Buddy Miller Artist In Residence

August 24, 2010

Buddy Miller closed out his three-part artist-in-residence series by inviting friends reaching back to early in his career—a choice that underscored just how far Miller and longtime collaborators Shawn Colvin and Jim Lauderdale have come in their careers.

His other guest, Country Music Hall of Fame member Emmylou Harris, played what Miller cited as the most crucial role in introducing Miller’s special gifts to fans and fellow musicians. “All the good things that have come to me have come through Emmy,” Miller said.

“I’m having so many flashbacks—music flashbacks,” Lauderdale said after joining Miller and his rhythm section, bassist Byron House and drummer Bryan Owings, on “Hold On My Love,” a song Lauderdale wrote and Miller recorded on his first album, 1995’s Your Love and Other Lies. The two friends also performed several songs they had written together, including “Hole in My Head,” “Love in the Ruins,” and “Don’t Wait.”

By inviting two of his longest-running musical partners, Miller called attention to how profoundly the importance of musical collaboration has been to his career.  He and Lauderdale first met in New York City, where Miller had moved from Texas with his wife, Julie Miller. Colvin and Miller go back even further, to the 1970s in Austin. Colvin followed her friends to New York, where they played together in a band.

“I’m thinking back thirty years ago to the good times we had back at this club City Limits where I saw Buddy and Shawn play together a lot, and they were always so good to me,” Lauderdale said. “They’d always let me sit in, and it always meant so much to me and helped me out so much.” 

Colvin recalled first seeing Miller perform on drums in country bands, including one led by traditional vocalist Darrell McCall. “Back then, we thought of Buddy as a quadruple threat,” Colvin said. “Now he’s like an octagonal threat.”

Miller and Colvin concentrated on covers of classic songs, including “That’s the Way Love Goes,” a song written by Lefty Frizzell and Whitey Shafer that Merle Haggard also cut; “Poison Love,” a Johnnie & Jack tune Miller recorded on his second album, Cruel Moon; “Let It Be Me,” which the Everly Brothers popularized; and “Keep Your Distance,” a Richard Thompson song that Buddy and Julie Miller sang as a duet on their 2001 self-titled duet album. Colvin also performed a ringing version of “Diamond in the Rough,” a favored cut from her 1990 debut album, Steady On.

As the stories from his friends emphasized, Miller never pursued solo stardom as a means to an end. He has focused on collaborations throughout his career, from his early days with Colvin and Lauderdale to his mid-1990s stint as the guitarist in Emmylou Harris’s band Spyboy to his recent tours with Robert Plant’s Band of Joy (whose upcoming album Miller co-produced) to last year’s tour in Three Girls and Their Buddy, with Colvin, Harris, and Patty Griffin.

That same spirit of sharing ran through Miller’s Museum residency series, as he sought to trade ideas and inspirations with musicians he loves and respects. That theme mirrors what the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum sees as a principal feature of its annual artist-in-residence series.

In his opening remarks, Museum Director Kyle Young said, “For this honor, we single out an artist with prodigious talent who has already contributed a large and significant body of work to the canon of American popular music. This stage is given as a blank canvas, and the honoree is encouraged to create a series of one-of-a-kind musical experiences.”

Like many artists-in-residence before him, Miller has chosen to color this open canvas with the spontaneous artistry sparked by performing with longtime colleagues and heroes, creating the kind of unique concerts that continue to make the Museum series such a special Nashville occasion.

“I’ve had the best time the last couple of weeks,” Miller said early in the program. “It’s all gone by so fast, I’m just trying to take it all in.”

Miller’s guest list also underscored the different routes artists from similar beginnings can take. From common beginnings, Colvin, Lauderdale, and Miller all pursued different American music journeys. Colvin became an international pop star, taking a singer-songwriter’s personal, expository style and pumping it up with lean, rocking arrangements and dramatic acoustic settings that were as captivating as they were commercial.

Lauderdale gained favor as a writer of mainstream country hits, while his own recordings delved deeply into specific areas of country roots music, from honky-tonk to bluegrass to the cosmic Americana explored by Gram Parsons and, at times, the Grateful Dead (whose chief lyricist, Robert Hunter, has become a favored co-writer for Lauderdale.)

Miller, always renowned for his guitar work, embraced his roles as producer, sideman, songwriter, musical partner with his wife Julie, and a striking solo artist who combined traditional country, gospel, and rhythm & blues into something distinct, deep-grooved, and soul searching.

As Young said in his introduction, “Buddy gives breath, flesh, and elan to the Museum’s mantra: The past has meaning in the present. He is an ideal artist-in-residence.”

Lauderdale summed up the feelings of those who attended any of the three sold-out 2010 artist-in-residence concerts celebrating the host’s high-standing in the American music pantheon. “There’s nothing like a Buddy Miller concert.”

—Michael McCall

August 17, 2010

In introducing the second song of his second 2010 artist-in-residence concert at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Buddy Miller brought up his recent heart attack and the death of a good friend—yet managed to make the tale life-affirming, inspiring, and side-splittingly funny.

In its way, the story symbolized Miller’s M.O. for the evening, which featured guests Patty Griffin, Ann and Regina McCrary, Darrell Scott, and Lee Ann Womack—all of whom have shared stage and studio time with Buddy and his wife Julie Miller in recent years. Dividing up in different groupings throughout the evening, Miller and his guests delved into a lengthy set steeped in the grave themes of traditional gospel, blues and old-time country music, transforming these earthy songs into uplifting, soul-stirring, heavenly music.

Whether harmonizing quietly on an old Lefty Frizzell classic, stomping through a Christian hymn, or exploring moral issues in his original compositions, Miller repeatedly proved how American music can tackle the most serious of subjects yet deliver them in the most joyful of ways.

“I don’t have to hardly work with all my friends here playing and singing,” the ever-humble Miller said at the end of the evening, after performing nearly two hours of non-stop masterful guitar and vocals. “It’s just a joy for me to get to sit back and listen to them and do a little playing.”

With his top-notch guest list, and with the one-of-a-kind ways he mixed and matched his guests through the twenty-song set, Miller made full use of the objective of the Museum’s annual artist in-residence series. As Museum Director Kyle Young said in introducing Miller, the series is designed to give a country music artist of the highest order the free rein to use the Museum’s Ford Theater stage however he desires.

“Buddy’s unflinching dedication to his craft, along with his collaborative spirit, makes him an ideal artist-in-residence,” Young said. “Seeing and hearing him up close and personal, in this small theater, you will come to understand his essence, and feel the humanity and the spirituality that inform his creativity. We are privileged to give him our stage as his living room.”

The evening began with Miller on electric guitar fronting a rhythm section of Byron House on bass and Bryan Owings on drums, with Ann and Regina McCrary on harmony vocals and Regina’s distinctive tambourine accents. They opened with “Don’t Wait,” a song written by Miller and Jim Lauderdale (who was in the audience), from Miller’s 2004 album Universal United House of Prayer.

With the same band, he presented a tender version of the late Stephen Bruton’s “Heart of Hearts.” Introducing the song, Miller recalled an e-mail Bruton, who was fighting cancer, sent him as Miller convalesced in a hospital bed after undergoing emergency heart bypass surgery in 2009. The message included the line, “sending you good vibes.” Miller, in his heavily medicated haze, was inspired by Bruton’s message to go online and buy a nice vibraphone—better known as vibes—which later were delivered to his Nashville home as his mystified wife, Julie, looked on.

On the fourth song, Miller brought out Scott, with whom he has been touring recently in Robert Plant’s Band of Joy, which also features Griffin and House. Scott performed his original song, “Hank Williams’ Ghost,” with Williams’s granddaughter, Hilary Williams, sitting directly before him in the Ford Theater’s front row. After another Scott original, “Gravity,” Miller invited Griffin to the stage. The three singer-songwriters presented a creatively arranged version of Porter Wagoner’s “Satisfied Mind” in three-part harmony.

Scott departed as Griffin spoke of collaborating with Miller, who produced her recent album, Downtown Church, recorded a few blocks from the Museum at Nashville’s historic Downtown Presbyterian chapel. Griffin described Miller “as one of the best human beings I know, on top of being one of the best musicians I know.”

With the McCrary Sisters joining in, Griffin sang a rousing version of the traditional gospel song, “Move Up.” Extending the evening’s non-stated theme, she then led the band through the ominous gospel-blues “Death’s Got a Warrant” before shifting to a sweet, spare version of “Never Grow Old,” done with only Miller accompanying her on vocals and guitar.

Next, the two singers performed a fiery Miller original, "Gasoline and Matches.” Buddy mentioned that the song had been featured in a recent episode of the HBO-TV series True Blood—“I don’t endorse the vampire lifestyle,” Miller quipped—before he and Griffin slowed things down again with a version of Lefty Frizzell’s “I Want to Be with You Always.” That song will appear, with Griffin on vocals, on an upcoming album featuring the all-star guitar lineup of Miller, Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, and Greg Leisz. Griffin remained on stage as Miller and band tore through “Shelter Me” and “Chalk,” the latter written by Julie Miller.

Miller introduced his final guest, Womack, calling her “one of the most beautiful people and beautiful voices.” The award-winning country star joined Miller and Griffin on a tender take of another Lefty Frizzell song, “Mom and Dad’s Waltz.” With Scott on banjo, Womack tore into Miller’s “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger,” a song she recorded for her 2000 album, I Hope You Dance. Womack followed with a lightheartedly beautiful “Return to Me,” a song Marty Robbins co- wrote and recorded. Next, she sang an achingly effective version of the traditional- country ballad “Don’t Tell Me,” which Miller characterized as his favorite cover of one of his songs. Womack included the song on her 1998 album, Some Things I Know, making it one of the first mainstream country cuts the Millers had received.

The main set ended with Griffin joining Miller, Scott, the McCrarys, and the rhythm section on a deeply grooved version of “Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go.” After thanking the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum for his residency, Miller closed with an encore, his evocative spiritual “Wide River to Cross.”

“It’s such an honor to be invited to do this here at the Country Music Hall of Fame,” Miller had said to open the evening. By the end, as yet another standing ovation rang through the theater, it was clear why Miller had earned such an honor.

—Michael McCall

August 10, 2010
Buddy Miller opened the first show of his artist-in-residence series at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum with “All My Tears,” a quietly soulful song about deliverance from earthly pain to heavenly freedom. He ended his regular set with “Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go,” a feverishly rocking song about escaping devilish ways to a place untainted and untouchable by evil.

For the two hours in between, Miller and a remarkable succession of guests—celebrated jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, Country Music Hall of Fame members Tom T. Hall and Emmylou Harris, and gospel trio the McCrary Sisters—played music that was as real and as emotionally raw as it gets, yet it also was steeped in beauty and washed in the spiritual. Miller, his guests, and his bandmates drew on the stoutest of American roots-music traditions, bringing in blues, country, folk, gospel, jazz, and soul. Yet they transcended their influences through the joy, passion and matchless talent with which they played.

“This is some show,” Harris said with typical understatement as she joined Miller for an encore of “Don’t Tell Me to Stop Loving You,” a Buddy and Julie Miller song that Lee Ann Womack has covered.

If an artist can be judged by the company he keeps, no wonder Buddy Miller is held in such high regard. As the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s 2010 artist-in-residence, Miller became the first artist to perform in the Museum’s renovated Ford Theater following flood damage suffered in May. He is the Museum’s eighth artist-in-residence, joining such esteemed company as Cowboy Jack Clement, Earl Scruggs, Tom T. Hall, Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson, Jerry Douglas, and Vince Gill.

“For this honor, we single out a bona fide master craftsman who can be credited with a large and exemplary body of musical work,” said Museum director Kyle Young in introducing Miller. “To these masters, we offer our stage for the creation of intimate and unique musical experiences of their choice.”

For his first show, Miller chose to play with heroes and frequent collaborators. With Frisell, he played open-hearted, beautiful instrumentals, such as an achingly gorgeous rendition of “Shenandoah.” Miller has recently recorded an album with fellow guitarists Marc Ribot and Greg Leisz (with Leisz on pedal steel). “With these shows, I guess I get to do what I want, and what I love is to hear Bill Frisell play,” Miller said of the Colorado-born, Seattle-based guitarist.

Miller performed Hall’s “That’s How I Got to Memphis,” which Miller said he has included in every show he’s done since he began performing. He referred to Hall as “my hero,” as the Hall of Fame member received a standing ovation after performing two solo songs, “Pay No Attention to Alice” and “Homecoming.”

Along with band members Byron House on bass and Marco Giovino on drums, and with Frisell sitting in on guitar throughout the evening, Miller backed the McCrary Sisters on two songs, including a simmering, rhythmic take on Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” that will appear on an upcoming album that the trio (Ann, Alfrieda, and Regina) recently completed.

Miller also performed several songs with Emmylou Harris, who first covered Julie Miller’s “All My Tears” on her 1995 Wrecking Ball album and then hired Buddy as her guitarist for her Spyboy band, which backed her through the mid-to-late 1990s. Harris has continued to record and tour with Miller over the years, most recently on a tour with Shawn Colvin and Patty Griffin billed as “Three Girls and Their Buddy.”

“It was a great day when Buddy and Julie Miller came into my life,” Harris said. “One day I’m going to be a Miller when I grow up.” In return, Miller pointed out that Harris’s mother was in the front row, whom he described as the world’s best cook and promised someday soon he would return all the dishes of hers he has at home.

Among those in the crowd included 2008 artist-in-residence Jerry Douglas, Country Music Hall of Fame members Jim Foglesong and Jo Walker-Meador, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Duane Eddy, Americana artists Elizabeth Cook and Webb Wilder, and songwriter Paul Kennerley.

“Thank you for putting up with me and for coming out to the great Country Music Hall of Fame,” Miller said at the close of the evening, not long before walking off in front of yet another standing ovation.

Miller’s remaining two artist-in-residence concerts are August 17 and 24 and will feature different surprise guests 

—Michael McCall

Set List
Buddy Miller
August 10, 2010

1. "All My Tears"-Buddy Miller, solo
2. "That's How Strong My Love Is"-Buddy Miller with band (Buddy Miller, guitar and vocals; Bill Frisell, guitar; Byron House, bass; Marco Giovino, drums)
3. "No Good Lover"-Buddy Miller with band and harmony vocalist Ann McCrary
4. "Shelter Me"-Buddy Miller with band and the McCrary Sisters (Alfreda, Ann, Regina)
5. "Blowin' in the Wind"-McCrary Sisters with band
6. "I Want the Lord to Know My Name"-McCrary Sisters with band
7. "Worry Too Much"-Buddy Miller with band and Ann and Regina McCrary
8. "Hard Times"-Instrumental featuring Bill Frisell, guitar
9. "God's Winged Horse"-Featuring Bill Frisell, guitar, with Buddy Miller, guitar and vocals
10. "That's How I Got to Memphis"-Buddy Miller with band
11. "Pay No Attention to Alice"-Tom T. Hall, solo on guitar
12. "Homecoming"-Tom T. Hall, solo on guitar
13. "Shenandoah"-Instrumental featuring Bill Frisell
14. "Love Hurts"-Emmylou Harris and Buddy Miller
15. "Burning the Midnight Oil"-Emmylou Harris and Buddy Miller
16. "Walk Away Renee"-Emmylou Harris and Buddy Miller
17. "Wide River to Cross"-Emmylou Harris and Buddy Miller
18. "Somewhere Trouble Don't Go"-Buddy Miller and band with the McCrary Sisters
19. Encore: "Don't Tell Me to Stop Loving You"-Emmylou Harris and Buddy Miller