Tampa Preview: Hayes Carll
It's one thing for a Texas singer-songwriter to draw comparisons to the greats who preceded him. It's another to co-write with a couple of them.
Hayes Carll "evokes Townes Van Zandt lyrically, Guy Clark emotionally, Steve Earle stylistically and Ray Wylie Hubbard spiritually," The Boston Herald claims. Clark and Hubbard both have collaborated with Carll, a symbolic passing of the torch from the veterans to the 32-year-old semi-newcomer.
"It was for sure a big event for me," Carll says by telephone while driving from Omaha to Minneapolis ("Two hours down, five to go," he reports) recently while on tour opening for fellow Texans the Old 97's.
Clark in particular showed his appreciation for Carll's talents in a no-nonsense way.
"I got to meet him at a show a few years back," Carll says. "When I saw him again, I said, 'You probably don't remember me,' and he said, 'You want to write a song with me?'"
That song, "Rivertown," along with the Hubbard co-write, "Chickens," appeared on Carll's second album, 2005's "Little Rock."
But Carll hardly is dependent on big-name collaborators to prop up his writing.
Carll's third album, this year's "Trouble in Mind," has all the humor and heartache of great country music. Lead track "Drunken Poet's Dream" drags The Band's "Up on Cripple Creek" across the Texas prairie, and "She Left Me for Jesus" is an irreverent, theological lament.
"Don't Let Me Fall" is a prototypical tear-jerker, and "I Got a Gig" is less about the struggling songwriter who sings it than about the motley crew of an audience for which he's about to play.
Carll learned his craft in the rough-and-tumble bars of Texas' Gulf Coast, where some audiences were more interested in hearing him sing David Allan Coe tunes than his original numbers.
Eventually, Carll made a name for himself as a songwriter and a performer in those clubs, many of which saw performances by Van Zandt, Clark, Earle and Hubbard in their scuffling days.
"There's a circuit of clubs you go through, and you see the head shots in the windows of a lot of guys still touring or guys who are dead and gone," Carll says of those venues. "It feels good to join that tradition. They've covered the same miles you have."
Carll has managed to support himself with his music, making day jobs a rarity. "I used to be a mercenary for about six months in 2000," he jokes.
Actually, a stint with the Census Bureau sent him to a place where he didn't speak the language, even if it was in Arkansas.
Carll was to survey Spanish-speaking residents. Problem was he didn't speak Spanish.
"I learned a little once I got there," Carll says. "But a lot of people didn't want to speak English to me. The first girl I met who spoke English, I said, 'You're my girlfriend,' and I had a translator."
Carll headlines Saturday's Americana Fest, presented by listener-supported radio station WMNF, 88.5 FM.
WITH: Hayes Carll, Rebekah Pulley & the Reluctant Prophets, Ronny Elliott, Have Gun Will Travel, Ted Lukas, Mojo Gurus, Blind Buddy Moody, Will Quinlan & the Diviners, Memphis Train Union and Barkin' Barney & the Tall Boys
WHEN: 4 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Skipper's Smokehouse, 910 Skipper Road, Tampa; (813) 971-0666
COST: $12 advance, $17 day of show