Aspen Songwriters Festival opens with Darrell Scott
ASPEN – Darrell Scott is enjoying a moment in public view. His album “Long Ride Home,” released on the last day of January, spent three weeks in the top spot of the Americana chart. It is the latest indicator that Scott, at 52, is still moving closer to prominence. After gaining a toehold in Nashville, Tenn., by writing hits for the Dixie Chicks, Brad Paisley and others, Scott has since become a member of Band of Joy, the folk-leaning group fronted by Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant, and earned album-of-the-year honors from the Independent Music Awards and a song-of-the-year award from the Americana Music Association. At last year’s Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Scott was host of the Sunday morning gospel set, welcoming Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller and Tim O’Brien to the microphone for crowd-pleasing takes on biblical psalms, the traditional “This Little Light of Mine” and the more spiritual sides of Bob Dylan and Hank Williams.While his career moves into the spotlight, though, Scott maintains a private place where the writing happens. Recording albums, playing concerts and appearing as a sideman necessarily take place where all are welcome to see. But creating the songs happens where no one is watching, not even peeking over his shoulder.”It’s still a private affair,” Scott said from his home in Nashville. “I still need to operate as if it’s a sacred space. I want to be free to say anything.”How, then, does he reconcile that privacy with the fact that when those songs are done, they are exposed for all to hear? Scott says that, as he has established his career as a recording artist, he has made a distinction between the writing and the other, more public aspects of making a recording.”I’m almost a spectator at the beginning, just watching it happen,” said Scott, a big, tough-looking guy with a delicate voice and a sensitive manner. “Then, when the inspiration leaves the room, the editor in me kicks in, the arranger in me kicks in, the player in me kicks in, with all the tricks and tools. The hundreds of songs I’ve loved in my lifetime kick in, and I just try to make them better.”Coming out has been a 40-year process. Now it’s my duty to come out with this private stuff. In fact, the more private, the more spiritual, vulnerable, internal it is, the more I’m inclined to think that it has to come out. Because I’m sure that the best writing is when it goes deep. It has that truth. You can feel it.”Interestingly, songs and songwriting were not just out in the open in Scott’s childhood home – they were the biggest part of life. “If you were in the truck with my mom or dad, you were listening to country music. There was nothing else,” said Scott, who was born in Kentucky and raised first in East Gary, Ind., then Southern California before moving to Canada – “to get away from Reagan.” “In the living room, we would play Johnny Cash through the P.A. system.”His father didn’t just listen. He wrote and played, as well. He even pulled Scott, at 16, in as a songwriting partner. Two of the songs they co-wrote, “The Country Boy” and “You’re Everything I Wanted Love to Be,” are on “Long Ride Home.” Despite the creative atmosphere, Scott hid his own writing activities.”I started secretive – like you keep your diary private,” he said. “They’re private affairs as a 14-year-old, a 16-year-old. I’m still that way. Why would anyone be going through my notebook? It’s inconceivable that anyone else should see them. I would hide it. My family didn’t know I was writing songs.”Scott got busted at the age of 14 or 15 when his older brother, a talented musician who occasionally plays with Scott, found a batch of lyrics and put a tune to them. But he mistook the source of the writing. When he told their father that he had made a song of their his words, their father said they weren’t his lyrics. “I confessed, ‘Those are my lyrics,'” Scott recalled.Playing other people’s music existed on a different plane. By the age of 6, Scott was singing and playing bass in churches and prisons. At 14, he joined his father’s group, playing “anything you might hear from a bar band, in a bowling-alley lounge, at a truck stop.” In addition to getting experience as a performer, Scott credits his father for exposing him to an endless playlist of nothing but quality music.”He knew what good songs were,” he said. “So when we sang, it was a lot of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams. That meant I was hearing the best songs there were. I grew up on all the good stuff. I literally grew up with all the Hank Williams catalogue, not just a song from it. All the Merle Haggard, all the Waylon Jennings.”In Boston, while studying literature and poetry at Tufts, Scott played as a sideman in bar bands. He considered leaving music entirely to focus on a master’s in creative writing. But his writing kept turning into songs. “I sang songs that were, in essence, finding my writer’s voice,” he said. “It was me showing up in songs, which is just what I wanted anyway.”Scott’s natural songcrafting abilities and lengthy experience as a sideman didn’t translate immediately into being the featured performer. “The songs were stronger, sooner, than I was as an artist to sing them,” said Scott, who opens the Wheeler Opera House’s 7908 Aspen Songwriters Festival on Wednesday at 7 p.m. “I, the shy sideman, was too fragile to go out and say, ‘Hey, these are my songs, and I’m the leader of this band onstage.'””Aloha From Nashville,” released in 1997 when he was 38, marked Scott’s recording debut. He has since released seven more studio albums, including 2000’s “Real Time,” a collaboration with Tim O’Brien. The albums have generally been fawned over by insiders – 2003’s “Theatre of the Unheard” was named album of the year at the Independent Music Awards and earned raves from Rolling Stone – but none of of them did much on the charts.But with the success of “Long Ride Home,” Scott is in the mood to bring his songs into the daylight. Last week he hosted a “Number One” party, cooking Pay Lake gumbo, Hopkinsville cornbread and Someday salad – all dishes named for songs from the email@example.com
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Under bluebird skies with 160 acres under their boots, hundreds of skiers and snowboarders took to Aspen Mountain for opening day Wednesday.