On his new album Last Call Stephen Simmons sings about the challenges everyone faces in the contradictions of life. Simmons' own humble and religious rural upbringing in Woodbury, Tenn., lends him understanding of many of the conflicts between country and city life. Here he talks about The Boss, being president for a day and the one song he wouldn't mind forgetting he ever heard. Find out more about Stephen Simmons at www.stephensimmonsmusic.com or see him 9:30 p.m. Friday at the Family Wash.
Describe your music, please. I always struggle with this one. I don't have a problem with the Americana or Alt-Country label. And I think my music rests easily alongside other artists in those particular genres. However, some of what I do is just country, some of it's just rock.
What's the first album you ever bought and where is it now? Kenny Rogers' The Gambler and KISS's Dynasty were the first two albums of my own I ever had. They were probably birthday gifts when I was really young, and I still have them with my vinyl stuff, but they skip really bad.
What song would you never want to hear again, and why? Tough one. It's probably "Have You Forgotten." I grew up listening to country radio, but I hate what's happened to it over the last 10 years and I usually just don't listen to it at all anymore. However, I was working a day job when that song came out and the guy in the cubicle next to mine had his radio on a commercial country station and turned up loud all day long so I had no choice. And there are a lot of really bad songs on country radio these days, but that one had the added dimension of what I thought was a questionable political agenda. We were getting ready to go into a war that was very controversial. And here you have a song representing the administration's view being pushed by corporate radio, some of which is close to that administration. At the same time, they were removing songs such by artists who opposed their politics. I defend the songwriter if that's what he truly believes, though I may disagree with him. But that's not what radio was meant for. Plus I just didn't like the song.
What's your favorite cheesy song? Probably "Dancing in the Dark" by Springsteen. Over time I've come to realize what a good freakin' song it is, but it still feels cheesy cause of the way it was recorded and that video of the Boss dancing with the Friends girl.
What's a new album that you're listening to lately? Rodney Crowell, Fate's Right Hand; Ryan Adams, Love Is Hell.
What's the best gig you ever had? Years ago playing at a dive bar in Murfreesboro every weekend for tips and free beer to college kids and rednecks.
What's the worst gig you ever had?Y ears ago playing at a dive bar in Murfreesboro every weekend for tips and free beer to college kids and rednecks.
What record do you wish you'd made? Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Bruce Springsteen.
If you could be someone else for 24 hours, who would you be? Probably the President, so I could try and change a bunch of stuff about the country I don't like, then be gone before Congress could impeach me.
What's your opinion on the Nashville music scene? As far as the artists and musicians go, it's a thriving community.However, in terms of support for those artists, it seems down to me. I really think it has a lot to do with the fact that local artists have trouble getting any radio station to play their music. That's still the main way people hear about aritsts whether they're new or have been around awhile and just have a new record out. Five or six years ago it seemed like Lightning 100 played much more local stuff to me. Plus there was the Phoenix, which is where I really became aware of a lot of artists living and working in Nashville. All of whom I'm still a big fan of today. There doesn't seem to be any outlet like that anymore unless you're already an established national act. And I think that makes a big difference on turnout for local artists shows at clubs all over town.
Who are your favorite Nashville musicians/artists? Well, I'd have to start with Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Buddy and Julie Miller, and Gillian Welch. I know those are national acts, but it's certainly well deserved in all of their cases. I think Jeff Black is brilliant, and his songs really move me. I really like all the records Matthew Ryan's made. I'm a big fan of Josh Rouse. And that last Mack Starks record really blew me away, and I can't wait to hear the one I hear he's working on now. It's so hard to name them all without leaving people out that I know I'm forgetting, which kinda goes back to why I think Nashville's creative community is flourishing.
Who is someone you've worked with that you think is incredibly talented and everyone should know about, producer, musician or otherwise? Well, recently I'd finished my record with Eric Fritsch over at his Eastwood Studio and I surely can't say enough good things about him. He's an incredible musician in his own right, but I think he really brings some great things to the table as a producer and an engineer. I loved the way the Scott Miller record Upside-Downside he did there sounded. And I'm certainly pleased with the way my own record turned out. And to boot, he's a really good dude.
What is your proudest moment in music? Well, I certainly hope that one is still ahead of me. But for now I guess the best moments are still finishing the last song. That never gets old. But on a different level, finishing my record Last Call kinda had that same feeling to me. Knowing that this concept I'd had floating in my head for the last several years got to come out and be put down on record was very gratifying.