Talley Performs at Home Fires Burning
The latest installment of Home Fires Burning brings veteran singer songwriter James Talley to the Rooster's Wife winter concert series. Talley has been making footprints all over country music for more than four decades, but you'd need an experienced tracker to find them.
Told once by Pete Seeger to write about the places and people he knew and cared about, Talley did it, though what he had to say wasn't always what the industry wanted to hear.
As a Bernalillo County welfare worker straight out of college, he learned about poverty on the eastern slopes of the Manzanos, in mountain villages like Chilili and Torreon. One of his first collections was called "The Road to Torreon," a portfolio of songs about Hispanic life. Armed with a fine arts degree from the University of New Mexico in the late 1960s, Talley found he could get only "working man" jobs, like being a carpenter, a horse wrangler, or a real estate broker.
Already a devotee of Woody Guthrie, partly because of his mother's familys roots growing up as tenant farmers in Oklahoma, Talley found in his own experiences a reverence for country music's roots, in the tradition of Guthrie, Bob Wills and Jimmie Rodgers. It gave him a connection to the working class and a determination to do his music his way. His songs reflect parts of different styles: country, blues, rock, swing and even Tejano music.
"The two major influences in my music came from my family's roots in Oklahoma and the Depression, and the time I spent growing up in New Mexico," Talley said. "I just write about life and what I see around me; I listen to what people say and I write it down."
The folky, country-blues singer/songwriter got his start in Nashville in the 1970s when he was mentored by the late John Hammond Sr.
Hammond, a recording executive at Columbia Records in New York, who bolstered the careers of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Bruce Springsteen, connected Talley with Capital Records in Nashville. He recorded four albums in the 1970s for Capitol Records. Though his relationship with that major label turned sour -- and he'll gladly tell you the details -- and he eventually formed his own record company, Cimmaron Records, Talley was able to perform twice for President Jimmy Carter at the White House. He also appeared at the Smithsonian Institution and in other concert venues around the United States and in Europe. B.B. King played guitar on Talley's third album, "Blackjack Choir," in 1976, marking the first time the legendary bluesman had ever recorded in Nashville. Johnny Cash, Johnny Paycheck, Alan Jackson, Hazel Dickens, the late Gene Clark, and most recently Moby, among others, have recorded Talley's songs.
Talley's critically acclaimed first album, "Got No Bread, No Milk, No Money, But We Sure Got a Lot of Love," was originally released by Capitol records in 1975. It was reissued in a 30th anniversary edition last year on Talley's Cimmaron label. Talley has recorded country blues, songs of hard living, and even a tribute to Woody Guthrie in "Woody Guthrie and Songs of My Oklahoma Home" (1999). Some of Talley's material was released in Europe and was quickly picked up. That spurred a tour through Italy in 2002 where selections of his concerts were recorded live for the "Journey" (2004) CD.
Talley strives to say something and tell a story.
"I really try to stay away from polemics. I don't want to tell people what to think," he says. "But if you can paint a picture and cause them to think for themselves, that's the best that you can do. That's what I try to do in my work -- to give somebody something to think about."
Yet, Talley takes his writing life very seriously.
"If you're a painter who's 64 years old and you went into a gallery and saw a retrospective of all of the things you've painted, it's the same thing as looking at my catalog of songs on all those CDs. That's my gallery," he says. "That's where you see my vision the same as you would see a painter's vision. It's whether you are an artist or whether you're just an entertainer. Art can be entertaining, but entertainment is not always art. I think our dreams are what enable us to face the rigors of reality. I think everyone has got to have something that they love doing. It doesn't matter whether they make any money at it or not."
Certainly, James Talley enjoys what he's doing.
"I'm just constantly writing," he admits. He even has a new album ready to release.
"There's one in the can, and I'm working on some new stuff. I'm always working on something." Talley also continues to perform throughout the United States and Europe on a limited touring schedule, and his CDs receive airplay throughout the world. He has appeared on NPR's Mountain Stage and American Routes Radio.
The concert starts at 8 p.m. with doors opening at 7:15. Admission is $12 at the door. Members are $10. Well-behaved children are always welcome. Under 12 admission is $6.
This non-smoking event is presented by the Rooster's Wife at the corner of High and Blue in downtown Aberdeen.
For reservations, call 910-944-7502 or e-mail theroosterswife@ yahoo.com.
The Rooster's Wife is a private nonprofit association organized to celebrate the performing arts in Aberdeen.
Created to serve the community by preserving its cultural heritage and presenting the talent of the next generation, the Rooster's Wife is committed to offering affordable programs for every age to enjoy.?
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