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Americana Podcast

Author: American Songwriter, Robert Earl Keen

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Americana Podcast: The 51st State is a platform dedicated to sharing and expanding on the Americana genre's roots, reach, and definition. Each episode is told from the point of view of the musicians that have dedicated their lives to it. Robert Earl Keen, Americana pioneer and host, interviews musicians, exploring their unique histories, creative processes, successes, failures, and everything in between.
36 Episodes
It’s a new year Americana Podcast listeners! And with a new year, means new discussions on what makes Americana… well Americana. When we look at this genre, we talk a lot it’s history and its future. And over time we’ve been able to piece together this ongoing timeline and certain elements that are key to its existence. Base influences in songwriting, certain instrumentation, and geography. If you’ve been a long-time listener, you’d know that many of our previous guests have attributed a great deal of their musical identity to where they learned music from. This of course is a holdover from the new world mentality in the west, where many genres developed due to particularly regional and social integrations over extended periods of time. When looking at Americana we are specifically looking at the European folk trad to bluegrass, blues to rock, and then rock and bluegrass to country as we know it today. That’s a lot of words to basically say the place that you identify as home, has as significant of an effect on your musical education as who’s albums you choose to listen to growing up. And Kentucky aside, some of the artists that know that best are from Texas and Oklahoma.There’s a lot of opinions on the state of Red Dirt Music and Texas Country. Developing as sub genres in the late 80’s to early 00’s, this very regional brand of music came up in response to commercial country. And I’m not talking Florida Georgia Line commercial, I’m talking Tim McGraw commercial. Who we love. But there’s a lot of ups and downs and opinions in the overall conversation but the general one is that Red Dirt and Texas Country became a space for outsiders beyond the Nashville standard. Piggybacking off of the outlaw movement and the historical legacies of artists, particularly Texas native Willie Nelson, these scenes were able to flourish in their respective regions and began to go a bit beyond. They were in a position to challenge the value of industry effect in radio versus organic growth in listenership. They developed loyal followings, local radio play. The works. But due to a long series of unfortunate commercial circumstances, the scenes have presently been relegated very much south of the red river. And I could go on about this, but fortunately this episode you can it straight from the quarter horse’s mouth. Americana Podcast speaks with the artists who possibly have the most pertinent opinions on the state of Red Dirt and Texas Country and their weight in the views of Americana music. On this episode we have musical and actual giant Ray Benson from Asleep at The Wheel. Defender of the Dance Hall Randy Rogers, Okie not from Muskogee Jason Boland of Jason Boland and the stragglers, young blood William Beckmann, whip smart Wade Bowan, and philanthropist at heart Josh Abbott. Saddle up and enjoy the show. 
Many would know Vince Herman as the guitarist and primary lead vocalist and songwriter of the renowned jam band, Leftover Salmon. Herman has been playing professionally since the late 80’s and, Leftover Salmon aside, also formed and played in ever-evolving project group Great American Taxi. Between the two bands, Herman has recorded over 10 albums and has toured the world over, whilst simultaneously developing his festival guru persona. Sometime in 2021, Vince Herman moved from Colorado to Nashville, TN where he took on a totally new project… himself. Partnering with renowned producer Dave Ferguson, as well as a myriad of friends and session players- Herman embarked on his first ever solo album. Released November 18, 2022- “Enjoy the Ride” explores the nuances and roots of country and Americana music as Herman has known and experienced it through his life. Everything from cajun influences to bluegrass picking can be found, but it is undoubtedly all Vince Herman. Once and for all. So join us today as our host, Robert Earl Keen goes song by song with Vince Herman. Exploring the parts that make up a musical life and identity. 
Born in Kenosha, Wisconsin but raised in Tupelo, Mississippi, Paul Thorn has had quite the roundabout career. Son of a Pentecostal preacher, Thorn wasn't allowed to indulge in music outside of the church, but honed his skills early on within its walls. Thorn worked as everything from a professional boxer to a furniture manufacturer before being discovered by famed manager Miles Copeland. In 1997, Thorn released his first record Hammer and Nail  and has been on the road ever since. Paul Thorn's stage career began opening for Sting, and since then he has played with other greats including but not limited to, Mark Knoplfer, Jeff Beck, Richard Thompson, and John Prine. in September 2021, Thorn released his latest album Never Too Late to Call. On this episode of Americana Podcast, Thorn discusses getting sober, his upbringing, Elvis, writing  and more. 
There are four types of discourse in language- descriptive, narrative, expository and argumentative. And it seems that all four of those are readily present in any niche interest group on the internet these days. Anything from the way a machine works (descriptive), the exact timeline of Tolkien's world building (narrative), someone breaking down the latest universe development in a comic-book based film (expository), and argumentative which that one goes without example. If you need one, go to twitter.On the note of argumentative, some may disagree with this next statement, but the difference between good discourse and bad discourse depends on the presence of resources. Resources establish credibility in ones' opinion and or points. They inform subsequent works, and if you're bibliography and research nerd, they are excellent road maps to other sources of information that you can sink your teeth into. Really exciting stuff, I know. But, when those resources aren't made readily available, that's where discourse breaks down. Without them, there's a few formal problems, like credibility and the questioning of objectivity. Mainly, the problem- is without resources how were you able to effectively formulate your contribution to the discussion at hand, and why should others participate with you.One of the key ways we talk about music with musicians, is by asking about their influences. Influences tell us so much about who we're speaking with and how they developed.They give us a way to describe an artist's sound. Influences tell the story of formative discovery. They give us a timeline of the kinds of music that shaped an artist in different eras. Influences allow us to argue what was ultimately important in flows of time and culture. See where I'm going with this? Musical influences are just one part, but a big one in terms of musical resources.Artists don't owe us that information. We know that. "What are your influences?" Is a boring question and its asked in pretty much every interview. They can keep their secrets, but its nice when that door is open.Which brings us to this episode's guests- The Boxmasters. The Boxmasters is made up of Bill Bob Thornton and JD Andrews. Thornton and Andrews in 2007 when Thornton brought in Andrews as a sound engineer for his 2007 record "Beautiful Door".  The two found that the had similar approaches and views of music and started playing together somewhat regularly. After some time, the two began recording and eventually created their band "The Boxmasters" the name comes from southern slang referring to a hotshot with echoes of Porter Wagoners "The Wagonmasters" which Thornton had previously played in for a time. Since 2007, the group has toured extensively with the likes of Willie Nelson and Ray Price, taking a break between 2010-2015 where they reconvened to make the record "Somewhere Down the Road". The released their latest album "Help Im Alive" in April of 2022 (when this interview was recorded).The Boxmasters do not shy away from their influences and what the build their sound on. Pulling from groups like The Beatles, The Rolling Stone, Mott and the Hoople- the duo works to echo the sounds the personally loved from the 60's and 70's- whilst also giving it a somewhat more southern edge with original lyrics.. all topped off with classic Bakersfield like production. And neither Andrews or Thornton will shy away from telling you as such.
If it’s one thing that we love here at americana podcast, it is the concept of the artistic process. We’re not alone in this, it seems that when anyone speaks about artists, musical, visual, conceptual- you name it- one of the first things people will go into or ask about, is how a piece of art came to exist.We’ve been doing it for three years on this show. And even when you ask an artist “how did you do this?” There’s no guarantee you’re going to get a straight answer. If anything, in the interest of mystique- you’re more likely to be left with more questions about creation than you are to be given clarity. Our curiosity about the subject is inherently curious. If it present, if it already exists for us to view, or listen to or think about, why do we care how it got there? That feels like a much deeper question that a philosopher would probably be able to answer. But as a semi-professional music lover with a microphone, I think it’s because the artistic process reminds us that art, no matter it’s shape, is still inherently human. That it is subject to the time, and strengths, and limitations, and abilities of the one who makes it. The artist lives a life, inherently creates based on that experience, and then puts those creations out into the world to say “I’ve made this”.It’s a very human process. And even when it’s difficult to like humanity, it is easy to love that which reminds us that we’re still human. On today’s episode, we welcome an artist who embraces that humanity and pursues creation and the artistic process. Enough to have made 34 records so far in his career. Jim Lauderdale, a native of Troutman, South Carolina released his first record in 1991. A natural collaborator, he’s worked with the likes of Rodney Crowell, Buddy Miller, Nick Lowe, and Roland White. And he’s had songs cut by everyone from Elvis Costello to George Straight. And like anyone in the music industry, he’s had ups and downs. And he’d be the first to tell you. In just a few moments of being in a room with Lauderdale, it is difficult not be struck by his kindness and forthcoming nature (he’s also a bit of a prankster, I found out the hard way). So Join us on this episode as our host Robert Earl Keen, speaks with Jim Lauderdale about the artistic process, the documented phenomenon of “the Jim Lauderdale effect”, and more.
Over the course of nearly three years, we at Americana podcast have spoken with a wonderful collective of artists and industry professionals alike about the workings in and of this ever expanding umbrella of music we lovingly refer to as Americana music. Parts of that discussion have at times touched on its history- but we have never really broached the subject of its early days and what that entailed. And who exactly was there at the beginning. With that in mind, we’ve decided to shake it up a bit and welcome longstanding Americana advocate and friend Rob Bleetstein. Bleetstein in casual circles, is a music lover. A long time ticket collecting, road junkie, band following fan if there ever was one.  Which all tracks for an original deadhead mind you- but he’s not someone stuck completely in the past either. Driven by just the desire to hear good music- there isn’t an artist old or young on the scene that he seemingly doesn't already know about. And if you happen to somehow introduce him to someone he hasn’t heard of- he’ll send you what can only be described as an essay or a review of his thoughts on their first two records in addition to the direction their heading with their next one. You can’t beat him. Professionally, Bleetstein’s credentials range from publicist, archivist, and currently producer and host on Pearl Jam Radio and the Grateful Dead Channel on Sirius XM. What he is to Americana as a genre though… well he was one of the early, if not original adopters of the term when he worked at the Gavin Report in the 90’s. Rob Bleetstein is not only a music lover- but a true music shaper. So Join us as our host Robert Earl Keen speaks with Rob Bleestetin about the early days of Americana, his experiences as a long-time music lover, his contributions, and what’s on the horizon of the genre
This show is going to be a little different from our usual programming. As I’m sure you’ve noticed- we’ve taken a little bit of a break over the last few months as we’ve taken the time to regroup, and reconstruct etc. As we move forward, it is important to us to reiterate that we are still very much dedicated as a platform to the expansion and definition of Americana Music through conversations with those working within its spectrum.This show has come a very long way from its initial launch. From interview formatting, the artists we book, the kind of questions we ask, and the locations we’ve been- it's grown and expanded in ways I don’t think we could have ever imagined. And admittedly, sometimes it's hard to appreciate the work we’ve done as we look at the work we want to do. As we plot out that future, we wanted to take this time and opportunity to look back on some of our favorite moments that we’ve had. In our very first Artist's Archive, we go back to the very beginning and revisit some of the best times with artists we love and cover everything from the hardest conversations to the most rewarding laughs and all topped off with the music we all love so well. We hope you enjoy this nod to our past and continue to join us as we look (or should I say listen) to the future.
We’ve all heard the common phrase “a master of none” in reference to an individual who is seemingly versatile, flexible, and knowledgeable in their pursuits. Regardless of what they are. We’re not surprised when an artist is an avid reader nor are we shocked when a mathematician takes an interest in subjects like music. The term “master of none” alone, suggests that having multiple interests and being good at them is part of the deal. In today’s vernacular a “master of none” is good at most things but not great at all things. The full phrase though, I feel is of more worth which is “a jack of all trades, a master of none, but often times better than master of none”- in which it is suggested that those who master one task to its fullest extent would be the optimums example. But those who take no opportunity to master anything are below that standard. The value, lies in versatility. A jack of all trades is inherently more valuable than a master of one. And that is because a jack of all trades is able to provide an example for the payoff of multiple skills. We’re fortunate to be working in a genre that encourages a “master of none” premise if you will. It is not an infrequent occurrence to see artists working within in Americana to be delving into multiple projects outside of music itself.  Our guest today is a master of none. Elizabeth Cook was born in 1972, and is the 11th out of 12 children and released her first album in 2000. Since then she has made over 400 Opry debuts, hosts a radio show in addition to a fishing show, voices an ongoing character on the show Squidbillies and just always seems to be on the run to her next gig… whatever it may be.  So join us today as our host Robert Earl Keen speaks with Elizabeth about her busy schedule, her songwriting, and maybe some interview tips. 
It’s happened to all of us. we’re chatting with another person, getting to know each other and then the question “What kind of music do you like” comes up.. At which point many of us are better off reading a thesaurus outloud trying to describe it as we do our best impression of that scene in High Fidelity where Dick is describing the enigmatic Mardie de Salle to Rob “She's kind of Sheryl Crow-ish crossed with a post-Partridge Family pre-L.A. Law Susan Dey kind of thing”... As a non-artist it’s one thing, but applying that pressure to musician’s to describe their work. It's a lot to ask. but that’s our job here at Americana Podcast and this episode’s guest more than rose to the challenge.Kam Franklin, is a Houston native and frontwoman for the 7 piece band known as The Suffers. Forming in 2011, the suffers sport an impressive ensemble that lovingly refers to their work as gulf coast soul. a term that actually perfectly describes the sound which can be found within their two-record discography. The Suffers create an expansive, lush air with their music. an array of colorful horn pieces, worldly drum rhythms and Kam’s knockout voice. and talking with kam about her work is enlightening. She is unafraid to describe the root of her abilities, her all-inclusive influences, and most importantly- the pursuit of trying to improve at any given opportunity. So join us today as our host Robert Earl Keen discusses with Kam Franklin the importance of education, band communication and the music we have to look forward to from Kam as well as The Suffers.
Hailing from Americus Georgia, Brent Cobb got his start with his first record “No Place to Leave” in 2006, a roots meets red hot chilli peppers- esque album produced by his cousin Dave Cobb. After “no place to leave”, Brent returned to Georgia but moved to Nashville shortly after with the encouragement of singer Luke Bryan- where Cobb then joined carnival music publishing as a regular songwriter. Since then Cobb has written songs for artists such as kenny chesney, miranda lambert, luke bryan, and little big town. In addition to songwriting- Cobb continued to release his own records and received a 2018 grammy award nomination for his album “Shine on Rainy Day”. Cobb's latest album “Keep ‘Em on They Toes” was released september of 2020- and it’s the kind of record that you wish you could listen to for the first time again. in the songs written for his newborn child- Cobb espouses simple advice to not only stay ahead but stay content in one's life. While other tracks break down the difficulty of finding common ground in an ever growing divided social consciousness. With that said, Cobb's delivery remains straight-forward and earnest. The album is solid as any good advice one can receive in life and is backed by beautifully strung instrumentation. There's more on his horizon, so please join us as our host Robert Earl Keen speaks with Cobb about songwriting, the wise words of Shooter Jennings, and the future of Americana music.
Okay y'all… We need to talk about something. at first we only heard about it in whispers or read it in citations or saw the occasional New Yorker comic about it. But now’s it’s been going on for a bit and we can’t ignore the elephant in the room any longer..  Bluegrass music is considered cool now. I know. I'd like to say i’m surprised, but I’m really not. Bluegrass music has a rich and vibrant history, dating back to the early 20th century. It is a genre that encapsulates regional identity, creative freedom, and advanced music ability- while also nurturing a vibrant base of music lovers and players through it’s natural communal education. What it was lacking was a new take, new chapters, new songs being added to the bluegrass biblical canon. The key word in that sentence is “was”. Out of this heartland happening springs forth our guest today- the one and only Billy Strings. Billy Strings music is Bluegrass and beyond. His lyrics reflect a critical understanding of the power and skill of songwriting. His songs often take the time to comment on personal happenings’, his concerns regarding economic and ecological disruptions, and just general musings on life itself.  All amplified by the immaculate production of the records themselves. There are moments within Billy Strings albums that arguably border on soundscape due to the inclusion of complicated chromaticism's and lingering sonic intricacies. To try an describe how good he is… its ineffable. 
John Craigie began his career like many artists of the early 2000’s- playing in coffee shops up and down the coast of California with the occasional intrastate appearances in other coffee shops. during this time, Craigie honed his craft as a songwriter but also took the time to develop a real stage experience. looking to artists he admired such as Todd snider and Arlo Guthrie- John Craigie adopted storytelling as a regular interlude in his set (a facet of performance which remains to this day). his performance has been captured in two live record “Capricorn in Retrograde, Just Kidding Live in Portland” and “Opening for Steinbeck”- two albums that we personally recommend to everyone.These stories are a touching combination of funny and insightful and really open up the barrier between the stage and the audience. John Craigie is stunningly approachable in his demeanor- a personal attribute which extends to his musical identity as well. In 2009, he released his first record “Montana Tale” which exhibited his knack for first-person oriented writing with solid rhythmical acoustic backing. Although there are consistent hallmarks of who Craigie is as a musician across his discography- he is fearless in his creativity. His 9 studio albums over the years cover everything from stomp and holler, collaborative commune to his latest 60’s-esque groove experience “Asterisk the Universe”.
Storytelling is as old as communal language itself and songwriters are an extension of the great tradition of sharing experience through words... And Americana music is as loyal to that part of our history as it is dedicated to continuing to share those experiences between artists and listeners.  Possibly one of the most talented of those writers working now is Todd Snider. Originally born in Portland, Oregon snider hopped around from place to place at a young age before finally landing in Austin, Texas. After seeing the late Jerry Jeff Walker play, Snider was inspired to also take up music full time. Since then, Snider has created his own unique space within music- developing simple but striking musical arrangements that are punctuated with poignant lyrics. Words and stories that’ll either make you laugh, cry or just think really critically about your place in the world. Writing everything from experiences with drug use, life on the road, to the great American protest song- Todd Snider really is one of the best representations of exceptional storytelling in music. 
Waylon Payne's road to country music stardom seemed to be paved with gold. Son of songwriting legend Sammi Smith, guitar player Jodi Payne, and godson to Waylon Jennings.. The pedigree was there and it didn't take long to see that Waylon Payne's way with words and musical ability were also flourishing.. But sometimes life takes us on different paths and we find that our story becomes one fo redemption. Waylon has battled a plethora of his own demons but has regained clarity and has becomeone of the songwriting community's most incredible talents working in the industry. Join us as host, Robert Earl Keen, speaks with Waylon about his upbringing, acting career and his latest record "Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher and Me" 
Originally from Funkstown, Maryland- Josh is a singer-songwriter now based in Kentucky. He’s toured with the contemporary greats including Tyler Childers, Colter Wall, Shooter Jennings, and Todd Snider- and has written hit songs for artists including Cody Jinks and Hayes Carll and is just an overall song-smithing son of a gun. Morningstar only has one album out currently - but it’s the kind of record where its content surpasses sophomore slumps. The manner in which Morningstar interweaves homegrown grit, humor, and heartache with a superman-like knack for rhythm is just out of this world. He’s someone who is not afraid of writing about the harsh realities in life but he’s also unafraid in still choosing to make those realities poetically stunning.So, join us today as our host, Robert Earl Keen, speaks with Josh about his upbringing, songwriting, and cowriting. Also, as an added bonus and a first for Americana Podcast, Josh Morningstar plays two full songs live 
Grammy-winning Lori Mckenna was born, raised in, and remains in Stoughton Massachusetts. If you’re unfamiliar with her solo career I would personally bet that you’re still familiar with her songwriting. Having penned and/or co-penned songs like Faith Hill’s “Stealing Kisses”, Little Big Town’s Girl Crush, and Tim McGraw’s “Humble & Kind”. Her work has not only rooted itself in every class of Nashville but it has also taken a stronghold hold of her listener’s. McKenna’s songwriting usually depicts the classic images of small-town domesticity, but over the course of the song and her subsequent catalog she is able to explore the highs and lows, the heartache’s and the heroes tales in stories, scenes and images that many of us are familiar with- but, she is still able to shock us in the best way with her brilliant sense of subtlety.
Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan have been writing and working together as the Milk Carton Kids since 2011. In that time they have released five records, been included in various small and big screen enterprises and, as of 2018, are the acting hosts of the Americana Music Awards. This colorful history can most likely be particularly attributed to two aspects of their work together: there mellifluous discography (detailed instrumentation and harmonic vocals), and their rapid-fire chemistry. Pattengale and Ryan never fail to riff or build upon what the other has said, and the results vary between sharp insight and comedic banter worthy of Second City. So join us on Americana Podcast as host, Robert Earl Keen, speaks with Pattengale and Ryan on their professional conjunction, songwriting evolution, and the expansion of Americana music moving forward. Americana Podcast is proudly a part of the American Songwriter Podcast Network. Make sure to follow along on Facebook and Instagram for info on new episodes and peeks behind the scenes.
In the summer of 2018, we said  "We need to talk about Americana music". At the time it felt that there was an apparent disconnect in not only the discussion around the genre but in the would-be community as well. Industry workers and audiences were leading the conversation, but there appeared to be a disturbing absence of input from the most important individuals in American-roots-based music… The artists themselves. On April 30th, 2019, after a year of writing, recording, and refining- Americana Podcast was released into the world. We have recorded in studios, green rooms, and in front of live audiences. We have stayed up into the wee hours of the morning researching, conducting interviews, and editing.. (so much editing..) and have dedicated ourselves to defining not only the genre but the experience fo Americana artists, with parameters set by the artists themselves. On this one-year anniversary episode, Zach Chance and Jonathon Clay of Jamestown Revival are back...but on their recommendation, with a twist. Zach and John turn the tables and interview host and moderator of Americana Podcast, Robert Earl Keen.  So join us from the BMI offices in Austin, TX as we celebrate our one-year anniversary episode and look to the future of Americana music. Americana Podcast is proudly a part of the American Songwriter Podcast Network. Make sure to follow along on Facebook and Instagram for info on new episodes and peeks behind the scenes.
"Sentimental music has a great way of taking you back somewhere at the same time it takes you forward, so you feel nostalgic and hopeful at the same time."- Nick Hornby Robert Earl Keen speaks live from Railbird Music Festival with Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz of Mandolin Orange about developing a setlist from a large catalog, building a community, and the future of Americana music. Americana Podcast is proudly a part of the American Songwriter Podcast Network. Make sure to follow along on Facebook and Instagram for info on new episodes and peeks behind the scenes.
Drew Holcomb, originally from Memphis and currently residing in Nashville, TN, formed his band Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors in 2006 and was an early adopter of the term "Americana". Holcomb's discography is impressive, extending as far back as 2005, and has a nearly consistent output of a 2-year album cycle. His most recent record, Dragons, was released in August of 2019. Holcomb's musical identity is far from the acoustic singer-songwriter. His adoption of big percussion lead sound, rich production value, and the embrace of his larger-than-life warm voice make his records feel more like a happy celebration in the summertime and less like an over-contemplative listening room. Most of his songs touch on the ideas of family, and community and serve as a reminder that those aspects of life are as rich of an experience as any heartbreak that we can relate to in a song. Americana Podcast is proudly a part of the American Songwriter Podcast Network. Make sure to follow along on Facebook and Instagram for info on new episodes and peeks behind the scenes.
Comments (3)

Rashad Muhammad

your uber driver in Virginia. saying hey. excited to listen

Jan 29th

Blair Pearce

Great podcast. I've loved every one so far.

Jun 15th

Blair Pearce

Really entertaining I liked it a lot.

May 25th
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