Walk through the Valley with Charley Crockett
Recently I had the chance to interview one of my newest musical heroes, Charley Crockett, during his visit in Amsterdam last August. While we talked and hung out the whole afternoon I wrangled him into a pair of Tenue. Pablo Cappuccino jeans. Charley, a distant relative of Davy Crockett, was born in San Benito, Tx, USA. Son of a single mother, Charley was raised in a trailer park in Los Fresnos, Texas and at a young age he moved to the French Quarter in New Orleans where he found the love for music on the vibrant streets of NOLA.
Charley got an old beat-up guitar from the pawnshop, left high school at the age of 17 and decided to travel the world. This is the main reason his music ranges from soul to traditional folk music and enjoys no boundaries. He released 5 full-length records in just over 4 years, the latest one 'The Valley' just released. I hope you enjoy this interview with one of the hardest working cats in the business as much as I did that afternoon. - Rudy Ross
"I taught myself how to play and started to write songs immediately, without any chord knowledge or anything. I didn't know what key I was in for 12 years, but my ear was really good, and I could play in any key and any chord. I just didn't know what it was." - Charley Crockett
What I’ve seen from your shows your performance is pretty wild and full of high-energy while a lot of artist tend to just 'be cool' on stage. Is that because of your background in busking? You had to make more effort to get peoples attention on the streets?
Hey man, I had to do something to stand out on the street. I used to dance for the crowds in New Orleans and on the subway cars in New York City. It’s also just a part of who I am. Having a good time on purpose. I’ve got the energy to give. And you better believe when you’re making a living on the street you gotta give everything you have and then once you’ve done that, give more.
It seems that in the US there’s a younger crowd who are into Country & Western or Americana, while in Europe it attracts an older crowd? Do you experience something similar and how come you think?
Well I’ve found a mixed audience. We always have the older crowd because they remember this music from their youth. In America it depends on the region, the city, the venue, the promoter. It’s always a mix of teens and kids all the way up to grandma and grandpa. I’m proud of that fact. In Europe it’s surprisingly similar. A complete mix. Some places lean toward the older crowd like Glasgow. But in Oslo and Gothenburg they were younger. Paris might have been the youngest crowd we ever had. C'est la vie!
How did you find your path in roots music in an age of hip-hop & electronic music being popular? What inspires you to choose this path as an artist?
I was always drawn to soul and roots sound I underneath hip-hop. It’s the foundation. Gospel, folk, blues. This is what all music is built on. Anything relevant in society today musically or artistically overall has obvious roots in tradition to me. Hip Hop was the realest and most honest style of music to reach me through the bureaucracy as a kid. It still does. It is folk music in the way it presents strength in the struggle. Once I began singing blues and old-time country I found a satisfaction I had never known in my life. I’ve never looked back (forward haha..) since.
We can hear a wide variaty of inspiration in your music; like Bob Wills, Bill Withers and Ernest Tubb for instance. What inspires you these days?
Lately I’ve been on Ralph Stanley nonstop. I listen to The Spinners a lot. Ramblin Jack Elliott is an endless mine of gold. Art Neville. New school folks I dig would be Brennen Leigh, Durand Jones, Billy Strings, Colter Wall, Leon Bridges, Vincent Neil Emerson. Oh and James Hand.
Many Country & Americana artists come and do solo tours to Europe because it’s more affordable instead of taking a full band on tour. Is it important for you to always do full band shows?
I’m trying to bring the show. I never had any money in the first place so I try to have faith in the power of the full band live show to open the door for us. It’s very important to me for people from faraway cultures to have a first impression that shows what makes me a unique talent and that doesn’t always show thru trying to do it all solo to save dough. But, I also played the streets in Europe many years ago all by myself. So I put my time in on that level as much as anybody can.
You release a lot of full-length records in an age where it’s more common to release a single every few months. Do you feel it’s necessary to stick to the tradition of releasing an album instead ‘Spotify’ singles?
Well I guess to each his own, but for me a record quickly and have a lot of material to draw from. I like full length LPs because it feels like a complete work. It takes more effort to put together an album and it feels like something to take more serious. But I also recognize the way young folks can devour music constantly which is why I put records out more frequently then most artists. And because of this they end up being viewed as singles by most people anyway as they find them thru playlists or their friends sharing a song. If they like what they hear then there’s a lot of albums for them to find it they want to know more about me.
Your records include covers and old-timey songs. I have the feeling it’s almost an musical education for your listener to hear songs they might’ve never heard without you showing them the good stuff. Is that something you like to think of while choosing a song?
What makes a great song? To me, it has to be timeless. Can your song stand the test of time and be relevant in twenty years. I just believe in the quality of music from the previous generations. There was a golden age and I’m trying my best to live up to that. I may not always reach it but that’s what I’m striving for. Timeless classics. Doesn’t have to sound like 1920s folk song to be great. 70s soul music is just as timeless and also ground breaking all at once.
Your music includes influences from Western Swing, New Orleans Jazz, Blues and straight-up Honky Tonk. What will the future bring for Charley Crockett?
Hard telling not knowing. I’ve always tried to keep my influences together rather than neglecting a part of me for convenience. I’ve always been known as a musical chameleon and this can make it difficult for me as the world wants to categorize everything neatly. I like to believe I’m taking a perceived weakness and making it my strength.
How does your wardrobe relate to the style of music you play? Is it a way of reaching back to the time your music is based on?
Like the music I play I feel that style says a lot about you. You are what you eat and what you wear does say a lot about you. Is it not a statement if you’re wearing the very same clothes as a million people around you? Where’s it even made? Do you know? For me, dressing with dignity and self respect brings that back to you from others. I don’t mean that the more money you spend the better you are. That’s completely untrue. I’m talking about showing your spirit. Your independence. It’s part of the fight against the rising tide of conformity.
Where do you find your suits and clothing, do you have your favorite spots? I've seen artist make suits specially for you.
I’ve been lucky enough to have a couple of custom suits made for me recently. I’m grateful for that. We travel through all the towns and down all the back roads. In America there’s so much well made clothing sitting around in old shops and flea markets most anywhere you go. Especially in rural areas of the Deep South, Midwest and Mountain West. I find unworn western suits for less than a pair of jeans on the regular! People don’t believe me but I can tell you it’s true and I’ll keep find them too.
That's just awesome! And same for vinyl and vintage music gear?Any favorites records shops you need to stop when on tour?
Doc’s Records in Fort Worth, Texas. Amoeba Records in San Francisco, California. Great Escape Records in Nashville, Tennessee.
Your heroes: If it’s inspirational figure you think everyone should’ve heard, who should it be?
The greatest American writer has got to be Langston Hughes. Two soul singers that I think never got their due are Wendy Rene and Ann Peebles. They’re just goddesses. 🐎
Words by Rudy Ross - Tenue de Nîmes
Images by Keng Pereira - www.kengpereira.com