If you know Darrell Scott for one thing, it’s for his ability to do it all. The in-demand session player and Nashville songwriter has written for a number of artists— mostly in the country vein—and has also become one of the premier multi-instrumentalists working today.
His work with Robert Plant in the revamped Band of Joy should tell you all you need to know, but if you’re still not convinced of his musical prowess, you should probably listen back to your favorite Emmylou Harris, Dixie Chicks, Steve Earle, Kate Rusby, or Guy Clark song.
Chances are, Scott either wrote it or played on it.
Scott comes to Savannah not just to play this year’s Savannah Music Festival, but also to participate as a clinician in this year’s Acoustic Music Seminar on April 12. Ahead of his arrival in town, we spoke to Scott about his incredible career.
When you first started playing, did you set out to be a songwriter or did you want to be a player? And what made you try your hand at numerous instruments?
Scott: Well, I was always impressed by all of that stuff. I loved players—great instrumentalists, whether they were jazzers or country or bluegrass. I just got turned on to great musicianship, no matter where it came from or whatever flavor of music. I could hone right in on the greatness of their playing. I wanted to be one of those, or some version of it.
I would read all the album covers and find out who played on these sessions in New York or Nashville or L.A. or London, so I was a geek with that. The songwriting thing, I always just honed in on who the songwriters were too. The multi-instrumentalist thing came about because I just had a knack for picking up instruments and being able to do something on an instrument.
The singer part of me was always there. I grew up in a family band, and grew up in choirs in school and at church. Producing records and making music in a studio always intrigued me too, because you could just kind of work at things and overdub. It all just fascinated me, so I just walked forward not really having any grand plan at all. I’ve been a guy who, I think, has walked through doors that were opened to me.
It’s a great thing, and especially being in Nashville it affords you a wide variety of opportunities in all of these different ways. It’s an amazing testament to your career that you’ve been able to let life happen and then these doors open along the way.
Scott: That’s the way I would put it. None of this was strategy. I fantasized about being a studio player and being that kind of quick study, and I did. I reached all of that. And also, I found that a lot of the stuff I was playing on compositionally was just boring [laughs]. So then I transitioned out of that, just being a sort of call for Music Row. I was more interested in playing on Guy Clark records, Steve Earle, Sam Bush, all the weirdo stuff. I was always interested in the true artists, that’s what gets me going.
So did you grow up listening to roots music? Was that your background?
Scott: Another total accident! Roots music was part of what I listened to, but I was also listening to jazz fusion and folk music. Bluegrass eventually, but also total pop stuff of the 70s. I listened to everything. For example, I really started as an electric player. I had a Tele and a pedal steel, but the work I got in Nashville was to be an acoustic guy. So then it was like, “Okay, I guess I’m an acoustic guy now.”
I have a friend in his 80s, and he’s been a studio musician since 1970. He says, “You don’t find your style. It finds you.” So I just applied that to the acoustic thing. It wasn’t a goal of mine to be in roots music. I love roots music, but I also love good honky tonk and Texas swing. So it’s funny—that was not a plan of mine, it’s just the doors that opened for me.
As a songwriter, is there a particular song of yours that someone has recorded that stands out in your mind as a special moment for you?
Scott: Not exactly one, but there are some standouts. I sure love the Dixie Chicks’ “Long Time Gone.” I think they had a great go with that.
And that’s had a real life of its own too, with it being sampled on Beyonce’s “Daddy Lessons.”
Scott: I know! See what I mean? You don’t plan shit like that [laughs]. How do you plan Beyonce putting in 45 seconds of that song? You don’t do things like that. There’s so much accidental stuff to this that there’s no way I could take any credit for that stuff. Yeah, I wrote the song. But things have a life of their own and I’m just watching it happen.
One of the best cuts of my songs that I ever heard was a woman up in New England, but no one would know what it is. She’s got the distribution of maybe a couple hundred people, but it doesn’t have to be some star status for me to hear the song. I’m cognitive of the star status of songs, but it doesn’t mean the best stuff comes out of our famous people. She nailed my song, in a real sweet and powerful way. It doesn’t have to have big distribution— what I’m listening for is something totally different.
Largely what I’m listening for when I hear people do my songs is the character. Do I believe that this character is saying this? It’s almost like in theater. That’s the way I see it with the songs.
Darrell Scott @Savannah Music Festival