“For years, for me it was that cycle: put out a new record, tour, write more songs; put out a new record, tour to promote the record.” The voice from the kitchen radio was talking about my life. Almost - I pulled up a dish sponge, a couple of pots and pans and settled in to listen. “Nowadays I just don’t write anywhere near as much.” He had my ear.
“And now, how does it work?” Good old Joe Donahue, the arts interviewer on our local public radio station. Joe has the warmest voice, asks the simple but probing questions.
“The thing is, I’m just in a really good place right now - I mean, I don’t have to work. Music’s been good to me, very good to me. I never have to work again.”
Okay, now I was hooked and dying to know - who was this super-successful guy? He sounded like somebody I almost knew.
“I get down to Nashville to write if somebody, Keith Urban or whoever, calls me up. I admit I got a little burnt out being on the road.” He continued: “…but now I just do it to be with the fans.”
I waited for it, that emotional hit that comes around this point in every Joe Donahue interview. Scrub, scrub. “I owe them…everything really. If it wasn’t for them buying the records, coming to the shows and singing along to every word…” I spun through the rolodex of my mind but he wasn’t giving me anything specific to go by. It was as if a computer was generating the answers from a bank of every music interview ever.
How did it come about, this latest solo tour you’re doing? Joe asked.
“Funny story - see, it was my manager. Now he’s from New Orleans (finally, a specific! Still, music managers from New Orleans is a subcategory in itself), so he has that down-home kind of attitude. I was feeling burnt out, hey - I’ve been on the road since the 80s (now we were getting somewhere, he was a hard-working journeyman who’d gotten lucky ) - and he said why don’t you try a solo acoustic thing? And I said “well how’s that going to work? No one will want to see that!” and he says, in that drawl of his, “What, you ain’t talented enough?” So yeah, the gauntlet had been thrown down and we just decided look, we’ll try a weekend, somewhere - Florida (Florida? There was a curve ball. Well I knew it wasn’t Jimmy Buffett or Tom Petty speaking…Florida, Florida…”Making The Band”, Lou Perlman and that sub-Backstreet group? was all I could come up with) , and if it didn’t work, fine, who’d know? And here I am, going back out again to play solo cause - I love it. It’s just me and a guitar and whatever I want to do, like if we were all just sitting around in my living room.”
I could hear Joe nod thoughtfully through the radio. “So what can we expect to see this weekend at the Colonial Theater?” (My hands were wet or I’d have grabbed my phone to look it up — anyway, I was having too much fun playing guess the beloved, confident but self-effacing 80’s and beyond hitmaker.)
I had scrubbed everything in sight. The hitmaker reeled off a list of song titles I didn't recognize that he promised Joe were bound to generate mass singalongs. The kitchen was clean and I was none the wiser about…anything really. Maybe a vague realization that I’d spent the 80s listening to the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60s?
I waited a good four hours to search events at the Colonial Theater. I just felt closer to him wondering who he was.