Facing the music

Last November, Anne Murray’s publicist declined to let her speak to Xpress for a story promoting her upcoming holiday concert at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium — a bewildering diss, at best, coming from a performer whose heyday was concurrent with the Nixon administration.

But for every fusty Canadian songbird who blows us off, there’s a genuine Americana icon just waiting to save the day.

On one brighter afternoon some years back, no less than Willie Nelson, also slated to play Thomas Wolfe, called up the Xpress offices. No publicist, no preamble — just the hard-toking troubadour himself. He called us.

Marsha Barber, Xpress‘ arts-and-entertainment editor from 1997-1999, remembers the incident well.

“I had been told that he wasn’t doing interviews for this particular tour. [But] I get a call around noon one day: ‘Is this Marsha?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘This is Willie Nelson. I hear you’re trying to get in touch with me.’

“I thought it was my then-boyfriend … because he’s great at doing voices,” continued Barber. “I was like, ‘Yeah, right. Hey, Willie.’ There was just a silence on the other end. Then he said, ‘Well, I’m on the bus, we’re somewhere in Missouri, and I hear you have some questions for me.’

“It was at that point that I really realized it was him. We had a good laugh about the whole thing.”

Funk shaman George Clinton, on the other hand, had to be reached by altogether unclassifiable methods. “His publicist gave me the number of a hotel where he was staying on tour and then said, ‘Good luck,’ in a rather sarcastic voice,” recounted Barber. “I finally got him; he didn’t want to talk about his music, but instead regaled me with stories about his own personal UFO experiences.”

Xpress‘ other major star-chaser, former Music Editor Frank Rabey, recalls with fondness the time he pitched woo to luminous alt-country queen Emmylou Harris: “She called me something akin to a ‘real charmer,’ and — however briefly — my whole life was made.”

And then there was the revelation Rabey coaxed out of folk fossil Joan Baez: “We briefly discussed seeing Bob Dylan naked — her, not me.” Not to mention the sweet justice of a pivotally timed chat with then up-and-comer Ani DiFranco, back in the mid-’90s: “It was early in her career, and I stole the town’s only interview out from under [the competition], so we gave it the cover.”

But top I-told-you-so honors must be conceded (albeit grudgingly) to full-of-himself freelancer Whitney Shroyer, who contributed a White Stripes interview back in 2000. Years before Jack White had accumulated enough star clout to cast his rheumy eyes on A-lister Renee Zellweger, he and sister/ex Meg played a show at Vincent’s Ear. “Mark my words: The White Stripes will be a classic band,” crowed Shroyer.

Well, whatever, we thought.

Damn.

The short list

Other icons (or icons-to-be) who’ve spoken with us:

R.L. Burnside
David Crosby
Arlo Guthrie
Buddy Guy
Ben Harper
Leo Kottke
Patty Loveless
Ralph Stanley
Richard Thompson
Townes Van Zandt
Lucinda Williams
You Know Who (aka former Skid Row front man Sebastian Bach, who played the King of Kings in a touring performance of Jesus Christ Superstar)

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