Norman Warwick finds it


I probably first heard I Drink on the Bob Harris country music programme on BBC Radio 2. I have vage recollections at the time of how stark the lyrics were and how defiantly confessional those lyrics were. I´m pretty sure that the song felt incongruous even in the diversity that Whispering Bob serves up. I was impressed by a Karen Dalton echo in her voice but I thought the song lacked the redeeming qualities of Dean Martin´s Little Old Wine Drinker. This was not Tom Paxton shaking off a hangover by asking Wasn´t That A Party before bursting into a rendition of Bottle Of Wine. Although the admission of I Drink was a repeated hook line in the song it somehow didn´t serve as a chorus. With my usual arrogance I  mentally filed Mary Gauthier as ´one to watch´, but as happens all too often, I dind´t listen to my own advice !

Mary Gauthier (left) managed just fine without me, of course. According to a recent article in Paste magazine,

she developed her own drinking problem and found herself in and out of detox centers in her youth. She took some classes at LSU and opened her own restaurant, but it was song-writing that gave her a clear direction in life. Her first album was released in 1997, and two years later Drag Queens in Limousines earned a 4-star rating from Rolling Stone. “I Drink” became her signature song, and she recorded a new version for her 2005 album Mercy Now.

Blake Shelton (right) recorded this for his 2004 album Blake Shelton’s Barn & Grill. It’s one of the few Gauthier songs to earn a cover, possibly because she doesn’t spend much time selling her songs to other artists, even though she lives in Nashville. Mary told us: “The thought of going up and down music row looking for a publisher again, it just intimidates me and like you said, I’m not what you would think of as a Nashville character, and in order to go do that I have to go shake hands with a lot of those guys. It’s just intimidating.”

Feeling hyper-anxious and fretful after over two years of awkwardly navigating the hellish pandemic? Sit down for a chat with calm, soft-talking Southern singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier (left) for a spell—her serenity and hard-won wisdom is practically guaranteed to cool your panic-attack jets. A spin through her gorgeous, Daniel-Lanois-delicate new missal, Dark Enough to See the Stars, will have the same relaxing effect. And when she quietly reports, at a well-seasoned 60, that she’s feeling good, really good, all told, she isn’t paying lockdown lip service. She means it.

And she spent her time wisely, conjuring up her latest record, her eleventh, as well as a self-explanatory book, Saved by a Song—The Art and Healing Power of Songwriting. After everything she’s endured in her turbulent, topsy-turvy composing career—which didn’t officially start until she was 32—what resembles an insurmountable Covid mountain to most folks is probably an easily-sidestepped molehill for her.

Gauthier’s colourful life story was put on an unavoidable pandemic pause just as she deservedly won the Best Folk Album Grammy for her ambitious 2019 effort Rifles and Rosary Beads, a song-writing collaboration with wounded Iraq veterans and their families. But it’s one of the first times she’s come to rest in years. She was instilled with a vagabond heart when her New Orleans birth mother gave her up for adoption. She ran away from an abusive adoptive home when she was only 15, dabbled in typical teenage drug-and-alcohol decadence, and wound up spending her 18th birthday behind bars. Eventually, her trajectory arced skyward again when she enrolled in the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, and then launched a Boston Cajun eatery dubbed Dixie Kitchen. Its celebratory opening night in 1990 ended in near tragedy: She was arrested for drunken driving, and it scared her completely sober. She never drank or used again, and she maintained that recovery all through lockdown. A Herculean task for many, given the overwhelming atmosphere of depression and sudden dearth of in-person meetings the world was facing.

By 1997, Gauthier was touched by the Muse. As twangy, toe-tapping tunes began accumulating, she decided to sell her stake in Dixie Kitchen and hang out her shingle in Nashville where she secured a publishing deal with no less than Harlan Howard’s company and then self-financed her first two albums, Dixie Kitchen in ’97 and Drag Queens and Limousines in ’98, both of which touched honestly, sometimes humorously, on her checkered past and eventual coming out. In fact, the clever wordsmith was so comfortable with her sexuality that track one on her debut, Ways Of The World, began with a fiddle-powered,

When I was a kid I was a hard-headed, pig-tailed tomboy

I made mama crazy ‘cause I wouldn’t wear ribbons and bows

…when you’re ten years old it’s cute to be a tomboy

But in a couple of years you’ve gotta deal with the ways of the world.”


But these days, Gauthier isn’t so hoe-down chirpy and chipper. Her singing voice is conversely deep, more resonant and lived in, and Dark Enough processionals like “The Meadow,” “Where Are You Now,” “Till I See You Again” and the stunning title cut rely more on restraint. The same handful-of-keyboard-and-guitar-notes kind that Leonard Cohen (left) utilized so perfectly on his last four or five albums. It’s all about capturing the purity, the genuine essence of a timeless song, she swears: “That’s what really matters, and to me, that’s always been the point. To write the best possible songs, and to elevate the art form, and to travel down the trail that my heroes blazed—Dylan, Springsteen, my friend Steve Earle, plus Rodney Crowell and Lucinda Williams. There’s a whole lot of people on that road, and that’s the road I want to be on.” Her corollary to that prime directive, she adds, is that, despite its apparent simplicity, a great tune, beaming down at you at the most opportune or much-needed moment can truly save your life. “Absolutely, it can, and I mean it—that’s why I called my book Saved By A Song,” she states, unequivocally. Then she keeps the discussion going in soft, reassuring tones—and suddenly—things don’t seem so completely bleak and hopeless anymore.

Paste magazine commented on the Dark Enough To See The Stars artwork being a small, empty rowboat and asked if it  represents a metaphor for something larger?

Well, you know I didn’t design the cover—the designer did. Her name is Gail Marowitz, and she got that from the song, “Dark Enough to See the Stars.” And there’s a line in there, “An ocean black and deep,” and I think it’s a symbol of hope, and it’s tinged with sadness, you know? It’s not a simple, easy answer. It’s not singular, by any means.

Speaking of the stars, people were suddenly minded that they were up there during lockdown. Constellation guides were selling, telescopes, too. With no planes in the sky, folks actually started looking up.

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. But I tend to go to the desert every year, down on the border by Terralingua, and just sort of make a big deal out of being under the stars and experiencing It wholeheartedly. I think the idea is that we can’t see the stars in our normal day-to-day experiences, because we’re not looking. But when something knocks us off our regular life—and oftentimes that is some kind of a struggle or a painful event—we begin to get more introspective. I think it’s a metaphor for that. 

What’s your desert ritual? What do you do when you get there?

Well, we have friends down there, and we sit outside and we swap songs, and hang with people who mean a lot to us. And a lot of it is outside at night, and it’s cold and it’s pretty. We hop around to a little town up the road called Marfa, Texas—we’ll stay there for a night or two, because there are a lot of artists there, a lot of painters, a lot of writers. There are a lot of songwriters making it a place that they go now, and it’s a beautiful part of the world. So we don’t have a ritual as much as we have friends that we associate with, and love sharing our time with, down there.

Now when you’re sitting outside at night, do you ever have any uncomfortable interactions with nature? Like, “Okay Mr. Coyote—this is your campfire now! Yours too, Mr. Tarantula!”

Yeah! You’re in the desert, you know? So it is their turf, absolutely. I haven’t had any encounters with anything, personally. But they’re out there, that’s for sure. It’s the Big Bend National Park. And I live in Nashville, but I live in town.

How did the pandemic hit you in Nashville? Some folks fell into depression for a few months. Others got right to work.

Basically, I just got to work. I used the time to finish a book, and I finished this record. And we did a Sunday live stream every week, reached out to our fans, and we brought guests onto the screen, which was fun because we got to see our friends, even though everything was locked down. We broadcast it every Sunday at two o’clock—Sundays with Mary, and it’s still going, actually. And every single guest we had was amazing—they were all incredible artists and dear friends. We shared the screen with people that we love. James McMurtry was awesome, Ray Wylie Hubbard (right) was awesome, Hayes Carll was awesome, Lori McKenna was awesome, Rodney Crowell, too. The list goes on and on—every single one of ‘em was an amazing, brilliant, beautiful, gifted artist. So I had my work, and I had my recovery—I’m sober—and we still met on Zoom with our recovery groups, so I was never removed from people that much. And it worked out for me. I had it really good. And after hearing so many reports of how hard it was for so many people, I’m just grateful that for me, it was a detour, but it wasn’t a catastrophic experience, except that we lost so many great people, like John Prine and Nanci Griffith. She was a good friend.

Does your song “The Meadow” represent something larger, more abstract?

I’m not sure that “The Meadow” is a metaphor. It might be literal. The character in the song was inspired by reading a book, written by my friend Odie Lindsey. And its’ a book written in first person about a female soldier coming home from Iraq, who’s trying to get stability, The book is called Some Go Home. And for me, I’m singing from her voice, and she’s just talking to her beloved, her husband, saying, “I want this to work, so meet me. Please meet me halfway and let’s keep trying. It’s a great book. 

 “Truckers and Troubadours” makes clear that there’s a whole separate Red Sovine vernacular for writing about or even discussing the road.

Oh, yeah! Absolutely. And I made friends with a long-haul truck driver named Long Haul Paul (Marhoefer), and he’s a songwriter and a truck driver. We became friends, and we wrote on Zoom during the pandemic. And as we talked, we realized that truckers and troubadours have a lot in common. I don’t own a Red Sovine album, but I listened to him when I lived in Baton Rouge for sure. I loved that old country stuff. I grew up on that stuff! When I was in Baton Rouge as a kid, there was only AM radio, so you had a choice—country or Jesus. And I voted for country, so that’s what we listened to in the car as I was growing up, and those songs were on the radio back then. 

One thing many folks got busy with during lockdown was cooking and exploring the kitchen. And since you were a skilled chef already, did you find yourself trying out adventurous new recipes?

Not really. I mean, we cooked, but I got into gardening some, and we grew vegetables these last two summers and figured out ways to use a hundred million okras. Okra was very successful, way beyond what I’ve ever experienced—I had so much okra in my backyard, I couldn’t even give it away, so I had to figure out new ways of cooking it. I like my okra Louisiana style, which is stewed with tomatoes or lightly breaded in cornmeal and then fried. And then after those two, I don’t know what to do with it except for to put in gumbo. So you can just give it to friends. But getting good tomatoes was hard. I like the sort of Tennessee heirloom tomatoes, so I was trying to grow these heirlooms, and I just don’t have the right soil, I guess. It takes a certain type of soil, and I don’t know how to make that soil into what they love. So they did okay, but it was just easier to go to the greengrocers and buy the tomatoes that people knew how to grow. 

One odd footnote, though—in the album title track, you reference ‘lightning bugs inside a jar.” And that’s a warm-weather phenomenon that only a certain portion of the world will understand. 

Well, yeah. But music lovers will understand. Lightning bugs are probably dying out—they don’t seem as frequent as they used to be. But down in Baton Rouge, man, they were in my backyard and under the pecan trees, and they were just a part of every summer, big time.

I would be remiss not to congratulate you, though—you’re in a great new relationship, which you sing about in the first three album tracks, “Fall Apart World,” “Amsterdam,” “and “Thank God For You.” How and where did you meet Jaimee Harris?

Well, I’ve been with my partner Jaimee now for a little over four years, and it’s just a really beautiful thing. She co-wrote a couple of these songs with me, and she’s singing harmony on the rest of the record, and she sings her ass off. And we travel together right now, and it’s just really nice. I feel richly blessed and grateful. We met at a songwriting workshop at Eliza Gilkyson’s house in Arroyo Seco, New Mexico. We started collaborating about a year and a half into knowing each other. We started out as friends, and then it became more over time, and we kind of grew into each other. And that’s always the best—as we got to know each other, we liked each other more and more, and that’s still happening. 

 “Amsterdam” is about you taking her back to that exotic city for the first time, one of your favorites in the world. It’s weird to note that many of us feel no motivation right now, ever again. But because of the nature of your troubadour career, you have to keep going back there and pretty much everywhere else.

Well, that’s what we do, so we’re gonna do it. And there was joy in getting back out there. I mean, we had a feeling of deep gratitude that we were able to do it. You know, there’s always risks, and even though we’re triple vaxxed, we know that we could get Covid again. We had it once, we could get it again, we know that. But you have to do your job at a certain point, so we’re all out there. I don’t know any musicians that aren’t back to work. We have to go to work—it’s what we do.

And—as exemplified perfectly in the Netflix parable Don’t Look Up—humanity seems to have learned absolutely nothing, especially with something as crucial as Roe v. Wade about to fall. It’s just insane. Talk me down. 

I can’t! I agree with you! We’re in a very trying, difficult time, and we have to keep our eye on the prize—we have to vote. And we have to pay attention. We have to keep our eye on what we can do. I don’t wanna give in to despair—we do have a Black, lesbian press secretary right now. Gays and lesbians do have the right to get married still. We’ve seen a very large national discussion around gender, and what it means to be transgender, and that’s not something I imagined happening in my life. So I think we’re moving things forward, and people are trying to push things backward. That’s the normal way that progress happens. I also think that gun violence is out of control, and we’ve got to do something about it. So hopefully there’s been a wake-up call, and we’ll see what happens in November. But I don’t subscribe to despair. I think we have to vote and understand what we’re voting for, and we have to fight. Nobody gets anywhere without fighting for what’s right. I think that it’s a big discussion, but we all can do our part by showing up

You’ve mentioned someone close who passed away named Betsy, Who was she?

She was my best friend that I used to hike with on the trail right outside of Nashville, and she passed away during the pandemic. And actually, I became a swimmer after she died. Now I go to the YMCA, and the pools at the Y here are great.

The main lesson you seem to have learned recently is “less is more.” The arrangements and production on Dark Enough are hushed and skeletal, with just enough notes to float by. It’s Daniel Lanois stark.

Yes. I’ll go with that. Nielsen Hubbard produced it. And that’s exactly right — there’s nothing to get in the way of the words, but the music’s gotta matter. But that’s kinda my thing. I generally tour solo—I don’t wanna have a whole big thing because I’m just not good at it. I like the troubadour life—it simplifies things for me, and I enjoy it. So when I go into the studio, we pretty much do things quickly and stripped down. That’s what I like. And I know that I’m dedicated to the art form, and I’m dedicated to the work, and I try to be nice to people along the way—that’s kind of what I’ve got, ya know?

I’m not sure if you intended it this way, but the final album track, “Till I See You Again,” feels like the absolutely perfect set closer for concerts.

Yep. That’s what it is, all right. I didn’t know what it would be—I was just writing a song to the best of my ability, but that’s kind of where we place it. It’s a final song, that’s for sure.

Ten years or so ago, when Steve Cooke and I were running the all across the arts pages in The Manchester Evening News Media Group we established a fringe event that ran annually alongside The Rochdale Literature And Ideas Festival. The event was The Sunday Morning Coming Down Speakeasy, to which we invited local arts practitioners to come and spend some time together at the Vibe young musicians´ centre on Drake Street in Rochdale.

There were publishers, painters and percussionists and poets, writers and readers, stand up comics and dramatists and there was live music interview, debate, music and the audience listened in as they enjoyed coffee and breakfast and a read of the Sunday papers. On a couple of memorable occasions there was a performance by a recently-formed Rochdale based duo called Between The Vines. They were friends of Steve, who had invited them along, and they played the kind of country rock that I celebrate so often on these pages, even since retiring here to Lanzarote.

I am reminded of them by a facebook post I noticed this week, so allow me to introduce, to any readers who might not know Between The Vines, their drummer and percussionist, Kev Whitehead. (left)

Kev’s earliest venture into professional playing was recording with a band called Blue Zone which featured a very young Lisa Stansfield. Since then he has recorded many albums with Lisa, including her two most recent ‘Seven’ and ‘Deeper’.

Over the years Kev has recorded and performed live with Pete Lockett, The Christians, The Animals, Proud Mary, Yazz and many more. 

Kev joined John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest in 1999, and Dare in 2008 and tours most parts of the world with these 2 bands. 
His most recent venture is a country rock band called Between The Vines alongside his wife Rebecca, and they have recorded an album called ‘50 Ways To Beautiful’. 

Rebecca Whitehead (right) is a singer-writer who released a solo  debut album, Crazy Love in 2014 that  was an eclectic mix of Hip hop/ R&B and Dance, encompassing a unique sound of Electronic and Accustic mix. Rebecca then started to learn to play the guitar and together with her husband Kev Whitehead created Between The Vines. Rebecca’s passion over the last few years has been for Country music, especially Country Rock.  The more she listened and learned, the more she wanted to create and be part of that genre. Throughout her career Rebecca has had the opportunity to work with world class artists such as; Lisa stansfield, Ian Devany, Kev Whitehead (drummer for Dare, Barcley James Harvest), Ste Boyce Buckley (producer at Gracielands studio) and many more.

I certainly remember making a note to self at the one of the Sunday Morning Coming Down events that these two musicians played the kind of country rock I covered for years as a music journalist and that I continue to share with readers of this daily blog.

Today we have already taken you down sidetracks & detours to where it is Dark Enough To See The Stars and hear the music of Mary Gauthier, but if you live in the Cambridge area why not start up your search engines and check out your local media for details of this weekend´s Cambridge Festival, and then follow sidetracks & detours Between The Vines to the festival venue to hear the duo, expanded for the live occasion, perhaps, into a four piece, deliver some great music?

We will be approaching Between The Vines for a major interview, so if you see them perform at the festival you might like to submit a review of your own. See details below adjacent to e-mail logo

We will also tell you, in a separate article, a bit more about the Gracielands Studio in Rochdale. (the clue is in the name !)

Meanwhile we will return with our Monday to Friday daily Sidetracks And Detours blog on Monday 20th June 2022. We will become immersed in creativity´´ as Sail Away down more sidetracks and detours with Randy Newman, to RoundTower that was once home to the likes of Katy Moffatt, Tom Pacheco and Gary Hall. We will also meet a Spanish musician who, like Jose Feliciano, fo9llows his intuition, and on Friday we will report on some very impressive end of term concerts performed in underwater caves.   

Remember, too, that there are 650 arts-related items in our easy to negotiate archives.

photo npw This article was collated by Norman Warwick, a weekly columnist with Lanzarote Information and owner and editor of this daily blog at Sidetracks And Detours.

Norman has also been a long serving broadcaster, co-presenting the weekly all across the arts programme on Crescent Community Radio for many years with Steve Bewick, and his own show on Sherwood Community Radio. He has been a regular guest on BBC Radio Manchester, BBC Radio Lancashire, BBC Radio Merseyside and BBC Radio Four.

As a published author and poet Norman was a founder member of Lendanear Music, with Colin Lever and Just Poets with Pam McKee, Touchstones Creative Writing Group (for which he was creative writing facilitator for a number of years) with Val Chadwick and all across the arts with Robin Parker.

From Monday to Friday, you will find a daily post here at Sidetracks And Detours and, should you be looking for good reading, over the weekend you can visit our massive but easy to navigate archives of over 500 articles.

The purpose of this daily not-for-profit blog is to deliver news, previews, interviews and reviews from all across the arts to die-hard fans and non- traditional audiences around the world. We are therefore always delighted to receive your own articles here at Sidetracks And Detours. So if you have a favourite artist, event, or venue that you would like to tell us more about just drop a Word document attachment to me at normanwarwick55@gmail.com with a couple of appropriate photographs in a zip folder if you wish. Being a not-for-profit organisation we unfortunately cannot pay you but we will always fully attribute any pieces we publish. You therefore might also. like to include a brief autobiography and photograph of yourself in your submission.

We look forward to hearing from you.

please note logo The primary source for this article was  first published in Paste on-line magazine, an excellent and positive information stream not only for the arts but for life in general on Lanzarote. The outlet serves as a force for good in the entertainments industry, and is unafraid to question governmental or corporate decisions when monitoring outcomes.

Sidetracks And Detours is seeking to join the synergy of organisations that support the arts of whatever genre. We are therefore grateful to all those share information to reach as wide and diverse an audience as possible.

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