Idle Chatter

    Chris Haddox: A Decades-in-the-Making Debut

    Issue 161

    Chris Haddox’s journey through music is like no other.

    Having dropped out of college at the age of 21, Chris Haddox moved to Nashville to stake his claim amongst an ever-bustling country music scene. Over the next forty years, despite a lack of attention and subsequently having to move into a proverbial “day job,” Haddox never stopped writing and playing music.

    Ever-creative, and still dreaming, Haddox finally hooked up with producer Ron Sowell, who, after hearing Haddox play in an intimate venue, knew that the singer/songwriter deserved his long-awaited shot at releasing his music to the public.

    Finally, after decades of toiling and yearning, Chris Haddox has his self-titled album in hand, now available for download and streaming. At the age of 64, you might say that Haddox is just getting started.

    For fans of John Prine, Chris Knight, and Brad Brooks, you’ll be right at home here. Haddox’s unique, yet familiar blend of traditional-folk-meets-modern-outlaw-country is the kind of music meant to be played late-night, lukewarm beer in hand, without a care in the world. It’s whimsical, yet poignant. If that doesn’t convince you, then your maiden voyage through his self-titled Chris Haddox will.

     

    Chris Haddox, album cover.

     

    I recently caught up with Chris Haddox to talk about his long journey in music.

    Andrew Daly: Chris, I appreciate you taking the time to talk. How have you been holding up over the last year or so?

    Chris Haddox: The past year has been mostly good for me and my family. My job as a university professor, while demanding, allows me a great deal of flexibility in how [and] when I get my work done. My wife has a flexible job, as well, so we are very fortunate in that regard. We’ve managed to stay healthy, as have our college-age kids. The music scene has been pretty slim – just not getting out to too many gigs, so that has been a downside.

    After completing the album, I just felt a little lost on what to do next on the music front. I mean, here I am with a new album that took nearly two years to complete, and nowhere to go with it in terms of live performances! (Note: Chris does have some upcoming gigs in West Virginia.)

     

    AD: I always ask people: what first got you hooked on music?

    CH: I have been into music for as long as I can remember. I had this little record player when I was young and the records told [well-known] stories on one side, and had a classical music selection on the other. I loved listening to those pieces. Took up piano at age six, saxophone at 10, guitar at around 10, so [I’ve been] pretty much been playing most of my life. I wrote the first lyrics I can remember when I was in the second grade…stole a few lines from a poem a classmate was writing and added to it!

    AD: Who were some of your early influences?

    CH: My parents. We always had music playing in the house. My parents were both very theatrical, always acting, singing and clowning around. My sister had a great record collection, so I got turned onto [people like] John Prine, Neil Young, Kenny Rankin, and Carole King from listening to her. Developed my guitar chops trying to accompany my dad in singing show tunes at parties. In college, I connected up with some ace bluegrass pickers and things just kinda went from there. My uncle, who I rarely saw, was a great singer and player in the old country blues style.

    AD: Tell us about your new album, Chris Haddox.

    CH: This album came about after Ron Sowell heard me play at a local songwriter’s night in Charleston, West Virginia. After that session, he invited me to play at the Woody Hawley Concert Series the following October. When he asked why I didn’t bring any albums to sell, I told him I had never recorded an album, just a few one-off songs here and there. Long story short, he listened to about twenty-five of my songs over the next few weeks and pretty much said, “you need an album and I want to produce it for you.” Ron selected all the songs and defined most of the arrangements. As I [had] never played with percussion before, I was a nervous wreck, but Ron – ever the calm and nurturing producer – said, “just trust me…this is going to be good.” I’m really pleased with how it all turned out.

    While some of the songs on this album are new, many have been hanging out in my guitar case for years. One cut on there I started writing when I was 16. I don’t pretend to have any great wisdom to pass on to anyone, I just like telling stories and making observations. I have a quite varied background in terms of work and lived experiences, and I think that comes out in the nature and subject matter of the songs I write. This album addresses relationships, changing landscapes, humorous moments in the life of a parent, dreams and desires, frustrations, and just everyday life…things we all encounter as we go about our ways. Perhaps my take on those things is just a bit different than someone else’s.

    AD: How was the album produced?

    CH:
    Man, if I set out to record a full album of my own stuff, I’d have twelve or so songs that would all end up sounding the same from a production point of view. I can’t go on enough about how Ron Sowell brought the songs to life in ways I had never imagined. We had a few “are you sure about that?” moments, and there was plenty of back and forth, but at the end of the day, what you hear in terms of variety is all Ron…he really got to know the songs and what potential each of them had.

    AD: Two questions: What formats do you listen to music on – streaming, digital, analog? Also, what are a few of your favorite albums and why?

    CH: This is probably horrible to say, but I just don’t really listen to a lot of music. I still have my old vinyl albums, but am not set up to play them at the moment. I have tons of cassettes, but no working cassette player, so if it is new music, it is CDs or some digital. I probably listen to more music on YouTube than anywhere else. I am a creature of habit and tend to revisit my old favorites over and over again…finding comfort [in] that what I thought were great songs all those years ago are still great songs!

    One of my favorite albums of all time is Steve Forbert’s Alive on Arrival. Holy cow, what a collection of honest, powerful songs. I love old classic country songs. Don Gibson was one amazing songwriter – he could say more in a few words than [just] about anyone else I can name at the moment. Neil Young…crazy powerful songs. Of course, [John] Prine – whose list is he not on? I love Rodney Crowell’s writing, as well. Mike Nesmith and John Stewart, those guys were incredible! I am a traditional musician, as well, and appreciate the old ballads from Europe that found new life here in America. Really. I’m all over the map.

     

    AD: What other passions do you have and how do they inform your music?

    CH: Well, I play traditional music; fiddle, banjo, square dances and old ballads, and the like. I also research the people behind many of the old field recordings from the 1940s in West Virginia. That work takes me back to my home in southern West Virginia, where I roam the hills looking for long-lost cemeteries and places, connecting with folks who might be related to the folks I’m researching…anything to build a story around people from the past. I also spend a lot of time in the woods, camping, hiking, canoeing, and just being outside. All of those things inform my perspective on life, which ultimately informs my writing.

    AD: What is your opinion on the state of the music business these days, and how artists fit into it?

    CH: Well, I’m hopeful. I mean, I’m not counting on music as a living at this point in my life, so anything I can make happen is great. I’m 62 years old and just released my first album, so why not be hopeful? I quit college at age 21 to try my hand at songwriting in Nashville. Lived there for three different periods over the next several years. Met lots of nice and talented folks, but never had any success in the business. I never gave up on music, however; just kept writing and playing here and there….never really been a full-time thing for me. I love connecting with people through music. Small intimate venues, that is what does it for me. So, as long as those are around, great! As for making money at it – man, the cards seem stacked against musicians, and being the Luddite I am with technology, who knows if I’ll ever see a dime from anything I do! I’d love for some big star to grab one of my songs and make a huge hit with it – a win-win for us all. Will that happen? Maybe! Maybe not.

    AD: What’s next on your docket? What are you looking forward to most in the post-COVID world?

    CH: In a nutshell, just getting together with people. COVID is here to stay, we just have to figure out how we are going to deal with it. I am really tired of how political the topic of public health has become. Come on, man…let’s just all look out for each other and get on with it. I am really hoping to be getting out there in more small, intimate venues…house concerts, coffeehouses, and writers’ nights. I’m already thinking about albums two, three, four and five. I have plenty of songs and write more all the time, so I’m just excited to see where this “new” endeavor takes me.

    For more information visit chrishaddockmusic.com.

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