The formidable outlaw countryman on songwriting, ageing, marijuana, martial arts and meeting Muhammad Ali...
How old were you when you first started getting interested in playing music?
Shelley Deely, Toronto
I was very young. I was writing poems before I was five or six years old. Once I started writing a few poems, I picked up a guitar when I was around six years old I started writing some melodies and it seemed pretty natural, it didn’t seem that hard to do. My mum and dad were both musicians and singers and players. I was raised by my grandparents and they were both music teachers and musicians and voice coaches and all that good stuff. So my sister and I had a lot of good teaching and training when we were young. Do I remember any of the poems I wrote as a child? The first one, I was about five or six years old and I did this poem in church. “What are you looking at me for /I ain’t got nothing to say/If you don’t like the looks of me/You can look some other way”.
Neil Young covered two of your songs, “Crazy” and “On The Road Again” on A Letter Home. What songs of his would you cover?
Jay Haynes, New York
I’ve known Neil for many, many years. I’m a huge fan of his. He’s a great writer and musician. He was there from the beginning for Farm Aid and has been there every year and has been a staunch supporter of Family Farmers. We’ve played together a few times. We did a TV show a few months ago and we did some songs together. I’d do anything with Neil Young. It would be a good thing to do.
Is it true you wrote down “On The Road Again” on an airline sick bag?
Natalie Amber, Luton
Yeah. I was on an aeroplane with Sydney Pollack and Jerry Schatzberg, who was the director of the movie Honeysuckle Rose. They were looking for songs for the movie and they started asking me if I had any idea. I said, “I don’t know, what do you want the song to say?” I think Sydney said, “Can it be something about being on the road?” It just started to click in my head. I said, “You mean like, ‘On the road again, I can’t wait to get on the road again’?” They said, “That’s great. What’s the melody?” I said, “I don’t know yet.”
You’ve been playing the same guitar, Trigger, since 1969. What’s your secret to keeping it in good working order?
Samantha Pond, Derbyshire
I’ve got to take good care of Trigger. He’s had a couple of problems. We’ve had to go in and do some work on the inside, build up the woodwork in there a little bit over the years. But Trigger’s holding up pretty good. Is Trigger a he or a she? I named it after Roy Rodgers’ horse, so I guess it’s a he. It’s a Martin Classical N-21.
What was the first song you wrote?
Jude Parvarian, Edinburgh
I wrote a lot of things, they were all right. The first songs I wrote back in those early that were recorded were “Family Bible”, “Night Life”, “Crazy”, and I felt they were good but I didn’t realize how good they were going to work out. When did I realize I could make a living as a songwriter? I decided to give it a try, I was tired of travelling around playing all over the world, I decided I’d take off a year and just write songs, see if I could do that. I lived in northern Tennessee on a farm up there and raised horses and hogs and cows and had a good time just staying home writing songs. I probably could have done that forever, and never had to travel, but I enjoy playing the music so eventually I decided to go back on the road.
Who are your favourite lyricists?
Christian Harper, Leeds
Hank Williams, Vern Gosdin, Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael, Irving Berling, Bob Wills. They write good songs, and that’s about all the description you could give them. It depends on the kind of music you want to hear, there’s somebody there writing it that was really good at it.