John Hobbs surveys his career as a session pianist and producer in this thorough interview, held March 10, 2012, at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, as part of the Nashville Cats series. Among other topics, he discusses his decision to move from Los Angeles to Nashville and his work with Kenny Rogers, Merle Haggard, Vince Gill and others.
Born in California in 1950, Hobbs describes growing up in a household with siblings who were musical, even though their parents were not. He discusses the influence of Charlie Rich, Leon Russell, and Elton John on his musical approach.
While recounting his early career, he talks about his work with Freddy Fender, Terry Melchen, Olivia Newton-John, Lionel Richie, and Phil Spector, as well as playing in the house band at the fabled Palomino Club in Los Angeles.
Later in the interview, he recalls meeting Vince Gill through Rodney Crowell. From 1984 to 1994, Hobbs traveled to Nashville from Los Angeles for about eight to ten weeks a year for session work. The program includes clips of his notable sessions during this time for George Strait, Hank Williams Jr., and Reba McEntire.
He offers insight into his television work, ranging from sitcoms to talk shows to the Academy of Country Music’s annual awards ceremony. He also reminisces about the experience of playing on Jane Fonda’s exercise videos and talks about spending more time in Nashville as he began to produce Collin Raye. Around this time, he says went through a divorce and his youngest daughter graduated from high school, prompting the move.
“The thing about Nashville,” Hobbs notes, “is that there’s a sense of community here in the music business that I just never felt in Los Angeles. I think to some extent it’s geographical. Most of the music business in Nashville is contained in three long blocks. It has the feeling of a college campus. You walk around and you see people that you know every day. I really wanted to be here. My friends were here and I was doing a great business here.”
Through more clips, Hobbs is heard on hit singles by Pam Tillis, Patty Loveless, Martina McBride, and Deana Carter. He closes the program with mentions of his work with groups such as The Players, The Notorious Cherry Bombs, and The Hellecasters. He also shares the advice he received from studio musician Jay Dee Maness that he still thinks about today.
The program ends with a performance of a song he wrote with Matraca Berg titled “When They Lay Me Down.”
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