So, how do you think fans would react to a cover of "Walk this Way?" An interview with Mark Chesnutt

June 17, 2009

OK, I just got off the phone with country singer Mark Chesnutt! Mark’s Nashville based marketing company contacted the News a few weeks ago, and let me tell you, they are organized. I mean, we’re talking organized down to 15 minute time intervals. I think I got 4 confirmation emails on the fact that I would have a Mark Chesnutt phone interview at such and such a time, on such and such a date.

Sheesh, that’s almost as much e-mail per topic that flies around if you’re in a local band (and you know who you are!)

Mark called from his home in Beaumont, Texas, where he’s gearing up for the next leg of his tour. Mark is so busy, he wasn’t quite sure where he’d be after The Dalles show, coming up on June 20, at the Granada Theater. He’d have to check his own web site, for that, I suspect. But I’m sure he’s used to it, I mean, Mark has been on the road for the last 20 years.

The first thing that grabbed me when I read Mark’s bio sheet was his birthdate. Besides the fact that he’s been on the country music charts with hit albums and songs, it turns out he’s only two years older than I am.

So I got to thinking, what kinds of songs did Mark listen to growing up, and if you decide to be a professional musician, does what you listen to affect what direction you take? I put a version of that question out there and came up with an interesting connection.

I turns out, in this case, that the connection between listening to music in Texas and listening to music in New Jersey, where I grew up, is a band that is pretty far removed from country music.

And that band turns out to be Aerosmith.

Yup, the loud, long-haired rockers from Boston turns out to be a big influence on Mark. To this day, Aerosmith is one of Mark’s favorite bands. And in another twist, Mark’s career had another hit on its hands when his record label decided that he should try recording a song that Aerosmith had a hit with, called “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” which was featured in the movie “Armageddon.”

Mark and I both agree that this pop- power ballad really doesn’t represent the Aerosmith we grew up with. I mean, the song is fine for what it is, but the style is a far cry from tunes you find on 1975’s “Toys in the Attic.” To this day, (and I don’t know why, some memories just stay with you, I guess) I still remember going to the store with my dad and getting the 8-track of that album. And as Mark reveals in the interview, he got some funny looks from folks because he had some Aerosmith albums mixed in with his George Jones tapes.

In fact, I’m sure my dad probably gave me a funny look when he saw what I wanted to listen to.

After all, he probably paid for it. (thanks Dad!)

Mark Chesnutt will be at the Granada Theater in The Dalles on Saturday, June 20.

Read Jim’s interview with Mark Chesnutt here:

An interview with Mark Chesnutt

1. Has country music always been your favorite kind of music growing up?

I was a rock and roller, people used to look at me like I had 3 heads, because I had 8-tracks of Van Halen and Aerosmith mixed in with my George Jones albums. I love the hard-rocking country, that’s one of my favorite kinds of music. I also have a lot of Hank Williams and Waylon Jennings on my iPod.

2. I just listened to your greatest hits (1996 package). There’s an obvious Cajun fiddle influence in a lot of the songs– is that intentional?

Beaumont Texas, where I live, is only a few miles from Louisiana, so it’s hard not to have that influence in my music. The music and people are a mix of influences. We grow lots of rice and eat lots of crawfish here, for sure.

3. How does a song like “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” get from Aerosmith to Mark Chesnutt – do you have a say in that or is it a management thing?

When I heard that song, I thought it was really a departure for Aerosmith. But my producer called me up out of the blue and said we should cut it. I thought it was ok, for a pop song, but I really didn’t want to do it. We were doing an album and we needed one more strong ballad, and this was for a major record label. When you work for a major label, it’s best not to cause too much trouble, if you want to get things done. I was still unsure about doing it, so I called Waylon Jennings, and asked his opinion. He said sure, go ahead and sing it – you’re a singer and you should be able to sing the phone book, if you had too. So I said I’ll give it a shot, and it was really nice when Waylon showed up to the actual recording sessions for support.

A few years ago I managed to get some backstage passes for an Aerosmith show in Nashville. I was hanging out backstage, when from behind me I hear this very familiar voice singing “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” and Steven Tyler sneaks up and gives me a big hug. I got to talk to him for a half hour. He later told me I did a really sweet version of that song.

4. You’ll be in the Columbia River Gorge next week. Have you ever been through here before?

We’ve driven through many times, but we never get to stop for the day. It’s beautiful out there, with the mountains, and I love opening the bus window to let the mountain air in.

5. Tell us about the band and what can we expect at the show.

I travel with a full country-honky-tonk band – including pedal steel and fiddle. We constantly play and practice on the bus, and we try to bring that energy to the stage. We’ll be doing a lot off the new album, Rolling with the Flow, a lot of my hits, and select covers, for sure. I feel very fortunate to be able to travel and work music the way I do.

6. Your web site says you’re scheduled to be in Norway this year? Is this a regular stop or new on the tour? You’ll also be in Iraq to play music for the troops. What’s it like playing over there?

Norway is definitely a new stop on the tour this year, which should be interesting. I’ve played in France, Germany, Japan, so this should be a new experience. We play a lot of US military bases and we’ll be traveling to Iraq this summer. For me it will be very interesting to play in a war zone, and actually see how our troops live in difficult conditions. It’s very inspiring for me to play for our troops, it’s a real honor.

7. There’s a “Request a Meet and Greet” feature on website – how has that been working and do fans appreciate that link?

I’m constantly signing CDs and pictures, and this is a great chance for fans to meet me. Folks should know that since my new record, “Rollin with the Flow,” is not on a major label, it might be a little tough to find in the regular stores. The best way to get it is to come to show, we have lots of copies.

8. How long typically does it take to record one of your album in the studio?

We used to have to try and put out an album every year, and promote 4 or 5 singles from it. Lately we’ve taken a more relaxed approach, and now I’m able to really take my time with the sessions. We took two years for this last CD. I bring the band in the studio to do tracking sessions, and we’ll listen to each part over and over to make sure it’s right. Then I’ll add my vocal tracks, and I can do 3 or 4 of those a day. For some reason, I like to sing at night, so I’ll start at 8 or 9 at night, and get done at 2 or 3 in the morning.

9. What new and upcoming artists do you listen to?

Well, my favorite right now is an artist called Jamey Johnson. He definitely plays the hard driving country that suits me.

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