Grammy Winning Fredericksburg Native Performs Thursday at Kenmore Inn
Not many realize Grammy winning songwriter and performer Jon Carroll is a Fredericksburg native. Indeed Carroll’s first band, The Pumpernickel Breads, began right here.
Carroll went on to earn his first Grammy’s with The Starland Vocal Band (“Afternoon Delight”), to have his music recorded by stars like Linda Ronstadt (“Get Closer”), and to record and perform with country music legend MaryChapin Carpenter these last 25 years.
Jon Carroll is a deeply aware singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, writer, and composer. Read this Q&A for a deeper insight into this unique award winning artist’s motivation and inspiration for music and life. Experience the authenticity of this legendary artist in a rare, dynamic solo performance this Thursday, Feb. 26, at the Kenmore Inn, 1200 Princess Anne St., Fredericksburg. Tickets are $10. Call Kenmore Inn at 540-371-7622 for reservations.
List three words to describe your life.
Chase the truth.
Where do you find your truth to put forth in your songwriting?
Great question. Interestingly enough—and most any artist will attest to this—the truth may present itself at the outset of the creative process as a conscious intention, and sometimes at the very end after the song has started to breathe a life of its own. In some ways—and I subscribe to this belief—the truth or salient message may be multi-faceted and an ever emerging one as time passes through different performances, different contexts and—most notably—different artists’ interpretations.
Documentary filmmakers have the truly adventurous thrill of occasionally having the overarching statement or study reveal itself during the editing process. The same with songs. If we look or listen closely, there may be a hierarchy of truths being expressed, along with perhaps even more inherent begged questions. In any medium, these are the pieces I find most valuable and enticing—the truly provocative statements that stir the mind and soul.
Listen to Joni Mitchell’s two studio recordings of “A Case Of You,” — the latter with orchestral arrangement by Vince Mendoza, recorded some 40 years apart from one another — to appreciate the poignancy of their respective somewhat disparate statements within the contexts of young/old, eagerness/complacency, romanticism/fatalism. It’s a truly moving pairing that says it all as an example of shifting truths.
Also listen to John Boutte’s read of Annie Lennox’s “Why” in the context of post-Katrina New Orleans on the all-star “Sing Me Back Home” by The New Orleans Social Club.
Some writers—and I’m one who’s guilty of this—never ultimately “complete” or “let go of” the song. Guy Clark, for instance, will continue to change words and lines in verses over the course of decades. Some of my songs resonate differently within me from one show to the next. I like to keep it ever alive and evolving. That’s life.
What has been a struggle for you as in independent musician?
There is an issue within my particular field, as a writer and a supporting musician, collaborator or arranger of where assimilation and admiration give way to absorbing an influence or appreciating a tactic or style enough to utilize it within my own work.
I’ve had the great fortune to be a collaborator—as writer, arranger or accompanist—with numerous artists who have had much to offer in the way of example, influence and mere shared experience. As a writer, I’m constantly reflecting (and effecting) spiritual episodes and, I’m hopeful, doing it in a way that may or may not be recognizably sounds like Jon Carroll, the artist. I try not to think on it too much and just let it rip.
It’s a challenge since I constantly try to be respectful and mindful of the needs of the song as well as the wants of the artist. I must keep a diverse and well-stocked toolkit for whatever may include bluegrass, funk, folk or pop on any given day, and come away at the end of that day with good decisions for my own recordings and songs.
I’m generally pretty open to possibilities, and these days there’s very little stigma attached to genre or associations based on style. Anything goes, it would seem, so I just answer the call of the song, and go with what feels the most unforced.
It’s also a struggle to organize and navigate all the various gigs that I’m lucky to have come my way. The gamut runs from band member to sideman to orchestrator to producer/arranger to composer. That’s not mentioning the all sorts of writing, which are what I enjoy most, but also require the most cleared out time and dedicated mental space. I relish the live performances because that’s when all those elements come together for me and the audience in one big moment.
Quick Goofy Road story…GO!
I was Rodney Daingerfield’s pianist — in a band comprised of piano, drums and sax! — for two shows in one night at DAR Constitution Hall in DC. The advanced mailed rehearsal cassette is it’s own work of art. It can be found on the www.
The day did not go well from the start, with one miscue/miscommunication after another in Rodney’s camp. We in the band were cool, but nothing else was as it should be. At one point I reflected that he indeed “don’t get NO respect”—even from his own people, who appeared to be sabotaging him from near and far. Rodney was a seething portrait of emotional adversity.
After NUMEROUS horrendously off-color and off-kilter episodes involving just about every illicitness an imagination might conjure, the gig was done (I was Rodney’s ad-hoc personal ‘sounding-board’ throughout the day: “You know what I mean, Jon?? This place is a _____ing____ed____house!!”) and Rodney was on his way out to the street to depart with his driver and ‘companion’ after a very long and crazy day.
As folks were exchanging thanks and farewells, at his side in the hallway sat a large hard-shell American Tourister suitcase, which I offered to help him carry to his limo. I was quickly admonished by the promoter that “no one but his driver” was to touch this mysterious piece of luggage. Fair enough, I thought.
Only after all had safely and securely departed did I ask the stage manager what the deal was with the American Tourister. He told me that he “had fleetingly caught a glimpse of its contents” earlier in Rodney’s dressing room. Informed with what I had been privy to throughout the day, I braced and winced to hear what was coming.
“It’s canned goods. Packed to the brim.”
“You know, like Del Monte peas and carrots and beef stew and stuff.”
“Wow…no kidding…old school.”
To this day, I’ve not been more entertained on a gig.
What is (are) the theme(s) in your next album release?
After surveying the array of songs at the ready, I suppose they’re all, in one way or another, a commentary on our tendency as humans to rationalize the irrational. We live and learn, and feel we’re making deliberate and informed decisions along the way, only to look back with a wink or wince of regret at something we did for mere survival. And as far as the heart is concerned, it doesn’t matter how long we’ve been around, we’re all 12 years old and looking for love and acceptance. Even to and for ourselves. We ARE each other and… Love comes first!
Undoubtedly, you are successful. Define success for yourself now, and what success will mean for you in the future.
Wow, ok. My nightmare is that I wake up and realize that for too long I had been worrying about all the wrong things. For me success is serenity, and serenity—or at least its seeming attainability— is the reward: knowing that I tried to do the right thing. That being what I can live with afterward as an act of love and a giving thing. I truly believe that if we keep those selfish, sometimes prurient and cynical motivations in the margins of the big picture and come from a place of celebration valuing others with a purity of heart, that good things will naturally happen. For everyone.
You spend a lot of time on the road. Where and how do you find balance amidst the chaos?
Traveling can be such a privilege; there are two rules with which I try to abide.
1- Make the effort to connect with even the most temporary location. Put your feet down, visit a museum or a ballpark. If there’s time, do the thing that invigorates and stimulates. I may never pass that way again.
2- Stay connected with the constants: friends, family, home, great art and literature and see whomever is nearby and enjoy that your visit isn’t costing anything and rewarding you everything.
What is the significance of dreaming to being a musician?
David Lynch stated that our dreams are our own movies, and the parts we “keep in” are what we can remember after we wake. The editing process is guided by the truth. I’ve had many truths revealed to me in dreams. I’ve recently been doing shows with Eric Lindell, and I had a dream wherein I realized how comfortable and home-like it feels to play that type of R&B. I really came up on it and I have the most fun while playing it. I hope my music retains and conveys that Southern groove and stability, because that’s what I first played in bands like The Blues Machine here in Fredericksburg lo those many years ago.
Indeed, many of my songs were presented to me in dreams. “Old Flame Blue” (recorded by Tom Jones) and “Paint That Dollar Red” (WAMA Song of the Year in 2008) both were in my head as I awoke from dreams. I think the first time I knew that I could and wanted to be a vocal arranger was after a dream wherein I was showing the notes of Mamas & Papas’ “Monday, Monday” to my brother and sisters in the basement of our house on Butler Road.
In my dream it sounded more glorious than the record!
What is the best part about returning to Fredericksburg?
Purely and simply putting my feet down in the soil of my youth. My brother once said that as we grow older, nostalgia becomes our drug of choice. I can add to that by saying that regardless of what we do, where we go and how long we stay away, some folks “never leave.” A huge part of me never left, and I love the comfort of being at one with that part and feeling wholly alive whenever I’m here.
Ashleigh Chevalier is a contributing writer for Fredericksburg Today.
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Grammy Winning Fredericksburg Native Performs Thursday at Kenmore Inn. Q&A with Jon Carroll
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