Over the past two decades, Bruce Robison's songs have been recorded by George Strait ("Wrapped"), the Dixie Chicks ("Travelin' Soldier") and Tim McGraw and Faith Hill ("Angry All the Time"), among others. The affable Texas native has also recorded and performed with his wife Kelly Willis and enjoyed his own long-running solo gig, releasing a handful of solid country LPs. Robison's latest move, however, ushers in a unique multimedia concept that lets other artists share new music and personal stories from throughout their lives and careers.
Launching June 17th with iconic songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker ("Mr. Bojangles"), TheNextWaltz.com goes inside Robison's Lockhart, Texas, studio for interviews and recording sessions with a mix of veteran artists including Rodney Crowell and Jack Ingram, up-and-coming acts such as Turnpike Troubadours and Sam Outlaw, and, naturally, Robison and Willis. A song, video and brief biopic will also be created for each participating artist.
In the above exclusive clip from the series, Walker performs a moving version of Rodney Crowell's "Song for the Life," recorded by the former for his 1977 LP A Man Must Carry On. Crowell recorded the song that year as well with Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and Nicolette Larson backing him, and it has since been cut by others, including Johnny Cash, Alison Krauss and Waylon Jennings. In 1995, Alan Jackson's cover of the tune was a Top Ten hit.
In the accompanying biopic for the series' first episode, Walker shares details of the writing of "Mr. Bojangles," which he recorded in 1968 and which the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had a massive Top Ten pop hit with three years later. "I wanted to find internal rhymes. I'd heard about them but I didn't know what they were," he recalls, strumming the guitar and singing the song's original, long-discarded lyrics, while musing about the tune's phenomenal success. "Because I put internal rhymes in a song about a dancer, it kind of double-compounded it," he notes.
Recording of the NextWaltz content takes place at Bruce's Country Bunker, an old-school analog studio with nary a computer in sight. Like L.A.'s tireless Wrecking Crew or Nashville's "A-Team" of studio musicians, the NextWaltz sessions include Austin's cream-of-the-crop players: fiddler Warren Hood (the Waybacks, the BoDeans), drummer Conrad Choucroun (Bob Schneider, NRBQ), keyboardist Trevor Nealon (the Band of Heathens), pedal steel player Geoff Queen (Hayes Carll, Robison and Willis), bassist Dominic Fisher (Wood & Wire), guitarist David Grissom (the Dixie Chicks, Bob Dylan), and backing vocalist Kelley Mickwee (the Trishas).
"It's all about just performing the song and seeing where it takes us," says Robison, "and having great players in a real collaborative atmosphere, and then showing that to people. I think this could be the new way people put out music. In the Fifties, they tried to pair a great song with a great artist and a great band, and we've gotten away from that."