Every Monday night since 2001 John England has lead the Western Swingers and patrons at Robert's Western World in a high spirited showcase of the happy dance music known as Western Swing. He's played with everyone from Loretta Lynn to the Pointer Sisters all over the world. Here he talks about keeping a weekly show fresh, two of the swingest groups ever, and the king of all holiday albums. For more info on John & The Western Swingers go to www.westernswingers.com. See them Monday nights, 8 pm, Robert's Western World on Broadway.
1. Who are the Western Swingers? Pappy, our 75 year-old fiddle man, is the last of the original characters. Tommy Hannum is the wackiest good steel guitarist there is. David Spicher is a great musician and FUN to be around. Tom McBryde can play piano in that great 1930's style, and he has a cutting wit. And they're all nice guys.
2. What's the first concert you ever went to? My sister Leslie had a boyfriend who took me to Dylan's Rolling Thunder Review when I was about 12, glad she wasn't available! KISS was next. With my face painted.
3. What's the last local music event/concert you went to? Tim Carroll at The 5 Spot; He's good.
4. What song would you never want to hear again, and why? "Mustang Sally." Why does ANYBODY still want to hear "Mustang Sally"?
5. What's your favorite cheesy song? "Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes." I'd rather listen to bubblegum than chew it, any day.
6. How do you keep your weekly performances fresh? I don't think you could play Western Swing with the musicians in our band without a lot of spontaneity, but the atmosphere of Robert's encourages that, too. I'm much less interested in technical "perfection" than in creating a happy, swinging vibe, so when I'm doing a good job, my mind is in the moment, and I'm appreciative of what is, not worrying about what it ISN'T. You have to be paying attention, but not trying too hard. You also can't be afraid to fall on your face, which I do a lot!
7. What record do you wish you'd made? It would have to be a compilation album. The Star Crossed Lovers (Duke Ellington), I Just Wanna Make Love to You (Muddy Waters), I Will Dare (Replacements), Written in Stone (Vern Gosdin), So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed (Merle Travis), Full House (Wes Montgomery), Bye Bye Johnny (Chuck Berry), Family Bible (Willie Nelson), I Just Wasn't Made for these Times (Beach Boys), That Summer Feeling (Jonathon Richman), Change Partners (the bossa version by Frank Sinatra), Ballad of El Goodo (Big Star) and What's the Matter with the Mill (Bob Wills) are just the tip of the iceburg, so I guess it'd have to be a compilation DOUBLE album!
8. If you could be in any other band (past or present) for 24 hours, what band would you be in? Bob Wills' Texas Playboys or NRBQ. 2 VERY swinging groups.
9. What's your opinion on the Nashville music scene? Who are your favorite Nashville musicians/artists? I wish there was more support for live music. When I work out of town, people can't get enough. When I work in town, I can't get enough people! Nashville is full of great talent, but (not counting the folks I work with) some of my favorites are Tim Carroll, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, the Time Jumpers, George Marinelli, Buddy Spicher, and Jack Silverman. I'm leaving too many out!
10. What is your proudest moment in music? The thing that makes me proud is a sincere compliment from someone I admire. That's good ... and good for you! Dennis Payne, the great guitarist and singer, was very generous with me recently, and I walked on a cloud all the next day.
11. What's your most humbling moment in music? I work enough different gigs that I have humbling moments all the time! When a defensive back gets burned for a touchdown, he has to forget all about it so he can play the next down. Thank God, I'm forgetful, too.
12. What's the last album you bought? Do you recommend it? Jimmie Rodgers, RCA Country Legends. Duh!
13. What's your favorite holiday album? I don't have too many, but Elvis' first Christmas album is pretty hard to beat. You've gotta love a Christmas song with the lyrics, "Hang up your pretty stockings, turn off the light. Santa Claus is coming down your chimney tonight."