– Darrell Scott
“I think there’s zero difference between the writing of great poetry or great short stories and the writing of Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Leonard Cohen or Joni Mitchell,” Scott said during a telephone interview from his home in Nashville.
Scott is one of Music City’s most sought-after songwriters, musicians and producers. Over 75 artists have covered his songs, including Garth Brooks, Faith Hill and Brad Paisley (“You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive”).
In review of his 1999 CD, “Family Tree,” George Graham said Scott’s writing was “in some ways more reminiscent of the work of the better Texas singer-songwriters than the Nashville scene. “
In 2001, he was named Songwriter of the Year by the Nashville Songwriters Association International. In 2002, he was named Songwriter of the Year by ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers). His “Long Time Gone,” covered by The Dixie Chicks, was nominated for a 2003 Grammy.His 2003 CD “Theatre of the Unheard” made Rolling Stone magazine’s Top Albums list, comparing him to “Clark and [Bruce] Springsteen at their best.”
“Theatre of the Unheard” was a long time coming.
The songs were written between 1986 and 1990, while Scott was a student in Boston.
“I got a big record deal with these songs,” he explained in the CD’s liner notes. “When the record was finished and delivered to the record company, my fate was decided in a five-minute meeting to not release the record.”
Even though it took 11 years to see daylight, Scott says the songs “were bigger than I was an artist. Now I can stand up to them.”
The songs are strong, to be sure.
“East of Gary” is a bleak homage to a town that lived and died by the steel mill.
“Uncle Lloyd” tells the powerful tale of a man who loses everything.
“Alton Air,” an instrumental number, and the beginning of “The Man Who Could Have Played Bass For Shanana” were definitely influenced by guitarist Pat Metheny’s jazzy style.
“I definitely had a Pat Metheny period,” Scott admits. “I first heard him and Lyle Mays when they were playing with Joni Mitchell. I thought, ‘Who in the world is that?’ I still carry Pat Metheny with me.”
On his 2008 CD, “Modern Hymns,” Scott said his mission was to showcase “songs and artists/songwriters whose music shook me as a kid. They guided my own path as a singer-songwriter. These songs speak to the human condition. These songs are the truth.”
For “Modern Hymns,” Scott selected songs from Gordon Lightfoot (“All the Lovely Ladies”), Joni Mitchell (“Urge for Going”), Kris Kristofferson (“Jesus was a Capricorn), Leonard Cohen (“Joan of Arc”), Bob Dylan (“I Don’t Believe You”) and Guy Clark (“That Old Time Feeling”), to name a few.
“I was a teenager when I heard Joni and Gordon Lightfoot,” Scott said. “ I turn 50 this year, and this stuff still speaks to me.”
He is especially fond of Joni Mitchell, Guy Clark and Leonard Cohen.
“It doesn’t get any higher than Joni Mitchell,” he explained. “Once you reach that level of excellence, then we could add Guy Clark and Leonard Cohen.”
Scott has produced CDs for master storyteller Clark.
“His new album is absolutely fantastic,” Scott said. “It stands up there with anything he’s done.”
The feeling is mutual.
“Darrell Scott can do anything he wants to do,” Clark told the News-Telegram. “He is absolutely wonderful. He’s a true genius.”
Scott was born on a Kentucky tobacco farm and raised in East Gary, Indiana. The family relocated to Southern California when Scott was 11.
His father Wayne, a steelworker, was also a part-time musician who drafted his five sons to play in a band, doing gigs up and down the California coast.
Scott eventually left the band and headed for Boston, where he earned a degree in English.
“They called it an English major,” he explained. “More than anything, I studied poetry. I even considered going on to a graduate degree in poetry, but I came back to music with what I picked up in the poetry world. That’s the same time I was discovering Guy, Townes [Van Zandt] and Leonard.”
When Scott put Cohen’s classic “Joan of Arc” on “Modern Hymns,” he was looking for a singer to do the part of the angel and it just so happened that bluegrass star Alison Krauss was available.
“I was very privileged to have her there,” he said. “I was able to get her because I think she likes some of the stuff I do and wanted to come sing on the CD.”
Scott said it was “scary” to approach Cohen’s masterpiece.
“I’m so familiar with Jennifer Warens’ version [from the 1987 CD ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’],” he explained. “I basically used the same arrangement. I just changed the cast of characters. Mary Gauthier was Joan. I was the devil and Alison was the angel.”
Scott’s work, whether covering others or doing his own tunes, is not fluffy background music. It tells great stories and makes you think.
“I sorta apologize for that,” he said. “I try to make my records as entertaining as possible, but they do require listening.”
This is the second part in “A Songwriter’s Sojourn,”
a series featuring songwriters from Texas - or with close ties to Texas -
left their mark on the world of music.
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