'Hallelujah, I'm a bum!' Talking with Todd Snider
Todd Snider's CDs should come with a warning label. Something like:
The music on this disc is catchy, intelligent, articulate, sardonic, sarcastic and sometimes fantastic and it defies the kind of basic categorization that the recording industry has embraced for generations. Though they are well-crafted on the CD, the songs contained herein are even more impressive in a live venue, when punctuated by Snider's sage storytelling.
Branded as an alt.country, roots-rocking, barefoot singer of neo-folk Americana music -- as well as a devotee of Jerry Jeff Walker, Jimmy Buffett, John Prine, Bill Hicks and Mitch Hedberg -- Snider, 41, returns to Milwaukee for a sold-out show Friday night at Shank Hall.
OnMilwaukee.com caught up with Snider via e-mail last week and the troubadour talked freely about his music, his idols and his affection for the Brewers.
OnMilwaukee.com: The weather in Milwaukee has been pretty brutal. As a Nashville resident, do you have any regrets about playing Midwestern dates in the winter?
Todd Snider: I always hit the cold cities in the winter and I'll be in Miami by the time it hits 105. I've always been a lunch money pimp. I like to "hit them where they ain't," as the baseball players say. But, if I were a high school football game, you'd play me on Thursdays. It's by design of the gypsy code. We do it for the same reason Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase's character from "National Lampoon's Vacation" parked so far from the entrance to Wally World and that is that "at the end of the day when the rides have closed, we will be the first ones out of the park."
OMC: You've played in Milwaukee a number of times. Do any of those shows stand out in your memory? Have you done anything fun in the land of racing sausages?
TS: Multiple memories jump to mind. My uncle lives near there and I love to see him. I really dig the Brewer games. Also, when I walk out the front door of Shank and take a right (on Farwell Avenue), it heads to a cool little neighborhood that I like to walk around and I've also found the perfect hotel for me. As for gigs there, I always dig them and seeing (Shank Hall owner) Peter Jest. I also have a fond memory of a night off, watching Kelly Joe Phelps at Shank Hall.
OMC: I think your former label boss and idol, John Prine, has a place in Chicago and I know he's friendly with Peter Jest. Any chance he'll drop by on Friday? Can you describe the influence he's had on you and what it's like to become friends with one of your idols?
TS: I can't imagine him making the show Friday. I feel like he'd have called already, but who knows? Knowing him now, I look up to him for how he acts at work and at home and I consider him a good friend, but I still don't see myself as someone who would ever be punching someone like him in the shoulder, so to speak. He has friends that see him and yell, "Hey you old coot!" but not me; I still have too much stuff I want him to sign.
OMC: Speaking of idols, you've been at this long enough that there have to be young whippersnappers looking to you for inspiration and guidance the way you did with Jerry Jeff Walker, Billy Joe Shaver, Kris Kristofferson and John Prine. Is it strange when artists are stoked to meet you and reciting your lyrics back to you the way you reportedly did years ago with Chuck Berry and Randy Newman?
TS: Yes, it is strange. I can't really get my head around it. I remember how awkward Chuck and Randy looked when I did that to them and thinking "How could you not like that I know all your songs?"
But then, when some kid does that to me I think, "Oh, yes, this is awkward," but mostly awkward because I wonder why some kid is bugging me when Chuck Berry and Randy Newman are clearly still walking around.
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Nice reference of the flux capacitor. Great Scott!
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