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Pierce Pettis

A Conversation with Pierce Pettis (continued)

Puremusic: Hi, Pierce. This is Frank Goodman calling.

Pierce Pettis: Hey, Frank. How you doing?

PM: I'm fine, man. How are you doing today?

PP: Pretty good.

PM: You're at the top of your day.

PP: Well, I'm at the beginning of it, yeah.

PM: Right.

PP: I understand it's about 11:00 p.m. where you are. Is that right?

PM: Yeah. I'm at the bottom of my day.

PP: Oh, boy. Well, I appreciate you doing this.

PM: Oh, it's my pleasure. You might recall that we met one time passing at the Basement, you were playing there in Nashville. I think it was last year. And I think Carrie Newcomer was playing, and our friend Tom Kimmel.

PP: That's right, yeah.

PM: So if you're game, since you're known to begin records and shows in this spirit, why don't we start our interview with a few words of contribute, if you will, to Mark Heard, especially for our readers who may be unaware of his work.

PP: Well, it's hard to sum him up in just a few words. But Bruce Cockburn wrote somewhere that Mark was his favorite American songwriter. Certainly among other writers, Mark is probably one of the most admired unknown songwriters ever. He passed away back in the early '90s. He had started out as sort of a CCM artist [Contemporary Christian Music], but he didn't really fit in there because his work was a lot bigger than that.

I think it was one of these situations where he was restrained from within and without because--from within because people had certain expectations, which apparently just weren't him. I guess they expected him to be a Boy Scout or something, you know.

And then restrained from without because once somebody gets labeled CCM, they become suspect in the larger world. It's like propaganda.

PM: Yeah, you're damned if you do, damned if you don't.

PP: That's right. And Mark was just a very, very talented writer. He was really a pure artist, in my opinion. He was very serious about his work, but he wasn't that serious about himself, which is refreshing.

PM: I hear that. I really like your last Compass release, Great Big World.

PP: Oh, thanks.

PM: On Great Big World some of my favorite players appear. It's hard to beat Kenny Malone and Danny Thompson as a rhythm section.

PP: Absolutely. They're amazing. In fact, they go out a lot with Darrell Scott, who's one of my favorite writers.

PM: Mine too.

PP: The three of them live is pretty hard to beat.

PM: Yeah, I saw them fairly recently you at the Station Inn, and I thought that Danny Thompson was going to pull the strings right off his bass.

PP: I know. He's amazing. They're also great guys. Kenny is a real original. I mean, he has the energy of a ten-year-old.

PM: Yeah. I've worked with him myself, and he's really a very unusual human being. Did Kenny ask for the lyrics?

PP: Yes, he did. He did. And there's only one other player I've worked with that did that, and that was Booker T. Jones--Booker T. and the MGs--years ago.

PM: He asked for the lyrics, too?

PP: Oh, absolutely. In fact, Booker T., he scored the whole piece. I mean, the guy is quite a musician. He had a score in front of him, he studied the score, he kind of got the music in his brain, and then he closed it. I'll never forget. He put it away, didn't want to see it. And then he got the lyrics, and studied the lyrics. And then he'd come and ask me questions. "Well, what does this line mean? What is this?" And what he was doing was trying to find where the emotion was and where the lyric and the music emotionally connected, if that makes any sense.

PM: Does to me.

PP: I mean, the guy is just brilliant. And Kenny did the same thing. And he's the only other guy I've ever known that did that. It's really flattering to a songwriter to have your stuff taken that seriously. A lot of session guys come in, and they're fine, but they're basically just picking up a check. But with Kenny, it was just he wanted to get inside the song, and he did.

PM: On the title track, was Kenny playing that contraption that he calls "the beast"?

PP: Yes, he was. He sure was.

PM: I thought that sounded like the beast.

PP: Yeah.

PM: That big low sound that's neither skin nor rim. It's just--I don't know what it is, but it's a big piece of hollowed out wood or something, right?

PP: Yeah. It's a great big old object made of plywood. It's shaped like a piano. And he's got all kinds of contraptions attached to it, like little strings of bells and wires, and all kinds of weird stuff. He makes it sound great.     continue

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