|Stevie Tombstone writes songs that will last the test of time|
"When singer/guitarist Stevie Tombstone set out to Greenwood, Miss., in the early ’90s with blues singer Johnny Shines and Georgia Satellites guitarist Rick Richards, they had a noble and seemingly simple goal in mind: Place a memorial gravestone at the final resting place of legendary bluesman Robert Johnson.
But like many noble efforts, things didn’t quite go as planned; their pilgrimage suddenly included members of the press lying in wait.
“We didn’t realize it had become a media event,” Tombstone says of their arrival at the grave site.
Richards and Tombstone decided to hang back while Shines, a contemporary of Johnson’s, placed the marker, because they felt Shines deserved the attention more than they did. Little did they know that their absence, after it was reported they would be at the ceremony, would cause a firestorm of criticism in the blues press.
But it’s just that kind of shaggy-dog story that inspires great songwriting.
“Robert got the tombstone, we got the bad press, but now I’ve got a song,” Tombstone says of “Greenwood,” the title track of his latest album. “The whole idea was that Robert shouldn’t have gone back there, because that’s where he died, and I didn’t have any urge to go back there either.”
Tombstone’s music is stripped down and mostly acoustic, relying heavily on evocative lyrics and Tombstone’s wry, soulful delivery to carry across his modest-yet-memorable melodies. Tombstone has also spent some time in Nashville working as a songwriter for other artists, so perhaps it makes sense that our conversation centered mostly on the songwriting process.
Obviously, “Greenwood” is based on a real-life experience, but is your other songwriting autobiographical?
I’ve done that more and more over the last 15 years. I still like writing traditional-type songs, maybe some cautionary tales that are fictional, but I would say I’ve become a lot more autobiographical on the last couple of albums.
The new album is fairly stripped down in terms of production. Do you prefer a bare-bones approach?
I’ve gotten in over my head, production-wise, more than once [laughs]. And I love doing huge mixes, don’t get me wrong. But I think the stripping down is something that’s just come with age. I tend to want to serve the song. And I want other people to want to record it and play it, and maybe add stuff to it, so I like to paint the picture, but I like to leave the door open to interpretation, too. I think that’s important, especially in roots music, because that’s how it started: People handing songs off to each other and songs getting passed around.
You’ve shared stages with everyone from Leon Russell to the Ramones. What is it about your music that makes you such a versatile act?
I think it’s dumb luck, partially [laughs]. But it might also be that the songs are simple. I went through a phase when I first started where I think I was trying to work on my chops as a songwriter, and I’d incorporate these lengthy bridges and intros, tricky this and witty that, but the older I get, the more I appreciate simplicity, and the songs that seem to stick over time are the simple melodies.
Is songwriting a difficult process for you?
The hardest thing for me is to find inspiration. And I think that my best songs are ones that just came to me. I was the editor, not the writer, as far as I was concerned. And that’s the weird thing, is trying to figure out how to plug into that. It’s not something you can just turn on and off."
|Stevie Tombstone feature write up in the Greenville Journal|