Elmore Interviews Darrell Scott

The Singer Chats About Life in the Country, Playing with Friends, Getting "Couchville Sessions" Out 15 Years Later and the Band of Joy.

Darrell Scott by Jim McGuire
Darrell Scott by Jim McGuire


By Jim Hynes


“[Y]es, I’m just coming in to take your call. We were out building fences for the hogs,” said Darrell Scott as we began our interview.  He seems to be in a very good place these days, living up on the Cumberland Plateau, 40 miles outside of Nashville. While he is living off the grid, so to speak, Darrell relayed, “We’ve got 40 solar panels, and on a day like this the arrow will be pointed down, but on other days we can access power when we need it. Actually, my internet reception here is much better than it was when I lived in Nashville.” Darrell has lived here now for about a year, getting this place built and attending to the many projects this kind of living entails– whether it’s planting, cutting wood, or feeding the animals. “I’m at an age when I’m trying to slow things down after many years of touring, session work and all those things that bring pressure. It’s cheaper here. We grow our own food. And, not being on the road for a year and a half coincided with and afforded me the time and space to get this album done. I just set up my laptop on my woodstove over a piece of Formica. This cabin is so small; I didn’t really want to set up another table.”

Couchville Sessions, the album Darrell refers to, was recorded in 2001 when he lived on the Couchville Pike in Nashville– hence the name. “Yes, it goes back a few years, but I never forgot about it. It’s not unusual in my world to carry songs around for 13-14 years. You know it was meeting Billy Payne and getting to know him a bit, when I just felt like he was the perfect one to add so that I could finish this. Billy just listened to these tunes, overdubbed his parts on 12 of the 14 tracks and got it done in just two days. That’s what master musicians can do.” The other musicians of the core band (Silver back-lost tribe band), whom Darrell refers to as “unphased by time” in the liner notes, are Danny Thompson on upright bass, Kenny Malone on drums and Dan Dugmore on guitar, pedal and lap steel. Scott is a multi-instrumentalist, crediting himself on the album with guitar, mandolin, bouzouki, vibes and weisenborn. There are a handful of guest musicians, such as Shad Cobb, and guest vocals from John Cowan and Peter Rowan, as well as a spoken monologue from Guy Clark on the opening track– a signature Scott challenge to the music industry– “Down to the River.” He also added some additional texture in background vocals from Andrea Zonn and Jason Eskridge. Scott released two other albums with the core lineup, 2003’s Theater of the Unheard, and 2006’s The Invisible Man. In between, the trio of Scott, Malone and Thompson issued Live in NC. Scott says of the time, “I’ve still got about 45 songs recorded with this same band during that period of 2001-2002 that have not been released. We recorded right in my living room, no headphones, no separation, the vocals are live and the solos are live. We have fun and we eat well. I cook. We take a break for a couple of hours and just enjoy it.”

Darrell explained to me how he met Danny Thompson, recalling, “Tim O’Brien and I were traveling in Europe and had one of those conversations about the perfect European meets U.S. musician, and we both agreed that Danny Thompson was the best bass player. Tim called him out of nowhere, and I met him in Dublin at Paul Brady’s house. We did two shows together, hit it off well, and I asked him if he would be willing to come to Nashville and help me make a record.  Two months later, we were recording these sessions in my living room. We had a ball doing it; the band playing in “Moonlight Midnight”—if that’s not pure joy, I don’t know what is. The record has lots of different things. I was just trying to mix it up. I put the covers in there, because I admire all of those artists and it’s challenging and fun to do songs we’ve heard all of our lives a different way.” These covers include Johnny Cash’s “Big River,” a slowed down version of Hank Williams’ “Ramblin’ Man,” the aforementioned Rowan tune, a lighthearted, bouncy take on Townes Van Zandt’s “Loretta,” and a straightforward interpretation of James Taylor’s “Another Grey Morning.” The original material is packed with emotion, whether it be relationships gone badly in “Waiting for the Clothes to Get Clean,” erotic anticipation in “Come Into This Room,” or an acquiescence to mortality in “Another Day to Live and Die.” Roots disc jockeys will likely gravitate to the knock on radio, “Morning Man.” Darrell describes the musicianship of the record, saying, “When you’re working with musicians like this, you can be as live and as unmessed with as you want because they can do it, they have no fear, they can play anything.”

As you might expect, our conversation eventually landed on Robert Plant and the Band of Joy, a gig that Darrell enjoyed for two years. “It was a great band. I felt like we were just discovering ourselves as a band two years into. We made the record in just the first two weeks we were together. I would have loved to have seen what we had done next. You know, it was a blast playing and hanging with them. Robert is of course fantastic and a real student of music. Just to see Robert and Buddy Miller exchanging playlists and talking about these obscure country and roots songs on the bus was great. If Buddy calls me and says Robert wants to get the band together again, I’m in.”

Darrell will be touring extensively behind this album. “In the world we’re in today you need to leave your home to be near their home to get noticed,” he admits. “I didn’t tour behind the Ben Bullington record (Ten: Songs of Ben Bullington), but this tour will be full tilt. We’ll be out in mid-May through late September with only a few trips home in between. I do this solo and I travel with my sound man, my wife and our dog. Don’t expect everything to sound like the record. Shows are shows and should be different. Records are records. Because I’ll be out for a long tour, I think I count on another big chunk of time in my future when I can attend to projects like this again.”

For a full list of tour stops, head to his website.

Here are just a few:

Venue: World Cafe Live
Date: May 15
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Show Time: 8:00 PM

Venue: Iridium Club
Date: May 17
Location: New York, NY
Show Time: 8:30

Venue: Nebraska Folk & Roots Festival
Date: Jun 11
Location: Raymond, NE

Venue: Mucky Duck
Date: Jun 23
Location: Houston, TX
Show Time: 7PM

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