One week before the concert to show support for the Butts family and help with their medical expenses, Capps took time to give a music history lesson, discuss his involvement with the benefit concert, the loss of Levon Helms, his latest album and the beauty of the birds singing in his front yard.
*** Grayson Capps Interview ***
MS: Can we expect a new album soon?
GC: Yeah, I’m working on something for the Fall. Probably, realistically trying to get something out by the spring next year, but I’ve been traveling so much that it’s just ends up being about survival on the road. It’s a gig every night. Wake up, take a shit, shower, buy food, make it to the gig (laughs).
MS: How do you make it through? What gets you through?
GC: It’s easy when the shows are great ‘cause just the energy of people giving back energy; it’s like a combination, like a self-perpetuating energy machine. I don’t know, the older I get…I started running, man. I’ve been trying to run every other day-and that’s hard on the road-but I still find places to do it keeps my stamina up. I’m a vegetarian. That helps a lot too…
GC: So I do everything I can to support my drinking and smoking habits (laughs)
MS: Are you still drinking and smoking with the vegetarian? Some people cut back…
GC: Yeah, man! I’m trying to get that dealt with. I’m not one of those dudes that wakes up smoking in the morning. I just associate it with playing, go to the bar, get the guitars up. There’s too much down time before, in between sound check and the show. And then I just always associated it with having a few beers and smoking a cigarette or two and playing. And then coming down after the show entails the same thing; I might go through five or six cigarettes in an evening.
MS: That’s not bad. I know chain-smokers that smoke like crazy.
GC: Oh, no man. A pack of cigarettes will last me four days or five days.
MS: You mentioned beer. I’ve got to ask you a beer question. I love liquor, like whiskey and vodka. What
kind of beer do you like, what’s your favorite?
GC: I like dark beer. I like brown ales. My most reliable favorite one is Newcastle. And wherever we go, I like to try the local brown ale. We just got back from West Virginia, one of my favorite beers-it doesn’t travel-cause it’s the live beer, like they do in England with cask ales. It’s called Oatmeal Stout. This guy Willie makes it in West Virginia…Oh, man! You can drink growler upon growler of that stuff and wake up feeling fine. I like beers that give me a hangover. I can’t drink Budweiser or none of that stuff because, for some reason, it just hurts me.
GC: Well (Vinyl Music Hall Talent Buyer) Chris (Wilkes). I’ve been corresponding with him a good bit, I don’t know her, but he knows my band. We’ve played there once, but I’ve been corresponding with him. We just were asked to be a part of it and come home; Pensacola’s home to me. It’s an hour away and whatever I can do…it sounds like a really good cause.
MS: The last show you played at Vinyl, it was like a party. Not like a crazy party, but like a party. That vibe.
GC: It’s like our little Pirate’s Cove group. We started building up a big following at Pirate’s Cove and that kind of has its own kind of energy. We have some wacky people come see us, but I love em’.
MS: I expect plenty of nuts to come out next week. Good nuts.
GC: Yeah. Everybody seems to be this kind of eclectic; varies from age, the age groups-from young to really old to rich to poor. Nice teeth, bad teeth (laughs) you know. Just covers the whole spectrum; Literate and illiterate too, just crazy.
MS: We’ve lost some amazing artists just this past year. Did you have any reflections on…I know Levon Helms was a huge one for me. Any artists that you look back on with any reflections…
GC: Oh man, well two of my favorites was Doc Watson and Levon Helms. Man, it’s been a bad year. Etta James and Donna Summer. Everybody’s just dropping like flies. But Doc Watson and Levon Helms were the closet. Docs one of my…If I had to go to a deserted island and take some recording of one artist, it would be Doc. To me just the purest and Levon, nobody can sing quite like him. I did a bunch of stuff in upstate New York. I did this thing at the Brooklyn Bowl. Kind of helped…I didn’t realize he didn’t have any damn money. You know that whole Midnight Ramble thing was to pay his medical bills because he had medical problems for quite awhile and now they’re still threatening to..they’re trying to keep the barn going. I don’t know if you know much about the Midnight Ramble…
MS: Yes. And I saw where you had that benefit to help save the barn.
GC: Yeah, it was cool. I played with Mark Tobin Avento, Bass player for Wing. It was like an All-Star thing. Yeah, I guess Robbie Robertson owns all those songs. Levon never got credited for writing anything, so you don’t get money, you know. Just gig if you don’t write.
MS: Wow. I didn’t know that. Robbie couldn’t even…wow.
GC: Yeah. I mean “The Weight” is all Robbie Robertson. “Ophelia”, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”. For me, those songs wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Levon.
MS: Makes it alive.
GC: He owns the songs. It’s just crazy.
MS: I know we spoke last time, you mentioned your favorite album, but I want to ask you-almost along the same line-If you could put one song or one album in a time capsule for future generations, what would it be and why?
GC: I’ll give you just an answer. I don’t know what I said before. There’s a compilation of songs by Doc Watson called “Memories” and it’s got about 22 songs on it. (Capps pauses and I hear birds chirping in the background) He has recomposed quintessential versions of old traditional songs and all the melodies and stuff that we have in American music-you can say it’s American music-it’s a combination of old ballads that came from English, Irish, Scottish tradition, but then the slaves brought into the mix banjo because banjo’s an African instrument, those songs, being that slaves were able to get away with singing songs like that also making up words that the slave owners didn’t know about. Like Doc Boggs was the son of a slave owner and he learned banjo and learned a lot of the tunes that the slaves were doing and he was a white guy up in maybe the North Carolina, Virginia area and he inspired all the mountain people to play banjo, so the banjo and fiddle tunes kind of make up the backbone of our musical history and Doc Watson was named after Doc Boggs and he brought to light a lot of those things like Clarence Ashley, the original version of “House of the Rising Sun”, all that stuff was first written down and recorded in the 20’s so it was the perfect starting point of American music and where it came from. It’s the white and the black and you had probably the divergence came with Jimmy Rogers, the “Blue Yoddler” who was around the same time as Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson. You know Robert Johnson does that falsetto thing cause’ he was trying to be Jimmy Rogers and yodel, but he couldn’t yodel. And then that’s where blues and country kind of converged. You got Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams comes of that Jimmy Rogers realm and Sunhouse. Sunhouse was before Robert Johnson. Muddy Waters then you got blues, but anyway, to me Doc Watson ‘s “Memories” is the quintessential versions of old songs that make up the backbone of American music in the pure, pure professional form.
MS: That’s beautifully said. I have one more question for you, but before I ask that question, I hear this amazing sound of birds. Are you in the back yard or the front yard?
GC: I’m in the front yard (laughs).
MS: It just sounds gorgeous. I hear you talking, it’s like story time; I’m listening to you, listening to your words and taking it in and then all of sudden the birds are like nice background music. It’s a great experience.
GC: Cool (laughs)yeah, man. There on the loose.
MS: My final question. Are there any things that you want your fans in Pensacola to know for next week.
GC: Oh man…I don’t know. Know that I’m always trying my best to be honest and not just be there for blind entertainment, but for growth and harmony and goodness. I see a lot a performers that are excited to get people dancing no matter what it takes and I, sometimes, forsake that to always sing to the ugly fat lady in the back of the room. You know, instead of the pretty ditzy chick in front who has a spoon…(laughs)
MS: Oh yeah, spoons and sugar daddies.
GC: Yeah, I don’t know. That’ a hard question.
MS: You answered it honestly. I wish more people would do that, honestly.
– Michael L. Smith