(CSC) 1. Thanks for your time. Please tell us about your upcoming album “It Ain’t All Bad.”
The biggest thing I am eager for the fans to know about this project, is that it is so different for me, there are a few things on here, two or three songs that people just won't expect from me, it's so diverse. I feel it's a really rockin' kind of thing, maybe some things you wouldn't expect me to do in a lot of ways; particularly a song, "It's Called A Brand New Day," that's really a departure for what I've done in the past. I also did a song called, "Voodoo," that's almost like an R&B kind of groove. It's so fun to sing with the background vocals. It's really gonna be a great live thing. People won't expect those songs. "It Ain't All Bad," the title track is very different. I also did a song with Bill Anderson called, "I Want To Be Like You," it's a story song. Another song called, "48 Ford" that's really a story. I think people really expect those songs from me.
It's the best of the best of my songwriting over the last ten years of the songs that I have collected. While I was off doing my guitar projects I did a Chet Atkins tribute that we were lucky to get in and receive a Grammy for. But we also did an album called, "Guitar Laboratory." At that time I was collecting all my songs of ten years worth of songs.
(CSC) 2. I understand it has been over eight years since you last released a complete vocal album, why the long wait?
That's what it is. We were lucky to win a Grammy with the Chet Atkins record and we stayed in that mode with, "Guitar Laboratory" on the heels of that; that took up about eight years. In the meantime, I was collecting these songs, but writing all the time and stockpiling my favorites and pitching a few. We would also write and pitch to other artists of course. That's what happened. When I would tour, I would get a lot of people saying, "I like the guitar stuff, but I'm ready for some singing now, “ Where's your singing? We want more of your older albums." We figured it was time. I didn't even realize it. I did an interview one day with Tom Rollin and he said, "Man, it's been eight years, did you realize that?" I said, "No, I didn't know it." Since I had what he called a singing album. So, I guess it's time. (Laughs) We've had a lot of folks last few years asking for it, so that's pretty cool.
(CSC) Is Tom Rollin one of your producers?
He's a journalist that wrote a bio for us for our album. He wrote our newest bio and wrote my Cut by Cuts and I think he writes for the Tennessean, the paper here in town. He freelances a lot too. He's an old friend. I've known him for twenty-five years. He moved to Los Angeles for quite a while and came back about five or six years ago.
(CSC) 3. This new album showcases many genres of music such as country, rock, pop, jazz, and classical on it. Do you consider yourself more than just a country artist in regard to your musical tastes?
As a songwriter I certainly do. I guess I would. As much as I love country, I also love the classic rock and roll. Really I love pop with the lush strings and even the old kind of pop. I love breaking out my old Glen Campbell records with the Al De Lory strings and those arrangements they would do with Jimmy Webb. I'm all over the map. When people see my record collection they think I lost my mind because they will see bluegrass, classical, country, gospel and R&B albums. I'm all over the place; I love it all. I just love music period. I think it's just a love of music. You can really hear that in my music, especially this album.
(CSC) 4. You’ve had some pretty impressive first beginnings, first landing a gig at just 17 with the legendary Dottie West and then being signed to a record deal by Chet Atkins. What do you recall when you think back on these moments of your life?
There's also, when I left Dottie West I worked for a gentlemen named, Bob Luman, who was really the pioneer of rockabilly. He had some big hits in the 50's, he's from east Texas. I worked with him a couple years and toured. He kind of transitioned in the mid 60's and started having country hits. Really, he was a fantastic artist, Bob Luman. He was on some early television out in Los Angeles in the 60's called "At Town Hall Party." I learned a lot from him. I learned a lot from Dottie West, they were great teachers. Boy, I was soaking it up as a young kid. I knew I wanted to make music. I never stated that I wanted to be a star ever. I just would always say that I wanted to make music; I knew I could make records and play. I wanted to get to Nashville as quickly as I could and just make music, perform and travel.
I was with Dottie West for three years and Bob Luman about two years. When I was with Bob he became very ill at the age of forty-two, and shortly after he passed away. I was with him through all that illness and his passing. It was a very traumatic thing; it could be a book or movie easily with his whole story. At that point I met Chet Atkins, the very first time, on tour when I was with Dottie West. We met on a European tour. They were both on RCA Records. Chet was the head of RCA and Dottie was one of his artists. We toured together with some other RCA artists in 74, but then I re-met him when Bob Luman passed away in 78. Chet heard me and took me in Studio B in Nashville. It was a working studio and we recorded some tracks, a test of sorts, and he signed me to the label in 77, actually it was June 30th, 1977. I remember it, I saw the contract briefly. Coincidently, Chet passed away on June 30th, 2001 and my first contract was executed with RCA on June 30th, 1977. So that was really unbelievable, we just found that out about eight months ago.
(CSC) 5. What did you take from the time that you toured with Dottie West? Did she give you any specific advice that has remained with you all these years?
I was with her for three years. When I worked for her, what I think I took away mostly was her work ethic. I couldn't even stay up with her at that time. I was a teenager and she was in her 40's. She was just all fire. She was a smart business woman. She really took care of her business. I mean that. She was one of the people, the architect, almost Reba-like, where Reba is a business woman. It’s all no non-sense; that was Dottie a long time ago. She was the first female country artist to win a Grammy. Not only to win a Grammy but she had written the song too; I really admire her a lot for that. She taught me a lot about the business stuff. I would watch how she would handle the band and she was swinging from branch to branch, just working over 200 days a year on the road almost and to have a family and then run a publishing company, she did everything!
Later in her life we stayed good friends all through the years, but later in her life the tragic part of her life, you know the story when she thought her manager was taking care of her in a great way and not investing her money and it drizzled away and she had no idea and lost everything. I was with there a lot through that period too. I didn't work for her, but I was close and I was with her personally a lot. So we talked about that a lot. I was just coming into my own as a songwriter and a publisher at that time. She would preach to me about that, "Don't ever let anybody handle your money but you. Make sure nobody writes checks but you." She was giving me all the lessons she wished she had done. She was telling me and coaching me, "Don't do like I did, here's what you need to do.” It was a great lesson to hear her talk about it and have her coach me but also a sad lesson because I was learning from her mistakes. Then all the tragedy happened and we lost her. She was a dear friend and I learned a ton working for her, I really did. Watching her, and being around her and really admiring her a lot. She passed away in 1991. I remember singing "Amazing Grace," at her funeral because the family asked me to.
(CSC) I read that Chet fired you from his band? Was that more so to help you get your stardom?
How you described that is very true. I had my first Top 10 hit with a song called, "Your Memory." It went to the Top 10 and we got some great radio air play and at the same time I was touring and playing in Chet Atkins' band. I was his bass player and had a Top 10 hit. I will never forget the day, I never saw it coming, but he called me in his office one day in RCA and he said, "Man, you got your first Top 10 and I go, "Yes sir!" He said, "Well, I need to tell you something. I am glad that you got your first hit, but I need to tell ya that I need to fire ya." I said, "What?" He said, "Yeah, you need to get your own band and do your own thing.” He said, "You need to go do your own stuff." So I said, "Well, okay." I proceeded to put together a band. I was already doing a few little gigs here and there. He knew it was time to be pushed out of the nest and that's what he did. We became friends all the way up until his passing in 2001. We were very close. I was close with his wife, Leona, too and the family. I will never forget those experiences going in the studio with him producing and making records. It was a great time in my life; he was a great friend.
(CSC) Didn't Chet and Dolly do a lot of work together too?
Yeah, they did. They were very close friends. When Dolly came to the label, Chet was the head of RCA at that time. Porter was there already, and then they brought Dolly there and signed her to RCA. They did stuff together, they were very good friends. He absolutely adored Dolly, as everybody does. I remember, when Chet became ill, there was a great picture of Dolly when she came to visit him over at his house over in Green hills. Chet was already becoming very ill and you could tell it and Dolly was on the couch with Chet and they were all huddled up hugging each other. You could just see Chet was beaming; it was just great after all those years together, they had a reunion.
(CSC) 6. Any memorable highlights from early on in your career?
I remember when I was a kid I had about two hits out, we did the Indiana State Fair with Loretta Lynn, that was the first time I was around her. I opened for her. Oh man, she couldn't have been nicer. I went over scared to death to meet her. I was just a kid, had a couple hits out. That’s my home state, so I was back home in Indy. Loretta was so kind to me, she couldn't have been nicer, just like my big sister or my mom. It was just unreal. She understood that I was coming home and I had a couple hits. She was great, she's the best. One thing I love about Loretta is her honesty. She's so honest. She's gonna say what she thinks and she's gonna tell it like it is. There's no question, she'll be honest for sure.
(CSC) 7. Another great highlight for you would have to be your induction into the Grand Ole Opry in 1996. What does your membership mean to you and what do you love most about the Opry?
That's a highlight of my career. I love the Opry. I think my roots for the Opry go back and expand from my parents. They always loved the Opry and would go a few times when I was a kid. I remember my dad always talked about the Grand Ole Opry, listening to it when he was a boy. He always loved the Opry and I think my love came out of his love for it and then as I got older I started working with Dottie West, she was a member of the Opry, so I would play the Opry with her. I was lucky that when I first started with her the Opry was still at the Ryman, so I got to do the Opry when it was really the Opry at the Ryman before they moved. Bob Little was a member too, so I have been playing the Opry since 1974. I was made a member in 1996, but I've been playing there since 1974 with different people like Bob Luman, Dottie West and Chet Atkins. Chet didn't play it as much though. Dottie would play it more and Bob played it a lot. But Chet would just play it as a guest appearance now and then. It means a lot to me, it's a family and it's something that was a part of my family when I was a kid, I've always respected it. It's the pathway for all of us, it's the roots. Back in the early days you couldn't even become a star if you didn't come through the Opry. That was where you had to come through.
(CSC) 8. As we mourn the loss of legendary stars like Jack Greene and George Jones, how do you suggest that the history and tradition of country music is accurately preserved for new generations of music fans? (Since this interview was conducted, Ray Price unfortunately passed away on December 16th, 2013 due to longtime illness with cancer.)
The classic stuff is always going to be George Jones, Haggard, Jack Greene, Tammy Wynette it's really sad, as time goes by, less and less of those artists are here and it's like the chapter is slowly closing. I really hate it because I love that kind of country music. I love country period. I think it's preserved with all those great artists; there is so much great music that we can go listen to. When George passed, I was pretty close to George. I like to think we were real good friends. We did a lot of shows and we would always come up and hug each other and say hi and hang out. He and Nancy were friends of mine. To me, he would be the pinnacle of the classic country singer. When he passed I put on all the George stuff I could find and listened to it and wore it out. I do that anyways, I will put on old Ray Price records or George records. Ray Price is classic. That's another guy that I don't think is in real great health, I just hate it because I really think the world of him and his music. I don't want to pass rumors on, but I hear he has issues health wise and then Little Jimmy too, he's 92. I don't know details, but I think he has some issues he's struggling with. I just hate it when those classic guys start struggling like that because you want them to be around forever. I love them.
I did know Jack well. I knew him very well when I played with Dottie West cause we would play a lot of shows together. It seemed like when Dottie, Jeannie and Jack toured and had hits together we would tour a lot. I always looked forward to it because when we had down time Jack wanted to jam because he comes from the troubadour’s background, so he always wanted to get on the drum set and jam. He would get on the drums and I would get on bass, when we just got out of the club somewhere and we would just jam away. Jack was like me in a lot of ways, he was just a player, and he was just like one of the guys in the band. He just wanted to go play; I loved that about him.
(CSC) 9. On a personal note, I understand you are into painting watercolors, can you tell us where the inspiration began for this and which artists inspire you?
My inspiration for that kind of began with my family, like music did, in a lot of ways. My dad used to play a lot of music, but he would also just entertain us kids a lot. He would draw and paint, we would see him doodling; he was really a doodler more than anything. I was always fascinated with that. My older brother would paint a little bit and I have a younger brother that does it for a living, if you wanna call it a living. (Laughs) He's a starving artist. Everybody in my family draws and plays music, they do both. I just thought that's the way everybody was until I got older. I used to draw and paint and make watercolor. As I got into junior high and high school I really started to excel, I had some teachers that latched on to me and saw that I really loved it and gave me the extra attention to nurture that. I was going to go to college and study art. I went and looked at one school, knowing that I probably couldn't afford to go, but I went and looked at the school in 72, my junior year of high school and I wound up meeting Dottie West about six months later and moved to Nashville. I always say that the music thing got in the way of my art career. (Laughs)
(CSC) 10. At this stage of your life, what are you most thankful for from the professional perspective of your career?
When I hear or read that people will say nice things, or compliment me on this or that, that's nice. I just want to be known as somebody that made really good records and was good to people. That means a lot to hear those compliments and have that respect from your peers. I think that's what anybody would wish for. I think that's what I'm the most grateful for. In the business I would say I am most grateful for the opportunities that were given to me by Chet Atkins, Dottie and Bob Luman. I am just grateful all the way around.
Follow Steve Wariner on Twitter: https://twitter.com/stevewariner
Like Steve Wariner on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Steve-Wariner/324938920704
Visit Steve's official website: http://www.stevewariner.com/