Photo courtesy of facebook.com/willkimbroughmusic
Will Kimbrough’s new solo album is dedicated to Lower Alabama.
Band: 9th Annual Dog River Mud Bottom Revival
Date: Sunday, April 28, 3-7 p.m.
Venue: Bender Point, 3619 Riviere Du Chien Rd., dogriver.org
Tickets: $35 available through Eventbrite
Once again, the Dog River Clearwater Revival is inviting the public to come celebrate one of the area’s most active and beloved waterways. The Ninth Annual Dog River Mud Bottom Revival will educate the public on Dog River Clearwater Revival’s mission, while enjoying the organization’s natural focus.
This event will also feature performances from Ryan Balthrop, The Red Clay Strays and Will Kimbrough. Kimbrough will arrive at Dog River with tunes from his newly released solo album “I Like It Down Here.” Mobile’s busiest musical son found time to collect these regionally inspired tracks in between stints working with Shemekia Copeland, Brigitte DeMeyer and many others. With this singer-songwriter’s busy schedule, my first question for Kimbrough was a natural one.
Centanni: After spending so much time working with other folks, when did you decide that it was time to focus on your solo material or even find time?
Kimbrough: It’s about what’s going on with work and what’s going on with who I’m working with. Number one, it’s the songs. The last solo record of new material was “Sideshow Love” in 2014. Then, in 2016, I put out a live record that was sort of a release without any press called “Live at Coast.”
In 2015, we put out the second Willie Sugarcapps record. In 2017, I put out a record with Brigitte DeMeyer. In 2018, I put out a record with Tommy Womack as Daddy. So, there’s been a yearly release for a while. I’ve been writing, and I have these songs that I feel like are not for a band or for a collaboration but just for me. Also, I’ve made eight other solo records over the years, and I want to keep doing it.
Centanni: What was it like collecting songs for this album? Did you have a goal as far as the songs go?
Kimbrough: No, but the way I know it’s time to make a record of my own in particular is that I write a new song, and there’s just a little bell that goes off in my mind. I think, “I need to make a record, and this will be the centerpiece of it.” Sometimes, it’s not even a song that ends up on the record.
In this case, I wrote the title track “I Like It Down Here” when I was sitting in the parking lot of some kind of big box store somewhere near Bay Minette. I wrote the lyrics and knew how it was going to go in my head. I didn’t have an instrument in my hand, because I was in my car. I wrote those lyrics down either on the way to or on the way from playing with Willie Sugarcapps or playing The Frog Pond. I thought, “I’d like to make a record around this song.”
Then, what happens is that some older songs that have never been released start raising their hands in the back of the classroom of my brain and say, “Hey! What about me? I fit well with that.” You start making lists and looking through songs that you’ve recorded previously and see what they sound like. Then you write some new songs. So, I recognize the process from all these years.
With a band that I might be in like Willie Sugarcapps, it would be, “Look how much we’re working and how people like this. Let’s make a record.” We made two records that way. With Daddy, it’s been different ways. This last time, Tommy had cancer for the second time. We had already recorded a bunch of songs. We hadn’t taken another look at the songs that we’ve recorded. I thought, “Well, this will give Tommy something to do, since he’s having to do chemo again.” I knew it was a good record, and I thought it would be good for our friendship.
Centanni: Talking about being near Bay Minette and getting inspiration, over the past few years, it seems like you’ve been spending a lot more time down here than in the past. Do you think it has lent to the creative process for you?
Kimbrough: Oh, of course! There’s a lot of things and that’s a huge part of it. I’ve been writing songs about home for years like “Mud Bottom” off the first Willie Sugarcapps record and “Magnolia Springs” off the second Willie Sugarcapps record.
“The Highway Breaks My Heart” on the second Willie Sugarcapps record is about being on the road and being torn between two homes with one in Nashville and one in Mobile and literally trying to be in both places as much as I can. It’s a hard life to do that. You have to travel all the time. Even though it’s 435 miles, it’s a long way. For some people, it’s a really long way. I spent a lot of time being down there because my dad got sick. My mom was taking care of him, and my sister was helping my mom. They needed help from me, so I went down there all the time.
Music has been my career for 30 years, so it’s been my life. Your work life and your personal life start to run together, especially when you work for yourself. You are what you do. I am what I do. So, whatever I’m doing, I’m writing about it.
I had somebody say to me earlier today, “You seem conflicted about your home state.” I said, “Absolutely not.” The record is also just songs and music. It’s not like I sat down and wrote all these songs about Alabama or Lower Alabama or the South. It’s not about that. “I Like It Down Here” and the song “Alabama” and “Buddha Blues” and “Saltwater and Sand” are specifically about where I’m from in Lower Alabama. There’s no love-hate relationship at all. It’s just a love relationship. Anybody who has had a love relationship, whether it’s been between a brother or a sister or a mom or a daddy or your friends or husband or wife, then it has every emotion in the book rolled into it and every agreement and disagreement. When you love a person, a place or a thing, you’re in it. You’re not looking for a way out. You’re looking for a way in.
I wrote about [the 1981 lynching of] Michael Donald because I was reminded of it by reading a book. I wanted to read it, because it was about that and Mobile and all that stuff. It did shock me as an adult that it happened so recently. That’s why I wrote about it. I’m just telling stories that I’ve heard or lived or seen, not that I’ve made up. It’s fun to make records, to me. The hard part is just getting them finished after they’re recorded. All I want to do is write the songs, record the songs, go perform and play music. Part of our work is just work like stuffing envelopes.
Centanni: “Hey Trouble” is the first single from this album. What can we expect from the rest of this one?
Kimbrough: Well, “Hey Trouble” is a song that has two parts to it that have to do with being from the Deep South. With the first, the words are all language that would be used in an old- fashioned blues songs, whether it be a Hank Williams song or a Robert Johnson song or a Muddy Waters song. The lyrics are all pure blues, and the music is a tribute to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. We don’t have any more Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Those guys are from Gainesville, so it’s a tip of the hat to those guys.
“I Like It Down Here” is a modern blues song about characters near and dear to my heart in Gulf Coast Alabama. I’ve got the song about the last lynching in America, which is coming out around the same time as that lynching museum (The National Memorial for Peace and Justice) in Montgomery opened.
It wouldn’t be a Southern album without a song about prison. In this case, the prisoners are learning how to meditate, and it’s improving their lives, even though they’ll never get out of prison. It’s a true story of prisoners in Alabama doing life without parole.
It’s got “I’m Not Running Away,” which is classic rock ‘n’ roll country music with some Sugarcane Jane on there. It’s about Louisiana and Memphis and getting your heart broken and going back home.
There’s a song about Monroeville with a Muscle Shoals-style horn section.
Then I’ve got “Saltwater & Sand.” It just says, “Saltwater and sand is good for your soul.” It’s all about missing home and written particularly about the Gulf Coast, Mobile Bay, Fish River, Dog River and all those places I love. You get down there, and your blood pressure goes down. It’s all over the map, and everything pays tribute to something very Southern. I think it’s a record that’ll make you smile and laugh, but it will make you cry, too.
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