In 1992 I was in NYC to make “Little Victories.” The producer Richard Gottehrer told me that he had this guitar player he wanted to try on a couple of tracks. I showed up at RPM Studios on 12th Street a little before we were supposed to start and there was this guy in the main room, bent over a stack of amps and pedals. He’d been like that for two hours, an assistant said. I’d never heard anyone play so loud.
Knox Chandler. Over the next two days he played some of the most amazing sounds. The first song we did was “Loving Arms.” I remember when we came on the opening guitar hook for that one. It took my head off. “Levee Song,” “Little Victories,” “Levee Song,” “Dreams A Dream,” that’s Knox’s crunch and wail holding it all together.
Knox was one of the coolest and most bizarre guys I’d ever met. I remember walking through the East Village with him around this same time, and asking him what he thought about the tattoos that seemed to be appearing from nowhere. He turned to me and said, “You know, that’s just too weird for me.” I thought about that for a few seconds and said back, “Brother, if it’s too weird for you, it’s way too weird for me!” I’ve never been tempted to get a tattoo since that conversation.
On one of those walks we used to take through lower NYC, he turned to me suddenly and asked, “Feel like a pickle? Let’s go to Gus’ Pickles (I think that’s what it was called).”
He was there when I did the Tonight Show. That’s his guitar all over the “Sunflower” album. Our sons are the same age. I realize now that we’ve known each other for damn near 25 years. When I went to NYC around the end of September 2001, Knox was one of the people I went to see, just to give him a hug and hear his story of living below 14th street during those weeks.
Last night in Berlin, sitting, talking with Knox in my friend Jan’s backyard garden, it took me back to those days in the early 90’s walking through NYC, getting an education that can’t be found in any book.
August 25, 2015
Alex Marrero, the badass drummer / singer / guitar player / voice over artist, gave a great Pecha Kucha talk here in Austin in July 2015. I’m going to do my best to summarize it here for your Independence Day reading (Non-US readers, just go along with us…).
In 1962, Alex’s parents left Cuba because they wanted freedom.
Freedom for themselves, freedom for their children.
They left all that they knew behind so that they and their kids might have the opportunity to make the choice of how and why they spent their days, how their children moved through the world.
Think about that for a moment:
They left everything, and started over, for freedom.
They landed in Virginia, and it was weird.
A few years later, the family moved again.
Mexico City, where Alex grew up.
They started over, again.
In his twenties, Alex moved to Austin.
To play music.
He’s Cuban, grew up in Mexico, lives in America.
Alex’s says that when he was a kid, his parents made them read the Spanish and English language newspapers. He insisted that they be bilingual. Alex understood what they were doing, but only later did he appreciate that what they were doing was giving him one more chance at freedom — freedom to navigate a bigger world, to be who he is without restriction.
Freedom to choose.
All the dislocation his parents went through,
All they put their kids through,
Was in pursuit of a very simple concept —
The ability to have some say over the way you live your life.
Alex told us that because his parents had the guts to leave everything behind, he now has the freedom to play music (which is a bit of a ball and chain in itself, but let’s don’t go there).
If you’re in the US, you have certain freedom.
It’s not perfect, it may not be all glory and silver linings,
But you do have the ability to make choices.
It’s possible to change direction.
So, on this Independence Day
Think about what the people who came before you, your family,
Your bloodline went through so that you have this luxury.
What did they give up, leave behind, overcome,
So that you can have these freedoms, big and small?
Freedom of choice.
Alex told us his story that night, looked us all in the eye, and asked us, as I’ll ask you now:
What are you choosing to do with your freedom?
My agent quits on Monday.
On Wednesday I tell my wife that I’m filing for divorce.
That afternoon my manager Ron calls and tells me that my record deal is history.
It’s been a big couple of days.
I’ve been building up to it, these 72 hours in 1995.
And this triple slap brings on a five-year whirlpool.
I hit the ground again and again. Hard. It hurts. I break all the way down.
And I question everything — money, responsibilities, music.
I wonder how to make all these seeming opposites work together,
Travel so hard for so little cash, and so little time home,
Put myself, my songs, out there over and over
For people to love, slam, or worse, just fucking ignore.
When my brain is at it’s darkest,
I see a hundred reasons for quitting music,
To stop making everyone put up with the fallout from my dream.
But I come to the simple fact that nothing fills me
Like putting words on a melody, telling a story that I’ve pulled from thin air.
The success or no-success of it is completely disconnected from the work itself.
And this is why I do it, what makes it worth the fight.
I fell in love with the work, not the feedback.
And I’ve never looked back.
Now the challenge is how to make daily life fit in with music,
Not the other way around.
Music is the constant.
It’s what fills the cup.
Everything else is just extra goodness.
It was my time to hit the wall, 1995,
To come up against myself,
Who I thought I was,
To find the reason to keep moving, stronger,
More exact in my dream.
The value of a good breakdown can never be underestimated.
As an artist, if you never confront yourself,
Your work is going to be stuck in the beginning phase.
Grow up. Crack up. Rebuild.
Tell the truth.
© 2015 Darden Smith
Every now and then I find myself in a situation that makes me realize how incredible my luck is. I’m reminded how music has taken me places I never dreamed I would go, and that the surreal quality that it brings to my life is way beyond what I could have ever imagined.
Like today: This morning I did a radio interview from the Green Room at the Grand Old Opry on WSM-AM. Radney Foster had told me to make sure to check out the main stage, especially the wood circle where the microphone stands. This circle came from the original stage at the Ryman Theater, where the Opry originated. Johnny Cash and June Carter, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill and countless other heroes have stood on those boards and played their songs.
I walked out on the stage and stepped inside. I heard the wood creak under my feet, felt the rhythm ghosts from a thousand songs come straight up through my boots. All those voices, the ones who had called out some of the best music ever written, were begging me to join them. I got the guitar out, grabbed a stool from behind the piano, and just sat there playing and singing for about 30 minutes, soaking it all in, listening to the echoes.
To stand in the place where Hank stood is a big damned deal.
The theater was empty, but this morning I felt like was singing with the angels.