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Americana Roundtable: Things We Learned From John Prine, Jason Isbell, Margo Price

Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile, Dave Cobb also join in candid musical discussion

During last week’s AmericanaFest in Nashville, Amazon Music convened some of the genre’s most respected and beloved artists for a taping of “Today in Music,” an Alexa-based show hosted by Adam Steiner.

John Prine, Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, Dave Cobb, Margo Price and Brandi Carlile all came together at Music Row’s Sound Stage Studios to discuss early musical influences, share family stories, and give the small audience more than a few laugh-out-loud moments. The conversation offered not only a glimpse into each artist’s creative process, but also into genuine friendship and respect they feel for one another (particularly for Mr. Prine).

Rolling Stone Country attended the taping, which you can watch in full above. Here are six things we learned from the wide-ranging, 40-minute conversation.

Brandi Carlile discovered Elton John through HIV/AIDS research advocate Ryan White.
While Carlile explained that her earliest memories of music were of listening to her grandfather, who died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, yodeling and playing the spoons, she also spoke passionately about her love for Elton John, citing 1975’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy as an album she “wore out.” “I really was drawn to the flamboyance of gay men, gay singer-songwriters, and just how fearless and beautiful the music they were making at that time and still is,” she says. “I fell in love with Elton John over a fifth-grade book report about a kid that had contracted HIV in the Eighties. He died in the early Nineties… They tried to politicize him against gay men and that’s when the conspiracy to slant the AIDS epidemic against gay men was really most prevalent. He befriended this guy called Elton John who was an activist and had started the Elton John AIDS Foundation. He sang a song called ‘Skyline Pigeon’ at this kid’s funeral. This was my perspective at the time, at 11 years old. I went to the King County Library and came home with that song because I wanted to hear about this man. And that’s how I fell in love with Elton John.”

Amanda Shires sees Leonard Cohen as a kindred spirit.
“Wanna see my new Leonard Cohen tattoo?” Shires jokes, when Steiner brings up the late songwriter. Shires, who is also an accomplished poet and holds and MFA in poetry from the Sewanee School of Letters, finds a kindred spirti in Cohen. “I was working in a record store and I saw his face and it was mysterious and I was tired of listening to Fugazi, because somebody else loved Fugazi that worked there… I took it home and he became my friend, in my mind. Then I started just printing out his lyrics, because some of the records didn’t have the lyrics. And then I started reading the books. Then I started watching everything that was ever recorded. I guess what I liked initially was the fact that he was a poet and then a writer and then came into music.”

John Prine has a bit of a Cadillac obsession, and hopes to write another album.
Prine may want you to blow up your TV and move to the country, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t enjoy a little luxury in his own life. “Everybody has an eBay habit or an Amazon Prime habit at this point,” Cobb says. “We look at guitars and [Isbell] looks at shoes… Prine shops for Cadillacs.” As Price points out, Prine has his Cadillacs delivered late at night so his wife, Fiona, won’t notice, a story to which Prine doesn’t object, simply smiling and laughing. When Steiner asks Prine if he has another album in the works, he answers, “If I could just write 10 songs. I don’t know when, but there will be another one.”

Jason Isbell loves Carrabba’s.
As the artists were discussing their studio habits, the topic of the best late-night recording food dominated the conversation. At one point, Carlile teases Isbell that the Italian chain Carrabba’s is his favorite restaurant. And while this particular anecdote doesn’t necessarily shed light on Isbell’s creative process, it does showcase his unparalleled knack for telling a damn good story. “It’s not my favorite restaurant. According to Dave, Carrabba’s is my favorite restaurant,” Isbell says. “Ricatoni’s in Florence [Alabama] is like Carrabba’s but without the Carrabba’s name… Rick [Elliott] is the crazy dude in Florence who owns this restaurant. When I was teenager, it was the only place to take a date… What had happened was, Rick and his friend Jake… got into this huge fight and Rick had to leave town and he went to Birmingham and started working at Carrabba’s. He came back and he opened Ricatoni’s… Somebody, one day, ventured outside of Florence and went to a city that had a Carrabba’s. And they’re like, ‘Holy shit! This is the same exact menu as Ricatoni’s!’ And it was… But that’s why I like Carrabba’s so much.”

Margo Price found an advocate in producer Matt Ross-Spang.
It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when Margo Price couldn’t get record labels or producers to agree to work with her. She found an ally, though, in Matt Ross-Spang, a Memphis-based producer who works out of Southern Grooves Production. “I think what drew me to Matt Ross-Spang was that he was really excited to work with me,” Price says. “I’d sent my demos around to some different people in Nashville and never got a response. I was like, ‘Hey, I’m going to make a great record. I don’t have any money.’ But then I went through Memphis and Matt Ross was there working at Sun and we did one song and he was like, ‘Look, I know you don’t have much money [but] I’ll give you a deal. Come record with me.’ And that was that… It’s just nice when you get to work with people that feel like friends and it doesn’t feel forced.”

Dave Cobb loves “Disco Duck” (and the Eagles).
The revered producer, who has worked with each of the roundtable’s artists in some capacity, counts the Rick Dees novelty tune “Disco Duck” as an early musical influence, to laughs from the rest of the table. “I had an aunt who was a partier and she got in some trouble so she had to come live with us and she brought her record collection. I grew up Pentecostal like [Isbell] so we didn’t have secular records but she snuck in, you know, ‘New Kid in Town’ by the Eagles. I wore that single out until my babysitter stepped on it. That was my favorite song, just all the harmonies in that. It just blew my mind. It took me some other place. Then I got all her disco records. So I think between disco, Donald Duck and the Eagles, that was probably my first favorite music.”

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