Singer-songwriter Tom Russell to perform at FitzGerald’s

Tom Russell’s songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Nanci Griffith, Dave Van Ronk, Iris DeMent, k.d. lang, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. The acclaimed singer-songwriter has had 40 years of an exceptional career filled with achievement, world travel, and intriguing experiences.

Russell’s brilliant lyrics and music favor folk, Texas country, and cowboy music styles, but also incorporate Mexican music, classical, rock and jazz. His recent “Aztec Jazz” (Frontera Records, 2013) is a live 2012 performance with the renowned Norwegian Wind Ensemble.

Russell’s songs were included in the movies “Tremors” and “Songcatcher,” and he has been a guest on “The Late Show” with David Letterman multiple times. He performs at FitzGerald’s Night Club Sept. 5, and recently answered questions on his life and many arts.

Q. Your music is like painting, with rich imagery and musical landscapes. Does being a painter inspire or influence your songwriting?

A. I think they’re connected. A painting and a song are mystical things which exist outside the artist. It’s no surprise to me that Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Leonard Cohen are good painters. To me there’s more connection between painting and songwriting than songwriting and poetry. It’s difficult to say why, but you can look at a good painting everyday and carry something new away. Same way with a great song. But a great poem you don’t necessarily wish to read every day.

Q. Your songs have an earthy sense of place, infused with the southwest and west. How does where you are living factor into the way you create music?

A. In the last 20 years I’ve lived mostly in El Paso. Now we live part time in Switzerland as well. My wife is a Swiss psychologist and yoga teacher.

El Paso deeply influenced my writing (I lived in New York City before that). It was a return to the last frontier, the last wild West. The first Spanish rode across our land 500 years ago. Then there was the Mexican Revolution and the recent drug wars across the river in Juarez. There’s so much music and history there. It’s textured my writing and painting. I also write essays for a great Western journal and magazine: Ranch and Reata, which will eventually turn into a book. So I’m immersed in this place in America (El Paso) that most people don’t know about, or just drive through. I don’t need to live inside any “hip” scenes.

Q. You have so many accomplishments and are so multi-talented. Is there a particular achievement you especially appreciate?

A. I try to keep busy and we don’t own a TV. So I paint and I write and whatever a “career” is seems to just happen along wild, fragmented lines. Highlights might be: driving taxi in New York City in the early ’80s, picking up Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, singing him my song “Gallo del Cielo,” and having him yank me back into the music world. He loved the song. Another highlight would be co-writing with one of my heroes: Ian Tyson. We co-wrote his hit “Navajo Rug.” I’ve also enjoyed playing many times on the David Letterman show. He’s always treated me very kind.

Q. You studied criminology/sociology, earning a master’s degree. How did this field influence your career/songwriting?

A. I taught one year in Nigeria, during the Biafran War in 1969-70. I came of age there and I’ve written a few songs about that: “East of Woodstock, West of Viet Nam,” which I did on the Letterman show, and “Criminology,” which I recorded with band Calexico on my record: “Blood and Candlesmoke.”

Q. How did you get started in music?

A. Lots of music in my family. Lots of records around the house, and my uncle George Malloy was a world class pianist. He toured with great opera singers and played the piano for the “Star Spangled Banner” during the March On Washington. My older brother had a Mexican guitar and I started with that. He also had a great collection of cowboy and early country music. Then I heard Bob Dylan and I was hooked.

Q. Growing up in Los Angeles in the ’50s and ’60s must have given you incredible exposure and access to all types of music.

A. There was a little club called The Ash Grove on Melrose in Hollywood. I saw Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Ian and Sylvia, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mississippi John Hurt… and others. At the Hollywood Bowl I heard Joan Baez when she first brought out Bob Dylan, and everyone thought he was some kind of hillbilly kid. At the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium I got to meet Dylan…lots of folk shows there. Bud and Travis, The Kingston Trio, I loved anything to do with folk music. Also country music at the old Palamino Club on Lankershiem Boulevard in Hollywood. Then there was the Mexican music…

Q. What’s planned for your show at Fitzgerald’s?

A. I’ve been working on a new set list. It includes songs from the last few albums, old songs and brand new songs. I take a few requests during the night. I play it by ear. I have a great guitar player backing me up — Thad Beckman. FitzGerald’s is great. Great vibe. Great sound. Nice owners. History!

Tom Russell, with guitarist Thad Beckman

Where: FitzGerald’s Night Club, 6615 Roosevelt Road, Berwyn

When: 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5

Cost: $25 in advance, $30 at the door (this is a seated show in the club)

For more information: Visit fitzgeraldsnightclub.com

1 Comment

  • Singer-songwriter Tom Russell to perform at FitzGerald's

    […] Singer-songwriter Tom Russell to perform at FitzGerald's A painting and a song are mystical things which exist outside the artist. It's no surprise to me that Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Leonard Cohen are good painters. To me there's more connection between painting and songwriting than songwriting and poetry. Read more on Oak Park Leaves […]

    2014-09-05 02:22:30 | Reply
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