"A Woman's Got Soul," what a beautiful, beautiful record to women. "It's All Right." It was the sound track of the Civil Rights Movement. And it was here, amongst these great African–American artists, that I learned my craft. You learned how to write. You learned how to arrange. You learned what mattered and what didn't. You learned what a great production sounds like. You learned how to lead a band. You learned how to front a band.
These men and women, they were and they remain my masters. By the time I reached my twenties, I'd spent a thousand nights employing their lessons in local clubs and bars, honing my own skills. I was signed as an acoustic singer/songwriter, but I was wolf in sheep's clothing – signed by John Hammond at Columbia Records, along with Elliott Murphy, John Prine, Loudin Wainwright III. We were all new Dylans.
And the old Dylan was only 30. So I don't even know why they needed a fucking new Dylan, all right? But those were the times. 30 was, you know…But I had nights and nights of bar playing behind me to bring my songs home. Young musicians, learn how to bring it live, and then bring it night, after night, after night, after night. Your audience will remember you.
Your ticket is your handshake. These skills gave me a huge ace up my sleeve. And when we finally went on the road, and we played that ace, we scorched the Earth, because that's what I was taught to do by Sam Moore, and by James Brown. There's no greater performance than James Brown burning ass on the Rolling Stones at The T.A.M.I. show. Sorry, sorry, my friends. I fucking loved the Stones. But James Brown – boys and men, you were screwed. Yeah, I think I'll go on after James Brown.
Oh, yeah, can you put me in the schedule somewhere after James Brown? Fuck, no. Get out. Go home. Save it. Don't waste it, man. I had a great thing with James Brown. I went to see James Brown one night, and he kind of knew me. I was sitting in the audience, and, suddenly I heard: Ladies and gentlemen, Magic Johnson, and Magic Johnson was onstage. And: Ladies and gentlemen, Woody Harrelson, and he was on stage. And then I'm sitting in my seat, watching, I hear: Ladies and gentleman, Mr. Mr., Mr. "Born in the USA." And I realized he didn't know my name, so I ran my ass up there as fast as I could.
I can't tell you, man, standing on stage alongside of James Brown…it was like, "Fuck, what am I doing here? He's such a, his influence. James Brown, underrated, still, today, underrated. He's, He's Elvis. He's Dylan. Dylan from whom I first heard a version of the place that I lived that felt unvarnished and real to me.
If you were young in the sixties and fifties, everything felt false everywhere you turned. But you didn't know how to say it. There was no language for it at the time. It just felt fucked up, but you didn't have the words. Bob came along and gave us those words. He gave us those songs. And the first time he asked you was: How does it feel? Man, how does it feel to be on your own? And if you were a kid in 1965, you were on your own, because your parents, God bless them, they could not understand the incredible changes that were taking place. You were on your own, without a home. He gave us the words to understand our hearts.
He didn't treat you like a child. He treated you like an adult. He stood back and he took in the stakes that we were playing for, he laid them out in front of you. I never forgot it. Bob is the father of my musical country, now and forever. And I thank him.
The great, the great trick I learned from Bob is that he still does one thing that nobody, nobody can do. He sings verse, after verse, after verse and it doesn't get boring. It's almost impossible. But he didn't write about something, he wrote about everything that mattered at once in every song, it seemed like.
He pulled it off. I said, "Yeah, I like that. I'm gonna try that." So now I'm in my late twenties, and I'm concerned, of course – getting older. I want to write music that I can imagine myself singing on stage at the advanced old age, perhaps, of 40? I wanted to grow up. I wanted to twist the form I loved into something that could address my adult concerns. And so I found my way to country music.
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