In conversation with the Museum’s Peter Cooper, producer Jim Rooney—among the architects of Americana music—talks about his life in music, from childhood days in Massachusetts to folkie days in Woodstock, New York, to Nashville days watching Cowboy Jack Clement waltz across a studio room with a glass of water on his head, not spilling a drop.
A disciple of Country Music Hall of Fame member Clement, Rooney produced albums including Nanci Griffith’s “Other Voices, Other Rooms,” John Prine’s “Aimless Love,” Hal Ketchum’s “Past the Point of Rescue,” Townes Van Zandt’s “At My Window,” and Iris DeMent’s “Infamous Angel.” He also co-owned Forerunner Music, a quality-first company that published songs recorded by Garth Brooks, Kathy Mattea, Vince Gill, and many more.
Here, Rooney recounts time around legendary acoustic musicians Bascom Lamar Lunsford and Bill Monroe, and tells stories about building a studio for the Band, about forming Forerunner, and about his experience working in close creative quarters with greats of American music.
Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Pat Alger offers more insight into the producer’s role, as they talk about their times together in the studio, their experiences as un-wealthy Nashville upstarts, and other wisdom. (“Never buy a car at night,” Alger advises, as the car may look very different in the cold, gray light of dawn.) Alger also sings “Goin’ Gone,” a song Rooney recorded with Nanci Griffith that was published by Forerunner, and became a chart-topping country hit for Kathy Mattea.
John Prine joins to spin more tales, some musical and some social. We learn why Prine is “Chief” and Rooney is “Hoss,” and why Prine thinks Rooney’s love of songs is his prime attribute as a producer.
“He listens to the song and lets the song direct and produce the record,” Prine says of Rooney, the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement award from the Americana Music Association. “He lets the song do the work, and keeps the other clutter out of the room.”
Rooney and Alger open the show with Rooney’s “Learn How to Say Goodbye,” the song that launched him as a writer, and they close with Cowboy Jack Clement’s “We Must Believe in Magic.”
Presented in partnership with the Americana Music Association.
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