Sky Blue Sky

Q&A with Kevin Welch

Sky Blue Sky

Kevin Welch released his self-titled debut in 1990, alt.country before alt.country was cool. The Oklahoman singer-songwriter explores the human condition in a low-key manner that recalls Guy Clark, and his songs have been covered by Waylon Jennings, Roger Miller, Trisha Yearwood, Ricky Skaggs, and the Highwaymen.

Since his debut, Welch has released several critically acclaimed discs, is a major partner in the Dead Reckoning label, and the accompanying band the Dead Reckoners with Kieran Kane, Harry Stinson, Mike Henderson, and Tammy Rogers. Most recently he’s worked with Kane and multi-instrumentalist Fats Kaplan as a trio that's continued to mine the edge of country.

A relatively new resident of Central Texas, Welch will be celebrating a new solo release, A Patch of Blue Sky, at the Cactus Café Friday, April 23. I spoke with him about living in Texas after many years in Nashville, making the new record, and the music of his children, Dustin and Savannah, the latter a member the new rave-worthy all-woman band the Trishas.

Geezerville: How long have you lived in Wimberley?

Kevin Welch: I moved here April Fool’s Day 2008 and I love it.

G: What’s different between living in Central Texas as opposed to Tennessee?

KW: I grew up in Oklahoma, so I just feel a little closer to home here. Nashville was a great town to raise my kids in, but after 30 years, I never totally felt at home in that part of the country. Here it feels real natural to me. Plus I like the people around here a lot. I like the food a lot. There’s some great soul food joints in Nashville. I haven’t found that kind of cooking here. I’m sure it’s here somewhere, but I haven’t found it.

G: What can you tell me about the new record?

KW: It’s my first Texas record. I cut it with all Texas guys, including my son, Dustin. It’s Rick Richards and Glenn Fukunaga, the rhythm section. Brian Standefer and Bukka Allen from Screen Door Music. The Trishas, Eliza Gilkyson, and Sally Allen sing on it and a couple of Memphis singers, Jackie Johnson and Preston Shannon. We did those tracks in Al Green’s place, Royal Studios. That was really a trip. I’m doing it in conjunction with the Music Road label [home of fellow Okie Jimmy LaFave]. Some of it’s a little bit more R&B than usual for, but it’s pretty much done in a classic way. No sonic curveballs or anything. I was hungry for that for some reason. I wanted to hear Hammond organ and cello and banjo. The records I’ve made with Kieran Kane and Fats Kaplan, we were on a mission sonically. You know, no bass player. With this record I just wanted to get back to having a traditional kind of band. Almost all the songs are very, very new because I didn’t write much when I first came down here.

G: Why was that?

KW: I’m still trying to figure that out. I was just really stuck. I used to base songs on something that I figured out and wanted to tell people. I didn’t have anything figured out. I didn’t have any answers to anything. Finally, I just went, "Maybe I’m not going to figure anything out right now.” So I wrote a song about that, the acceptance of that. That helped just a ton and I was able to write all the rest of those songs finally.

G: Have you thought about writing with some of the people around here?

KW: I’ve done that a little bit. Dustin and I write together, but I’ve written with Micky Braun from Micky and the Motorcars and my daughter, Savannah. She co-wrote several of the songs on the last Motorcars record and they brought me in to work on one of those songs. Jason Eady and I have been threatening to write together. I produced a record of him last year, which was a lot of fun, and I really admire that guy quite a bit. I’m gonna do some of that at some point.

G: Are you going to play with a band on Friday night?

KW: It’s going to be everybody who plays on the record except for Rick Richards. There’ll be no drums.

G: Whatever happened to the Dead Reckoners?

KW: They’re all scattered right now. The Dead Reckoning label still exists. In fact, we just made a live Kane/Welch/Kaplin record for Dead Reckoning. I’m not sure when it’s coming out. We’re still in the mix stage and just kind of thinking about it right now.

G: You must be proud of what the Trishas and Dustin have accomplished so far.

KW: (laughs) Yes, I guess I am. You know how it is. I wish they had gone into an easier way of life. There’s some of that in me. I’m delighted that they’re doing so well. They’re having a lot of fun and they’re doing really good work.

G: Is that something you encouraged or let them figure out for themselves?

KW: I definitely on purpose remained very neutral. In fact, Dustin really pursued it from a very young age. Savannah really did not. I remember when Dustin was about ten years old and he wanted me to teach him “Love and Happiness,” speaking of Al Green. That was the first song he ever asked me to teach him. I thought that was kind of cool. It was one of my favorite records, but he didn’t know that. He’s doing really good. He’s got this new thing that’s kind of aggressive with just banjo and cello. He’s just trying all kinds of different stuff right now.

G: How do you feel about the Trishas?

KW: They have great arrangements. I have so much respect for what they are doing, not just their vocal arrangements, but how much action they’re getting out of very minimal instrumentation. In the middle of a song someone will hit a tambourine and it sounds like a drum kit came in. It’s so good.

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