2011: A Year Of Musical Luminaries

By: Alex Ashlock

The grim joke in the Here and Now office is that I'm always producing depressing stories and there's some truth to that. I'm drawn to people who have compelling personal tales to tell and often those tales are not happy. But as I look back over this year called 2011, I'm also thinking about all the great music we've featured on Here and Now.

Steve Earle (Courtesy)
Steve Earle (Courtesy)

Let's start with Mr. Steve Earle, one our favorite guests. This was an interesting year for Earle. His character, the street busker Harley Watt, was killed off on the HBO series Treme, and he also put out a record and a novel, his first, called “I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive, ” the title borrowed from the country music legend Hank Williams. The CD, nominated for a Grammy, and the book, are reflections in life and death, and finding your way to contentment after traveling a hard road. And if anyone knows about traveling a hard road, it’s Steve Earle.

Ryland Cooder is another guest who feels like an old friend. We had him on a while back to talk about his CD "I, Flathead." But this year he focused his laser-like attention on the financial crisis on his record called "Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down." Just listen to the song "No Banker Left Behind" and you'll know what I mean. He introduced us to a man called Uncle Dave Macon, and said that song was created with Uncle Dave in mind.

Since this is the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, it would be nice to hear Ry Cooder sing "Rally Round The Flag," but I can't find the record that song is on, it's called "Boomer's Story."

Anyway, I can find my copy of another Grammy-nominated CD. It's called "The Harrow & The Harvest" and it's the first record Gillian Welch has made under her own name in eight years. It's showing up on a lot of those "best of the year" lists and with good reason. If there are any two performers who are more in tune with each other than Welch and her musical and life partner David Rawlings, please introduce them to me.

This song is not on that CD, but I just love it and wanted to share it too.

I got to produce segments with many of my musical heroes this year, including David Bromberg. He got all these other great musicians to produce him playing versions of his songs. You can't really go wrong with Dr. John, John Hiatt and Levon Helm. Robin also did me a big favor and asked him about producing one of my favorite records of all time, John Hartford's "Aereo-Plain," which I think is finally being re-issued.

What a treat is was to hear from Jessi Colter, widow of the original outlaw Waylon Jennings. Robin spoke to Jessi and Witt Stewart, who produced a tribute to the late great Jennings. It's called "Waylon: The Music Inside," and it features one of the best performances of the year in my mind: Jamey Johnson's version of Jennings' song "This Time."

Musician Todd Rundgren. (Crossover Media)
Musician Todd Rundgren. (Crossover Media)

Another conversation with another hero I can check off my bucket list now is Todd Rundgren. I spoke to him before a Utopia show in Boston on November 15. The same night, his good friend and fellow Utopian Mark "Moogy" Klingman passed away. Rundgren reunited the band as a benefit for Klingman, but his buddy just wasn't healthy enough to stay with the tour.

The Canadian band Hey Rosetta flies under the radar but they really shouldn't. Their CD "Seeds" actually comes with a packet of seeds as a little bonus. We spoke with the band's engaging frontman Tim Baker.

I convinced Deb Becker, who sometimes fills in for Robin to talk to Julian Dawson about his biography of piano player Nicky Hopkins.

This guy has his fingerprints on more great music than just about anybody I can think of. And Julian's book is on Uncut Magazine's best of year list for 2011.

If you're still with me, remember that thing about producing depressing stories? Well, I had a hand in our coverage of the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, and one of the pieces we did featured Rhett Miller, front man for the Old 97s. He read us his diary of that day and its aftermath.

I'm thinking about the importance of artists like Rhett Miller or any of the other musicians that make up my best of list for 2011. And I'm reminded of this time I went to hear the writer Ken Kesey, the guy who wrote "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest," and the even better book, "Sometimes A Great Notion." He read from some of his work, talked about his family and when he finished, we stood and applauded for several minutes. Kesey kept saying "thanks," "thank you," but what he should have said was "you're welcome." Because we were thanking him.

Happy New Year Here and Now listeners.

This program aired on December 29, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.


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