When I was music editor at Rolling Stone in the ’90s, I was asked — well, told — to do a Q&A with Jimmy Buffett. Not being a fan of his music, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed talking to him. Buffett died today at 76.
In 1996, Capitol Records released a box set of country singer Merle Haggard’s music. After this review ran in Rolling Stone, a writer for a conservative newspaper, The Washington Times, took me to task for putting a liberal spin to the songs of a conservative artist. But as I wrote in this review — and I stand by it — seeing Haggard simply as a “conservative” doesn’t do him or his full body of work justice.
In 2012, within the span of two months, North Carolina lost two of its most famous and most loved musical voices, Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs. This was my tribute to them.
Elizabeth Cotten was barely a teenager when she wrote one of the most iconic songs in the American folk canon. It took decades for music historians to give her proper credit.
A highlight of my career as a music journalist was being asked to write liner notes to a box set of music by my all-time favorite singer and songwriter, Phil Ochs — and then getting a Grammy nomination for my work.
Before the worst president in American history incited a deadly insurrection at the White House, singer-songwriter Nathan Bell asked me to write the liner notes for his latest album, Red, White and American Blues (it couldn’t happen here).
What Ed Sheeran’s huge success showed was the endurance of the acoustic guitar in popular music—not just in the singer-songwriter or country-bluegrass realms, but also in the pure, unadulterated, teen-loving pop world. In this 2014 multimedia package, I talked to him and others about his music and guitars, and he performed an unplugged version of his hit “Thinking Out Loud.”
Early on in what’s come to be slandered by the right as “cancel culture,” Ani DiFranco angered fans by planning an artist retreat at a former plantation. The irony was that DiFranco had spent her entire career as a stanch political ally, not just of Black Americans, but of all people of color, all gender identifications, the poor — basically, all people marginalized by the dominant culture. She survived the controversy with her fanbase intact.