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Charley Crockett performs in The Current studio

Charley Crockett – three-song performance (live for The Current) The Current
  Play Now [15:23]

by Bill DeVille

December 11, 2022

The prolific Texas-based artist Charley Crockett has released 11 albums since 2015, and his latest release is The Man From Waco, which Crockett recorded with producer Bruce Robison just outside Austin, Texas.

While he was in town to play a show at First Avenue in Minneapolis, Crockett visited The Current studio for a session hosted by United States of Americana host Bill DeVille. Crockett is disarmingly affable, and as you might expect from that, he and DeVille enjoyed a fun and friendly conversation.

Concert Review: Charley Crockett brings honky-tonk heat to First Avenue

Watch and listen to the session above, and read a transcript of the interview below.

Interview Transcript

Edited for clarity.

Bill DeVille: All right! I'm Bill DeVille, and I'm here with Charley Crockett. Charley, so nice to see you up here in the Twin Cities.

Charley Crockett: Aw, Bill, pleasure's all mine! Thanks for having me, brother.

Bill DeVille: It's been quite a treat. This is the third time I've gotten to see you; I got to see a Nashville, and then back early in the year you played the Turf Club, which was a very much sold-out show back, I think it was February? Yeah, it was the wintertime, and it was a great set, and here we are. "Tom Turkey," tell me about that song and the Bob Dylan connection. It's kind of like Old Crow Medicine Show, "Wagon Wheel," a little bit, innit? I mean, as far as the fact that it's something that Dylan started that you finished? Is that how that worked?

Charley Crockett: Yeah, I guess so. You know, you know, that's funny you say that. I remember we opened up some shows for Old Crow Medicine Show before the pandemic in Kentucky. Yeah, Ketch [Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show] had told me about that, which I never knew. And then I just kind of forgot about it and didn't think anything of it. But I'd always heard all the rumors about, you know, "Wagon Wheel" being a Dylan song, or derived from Dylan or whatever.  Which that's how Dylan is, you know? His greatness is in his ubiquitous influence on everything to do with roots music. When you look underneath a rock, Dylan's right there. It's really true. And he's probably the real reason that I went to New York City, you know, chasing the idea of being a folk singer on a street corner. And last year, riding around, we were touring really hard last year, I came across on YouTube these extended session tapes of his from the Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid soundtrack that he had scored back in the early 70s. And they were labeled Pecos Blues, and it was like an hour and a half of those sessions. And you could hear all the... there were like five takes of "Knocking on Heaven's Door." That stuff that "Wagon Wheel" is derived off of, you can hear those originals on those tapes. And there's a lot of other material that I really had never heard before or noticed just in the background in that Sam Peckinpah flick that I was in a place where you know, he's talking about, you know, Billy the Kid in these kinds of two verses.

A man in a cowboy hat sings in The Current studio
Charley Crockett performs in The Current studio on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022.
Erik Stromstad | MPR

And if you drive between Austin and New Mexico on 84, you'll pass the supposed official gravesite of Billy the Kid right outside of Fort Sumner. And I drive through there, you know, at least a couple of times a month, and have since I was a young man. And I was always kind of interested and curious about Billy the Kid. And I'd heard that Dylan really was fascinated by him. And then for some reason, man, just something about the way that Dylan framed his story in those two verses, it just, it captivated me. And I thought, "Man, I'm going to, I'm going to try to finish this song." And I just felt inspired to do it. And I didn't think that it would be something that we would manage to get through the door. But for whatever reason, you know, Dylan, in his camp, you know, they let it get through. And that's how I ended up, you know, writing a song with him, I guess, you know, if you want to call it that.

Bill DeVille: Yeah.  And thanks for playing it for us.

Charley Crockett: Aw, brother, thanks for letting me do it. You know, I hadn't been able to do that on a radio program up to this point. And it's one of my personal favorites.

Bill DeVille: And you've done a lot of cool stuff this year. You've opened for Willie Nelson. What was that like?

Charley Crockett: Well, it's something I didn't ever consider a possibility.

Bill DeVille: Yeah.

Charley Crockett: It's funny how life works out sometimes. When I first started playing in New York City on the street, when I first hitchhiked up there from the South, first place that I played was under a bridge, a tunnel in Central Park, because I was crashing with a guy up in Spanish Harlem. And I meandered down into the park there. And short story long, you know, 13, 14 years went by and I ended up opening for Willie at the Summer Stage right there just maybe 100 yards from that first bridge that I ever played in in that park, you know? So, you know, I can call it paying dues, you know?

Bill DeVille: Yeah! Now, this is just since 2015, you've recorded, like, 11 albums in this day and age when music doesn't sell like it used to. That's a lot! 

Charley Crockett: Yeah.

Bill DeVille: Why do you record so many albums?

Charley Crockett: Well, I remember we were we were playing at a festival out in the Netherlands just a couple of months ago, and we were standing out on a street corner in Groningen. And there was a guy that I knew from the States, and he had played the festival, too. And he said, "Man, you got creative control, you know, on all your records, don't you?" You know, and the way he said it to me, I think maybe he's in a tough spot. You know? He was kind of looking at me and as in being in a good spot. But I had thought about it, and I remember telling him, I said, "Well, brother, you know, it wasn't anybody's idea but mine, really, to do that." And the reason I was recording that way is because, you know, no one was interested in me, you know? None of the agents that people, you know, hope and pray to get signed by, you know, were aware of me in those days. None of the labels had any interest in me. I mean, even small labels that I dreamed of being on like Bloodshot Records, and Alligator and stuff, you know; I couldn't get those deals, and maybe it was a blessing in some ways that I didn't.

But that's the reason that I was recording myself from early on. You know, I'd been making mixtapes and handing them out on street corners in New Orleans and San Francisco and in farm parties and overseas and stuff like that. And I was self distributed. My first, like, official album that I'd made in a farmhouse in Mendocino County, and I got it printed up with some money I'd made working in that rural area, and was distributing those through, like, I'd put it out on CD Baby and was handing them out on street corners when I got back down to Central Texas. And I got my first agent that way, Jon Folk from Red 11, and I worked that real hard, back door, country honky-tonk circuit. And that was why I was able to get on with Thirty Tigers was through Jon Folk, and [Thirty Tigers president David] Macias took a chance on me because of that, and my records weren't selling, you know? They really weren't. 

Bill DeVille: What was the turning point?

Charley Crockett: It was Welcome To Hard Times. It was the album that I put out in July of 2020. 

A man in a cowboy hat, sitting on a sofa, playing banjo
Charley Crockett's album, 'Welcome To Hard Times,' was released in May 2020.
Son of Davy / Thirty Tigers

Bill DeVille: Right in the heart of the pandemic.

Charley Crockett: Yeah, yeah. And in fact, you know, it was, I think it was scheduled to come out in September, and then everyone was getting cold feet ,and understandably, you know? You know, maybe shelving records and, you know, trying to ride out the storm.

Bill DeVille: Yeah.

Charley Crockett: But we decided to run right into — straight into it. And not only were we, you know, willing to put it out, I moved it up into July from September, you know? And I had written the whole record the previous winter. So none of those songs were written with any idea of, you know, what kind of, you know, challenges would strike the country.

Bill DeVille: Of which there were many.

Charley Crockett: Yeah, you know, but and then even like you and I were talking about, when they were looking at songs to push to the radio, in normal circumstances, I don't think the song "Welcome To Hard Times" would have gotten the push, but based on the extraordinary environment that we were in, everyone got behind that song.

Bill DeVille: I gotta have you talk about The Man From Waco, the new album. It sounds a little bit different than most of your records. It sounds maybe a touch slicker, and it sounds like you're branching out into different genres a little bit. Is that all true?

Charley Crockett: Oh, man, I'm glad you think it sounds slick to you, you know? Well, no, I appreciate that, because, you know, those were seen as demo sessions from all the people around me, even Bruce Robison, who recorded it. But the cool thing about that was, it was a return in a way to like the first record that I was handing out on the street; it was called A Stolen Jewel, and in the way that it was a departure from maybe what somebody in my position, with the pressures building on me, you know, would have done. As you're doing better and better, it tends to drive you towards, you know, more of the people that you would expect that to be working on your records.

Bill DeVille: Yeah.

Charley Crockett: And, you know, we went the other direction. You know, I kind of kept all those voices out, and we cut everything very live to tape; two-inch tape machine in rural Central Texas. And it's a lot of one- and two-take stuff. And that's why I would say it's similar to this record I made, A Stolen Jewel. Now that album I recorded that farmhouse, that's on an old Tascam four-track tape machine. So you know, the board that we were working with that Bruce has and that two-inch machine is a much better board but it's still 50-year-old technology now. But just that kind of understated, natural feeling was something that I would compare those two records to, you know? But of course what's gonna stick to the tape is all those years of making records and all those years of grinding hard on the road, you know, in between it. I would call that the shine on it that, so I appreciate you noticing that.

Charley Crockett
Charley Crockett - The Man From Waco
Son of Davy / Thirty Tigers

Bill DeVille: Well, Charley Crockett has been so nice to have you here at the station. Thanks for coming by.

Charley Crockett: I've been wanting to do this with you a long time.

Bill DeVille: I wish you continued success, and I hope it only gets bigger; as big as you want it to get anyway.

Charley Crockett: I'm gonna put that in my pocket, and take it with me.

Bill DeVille: And I want to thank Producer Derrick Stevens, Evan Clark for helping us sound good, and video from Erik Stromstad and Thor Cramer Bornemann. Thanks again, Charley Crockett. It's been a treat to have you here.

Charley Crockett: Yes, sir. I'll see you, I'll see you down the road.

Bill DeVille: Sounds good, man. Thank you.

Songs Performed

00:00:00 Tom Turkey
00:03:02 Welcome To Hard Times
00:05:49 Time of the Cottonwood Trees 

Songs 1 and 3 are from Charley Crockett’s July 2022 album, The Man From Waco; song 2 is the title track from Crockett’s May 2020 album. Both are available on Son of Davy / Thirty Tigers.


Guest – Charley Crockett
Host – Bill DeVille
Producer – Derrick Stevens
Video Director – Erik Stromstad
Camera Operators – Erik Stromstad, Thor Cramer Bornemann
Audio – Evan Clark
Graphics – Natalia Toledo
Digital Producer – Luke Taylor

Charley Crockett - official site