NPR Music’s Bob Boilen speaks about the inspiration behind his book “Your Song Changed My Life,” joined by singer-songwriter John Paul White, who offers his own formative musical experiences and performs four songs.
Held in conjunction with the year’s AmericanaFest, this September 23, 2016, program begins with Boilen’s remarks on his own musical career and his role as host of NPR’s “All Songs Considered” podcast and program. He discusses the NPR music series “Tiny Desk Concerts,” usually filmed at his desk, and describes the vibe as “intimate and awkward.”
Boilen recalls seeing a 2011 concert by the Civil Wars—White’s former duo with Joy Williams—then introduces White, who performs his song “Black Leaf.”
Born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, White grew up twenty miles north in the small town of Loretta, Tennessee, unaware of the musical history of nearby Muscle Shoals, Alabama. On stage at the Museum, White talks about his father’s appreciation of Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, and other country artists of that era, and sings an a cappella rendition of “I Remember You,” a song his dad learned from Slim Whitman that he would often sing around the house.
White recalls how he encountered his first guitar—a Martin 00-18 from 1957—and his experiments with tuning. He notes that his tendency to sing falsetto may stem from singing quietly in his bedroom, due to his father working the late shift and needing to sleep during the day. White also describes his early on-stage experiences singing covers before finding his own musical identity. He says he first started trying to write a song to cope with the death of a friend. He subsequently enrolled in college and found a songwriting mentor, Walt Aldridge.
Asked if songwriting helps him emotionally, White says, “It’s a way I can express myself and say things that I would never say in conversation. It would feel too dramatic. It would feel too maudlin. It would bring the whole room down. I noticed that with my songs, that they kind of had a little bit of that flavor, and I always seemed to gravitate toward the dark side, toward putting my finger on the nerve if I possibly could.”
White then talks about trying to write songs for mainstream country artists with disappointing results. He cites Dan Seals’s “All That Glitters (Is Not Gold)” and John Prine’s “Sam Stone” as two pivotal songs that changed his life, referring to Boilen’s book. White sings both songs for the audience.
Explore the Museum’s public programming: https://countrymusichalloffame.org/plan-your-visit/exhibits-activities/public-programs/
FOLLOW THE MUSEUM