle solos, mandolin solos and flatpicking guitar solos.
I’m curious how you selected the songs for the new CD?
A lot of people who have a fair knowledge of bluegrass think it’s kind of one thing and it’s like in G ready set go and whoever gets to the end wins. I think bluegrass has a lot more nuance and a lot more spectrum than a lot of people have. So what I was doing after we recorded 28 songs to begin with Mike, we picked them from there. I picked them based on some of the differences between songs and then also on how great they sounded. Some of them sounded you know really big and warm and clear and clean. One of the things I love about having “Happy Prisoner” as a record is it’s very clean and clear and I love that. I love the way bluegrass instruments speak out. That was a big part of it but also part of it was the spectrum of what I consider in bluegrass music. From something like “Poor Ellen Smith” to doing something like “T For Texas”. Those are very different and from different times even.
Exactly and that brings me to a question about your arrangement of “Poor Ellen Smith”. I’ve never heard it performed that way. Most people are familiar with the Country Gentlemen version which is very up tempo. Personally I’ve always liked Jimmy Martin’s version which is slower and bluesier but your version with the minor and suspended chords thrown in gives it a whole different feel. It’s probably what the song needed from the beginning.
Yeah I really love the song we did work it up a little different. I was kind of thinking of it as almost an Edgar Allan Poe short story. It’s kind of spooky and sad and full of remorse and I just wanted to have that whole feeling when we made that song so thank you.
Some of the other songs on the album have a unique feel as well. I love your version of “Hot Corn Cold Corn”. There’s a lot of stuff going on in that song compared to the way it’s usually done.
Yeah we had a really good time doing it. You know most of the stuff was really fun. I love records that you get in there and things fit and you’re not swimming upstream all the time. This record was probably the all time best as far as the experience in the studio. This was a great experience it was fun and we got to have a lot of laughs. The music came out really great and I think it reflects.
When I listen to the CD it sounds like it was recorded live instead of individual instrument tracks.
Right that’s what we did. I’m into the happy surprise stuff that music sometimes provides when you’re just out there playing it.
What do they have in the water down in Texas that makes it produce so darn many good songwriters? I mean just going back to Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, you and Lyle Lovett and I could go on and on.
I don’t really know the answer except for you know historically Texas has an incredible musical history going all the way back to Davy Crockett and his fiddle at the Alamo. So I guess you’d have to blame it on Davy Crockett.
The KBA sponsors a youth bluegrass band called the Treblemakers and we enjoy hearing stories of others helping the next generation. I know you do a fundraiser for the Hill Country Youth Orchestra so could you tell us about your involvement with them?
They’ve been together for 29 years and I’ve been working with them for 10. They’ve figured out how to make it work for all kids. Any kid who wants to learn how to play the fiddle, viola, cello or bass and they’ll even find them the instrument. It really has brought along some kids who never would have been involved in music. That’s the way to really get people going in music is when they’re young and have the time to put into it. It’s a wonderful endeavor.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to our members?
The show’s the show it’s always good man. The reason I’m still going after all these years is because we put on a good show do anybody that’s a fan that hasn’t ever seen us play should come out.
>>> Website last updated July 21, 2015 <<<
Kansas Bluegrass Association president Mike Whitman interviews Robert Earl Keen about his music. Scroll down for the interview.
Promoting bluegrass music in Kansas
Kansas Bluegrass Association
UPCOMING KBA EVENTS
-KBA JAM Saturday, August 1, Immanuel Baptist, Wichita
-August Picking picknic at Spring Lake, Halstead, Ks. August 14 - 16. The KBA will be putting on a music show again Saturday evening after the potluck at their outdoor stage facility and volunteer musicians are needed.
-NO KBA JAM SEPT 5th (Immanuel Baptist) Due to Labor Day holiday.