It’s that time again when the great and the good of Americana-UK ‘fess up and tell it like it is in their individual journeys into the genre we all know and love. This week Ben Roberts – a man who survived being a metalhead and a drummer to make it to the promised land of musical goodness (quite why he doesn’t have the mighty Wilco’s “Heavy Metal Drummer“ on his list we don’t know – but could probably find out…)
Music has always been a massive part of my life since I was old enough to remember. I was brought up pretty much drowning in my Dad’s vinyl collection and also around drum kits and cool bands. Throughout my teenage years I was pretty naive to think that anything outside of the metal music scene was not socially acceptable to listen to as an angsty 16 year old, until I was asked to join a local (North Wales) Americana band called The Loving Cup. My knowledge of Americana and country music at the time was pretty limited. I was a big fan of Skynyrd, The Black Crowes and had also been enlightened to the wonders of the Drive-By-Truckers’ masterpiece ‘The Southern Rock Opera’ and a brief selection of Lucinda Williams songs. At the time I was a bit too immature to understand Lucinda’s dulcet tones, but she’s grown on me with age. Once I joined this band I was sat down in the living room of my dad’s house and had music by The Band, The Byrds, Neil Young, The Rolling Stones (‘Exile’ and ‘Let It Bleed’ mainly) and many other Americana greats played at me 24/7. I was given the chance to blossom and soon metal music was a thing of the past as I dived down the rabbit hole of Americana.
At the age of around 18 or so at the time, I was still a little slow to appreciate the older stuff. However, once realising that the likes of Jason Isbell sounded like the old stuff, I realised that I should really take a day to see where it all came from. Now my record collection is filled with albums from The Band, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Young, The Allman Brothers Band, although it’s clear my metal roots are still present as I flick past my collection of Slipknot albums. Nowadays my favourite artists include Ryan Adams, John Moreland, Jason Isbell, American Aquarium, Turnpike Troubadours and Phoebe Bridgers, who, in my opinion, is releasing some of the best music written in the past 10 years. Americana music truly is one of my greatest loves in life.
Phoebe Bridgers: “Funeral”
I remember hearing this song on my way to Glasgow. I was going through a very snowy Lake District on the train from Leeds. At the time, Phoebe had just released her debut LP and had began to speak out against Ryan Adams. I was part of a Ryan Adams Facebook fan page and the hashtag #phoebegate was being thrown around the place quite a lot. This led to me checking out her music. The lyric “we talk until we think we might just kill ourselves” grabbed me and made me pause the song and keep going back to make sure I’d heard her correctly. I love how she literally has no filter. It’s so captivating and exciting.
Ryan Adams: “Rosalie Come And Go”
The first song that got me into Ryan Adams. I didn’t really know that much about him, but I found myself in a band that covered a few of his songs (that’s a bit of a trend throughout this article) and I just dived down the rabbit hole and discovered his greatness.
Ponderosa: “Old Gin Road”
Another band that I discovered through being in a group that played this song. My Dad was a big fan of The Loving Cup. He took me to see them at Telford’s Warehouse in Chester just before I started playing with them and they covered this track. I love the simplicity and the guitar playing and the harmonies. So powerful.
The Band: “Up On Cripple Creek”
I remember, during my induction to Americana, my dad made me sit down and watch “The Last Waltz”. I love the groove of this track. As a drummer, Levon Helm is one of my biggest influences. That man’s playing just flows so beautifully.
Lucinda Williams: “Real Live Bleeding Fingers And Broken Guitar Strings”
At the time of hearing this song I was mad into hard rock and metal music. I thought country was a little bit naff. However, I was still made to listen to whatever my Dad had on in his car as he drove me home from my Grandma and Grandad’s on a Monday and Tuesday night. Lucinda was a regular. The title of this track sounded super ‘rock n roll’ to me, that’s what caught my ear at first. I kind of liked the song but, having musically matured over the years, I realised that this song stuck with me and allowed me to enjoy and understand Lucinda at her most miserable best.
Drive By Truckers: “Ronnie and Neil”
Before I went to bed as a kid I was always allowed to have music on at my Dad’s house. Never TV – only music. One night I requested an education in southern rock. Dad went downstairs, delved into his enormous CD collection and brought up ‘Southern Rock Opera’. The first track ‘Days of Graduation’ which leads into ‘Ronnie and Neil’ was basically where my love of Americana started. I still completely lose my shit when they play it live.
The Black Crowes: “Remedy”
The Black Crowes were a huge part of my induction into Americana. I never really understood them fully until I saw them in Manchester in 2013. I was star struck.
The Rolling Stones: “Let It Bleed”
Another song I covered with The Loving Cup. I didn’t realise how cool The Stones were until I listened to the whole of ‘Let It Bleed’.
Jason Isbell: “24 Frames”
I first heard Jason Isbell’s solo stuff when he played a set on Jools Holland. His songwriting blew me away.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: “Ohio”
This was a big one in my Americana eduction. I had dabbled in Neil Young’s work before (remembering The Futurehead’s covering Neil Young & Crazy Horses’ ‘Piece of Crap’). ‘Ohio’ opened up the world of harmonies to me.