Despite the relentless downpour taking place outside City Winery NYC on Wednesday night, Joe Purdy fans, as usual, packed the house for this sold-out show. It was the perfect setting for the crowd to sing along to Joe’s 2004 “I Love the Rain the Most,” which we were all secretly hoping would make it onto his set list (and, of course, it did). Some sat on stools at the bar and along the windows, while others sat at the small, candle-lit tables surrounding the stage. I sat at one of those tables beside Joe’s manager, Brian, and his parents who came in from Connecticut that night to see Joe play. They were as enthusiastic about the performance as the other Purdy followers in attendance. I heard Brian’s dad singing along to Joe’s songs as we sipped our waiter’s wine recommendations, which included a homemade specialty of the night. The label on the bottle simply stated, “Joe Purdy Wine.”
I last spoke with Joe in September (My Hillbilly Confidence: An Interview with Joe Purdy), just prior to his AmericanaFest performance in Nashville. After spending an hour or so on the phone with him, it was clear that Joe had discovered early on that, creating music is what he always wanted to do, and that, driven by his passion to pursue it at all costs, Joe was able to avoid doing what others might think he would otherwise have to do. With that ethic, Joe has tirelessly made his music available to us — from the self-titled Joe Purdy (2001) to Eagle Rock Fire (2014) – straight from his heartstrings to ours.
Joe follows his own simple formula– he says what he wants to say and does so with an inspiring mix of raw talent, authenticity and humor — which sometimes takes the form of witty annotation during his live performance. At City Winery, Joe repeatedly interrupted himself mid-song to say …”true story”… (using humor to accomplish light, yet unmistakable reinforcement of the thought he just sang). When he pauses during the performance of his songs, and uses his humble, confiding voice to speak directly to and personally with his audience, it is a mellifluous gift that Joe Purdy brings. The result is that each participant in his diverse and international fan base, is engrossed and united by that overwhelmingly warm sound and honesty.
Joe began his set with several songs off of Eagle Rock Fire (2014), followed by “Sinkin’ Low” from Take My Blanket and Go (2007). He then put down his acoustic guitar and walked over to the piano, to give us a unique performance since, as Joe pointed out, it’s unusual that he has a piano available to him on stage. There, he played one of my all time favorite Purdy tracks, “Been Up So Long” (piano) from Last Clock On the Wall (2009), among others. He subsequently played a series of what he calls “short songs,” including “River Boat Captain.” The short songs resemble sonnets — brief, organized and powerful. Each lasted no longer than a minute. As Joe pulls you in, ever-so-quickly on each short adventure, and then releases you seconds later, you can’t help but feel the astounding fleeting embrace.
The newest song in this evening’s performance is what I like to call the “Emmett Till” of songs. For those who do not know the reference, Emmett Till is a young boy, whose murder became the catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement. Within this song, Joe collects and brings forth the unsettling injustices of our history into one palpable composition:
My brother was killed by a policeman.
My brother was only 19.
My brother was shot by a sniper.
My brother, he died on the street.
My brother was beat by policemen,
and he died on the prison floor.
My brother, he fought in Vietnam.
My brother was killed on the front of war,
My brother, he died in his hometown…
We wear stars and stripes in the broken heart of the country…
Joe and I had scheduled to meet after the show, as a follow-up to our last interview. Prior to our meeting, I watched Joe come up the basement stairs to personally greet and meet with his fans in the main room. Although more than half of the capacity crowd remained (waiting), Joe spoke at length with every single one of them. But there weren’t just the usual, “great show!” and, “thank you’s!” exchanged. The coolest part was that, as I watched, I saw Joe glad, even eager to directly connect with each one of his fans. Joe’s willingness to make himself accessible to his listeners, both through his music and personally, is just who Joe Purdy is. It can all be summed up in what Joe told me about his experience at AmericanaFest–how he had missed most of the festival’s events because he chose to spend time caring for a friend who had become ill. We see it in his recorded music and live performances, in his post-performances and in the decisions he has made along the way (which are all his own). This night was no different and only increased the appreciation I have for Joe Purdy the musician and for Joe Purdy the man. They are genuinely one and the same. True story.
I was very excited to receive an email from Ryan, about setting up a Heartstrings interview with Joe Purdy. I’ve been a fan of Joe’s music for quite some time and welcomed the opportunity to speak with him about what drives and inspires him. I called Joe’s cell phone. It rang and rang and then I heard: “Hey, this is Joe. Sorry I missed your call. But I’ll get right back to you, so leave a message. Thanks.” My first thought was that I won’t leave a message, and instead I’ll give him some time and try again in a few minutes. So I hung up without leaving a message and called a few minutes later hoping he’d pick up, but ready to leave a message for him for a call back if he didn’t. Again, the phone rang and rang and again I heard: “Hey, this is Joe. Sorry I missed your call. But I’ll get right back to you, so leave a message. Thanks.” In the silence that followed as I waited for the beep, I got ready to leave my message. But instead of a beep, suddenly there was Joe’s voice again. The message continued: “…That’s possibly a lie. I may not get back to you for a while. I’m actually not very good at that sort of thing so, if I don’t get back to you at all, don’t take it personally. It’s just that I don’t know how to work my phone very well. But regardless, thanks for calling and, ah, I will talk to you at some point in the future.” I appreciated his candor and again readied myself to leave a message. Again, I waited for the beep. But instead of a beep, a voice came back. This time it was a woman’s voice: “The mailbox is full and cannot accept any messages at this time. Goodbye.” I heard a click and the line went dead. I had no other way to reach Joe for the scheduled interview. What to do?
Well, as it turns out, it wasn’t Joe’s fault at all. I simply got the interview time wrong when accounting for the different time zones. The full mailbox can also easily be explained by Joe’s popularity. Thankfully, it was no lie, and Joe was true to his voicemail word. We would indeed, talk some time in the future. In fact, although when I called again, at the correct time, I got Joe’s voicemail again, Joe immediately called back and I was ecstatic!
Here’s what happened next:
Lauren Jahoda: Hello.
Joe Purdy: Hi! This is Joe Purdy.
LJ: Hi Joe! How are you doing?
JP: No complaints, no complaints. Kind of a busy day. Sorry I missed you. I was in the middle of a radio performance. I’m actually in my hometown tonight. We’re passing through and I got a chance to go out and visit my folks with the guys and see my sister who just had a little one. My first niece. I was here recently for that, but she is six weeks old now and I just love to get my hands on her every chance I get. She’s a sweetheart.
JP: Thank you so much. Our family is just so happy.
LJ: Where is your hometown?
JP: Well, hometown…it’s more of an area, it’s called Hickory Creek, Arkansas. I went to high school in Springdale, Arkansas and I’m about a relative distance from Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville, where the university is, but we’re playing in Fayetteville tonight, and the University of Arkansas is here. Springdale is next in line over and that’s where I went to high school.
LJ: It must be great being able to come back and play there.
JP: Yeah, ya know I haven’t played here in about 8 or 9 years so it’s a little wild (laughs).
LJ: Do you expect to run in to people from your past?
JP: I imagine I probably will (laughs). It’ll be quite a reunion. I missed our 10-year reunion and yeah, it’s going to be 15 or more now. And yeah, I know a lot of those folks are coming out and I still have a lot, well I wouldn’t say a lot, I still have a few friends I still keep in touch with regularly. But, yeah, I expect to see a lot of old faces.
LJ: That’s great.
JP: Yeah, it’ll be nice and it’s just nice to see my folks and have an excuse to see my family again for a little bit.
LJ: I know you’ve been cranking out albums for the past 10 years, so I’m sure it’s been a busy road.
JP: It has! Yeah. It’s going to be a little strange tonight because I haven’t made it back to play in town, it just hasn’t fallen on the roof in quite awhile. Just routed around, just things schedule-wise, have just always kind of gone the other way of our favor and not been able to pop in. So, it’s really nice to be able to this time.
LJ: I know Arkansas, is a big part of your life – it’s where you live, it’s where you’re from – you hear about it a lot when doing research on you. I also heard you are quite the local history buff. Is that true?
JP: Oh, no, hardly. I wouldn’t take credit for that (laughs)!
LJ: (laughs) Well I’m glad I checked with you then (laughs)!
JP: Yeah, thank you. Yeah, no, no. I wouldn’t say that so much. I mean I do, I have done my share of snooping around local history for sure, but I wouldn’t say I was a buff by any means.
LJ: I’ve never been to Arkansas, so I was wondering if there is any sort of cool history that you could tell me about the area or a personal story.
JP: Well, the name of my label is called Mudtown Crier Records and where that kind of comes from is the town name technically, that my folks’ house is in is called Lowell and what that used to be called, what they used to call it was Mudtown, for obvious reasons. And when people would come through there, through the main section of town, way back in the day, they would park their wagons over night and in the morning they’d come out and they’d be sunk in the mud and they’d have to take the wheels off and do, ya know, all that stuff and it got to be one of those things where it was such an issue that they ended up going by the name Mudtown. That’s kind of where I got that. There’s this old-timer called Elza Tucker and he’s probably 94 or 95 now and he worked at the Lowell historical museum and the only time he ever left town was World War II to serve under General Patton. He worked everyday in the historical museum and I’m afraid to bring that up because I dont, I haven’t gotten to check in on him in a couple of years, but last time, he was doing great last time a couple years ago when I went and visited him when I was still in town. I ended up looking up, about the area that I was in Hickory Creek and he was a postmaster up in, I think he retired in 1973, and his father also delivered… in a pony express like wagon before that…the mail by wagon out to our area, and if you know our area, it’s quite a ways out there and it would come I think once a week at that point. But even when he was postmaster, he would take things out there, he would take the mail out there and he had for certain families that were across the river there, and they would boat over to get their mail at a certain time and he met them and handed them their mail (laughs). And ya know, there’s a bunch of, he told me some great old stories about some of the houses that are still standing. There’s a not a lot of them that are still there that were there way back in the day. We haven’t taken as good care of our buildings as a lot of the East coast has, but we did, we were able to have a few still standing. He told me a bunch of great stories about that stuff.
LJ: Is that also because of the weather and storms you get there?
JP: Partly, yeah. It’s partly because of that and it’s partly because of neglect and partly because of um, I think the idea has been a little bit more of build something new, leave the old farm behind. Build a new house, build a new barn, one that’s state-of-the-art, one that stays, ya know. I surely don’t want to be in a situation where it looks like I’m bad mouthing anybody. It’s fair, the reasons are fair, but it’s just a shame because there are some really beautiful farm houses and beautiful barns and beautiful old historical buildings that have been highly neglected and it gets to where you just don’t recognize the place anymore and it would be nice to have some of that around and drive through. Even in Kentucky and Tennessee and Virginia and places like that, you get to see so much of the countryside and you see these farms, full-functional farms that have been there for a hundred years or more and they’re just maintaining what they had and they’ve always been taking care of and repairing and taking care of them and they’re just, to me, they’re so much more unobtrusive to the natural landscape of the place. It just fits to me, and it’s just more beautiful to look at and I have a sense of preservation and a sense of pride behind it and I don’t know, I guess, I’m just sort of old-fashioned like that.
LJ: They become part of the landscape.
JP: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.
LJ: I do want talk about your music. I’m genuinely interested in the history because, like I said, I’ve never been there before and I take any opportunity I can to get to know something new and interesting.
JP: Well, ya know, the Ozarks are a beautiful place and ya know, this time of year, right now, they’ve had a really good summer and it hasn’t been nearly as hot. It’s been very mild compared to a lot of other summers we get and so everything’s still really green and beautiful here right now. A lot of rolling hills and a lot of beautiful woods, beautiful rivers and lakes. Ya know, it’s a lot of wide open country still, and that part of it is special and it’s really, when you’ve been gone away from it awhile in a city and you come back, it still surprises you, even though you know it’s there, it surprises you. Even if you’re not driving, or even if your flying it…everything starts to get greener and buildings start to get further apart from each other and you start to see more trees, more hillsides, more streams of water and ya know, it’s a beautiful place. It’s a beautiful place to grow up too.
LJ: I love that. I grew up and live on Long Island in New York. I don’t know if you have ever been here, but we don’t have much of that here.
JP: Right. Absolutely.
LJ: Thankfully, we don’t have to go too far to get it. I went to school in upstate New York and it’s there.
JP: Oh I’m a big fan, big fan of upstate.
LJ: We’re you in upstate New York a lot?
JP: Yeah, I have been over the years. Sure, we do a a benefit concert for the St. Lawrence River every year on 4th of July in Craton, NY, Thousand Islands region and Save the River is an organization that got started by a group of people and Abbie Hoffman when he was kind of living up there and hiding under a different name. They had this really long, kind of scientific name for what their organization was going to be and it was like nine letters long or something and he’s like, “How about Save the River?” (laughs) And they’re like, alright, so, anyway we’ve been, I guess the last 10 or 11 years, we’ve been doing a concert up there to raise money for the Save the River organization, which is always constantly fighting legislation, because there’s a channel through there where traders come through and the commerce is good, but they are always constantly fighting to widen the channel so that they can fit more than one at a time through. But if they do this, they’re gonna knock out, they’re going to majorly disrupt the ecosystem, but they’re also going to wipe out 700 or 800 of the islands. And so, it’s kind of, it’s always a fight and a struggle for this commerce and they understand the need for the commerce as well. It’s not as one-sided as you might think it would be with one side against the other. They really are a great organization, who are really understanding of everything that is going on around them, but they’re constantly trying to maintain the balance and it’s one of my most favorite places in the whole, wide world –the St. Lawrence River and the Thousand Islands region. It’s just one of the most beautiful places that I know, so that we always want to do everything we can. First of all, it’s just a pleasure to get to go and be there, but second of all after that, it’s just we want to make sure that we keep getting to go back there, and we want to make sure that everybody can and that it doesn’t get disrupted to the point when no one can go.
LJ: I’d love to check that out.
JP: Oh you should, we put it on at the Clayton Opera House and it’s mostly people that live there and people who have homes that they go to in the summer time, and in the winter time it freezes over and there’s not nearly as many residents year-round. Although, there are more and more now, as the folks have gotten older, ya know, there’s houses that have been in families for generations and stuff. It’s the country and it’s more than the country, it’s a river and it’s navigating it, and building or living on the little river island somewhere, it’s a very humble sort of existence, but a really beautiful one and one very worth it.
LJ: I’m definitely going to look into that. I want to cover that in Heartstrings.
JP: Yeah! Absolutely!
LJ: You play there every year, right?
JP: Yes ma’am. I’ve got some great amazing, old stories that come from that area.
LJ: Yeah. I’m definitely going to look into that. I’ve been a fan of yours before I even started the magazine. It all got started with “Worn Out Shoes.”
JP: Oh, nice! Well, thank you, thank you.
LJ: A couple of years ago, I decided to pick up the banjo and I hate to say that I didn’t continue it, but I was taking lessons and the teacher said to write down 3 songs that I’d ultimately like to learn. I know it’s the mandolin on that song, but I just wanted to learn it on the banjo so bad.
JP: Oh, it’s real simple on the banjo! It’s about as simple as it is on the mandolin. I can teach you how to do that.
LJ: I would love that! I love that song.
JP: Oh, thank you. Thanks so much!
LJ: Is there a story behind “Worn Out Shoes”?
JP: I was driving through Colorado with Brian Wright, my buddy – great singer-songwriter – we’ve been around the world together many times. We were, gosh I think that tour awhile back we were opening for Edie Brickell, I was opening for Edie Brickell and he was accompanying me and we were driving in a car, in this SUV rental with the sun roof, driving through Colorado on this really gorgeous night. We had been on the road for a long time and you could see all the stars up through the roof and he was taking his shift driving and I had a mandolin in the passenger seat and just started playing ya know around with it “the hole in the roof for stars to fall in…” and then we started singing it together and then it got to the next verse and we kinda spit lyrics back and forth, and then he spit the next verse with “the devil is three steps behind…” and this stuff. Anyway, it was kind of the first and one of… the only time I’ve ever co-written, and it just happened to be that we were both… and he’s one of the only, if not the only person in the world that I would actually want to co-write with, and just because when we do it it’s an accident, it’s not a sit down and decide to write a song. I just can’t, I don’t understand that, and I can’t do that. But yeah, we were just drivin’ and singin’ together and it came about and so, soon after that when we were overseas for another tour we stopped in–we were traveling with Tom McRae and Will Golden and B. Wright and I– and we all stopped in outside of London and made a record, made You Can Tell Georgia in a few days, 3 or 4 days. So B, B was the other person that was on that. He was playing the 4- string or 6-string, whatever it was, and I was playing mandolin and they put a microphone up above us and we sang up to it and that was it.
At Joe’s performance on Friday night at the Mercy Lounge in Nashville, we witnessed just that — Joe Purdy and Brian Wright reunited after years apart, singing “Worn Out Shoes,” reliving that moment when they had sung right up to that microphone above them in the recording studio outside London many years earlier. I believe that, Joe, Brian and I were quite possibly the only one’s aware of the history and sentimentality behind the moment of their performance of “Worn Out Shoes” that night, but the artistry and friendship shared between them was undeniable to everyone. We were fortunate enough to capture the incredible moment here:
LJ: That’s so interesting because I have to tell you – last week, I interviewed Gregory Alan Isakov and I mentioned, as I am now, some of the songs that really stay with me. I mentioned one or two to him and they were two songs that he wrote collaboratively. It’s funny because I’m beginning to notice that my favorites are falling under this co-write category. Gregory had also expressed that he was particularly fond of those collaborations.
JP: I feel like it has something to do with, ya know… I’ve always had a bit of a spike from that one. Especially, he [Brian Wright] is out on tour with me now, and we haven’t played it together for years and years, if really ever and live, and we’ve been doin’ it in this recent show and it’s been going over so well. I started that song. I started the first verse and chorus and then we started finishing the rest together, but I think it has a little bit of a tinge of something that’s a little bit different than the stuff that maybe I do all by myself. So maybe it sticks, spikes out a little bit.
LJ: I love it. Is he going to be with you at AmericanaFest?
JP: He is. Yeah, he lives in Nashville now. Um, and spent the last couple of years with family and he played a little showcase last year but yeah, he’ll be on my full band show, since really the first time since You Can Tell Georgia, he sort of lost the coin toss and had to play drums (laughs). So, he’s on this tour. He’s opening the shows for this tour but he’s also playing drums and other instruments as well throughout the show and he won’t be opening for that showcase, but he’ll be playing with me.
LJ: I’ll definitely be there, so I hope you play that song for me.
JP: Oh, beautiful. Alright, I’ll see what I can do.
LJ: That’s my formal request (laughs).
JP: Alright, I like it (laughs). That’s good. I could start to carve out a set list now.
LJ: Great! (laughs) How do you create your set list?
JP: All different ways. Usually I don’t at all, but when I have a band with me I kinda have to try to at least have some kind of an idea of what we’re gonna play one after the other, just because it’s hard on the guys who are switching instruments too much, and if my set list doesn’t really jive with that and they have to switch over too many times… but anyway, yeah. Sometimes I just start with a song that I think would be nice to open with and then I just think about what would sound good after that. Ya know, maybe play a few lines of the last bit, kind of the way you sequence a record I guess, similarly anyway, and think about what kind of arc you have I suppose – whether you want it to go up or you want it to go down or you want it to be a little reprieve from fast stuff or you want it to be a reprieve from slow stuff or sad stuff or whatever it might be and you can throw something different in there.
LJ: Yeah. Definitely. I want to ask you about how you’ve remained unsigned and have achieved such a great level of success. I read that you said something along the lines of that you figured out really early on that as long as you’re doing what makes you happy, that you’d be happy living in a cardboard box.
JP: (laughs) Yeah, I may have said something like that.
LJ: I perceive a really strong sense of faith and confidence from that, and what’s really amazing about it is that you felt that way so early on, since you released your very first album. Is there an experience from your childhood or a part of your upbringing that gave you such a strong sense of faith in personal success rather than financial success?
JP: Well, I’m certainly lucky in my upbringing. My folks are amazing to me and always have been. I definitely had a strong work ethic instilled in me from my father. But part of it also is sort of a naïve, hillbilly confidence that I got when I first started writing songs, because I was surprised when one fell out. Ya know, I was 21 years old before I wrote my first song and when it fell out, it was a surprise, and so, but when it did, I was like “Oh, this is what I’m gonna do,” and so I wrote 10 more that week and the next week I recorded it and that was my first record.
JP: And ya know because it was the first thing that ever really fell out of me that I really felt like I was good at, that I had some ease with and I knew that I had some talent for. I think I might have thought I was a little better than I was (laughs). And I just figured, well, this is what I’m supposed to do, so I don’t really have to worry about anything because it was pretty easy to see that this is what I’m made to do, ya know, over anything else. This is my strong suit. It was a huge relief to not be searching for what you’re supposed to do in life, ya know, what career you’re gonna have, what you’re gonna do with your life, what makes you feel good, how you’re gonna survive – all that. I just felt like well, that’s it, that’s what I’ll do. Whatever it takes and puttin’ all your energy…just deciding on something and putting all your energy into that, is such a great asset in itself because your not putting all your energy into a bunch of different places, hoping something will take. You’re just doing one thing and you’re focused on the one thing and you believe, and you know and you have no doubts that’s what your supposed to be doing, then it kind of makes it easier in a way, and it does kind of fall together that way. And I think I thought I was good enough, and I didn’t care what anyone was saying about how they thought the record should sound and, well, now they’ll give me this much money to re-record those songs with this producer. I had more songs to write. I was making up for lost time. I had a lot more songs to give and I didn’t want to slow down to re-record old songs that I felt were already done and already recorded. Like, let me record new ones… and so I think that part of that naïve hillbilly confidence that I had in my abilities is kind of what got me through, and the reason I have a career is because I just made a lot of records in a small amount of time and I didn’t give them to anybody. Ya know, they’re mine and so when you don’t give your catalog away to a record label, the funny thing is that when you sell a record you actually make money from it. All the money comes to you, so yeah, I’d love to take credit for it, but it was really more of an accident of just being a hillbilly (laughs).
LJ: I can relate to that completely. With Heartstrings… that’s how I got into it. I dove head first into it because it came naturally. It was a mixture of everything I’ve ever wanted to do. But I have to admit that there are definitely times when I struggle with the financial realities of pursuing your passion solely for your passion’s sake. It’s hard dealing with that. It’s admirable that you have been so committed to that ethic and were able to be successful with it as well.
JP: Well, thank you. That’s nice of you to say. I’ve had some times that were rough too, and I also got very lucky as well, that it worked out the way that it did, but um… I do think that if you have enough…if you can eliminate that question from your mind… if it’s what you love to do, and you know you’re good at it, that’s what you’re meant to do… and if you can take that bit of doubt out of the equation, then you just realize that regardless of money or anything else, you’re ahead of the game. You’re ahead of most people, because you found what you want to do in life, as opposed to what you have to do in life. And if that’s what you want to do in life, and you’re getting to do it, no matter what the money is it’s gonna work itself out.
LJ: It’s happening right now.
JP: That’s beautiful.
LJ: Talking to you is part of that, for me at least.
JP: Well, good. I should be congratulating you then!
LJ: I guess so! (laughs)
JP: Yeah. Good girl.
LJ: (laughs) Thanks Joe. On a similar note, a couple of your songs have been on Grey’s Anatomy and you have the background with the producer of Lost. This accomplishment along with how, when you first started selling albums you made your music affordable for whoever your buyer was… if someone couldn’t afford it, you’d give it away… what’s it like dealing with those extremes – giving your albums away to people who can’t afford to buy them and then selling millions of one song?
JP: (laughs) It’s a bit of a contrast I suppose, but it also felt like a little bit of a reassurance or an affirmation that I was doing the right thing and that I had done the right thing. The reason being, ya know, the producer of that show was in a restaurant, ya know, listening to a burnt CD copy that I had given away when he heard that, when he heard any song from me. And then got a hold of me and asked me to do a song for that show [Lost] and that was the story of itself. I was in upstate New York, making a record, but I wasn’t trying to make a record, I was just making a little documentation of my time there, and it was just a few days and I wrote about my time with the River folks there and everything and then he called and asked for a similar song to what I’d already just written. So I said how about this one, and he said perfect. So, that’s how that came about, but it certainly came from giving it away in the first place.
LJ: That’s amazing. Pay it forward.
JP: Yeah, you bet.
LJ: I heard you released your 11th album on June 28, 2010 at 4 AM, because that’s when you finished it.
JP: Right (laughs).
LJ: How did that happen? Were you just so excited to finish it that you had to release it right then and there?
JP: Yeah, sure! Well, that’s the thing about technology. I finish something and send it over to my manager Brian Klein and… I was like, “Here it is. Put it up,” ya know, because we can. Really, the only answer to that is because we could. Because we’re not tied down by the record label or a release date and put this much promotion into it before hand, which is surely the smart way to do things, I’m sure, but I just can’t operate under those kind of conditions. If I made it, I want it to be up there right away and luckily, I’m able to do that. Because I want to make more and I feel like if it’s not out, then I don’t really have to make more. But if I put it out, then it’s time to make more.
LJ: So do you feel like you have to release something in order to move on in some ways?
JP: Yeah, probably. Definitely. It’s not a golden rule for me. I mean, I’ve done it other ways. I have a little double record I made before the one I just released and I haven’t released it yet and I’m not sure when I will or if I will, but on average, yeah, I like to do things quickly and have it be out there in the world and let people decide for themselves whether they like it and then move on, and make more. ’cause that’s the part that… I don’t know, that’s the part that fulfills me – is making art. It’s not the rest of it. It’s just art for art’s sake. Which is, if you can operate under those guidelines, then that’s what makes you happy and so the rest of it will fall into place eventually. Or not, and fuck it if it doesn’t (laughs).
LJ: (laughs) Well, my next question was going to be whether self-criticism ever comes into play, but I think that answers that. I guess it just doesn’t matter.
JP: Yeah. I suppose so (laughs) No, it doesn’t matter. Really doesn’t.
LJ: In more than one place, I saw your collection of albums referred to as a “travel guide.”
JP: Oh, yeah?
LJ: Yeah. How do you feel about that description? Is it a good reference?
JP: Sure. It’s a good reference for me. I don’t know if it would be a good reference for anybody else, as a tour guide situation, but it’s from places that have inspired me or places that I found to be very beautiful, or places or important things in my life that have happened. Things that have made an impression on me.
LJ: I think that’s why they said it. I think it’s clear, with the number of albums, that you sort of take advantage, and I mean this in the best way possible, of wherever you are and whatever you’re experiencing and because you’re able to release something on your own accord, you do that.
JP: Absolutely. Yes, ma’am. I try to anyway.
LJ: Do you have a favorite album of yours, or is that too tough of a question to answer?
JP: I mean, it’s a tough one. I have different parts of different ones that are favorites for different reasons, but it mostly has to do with some kind of breakthrough in writing, or acquiring some kind of tool that I hadn’t done before. Writing a certain kind of song that I hadn’t quite been able to find a way to do before. Ya know, on this one, this last one, I kind of found my rhythm with a little bit of a talking blues number, which I had never been able to do without sounding cheesy, so I just never did it. Um, but, adding a little bit of levity to the songs and not just having them be straight sad songs, um, is something I’m kind of a little more proud of on this last run… that there’s actually, even if there’s a hard situation for me, there is humor in everything, which provides a little bit of levity in the record and in the material. Um, but you know, different ones for different reasons. This American was something that I went out into New Mexico, brought myself with some recording gear for a week and turned that out and ya know, at the time I was very very proud of that one and but again, for different reasons, the ones that were made ya know with the guys when we were travelling and being able to pull off a, ya know, You Can Tell Georgia or Paris in the Morning or Take My Blanket and Go in a matter of 3 or 4 days, um, in a studio we’ve never been to. Just stopping in, off of tour, because that’s all we could afford and those have their own things that I love about them as well. And the locations where they were and the things they make me think of, it is a diary I guess for me. But then again, I don’t listen to those, I don’t listen to my records really, unless I’m trying to remember the words to some of them.
LJ: It sounds like there’s a lot going on in the background where you are right now.
JP: Yeah. I’m at Georgia Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville, Arkansas. They’re calling me in.
LJ: That’s the venue you’re playing at tonight?
LJ: I’ll let you go then, I’m sure you have a lot to do.
JP: Oh well, yeah. It was really nice talking with you. Will I see you in Nashville then?
LJ: Yeah, I’ll definitely be at the show and if I see you cross my path, I’ll definitely stop you (laughs).
JP: Yeah, please do, please do. It’d be great to see you.
LJ: Okay cool! Good luck tonight and thank you so much for taking time to talk to me.
JP: No, thank you! Thank you. You’re very good at what you do, so keep doing it.
LJ: Thanks Joe. I appreciate your saying that. Just one last thing… your voicemail is a riot.
JP: Ohhh (laughs) right. Right. I forgot about that (laughs).
LJ: It made me laugh a bunch. It’s very genuine and sincere….and funny (laughs).
JP: Oh good, well, at least I got that (laughs). I’m glad, and thanks for calling me. Hit me up any time.
LJ: Thanks again.
JP: Thank you. Take care. I’ll see you soon.
We all have a lesson to learn from Joe Purdy. There is no separation between Joe Purdy the musician and Joe Purdy the man. In fact, Joe’s personality can be summed up by that lengthy voice message I connected with on his cell phone prior to our interview. He’s honest, gracious, funny and above all, true to himself and to others, through and through. 10 years and 13 albums later, there’s no denying it. The Americana music community is fortunate to have Joe Purdy — an artist who discovered early on that creating music is what he wants to do, and who has proven that by pursuing it at all costs, he was able to avoid doing what others might think he would otherwise have to do. With that ethic, Joe has made his music available to us — from the self-titled Joe Purdy (2001) to Eagle Rock Fire (2014) — straight from his heartstrings to ours. Perhaps it all derives from, as he calls it, the “hillbilly confidence” he’s had ever since his first song “fell out.” Whatever the source, I’m sure that I speak for all of us when I say that we look forward to hearing from Joe again, “at some point in the future,” just as he promised.