(lively folk music) (folk music continues) - [Narrator] Darrell Scott has charted his own course in the music business.
He lived in Canada for a while and gigged around Boston to hone his performing skills before moving to Nashville, his home now for more than 25 years.
He's a master instrumentalist and has had several mainstream hits.
He's one of my favorite singer songwriters.
♪ Yeah, I got rice cooking in the microwave ♪ ♪ I got a three day beard I don't plan to shave ♪ ♪ And it's a goofy thing ♪ ♪ But I just gotta say, hey man, I'm doing all right ♪ ♪ Yeah, I think I'll make me some homemade soup ♪ ♪ I'm feeling pretty good, and that's the gospel truth ♪ ♪ It's neither drink nor drug induced ♪ ♪ No I'm just doing all right ♪ ♪ And it's a great day to be alive ♪ ♪ I know the sun's still shining when I close my eyes ♪ ♪ It's hard times in the neighborhood ♪ ♪ But why can't every day be just this good ♪ ♪ It's been 15 years since I left home ♪ ♪ And said good luck to every seed I'd sown ♪ ♪ I gave it my best and I left it alone ♪ ♪ I hope they're doing all right ♪ ♪ Now red bird, red bird what do you see ♪ ♪ He says, I see a lone wolf looking at me ♪ ♪ Head in the clouds but harmless as a tree ♪ ♪ Good God, I guess he's doing all right ♪ ♪ And it's a great day to be alive ♪ ♪ I know the sun's still shining when I close my eyes ♪ ♪ It's some hard times in the neighborhood ♪ ♪ But why can't every day be just this good ♪ ♪ See, sometimes it's lonely ♪ ♪ Sometimes it's only me ♪ ♪ And all of the shadows that fill this room ♪ ♪ Sometimes I'm falling ♪ ♪ Desperately calling ♪ ♪ And I'm howling at the moon ♪ (howls) (ukulele solo) ♪ Well, it's a colorful life that we go through ♪ ♪ It's neither black or white nor just shades of blue ♪ ♪ Now maybe I'll grow me a Fu Manchu ♪ ♪ Yeah, it's a great day to be alive ♪ ♪ I know the sun's still shining when I close my eyes ♪ ♪ It's some hard times in this neighborhood ♪ ♪ But why can't every day be just this good ♪ ♪ It's a great day to be alive ♪ ♪ I know the sun's still shining when I close my eyes ♪ ♪ It's hard times in the neighborhood ♪ ♪ But why can't every day be just this good, yeah ♪ (ukulele continues) (howls) (harmonizing with ukulele) ♪ La da da da da da da ♪ - You grew up in Indiana.
- Yeah, early years.
Born in Kentucky, but probably one year old we all went up to Indiana.
That's where work was.
- Was it a musical family?
Yeah my dad, you know, knew the basic chords, he was never a lead guy, but you know, G C D A you know, the regular things.
- He played around the house.
And we played in church, too.
We grew up in church and we'd play in the house and basically how some families go fishin' or bowlin' or something like that.
Our pastime was music and that's how we would entertain ourselves and challenge ourselves and be in competition even as kids.
Mostly country but also you know, gospel music from church stuff.
And later on, you know, the Beatles, you couldn't help but know that they were going on.
- You were at Tufts studying literature and poetry.
How did you get from there to being a Nashville songwriter or studio musician?
- Well, I was a musician like full time ahead of that.
And Tufts and going to college was the break from, From music and really I kind of hit the wall in the music business that I had known I had moved up to Canada and, you know, traveled all across Canada.
Was in a band up there had top 10 songs and things like that and a marriage that was failing at the time.
And I was in my early twenties and I just wanted to go somewhere where no one knew my failures and that was the Boston area.
And another one of my failures, so to speak, was that I was never very good at school.
And so I went to Boston where no one knew that I wasn't good at school.
And suddenly I was good at school.
It was like, for some reason, I'd gone down the music path the way that I'd known to, to do it as far as I could and I needed more information and really going to school and studying, especially, you know, literature, poetry and things like that.
That's what made the difference.
So when I did come back to music after that I had a point of view and I had found my writer's voice.
And then once I had that and I applied that back to songs it was like, I had something I felt I had to that I had to say, I had the equipment I needed and wanted that I didn't have prior to going to college.
- You went to Boston kind of to hone your skill.
So you just didn't come to Nashville.
- That's right.
- Without that.
- Yeah, and honestly, I didn't want to show up in Nashville until I had kind of gotten myself together creatively.
- So you'd written a bunch of songs already.
I'd written songs since I was 12.
And at this time I was, let's say 30.
And it was probably around age 28 that I found my first song that felt like, okay, that's worth pursuing where prior to that, it all looked and sounded like, you know things you hear on the radio as if that's what I were chasing and for the music I loved, it was never that it was always once I got into the singer songwriter folks, you know, Gordon Lightfoot, you know, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, those folks that was like, James Taylor.
That's what I wanted to do, was that kind of thing.
- You said somewhere that you were a literary songwriter that you wanted the words without the music to read like poetry.
- Yeah, if it can.
I mean if you can get it.
I think great songs should and can stand by themselves as lyrics.
And for that matter, if you could flip it too and just play the melody of your song too.
- I wanna go back to Nashville.
So you, you got to Nashville.
I mean, you don't just bust in Nashville that's got its own little world you gotta work your way into - Yeah, I worked my way into it for at least two years of no pay at all.
And I had at that time a year and a half old child and another one on the way.
So we just basically lived on credit cards and, uh, my wife's retirement pay that was, you know, decades in the future.
And so in essence, we didn't make any money but after about two years I started breaking into the studio stuff.
That was kind of the first things that I made any money at in a regular kind of way was playing sessions, demos, commercials believe it or not like Eggo and beer commercials.
I mean, anything that paid is what I was looking for.
And then that grew into, you know, having me on, You know I started playing then records and stuff like that.
I was in a camp of sorts playing with folks like Sam Bush and Tim O'Brien, John Cowan, Guy Clark, Steve Earle.
So that side of things.
- But also the music row side of things, like just things like straight up, you know, radio things from music row, And somehow as a player I could sit in both camps and then I also had a writing deal and those started sneaking up, you know to where people would start cutting those.
And then mixed in there as well was me putting out my own records, which is where a lot of those songs that got cut in Nashville came from my records first.
So I started finding out really early on, if I just write what I want to write and what's moving me, through inspiration, I will fare better and I will be more satisfied with the song and through miracles practically, then that song can go on.
You know, I've had really good success with songs that came about because I wasn't striking for the market, I was.. - Something from the heart.
Writing what I felt like writing.
And again, because I started having success at that, That's just what I continued to do.
I just kept writing what I wanted to, whether it worked in the marketplace or it didn't.
- You're still doing that aren't you?
- And I'm still doing that, yeah.
- One thing you said was if you find yourself crying, writing a song, you've probably got something.
- Yeah, there's something going on, yeah.
And those, those are those little signs that I find like me and those other two writers writing for George Strait, we weren't crying.
Right, there was no emotional anything.
We were all being clever and strategic and almost writing because you were made to, or you thought it'd be a good idea.
But those songs that come up and just grab you you know, and won't let you go and won't let you do what you were going to do for the next hour or two.
Those are the ones that have a special thing following through with them.
And that's what I'm interested in.
I'm interested in those surprises.
You know, the strategic songwriting is where you would almost like, I know what I'm gonna do here, here here in the verse, the chorus it'll rise and fall.
You know, that's a certain way of doing things.
But those ones that surprise you, like you get to that second or third verse and you write about something you had no idea was gonna show up.
- Oh yeah.
- That's the stuff I'm looking for.
I mean, those are the things that feel like special songs.
(ominous piano music) ♪ In the deep dark Hills of Eastern Kentucky ♪ ♪ See, that's the place where I trace my bloodline ♪ ♪ And it's there I read on a hillside gravestone ♪ ♪ Said, you will never leave Harlan ♪ ♪ Alive ♪ ♪ Well my grandad's dad walked down ♪ ♪ Katahrin's Mountain ♪ ♪ And he asked Hilly Helton to be his bride ♪ ♪ Said won't you walk with me ♪ ♪ Out of the mouth of this holler ♪ ♪ Or we'll never leave Harlan alive ♪ ♪ Where the sun comes up ♪ ♪ About ten in the mornin' ♪ ♪ And the sun goes down ♪ ♪ About three every day ♪ ♪ And you fill your cup ♪ ♪ With whatever bitter brew you're drinkin' in ♪ ♪ You spend your life ♪ ♪ Just thinkin' of how to get away ♪ ♪ No one ever knew there was coal in them mountains ♪ ♪ Till the man from the northeast arrived ♪ ♪ He was wavin' them hundred dollar bills ♪ ♪ And he said I'll pay ya for your minerals ♪ ♪ But he never left Harlan alive ♪ (piano continues) ♪ Well granny, she sold out cheap ♪ ♪ And they moved out west of Pineville ♪ ♪ To a farm where Big Richland River winds ♪ ♪ And I bet they danced them a jig ♪ ♪ And they laughed and sang a new song ♪ ♪ Who said we'd never leave Harlan alive ♪ (piano continues) ♪ Oh but the times they got hard ♪ ♪ And tobacco wasn't selling ♪ ♪ And old grandad knew what he'd do to survive ♪ ♪ Well he went and dug for Harlan coal ♪ ♪ And sent the money back to granny ♪ ♪ Oh, but he never left Harlan ♪ ♪ Alive ♪ ♪ Where the sun comes up ♪ ♪ About 10 in the morning ♪ ♪ And the sun goes down ♪ ♪ About 3 every day ♪ ♪ And you fill your cup ♪ ♪ Go on and fill it up ♪ ♪ With whatever bitter brew you're drinkin' ♪ ♪ And you spend you're life ♪ ♪ Diggin' coal from the bottom of your grave ♪ ♪ Your grave ♪ ♪ In the deep dark hills of Eastern Kentucky ♪ ♪ See, that's the place where I trace my bloodline ♪ ♪ And it's there I read on a hillside gravestone ♪ ♪ Said you will never leave Harlan ♪ ♪ Alive ♪ - And how did that come about and was that one of those early ones or did that come later?
- Yeah, that was an early one, after I'd moved to Nashville.
Yeah, in my family's history, there's a great grandfather who must have done something bad like about a hundred years ago to where the family excommunicated him.
- So they weren't to talk about him, we don't follow if he remarried, that's the end of it.
Thus says granny back in the day.
So for a hundred years later we don't know what happened to him.
The only thing we knew that I knew was that he played banjo and that was like, well, that's all I need to know.
- Yeah, I guess so.
- So I wanted to go find out like, maybe this is where all this music came from for my family and myself.
So I went to Harlan County which is where they were from to see if I could find out.
So I studied microfiche, went into the library and all that kind of stuff to see if there was any records.
And I also went to the graveyards, literally turning over stones in an old, you know, almost forgotten graveyard with my dad, um, in Harlan County to see if I could find a stone with his name or anything at all.
And that I didn't go on a research project to write a song, I went to find out about what happened to my great-grandfather, who maybe gave us music.
And about a week later, you know, after that trip to Harlan County the song just kind of piled out through me.
And that was one of those where it surprised me.
I didn't sit down to say, "You know, I'm gonna write a song about my family now."
And it came from that other place.
That surprising place.
That inspirational place, the place where you might cry if you know that you're onto something, an emotional experience.
It's very true until the last verse.
So the last verse is the verse where I thought since my great-grandfather didn't have what I figured a fair shake for the next a hundred years.
In the last verse, I had him as a narrative, go back to the mines and that that's where he died.
That's not true.
So that's the sort of writer's power to be able to shape whatever.
I mean, that's where I'm writing a song as opposed to writing my family history.
- What advice would you give to someone coming up, that's a songwriter and wants to do that.
- Yeah, I always tell them to tell the truth for themselves.
- Wow, yeah.
- I understand that there's that hitting you know, swinging for the fences.
That's why, when I got to Nashville, I was 30, 31 years old.
I wanted to already have my creative part together cause I was pretty certain that Nashville could whittle it out of me or whittle it away from me.
And I didn't want that.
So, um, I would say my advice would be to tell the truth you know, and especially in the writing, you know, and the rest will probably take it care of itself.
I'm not saying fame, but you might have some truthful songs on your hands and that might be better.
(light upbeat guitar music) ♪ Now, daddy sits on the front porch swingin' ♪ ♪ Lookin' out on a vacant field ♪ ♪ Used to be fill with burley tobacco ♪ ♪ Now he knows it never will ♪ ♪ Oh, brothers found work in Indiana ♪ ♪ Sisters a nurse at the old folks home ♪ ♪ Momma's still cookin' way too much for supper ♪ ♪ And me, I've been a long time gone ♪ ♪ Yeah, a long time gone ♪ ♪ I ain't hoed a row since I don't know when ♪ ♪ Long time gone ♪ ♪ And it ain't comin' back again ♪ (guitar continues) ♪ Now Delia plays that old church piano ♪ ♪ Sittin' right down on her daddy's farm ♪ ♪ She always thought we'd be together ♪ ♪ Lord, I never meant to do her harm ♪ ♪ Said, she could hear me singin' in the choir ♪ ♪ Me, I heard another song ♪ ♪ I got wind and I hit the road runnin' ♪ ♪ Good God, I've been a long time gone ♪ ♪ Yeah, a long time gone ♪ ♪ I ain't had a prayer since I don't know when ♪ ♪ Long time gone ♪ ♪ And it ain't comin' back again ♪ (energetic guitar solo) (humming with guitar) ♪ Now me, I went to Nashville ♪ ♪ Trying to be the big deal ♪ ♪ Playin' down on Broadway ♪ ♪ Gettin' there the hard way ♪ ♪ Livin' from a tip jar ♪ ♪ Sleepin' in my car ♪ ♪ Hockin' my guitar ♪ ♪ Yeah, I'm gonna be a star ♪ ♪ A big, big, big, big, big, big star ♪ ♪ Now, me and Delia sang every Sunday ♪ ♪ Watchin' the garden and the children grow ♪ ♪ We listen to the radio to hear what's cookin' ♪ ♪ But the music ain't got no soul ♪ ♪ Oh, they sound tired but they don't sound Haggard ♪ ♪ They got money but they don't have Cash ♪ ♪ They got Junior but they don't have Hank ♪ ♪ I think, I think, I think the rest is ♪ ♪ Long time gone ♪ ♪ Well I ain't honked the horn since I don't know when ♪ ♪ Long time gone ♪ ♪ And it ain't comin' back ♪ ♪ I said a long time gone ♪ ♪ Well I ain't honked the horn since I don't know when ♪ ♪ Long time gone ♪ ♪ And it ain't comin' back again ♪ (guitar continues) ♪ Yeah a long time, long time ♪ ♪ Long time gone, gone, gone ♪ ♪ It's been a very long time ♪ ♪ Yeah, long time, long time ♪ ♪ Long time gone ♪ (harmonizing with guitar) (springy outro sound)