Marshall Chapman’s Back in Town – Tonight!
Lapsed debutante’s rug-burn music for sexagenarians
By Margaret Moser, 5:15PM, Wed. Nov. 13, 2013
“Gigs never get old,” mused Marshall Chapman in an email. “Each one’s like living an entire lifetime.” Given the singer-songwriter’s first Austin gig was in 1977 at Soap Creek Saloon, the Spartanburg, SC., native has journeyed miles and miles since, bringing a string of hits and a new CD Blaze of Glory tonight to the Cactus Cafe.
It’s not Chapman’s first time at the rodeo, either. Over the decades, she’s been covered by the likes of Conway Twitty, Joe Cocker, Jimmy Buffett, Emmylou Harris, Wynonna Judd, Jessi Colter, John Hiatt, Dion, Olivia Newton-John, Irma Thomas, Ronnie Milsap, and Sawyer Brown, who hit No. 1 with her song “Betty’s Bein’ Bad.”
Having your compositions covered can bring fame and fortune, yes, but Chapman wasn’t quite prepared for what Trisha Yearwood did to one of her songs.
“Trisha Yearwood recently recorded a song I wrote with Matraca Berg called ‘Your Husband’s Cheating on Us.’ We had written the song in the third person, thinking it needed a narrator to soften the impact. I mean, you’ve got Mistress No. 1 spilling the beans to the wife ‘cause she’s been dumped for Mistress No. 2!
“When her producer played it for us, Trisha said, ‘I went ahead and sang it in the first person.’ We were like, whoa! So Trisha is Mistress No. 1 in the song. She just owned it! It was a real gutsy thing for her to do. Matraca and I thought we were badass, but after hearing Trisha’s version, we’re thinking, ‘Damn, we’re pussies!’
“Every now and then commercial country music will surprise you. It’s been a while, so maybe ‘Husband’ will be a surprise.”
Commercial country music wasn’t much on Chapman’s mind in 1977 when she played Austin.
“I was really into the Texas progressive music scene. It seemed like all the songwriters I admired were from Texas: Kristofferson, Willie, Billy Joe, Townes, Cindy Walker, Rodney Crowell, Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, Waylon, Buddy Holly....
“I really went to school on those guys.
“When I first got to Nashville, I wanted everybody to think I was from Texas. Heaven forbid they find out I was a lapsed debutante from South Carolina! ‘Progressive country’ was all about freedom of expression, independence, bucking the system. The whole outlaw thing. Bob Dylan said, ‘To live outside the law, you must be honest.’ So there’s that.
“Those two albums Willie recorded for Atlantic – Shotgun Willie and Phases and Stages. Those songs aren’t something he made up so they’d rhyme. The listener instinctively knows Willie lived those songs. That’s the honesty I’m talking about.”
Chapman’s unshakable belief in that honesty has been a lifelong hallmark of her recordings. So much so that Blaze of Glory feels like a milestone album, bursting with the kind of confidence that comes from tenure and experience.
“I never felt so focused going into the studio. Usually, I record 15 or 20 songs then pick out 11 or 12 for the album. But with Blaze, we recorded the 11 songs you hear in the exact order they end up on the album. And also in the order I wrote them. Even the two covers, I knew exactly where they would be in the sequence.
“The first half of the album, I call ‘rug-burn music for sexagenarians.’ For a while, I was thinking of calling the album Sexagenarian, but then it deepened into the whole mortality thing. ‘Blaze of Glory’ was the last song I wrote. The minute I finished it, I knew it would be the album title.
“I grew up going to all those open-air pavilions along the South Carolina coast, Pawley’s Island, Myrtle Beach, Ocean Drive Beach, and so on. Everybody would be shaggin’ to the Drifters, Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs, the Swinging Medallions, the Shirelles, you name it! In the Seventies, I actually got to play a few of those places – the Windjammer (before Hugo) on the Isle of Palms, the Dancing Bear on Folly Beach, and so on.
“My sister taught me to shag. I still know some smooth moves. But I was too shy to shag at those pavilions. I’d stand right up next to the bandstand and fantasize about being in the band!
“Oh, God, what I would’ve given to be a Shirelle!”