Posts Tagged With: Jeff Hart

The News & Observer: For old time’s sake

Turn to page 287 of “Step It Up and Go” and you’ll come to the book’s “Acknowledgements,” a couple of pages where I give thanks to some of the many people who helped me out over the years. And that section begins thusly:

I owe thanks to so many people, places, and things, but especially to the Raleigh News & Observer, my professional home from 1991 to 2019.

That paragraph goes on to thank a long list of some of my former co-workers starting with Suzanne Brown, the editor who hired me to be the N&O’s music critic and brought me to Raleigh. I was there for 28 years, and as I’ve told more than one interviewer, covering music for the paper for so long was kind of like working on the first draft of this book the whole time.

It’s been well over a year since I left the paper, amid many tears, and life beyond it has been better than expected. I was unsure I’d be able to continue making a living as a writer without the N&O’s safe harbor — but so far, so good. Between book stuff, magazine freelancing work and writing for various arts councils, I keep busy and get by.

Nevertheless, it still feels weird not to be in the N&O newsroom anymore. I still catch myself using or thinking the word “we” in regards to the paper, which is probably an instinct that will never go away entirely.

I am, however, delighted to be back in the N&O’s pages today for the first time since February of last year, thanks to the book. There’s a generous Sunday-paper spread in advance of Monday’s “official” Oct. 19 publication date, with an excerpt (the opening of Chapter 10, about Chapel Hill’s 1990s “Next Seattle” phase) and a very fine interview/feature by my longtime pal and fellow N&O alumnus Stacy Chandler. They put my byline on the excerpt, and seeing my name in that familiar spot makes it feel kind of like old times — a nice closing of the circle.

Meanwhile, the “Step It Up and Go” PR campaign is picking up steam on a couple of fronts now. Also today on this Sunday, Oct. 18, I’ll be on UNC-TV’s “North Carolina Bookwatch,” airing at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time (and repeating at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 20). It’s an interview with “Bookwatch” host D.G. Martin, which we taped back in July.

And at 4 p.m. today, I’ll be one of this week’s guests on the latest episode of the “Secret Monkey Quarantine Half-Hour Show,” starring longtime local-music fixture Jeff Hart with family, friends and guests. This week’s other guests include Alice Zincone, Adrienne Meddock and Steve McGowan.

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More from the supporting cast: Bob Ricker

BobRickerWhen I was interviewing folks for “Losering” a few years back, one of the people I tried but failed to track down was pedal steel player Bob Ricker, who did some stellar work on Whiskeytown’s full-length debut Faithless Street (in fact, I wrote that he was that album’s “unsung hero”). He’d been gone from Raleigh for more than a decade by then, and I asked around; but nobody I queried seemed to know where to reach him, so I had to move on.

Fortuitously, however, I heard from Bob recently after he read the book, and we chatted a bit about the old days. Now 57, Bob has been in Nashville since 2000, working as a telecommunications consultant when he isn’t playing and producing music. But the early ’90s found Bob living in Raleigh while working in Nortel’s Research Triangle Park plant by day, and playing pedal steel guitar around town by night.

At a bookstore in Raleigh one evening, Bob met local musician Jeff Hart — the same Jeff Hart who was ringleader of the 1995 show where I first interviewed Ryan Adams, as recounted in the “Losering” preface — who introduced him to some key people in the scene. Bob played a few shows with the earliest version of Chip Robinson’s Backsliders before falling in with Whiskeytown in 1995, one of a series of pedal-steel players who passed through the lineup as Ryan Adams tried to countrify the sound. Although he was nearly 20 years older than the rest of Whiskeytown, Bob fit in well enough.

“I think the thing that made Whiskeytown work as a band was that it had some pretty intelligent people,” Bob says now. “They’d catch on quick about sharing lead parts, what worked, what didn’t and accepting things that would make it work. And of course, Ryan was just full of songs, which is why he made it where a lot of others didn’t. Some of the parts on [Faithless Street] are just so original, they get to people. I was impressed with Caitlin, too, but most of all Phil. He really made a lot of stuff happen in the studio, and I was impressed at what he came up with at such a young age. There were parts I’d recognize from classic country that I was sure he’d never actually heard, and also some Beatle-ish stuff. That really helped make the whole picture.”

RickerSetlistBob also remembers Ryan coming out to his house to work on songs, and his wife’s reaction when he told her “this kid had it” — “Are you kidding?” But her skepticism ended as soon as she heard them playing together. Bob actually has tapes of some of what they worked on, which I would dearly love to hear. Someday, I hope!

Alas, Bob’s job at Nortel involved enough out-of-town travel that he had difficulty being around for Whiskeytown’s gigs. After the Faithless Street sessions, he stayed through the fall of 1995 (he was onstage at that October’s infamous Berkeley Cafe show where Ryan and Phil teamed up to destroy Ryan’s guitar), but had to bow out before the early-1996 release of Faithless Street. He recently found an old circa-1995 setlist from a Whiskeytown show at the Brewery in a road case, which is on the left. Going on two decades later, he still gets asked about Ryan with some frequency.

“At the time we first met he was still more punkish, but he seemed to want to be more country,” Bob says. “He was always really polite — with me, anyway. We’d work on things and he was like a sponge, taking it all in and adding to it. Nowadays, stories about Ryan are like stories you hear in Nashville from people who played with Elvis. You know, there’s what it was like in the band, and then the legends that grow. But you really could tell right off the bat with him that he knew what he wanted, and how to get there.”

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