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Steve Wariner: You Can't Be Lazy As A Producer

Posted by: Petr Mecir

Interviews 09/10/2013

Steve Wariner is a really versatile artist: a wonderful vocalist, an increbidle guitar player and a renowned songwriter, to name just a few of his roles. Signed to RCA by Chet Atkins in 1976, Steve has developed a remarkable career scoring 18 studio albums, 10 #1 hits, 4 Grammy awards and a membership at the Grand Ole Opry. Meeting Steve was a personal dream come true. I interviewed him at the NAMM convention in Nashville and we talked about his brand new album, his music making routine and more.

Anita Cochran told me that you were an incredible painter. Do you have a private gallery, do you hold exhibitions or anything like that?

"Actually I've painted for years. When I was a little boy, my dad would watercolor and draw and I was always fascinated. My older brother, Kenny, he draws great and my other brother, Dave, that's what he does for a living. He's a commercial artist. He also does fine arts, he does his own personal art. He's the real artist in the family, he makes a living doing it, but I've always done it just for fun and over the years it's really something nice that takes me awake from the music, something different. I really love to do it."

"I was fortunate all through high school to have a great teacher named Gordon Morris. I took two classes of art every year back to back and he was really cool. I worked for him in the summer and learned a lot from him. I love art, I do it all the time, I keep up my art a lot. I have a little place at home where I paint."

Steve WarinerI also heard you liked magic. What specifically do you do?

"I love close-up magic. I was lucky a long time ago, in the early 80's I met a guy who became like super famous in magic, his name is Lance Burton. The magic world certainly knows Lance Burton. He had his own theater in Las Vegas for many years, the Mighty Crystal it was called. I got to be friends with Lance. His mother and father lived not far from my mother. I really knew him through some mutual friends, I got to be good friends with him. He used to teach me card tricks and I got interested in close-up magic."

"I love cards and coins, stuff that I can do right here. I don't do it so much anymore. I'm kind of rusty right now. I wouldn't do any of them unless I could practice and get polished up a little bit. I gotta be ready. And I have a couple of friends, too. Kevin King, who is a great magician. He lives here in town in Nashville. He's been sort of like a teacher for me through the years. He's taught me a lot of card tricks and stuff. I like the big magic, too, but I don't do any of the big visual stuff, but I like it. I really like stuff that you can do in your pockets, for kids, stuff like that."

You're well-known for your signature mouth sounds while playing. How do you call it?

"Yeah, here they call it scat singing. George Benson does that a lot, that was kind of his signature thing to play and then you imitate what you play with your mouth. A lot of people thought that I really got it from George Benson. I really didn't. I really got it more from the jazz singers like Ella Fitzgerald's scat singing. Padada dadadada..." (starts scat singing). "Then you play that lick, too. So I really got it more from Ella Fitzgerald. I used to watch Johnny Gimble, he's a great country fiddler and he would do it with fiddle. He played with Bob Wills' band. And he would play lines padapadada..." (scat sings). He would play the lick while he was singing it. And it kind of would come out of his microphone and you sort of heard it, but I really got it more probably from those two, Ella Fitzgerald or Johnny Gimble."

"You know it's funny when I used to tour and work for Chet Atkins. As a young guy I played bass with Chet. When I would play a solo, he would give me his guitar and I would play a couple of songs in the middle of the show. He would bend over and 'do some of that scat singing!' He always wanted me to do that. I don't know why, but he loved it. He'd always go 'scat sing! Do some scat singing!' I always do pada papada... It's really fun to do that. I did that on that Garth Brooks record, the 'Longneck Bottle', a little scat singing on that."

Steve WarinerA couple of years ago you started producing your own records. Some time ago I interviewed Rodney Crowell and he told me that he should have never produced his records, because he realized that he was never objective. So what's your perspective on producing own records and how do you manage to stay objective?

"That's a great question, Petr. I think it's really tough to produce your own records. I think Rodney Crowell is exactly right. Sometimes you need that outside person to go 'no wait a minute, you're not finished yet. You think you're finished but you're not.' I think I've got better in doing that as time has gone on."

"But early on I noticed one thing, you're so happy to produce your records, then you get in the studio 'oh no, I'm producing my own records, oh no!' Sometimes I won't be as hard on myself. I'll hear a vocal or a guitar part and I'll go 'yeah, that's OK, let's move on to the next song.' Tony Brown or someone, you know Chet Atkins or Tim Dubois or someone else, the real producers, they would go 'No, no, no! Not so quick. Let me have you sing for another hour here!' So you can't be lazy. Having said that I think there's a lot to say for having an outside producer. But I will say this, the good part about producing your own records is no one knows me better than me. I think over the years I've got better in producing myself. "

"This new record that I just made, 'It Ain't All Bad', I really pushed myself a lot. Finally I said 'I have to finish this record. I gotta walk away and be finished at some point.' But I like producing. I think there's some artists that are producers and some artists that aren't. And I think I've got better at it. I enjoy it."

"I just second guess myself sometimes on song selections. Sometimes I'm a little close to the songs. I take some of the songs personally. I don't know. It's tough to be a producer. It's a lot of hats to wear, especially when you are in the studio. The toughest part for me is when you're in the studio and the players are all there and maybe you finish take #2 and then you sit there and all the players are watching you like 'OK, tell us something' and then you'll go like 'I don't know, let me think... Let's hear it again!' You have to make a quick decision. And sometimes if you're playing on a track as I do, I just play on it, too, I'm trying to hear what I played but I'm also trying to hear what everybody played. You have to really teach yourself to really listen to the while thing. But I enjoy it. I love making records and I love being in the studio."

Steve WarinerTell me about your new record. How long has it been in the works?

"The new record, 'It Ain't All Bad', I've worked on it for about 8 to 9 months. Since 2001 I've wanted to do some type of tribute to Chet Atkins, who was my mentor and a great friend and my buddy. He's been gone since June of 2001. All these years I wanted to do a tribute to him and a few years ago we made a record called My Tribute To Chet Atkins. I'm really grateful and lucky to receive a Grammy for it. After that I made another guitar record, I kind of stayed in that mode and made a record for the guitar guys. I made a very self-indulgent kind of record, it's called Guitar Laboratory."

"Well, now fast forward eight years have gone by and I've had a lot of people saying 'when are you gonna do another singing record?' So that's what we did this time. It's been about eight years, so we figured it was time to get in and do another singing record. I wrote all the songs. It was really a collection of songs that I had collected over the last eight years that I was kind of doing the guitar stuff. I've been writing all along and I've collected some really cool songs. So this is really a collection those favorite songs over the last eight years that I've been sitting on."

I really like the song 'I Want To Be Like You.' Do you get to write a lot with Bill Anderson?

"Yeah, I've written a lot with Bill Anderson. He's the best, he's tremendous. Bill and I have written a lot of songs. I've had a lot of hits with Bill's songs. We wrote a song that was a big hit for me when I was on Capitol Records. We wrote a song together that was called 'Two Teardrops', that was a big hit. Then Bill wrote by himself 'The Tips On My Fingers', which has been recorded by a bunch of folks and I had a #1 record with it. That was when I was on Arista Records. So Bill and I are really old friends and we still write a lot and hang out together. He's a dear friend. I think one of the great writers of our time, if not the best."

Steve WarinerAre you still in touch with Garth?

"Yeah, I am. I talked to Garth a couple of weeks ago. I played in Claremore, Oklahoma about four months ago. I played at a casino and I called him and said 'I'm coming out there in a couple of weeks' and he said 'oh, call me!' So he pulls up at the bus with his pickup truck and picks me up and we go to have breakfast together and we got to hang out. So yeah, I talk to Garth quite a bit, we see each other quite a bit. He's one of my best friends. I remember back in the days when we used to play a lot together. In the early early days we played shows and I was older than him, so he was opening shows for me. It's really funny to look back on those days, because that didn't last very long." (laughs)

A couple of years ago I saw your son Ryan playing with Jewel on the Brad Paisley tour and then I think I saw him on TV with Shooter Jennings. Where does he play now?

"Yep, he was with Shooter and right now he's with Gretchen Wilson. And he's playing on her new album. She has a new album out. Two actually, he's on both. He lives not far from here actually. I'm really proud of him. He really does great, like the song, I wanna be like him when I grow up." (laughs) "My other son plays keyboards, he lives in New York City, he plays keys and is a music designer. He just recently designed some music for an app of game called Dots for iPhones and iPads. He composes and designs music for apps. He has a band also, but he's more of a composer."

I'm from the Czech Republic. Have you ever been in that area?

"Years ago I went to East Germany, not far from you probably. We were in a town called Vilseck. I don't think it's too far from the Czech Republic border. It's a small village. Actually it's a US military base. We went there and played, had a great time. I told my wife, she'd never been to Europe before. I told her that day, I said 'we should get on train to the Czech Republic, we're just 30 miles from it. We didn't get to go. I've always wanted to go to Prague. I've never been. I'd love to come and play some festivals there. I'd love to come and play."

What was the last time that you went to Europe?

"Probably that Vilseck trip. I played a couple of shows in Holland and I played in Vilseck. That Vilseck was for US troops. Then we played a festival outside of Amsterdam. I played with a Dutch band, it was kind of fun."

Where else in Europe have you played?

"I played in Germany, France, Poland. I played a big festival several years ago. We played a festival in the southern part of France and then we flew to Poland, Warsaw and we took about a 4-hour drive, kind of North-East to Mrangowo, I think. It was fantastic. I loved the Polish people. I believe in was on television."

Make sure to come to Prague next time.

"Oh, I would love it. I'd love to come."

OK, thank you for the interview.



Steve Wariner & Petr Mecir

(Steve Wariner & Petr Mecir - Nashville, TN 07/12/2013)

Steve Wariner - "Holes In The Floor Of Heaven"

Garth Brooks & Steve Wariner - "Longneck Bottle"


(C) Petr Mecir 2013. All rights reserved.