Corrections or additions?
This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the May 8, 2002
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Jimmy LaFave Savors the Roots Connection
Guitarist, singer, and songwriter Jimmy LaFave can’t
be pinned down. Is it country, contemporary folk, roots-rock, or
He calls what he does "the roots music of America," and he’s
good at it. Although he’s a gifted songwriter in his own right, LaFave
doesn’t shy away from singing the classic songs by other songwriters
he admires. Two of his prime influences are Bob Dylan and Woody
On Saturday, LaFave will perform with a trio at Concerts at the
in Titusville, singing songs of his own from his latest album,
He’ll also offer some classic tunes by Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and
The album title, "Texoma" stands, not surprisingly, for
and Oklahoma," and the album is a reflection of the influence
the music these two states had on him during his formative years.
"I think jewels of songs like Dylan’s `Emotionally Yours’ and
Guthrie’s `Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad’ should not be left to
fade away," LaFave tells us last week by phone from his house
LaFave, 46, the son of a Canadian heavy equipment salesman father
and Texas-raised housewife mother, grew up in Stillwater, Oklahoma,
and in East Texas. He moved to Austin — always a good place for
musicians — in 1986.
"I started learning about Woody after I moved to Oklahoma, since
Stillwater is only an hour away from Okemah," says LaFave, a
Dylan fanatic as a teenager. "Actually, a whole lot of good music
came out of that part of Oklahoma — J.J. Cale and Bob Wills and
the Texas Playboys and others. And since I was a Dylan fan, I kind
of moved backwards and wanted to know more about his influences."
In his youth, his mother got him his first guitar with S&H Green
and later, got him a drum set as well.
"In high school in Stillwater, I remember driving to Okemah, and
the walls of Woody’s old homestead were still there," he recalls.
Four years ago, LaFave was part of a group of musicians who helped
launch the first Woody Guthrie Festival in Guthrie’s native Okemah.
The festival is held every July during Guthrie’s birthday week, and
not surprisingly, it has grown as interest in Guthrie’s music and
legacy has grown. The Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibit
of Guthrie’s sketches, poetry, notebooks, photographs, and songs is
currently on view at the Oklahoma Historical Society in Oklahoma City.
Because of Guthrie’s left-leaning politics, borne out of the dust
bowl and Depression era in which he lived, LaFave says "it took
a generation of people to leave or move on before they began this
Woody Guthrie Festival, and they’ve even erected a statue of him in
Okemah. They finally got past whatever local and state politics there
`Part of his family still lives
Okemah, and after the government there came to terms with the whole
political aspect of it, they put him in the Oklahoma Music Hall of
Fame and the governor came out to the opening of the exhibit,"
"Texoma" is LaFave’s sixth album for Rounder Records, and,
unlike others who are part of the Austin scene, LaFave makes it his
business to get out on the road and tour every year, as opposed to
staying home in Texas — which many Austin-based musicians tend
to do. LaFave says that like Guthrie before him, he gets inspired
to write songs by going out on the road.
"There’s so much music here and in the outlying areas that a lot
of musicians here fall into that velvet rut, and they just play here
in Texas. There’s 26 million people here, and they just eat Mexican
food and live inexpensively," he says, "it’s kind of a trade
off. You can be a big fish in a small pond, or, like me, occasionally
get out on the road and play for 30 people in a small coffee house
where nobody knows who you are. But I find my inspiration out on the
Asked how he writes songs on the road, when so many other musicians
are too wrapped up in the business of getting to the next gig and
getting a proper sound check in before show time, LaFave says he
with a tape recorder in his pocket.
"If I see a billboard and like the words on it, when I get back
to the motel I’ll work on it. For the most part, my songs come from
my road experiences," he says. He agrees with the notion that
it’s very much in the tradition of Guthrie to write songs based on
"Goin’ Down The Road." A glance at the "Texoma"
song titles tells you more: "On a Bus to St. Cloud," "Rock
and Roll Music to the World," "Red Dirt Song," and "On
the Road to Rock and Roll" are all here.
The folk music magazine "Dirty Linen" describes
sound as "a mixture of rock, folk, rockabilly, country, and
Asked about the roots element that’s not mentioned — the blues
— and LaFave says the blues influence is there as well. He loves
the music of Lightnin’ Hopkins, Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson and other
pioneers in the idiom. "Austin is still a great blues town,"
he says, "when I moved here in 1986, Stevie Ray Vaughan was still
around, and I used to love to go and see him. J.J. Cale has always
been one of my favorite performers," he adds.
"I’ve always loved all the roots music groups of America, blues
and folk, rockabilly and country, everything from Chuck Berry to
Johnson to Dylan to Bob Wills, Hank Williams and the other older
music people," says LaFave.
"I read somewhere that you are what you listen to musically, so
I try not to listen to anything that’s too derivative. I came to
when Stevie Ray Vaughan was still around, and since then, hundreds
of young kids have moved here trying to be Stevie Ray. I’d rather
go and listen to Albert King or Hubert Sumlin. And I’d rather listen
to Dylan than anyone who’s derivative of Dylan," he explains.
Asked what he makes of this legion of young singer-songwriter types
who don’t know traditional folk songs, LaFave says every once in a
while someone comes along who restores his faith. At the Folk Alliance
conference in Florida, in February, he heard Serene Ryder, a
from Canada. She restored his faith, he says.
"I asked her who she was influenced by and she says, `Roger
Leonard Cohen, Hank Williams, and Etta James.’ And then when I asked
her about Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle, she says, `I’m not really
familiar with them.’ I was just so amazed she was into Hank Williams,
and she’s in like five different bands." LaFave has had Ryder
open several shows for him at the University of Texas’ Cactus Cafe,
an Austin folk music venue.
At the Unitarian Church in Titusville on Saturday, LaFave will play
acoustic/electric guitar. He’ll be accompanied by Will Landin on bass
and Danny Click on electric guitar. "Lately, as I’ve gotten older,
my ears are more comfortable playing acoustic guitar," he says.
"They’ll be a little bit of blues, a little bit of rockabilly,
all the roots, and some basic Woody Guthrie and some Dylan. I’m amazed
at the number of young people coming up to me at shows, mistakenly
thinking I wrote some great Dylan song," he says, "Again,
jewels by Dylan and Guthrie shouldn’t just fade away."
— Richard J. Skelly
Church at Washington Crossing, Titusville, 609-406-1803. Opening act
by the acoustic folk duo, the Wiggins Sisters. $15. Saturday, May
11, 8 p.m.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.