Bill Payne in "Couchville"

August 3, 2016

Singer/songwriter/musician Darrell Scott released a "new" album this summer: Couchville Sessions, which he'd actually been holding onto for 15 years. The basic tracks—a powerful collection of roots originals and covers—were created by a core band of singer/multi-instrumentalist Scott, steel guitar player Dan Dugmore, percussionist Kenny Malone, and bassist Danny Thompson, in 2000.

At the time, Scott put the album aside, feeling that it needed some additional touches. Finally, he dusted it off and rounded up the guest stars he'd envisioned taking Couchville to the next level. The late great singer/songwriter Guy Clark contributed a spoken-word vocal before his passing last May. Bluegrass icon Peter Rowan sings on the album as well, and the legendary Bill Payne added signature piano and B-3 parts that sound perfectly matched to the original recordings. 

We got the opportunity to ask Payne about his approach to adding keyboards to Scott's 15-year-old tunes, and about Payne's current writing projects.

How did you get involved in this project?

I met Darrell through [musician] Ben Bullington, who was  also a doctor, writer, geologist—a friend of ours, who has since passed away. Darrell was in Livingston, Montana, to see Ben. That was the first time we met—at a concert Ben was giving. He was close to Ben, and there's an album that Darrell put out called Ten: Songs of Ben Bullington

So, we got to know each other, and I visited Darrell when I was on tour in Nashville. We both played at a concert that we gave for Ben Bollington, and then later [Darrell] got in touch with me about playing on this record. He said he would send me the files, and I could do it at home in Montana.  I said, “I want to play on it, but I don't want to record in Montana.” I said, “I'll be in St. Louis, let me pop down into Nashville. You have a beautiful piano at your house. Let's do it there. I want you in the room, aiding and abetting the process.”

So, he arranged for a B-3 to be at his home, and I got a [Korg] SD1, so I could have that at the ready, in case he wanted a synthesizer part.  

So, you recorded in his home?

Yes. Now, my usual tact when people call me up is, I walk in, I try out the song, I do whatever I need to do to hear the track properly, I get in there and I play it, and generally people are happy.

But on this particular album, I wanted to get deeper inside the thing, because there were fewer elements. Things were in a sensitive balance to one another. So I started by paying attention to what Danny Thompson was doing on the bass; I wrote out some of those things with the notion that I would more likely stay out of his way. I really wanted to have a sense of where the bass was at all times.

Could you explain a little more of what you mean about the pieces being in sensitive balance?

What I mean is, everything was important to one another. It was like playing a fugue. Every note has a reason to be there. You're still playing rock ’n' roll; you have some latitude to have things spill over onto another because that's the nature of the genre. You just come at it from a different approach: Everything you play is important, and you have to be mindful of what others around you are doing.

That's why I really wanted Darrell there, because I really took that seriously: how we were going to massage these tracks to get the most out of what was there.

What was the space like where you were recording? Where was Darrell Scott while you were playing?

Darrell's home was filled with wonderful art pieces, hardwood floors. The [Kawai] piano's in the living room. Darrell was in a bedroom about two rooms over. He was relaxing, and we had an excellent engineer, Erick Jaskowiak. We were able to work quickly. We were listening intently, and it was just an absolute joy to work with Darrell.

He has a very good piano. It was easy to play. It had a light action on it. It was in balance. The low end was really nice. So it just fit into the tracks like a glove. We also put down one B-3 part, maybe two. It was a lot of fun and obviously a very fruitful experience.

I've recorded in every manner one can think of, and I came in with confidence that it would, above all, be fun. It was a good gathering we had. And in the end, it's a project I'm really proud of, and I'm happy people are taking notice of it.

When I last interviewed you for Keyboard, about your work with Leftover Salmon, you mentioned you were writing a memoir. Is that still in progress?

Yes, but it's a slow progress. I've written a little more. I need, honestly, to force myself into a schedule. When I wrote for a Japanese magazine, I had to come up with a certain amount of words and write an article every month. I did that for three-and-a-half years. I could be on a bus with twelve people, and somehow I could shut it out and write. So, "Yes, I'm still working on it" is the short answer, but the long answer is, it's like climbing a mountain.

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