Arty Hill dares to say the C word in public | AspenTimes.com
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Arty Hill dares to say the C word in public

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Contributed photoCountry singer-guitarist Arty Hill performs Thursday at Steves Guitars in Carbondale.
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ASPEN Country singer Dale Watson, according to Arty Hill, doesnt use the word country any longer. Which is not exactly true; the Austin, Texas-based Watson can be heard using the word as a pejorative in his song, Country, My Ass, in which he disparages musicians who think a hat and a bunch of clichs makes them a country singer.He thinks Nashville has ruined it, trashed the word, said Hill.Hill, on the other hand, embraces the word but cautiously. He recognizes the truth in Watsons view, that country has been soiled by commercialism, and a surplus of knock-offs of George Jones and Buck Owens. But to Hill, the term country also means something specific a certain sound, style and tradition.Country music is a particular kind of music, said the 41-year-old singer, songwriter and guitarist, who makes his valley debut Thursday evening at Steves Guitars in Carbondale. To me, roots or Americana is not a definitive thing. So Americana, that label, doesnt do it for me. Im not sure what it means. I still like the word country because it denotes something a little more traditional.Another thing that country has come to mean to Hill is a musical challenge. A native of Marylands Eastern Shore, he discovered country when he saw Chet Atkins and Doc Watson perform as a duo on The Mike Douglas Show, in the late 70s. It was the first time I saw a kind of country music that turned me on, he said. He then sought out Hank Williams Jr., and when he bought his first George Jones record, at the age of 16, he was hooked: I wanted to sing like him, even though I knew I couldnt. But that was the most expressive thing to me, said Hill.But along with playing country, Hill also dabbled in rock. Then, some seven years ago, he gave country his full attention, believing the music demanded it.Its hard. Its not rock n roll. Knowing sort-of how to play country that leads to not such great music, said Hill, whose new CD, Bar of Gold, credited to Arty Hill & the Long Gone Daddys, features the familiar country elements of pedal steel, dobro and fiddle. The idea that, I own one Hank Williams record, so now Im gonna make country songs that doesnt help anything. You have to learn the direction. It takes a long, long time to do it if you didnt come from that background.Hill is careful to balance his grasp of tradition with a desire to make his own mark. So Bar of Gold features 11 original songs. And while they deal with standard country topics in familiar ways, he brings his own sensibility to songs like Bring Out the Bible (We Aint Got a Prayer) and the honky-tonk stomper Tore-Up Junction.I dont want to sit and make a Ray Price record; I cant do that, said Hill. But Im trying to take the old forms, maintain what I like about them, and make something different. And that can take a lifetime.The way Hill has been performing the music over the last year hasnt made for an easier ride. A Baltimore attorney by day, specializing in personal injury and divorce, Hill last year decided to spread his musical wings. After several years of playing locally with the Long Gone Daddys, and appearing at festivals in the South and the East, he started hitting the road more frequently. Unable to tour with a band, Hill instead picks up players in each city he appears in. So for tonights gig, hell be backed by locals Randy Utterback, on fiddle; Frank Martin, on lap steel; and Jeff Reynolds, on bass three gentlemen he had never laid eyes on as of the beginning of the week.Every time you go out of town and play music, you make connections, said Hill. And the next time you go to the town, you call those people, line up a bass player, a steel player, maybe a drummer. Some towns are easier than others: In Austin, you just send a CD and there are world-class players lining up to play with you.When he plays with such pick-up bands, Hill is grateful that hes a guitarist as well as a singer. If you come to town and youre just a singer, thats difficult, to make a connection with a band when you dont play, he said. Tempos, little things that are hard to learn if youre just a singer, you dont have that communication. Ive played all the guitar parts on my record, so when you have to do your performance, your solo comes in at the right time. Its a lot more empathetic.And certainly it helps if the musicians he lines up understand country music the way Hill does. Asked what he thinks of the state of country music these days, Hill shook his head, removed his glasses.We could spend three days on this topic, he said.stewart@aspentimes.com


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