Grammy Award-winning multi-instrumentalist Sam Bush has described folk troubadour Jeff Black as “one of the finest musicians to show up in Nashville in the last 40 years.” Black will grace the stage of the Coaldale Schoolhouse with his Americana melodies and soulful lyrics this Thursday, March 23.
As a child who grew up surrounded by tunes, Black always loved music. His banjo-playing father told stories about his grandmother playing music in church, and both his “granddad” and uncle played guitar. “Eventually there came a point, though, where I looked around, and no one was really playing music in my house anymore, other than records and my brother who was plunking around on the guitar. I felt a calling, a conviction, to it and finally convinced my parents to get a guitar for me. I latched onto it as a kid, and I’ve never let go. I just couldn’t help myself.”
Black took about four guitar lessons but found it was too much pressure for him, so he didn’t continue. He remembers at the time feeling he had learned what he needed to know to teach himself songs on the guitar, but now wonders what might have transpired had he continued with the lessons.
Clearly things worked out well for Black, musically speaking, as numerous musicians have covered Black’s songs over the years, including Alison Krauss, Dierks Bentley, Waylon Jennings, Blackhawk and Bush. Black plays guitar, harmonica, banjo and piano. “The guitar is my main instrument. Tone-wise it opens up a whole world of melody; you just hear things in different instruments. I find that songs just hide inside my guitar.”
He is currently working on his 12th album, which will possibly be a double recording on vinyl. Black said the album is evidence of a lot of recent personal life changes. “There is no way getting around it, the music is always going to reflect me. I was on this path and then so many things changed, so I started rewriting the whole record about six months ago. … I’ve found the best way to write is to just get out of the way.”
More often than not he plays and records solo, but this time around Black plans to bring in a few more musicians. “I’m jumping across the creek from my last album, Folklore, which was really bare bones ‒ incorporating just banjo and guitar ‒ to having a few folks play in the same room as me. I know so many wonderful musicians in this town, I’m hoping to get that cooking in the next couple of months.”
He enjoys performing live now much more than he did in his 20s. Referring to the Coaldale show, Black said he considers himself fortunate to be on the receiving end of singer-songwriter music aficionados wanting him to come to their town. He described the resurgence of fan-sponsored shows as changing the contemporary music scene and credits it with putting him in front of a lot of audiences he might not otherwise find.
Black’s shows provide the audience with an interactive listening experience. “I tell a lot of stories and generally work to get in tune with the entire room. By the time we all get done, I feel like a creative exchange has happened that wouldn’t otherwise exist. I could sit around on the porch all day long playing the banjo, but if no one is listening, it isn’t the same. It’s us trading ideas in the room that brings the show. That is the reward.” It’s been a long time since Black’s been in the mountains, and he’ll get 1,200 miles under his belt before he arrives in Coaldale this week. The stop is part of his Rocky Mountain micro tour encompassing Boulder, Wray and Omaha, Neb.
He has designs on gathering up all of his journals someday and putting his writings together to create a book of poetry. “There are so many songs that start in a place where I think I am writing a song, but it’s actually a poem. I’m really curious to see what a read-through of them would be like.” In the spirit of giving back, he also hopes to assist a few other musicians along the way with their own recording and production.
Black chronicled his musical past and present like this: “Picture a guy, maybe he’s got an old Dodge truck and the battery is dead. He pushes the door open, he tries to push the vehicle and get the motor turned over and get down the road. I think that is where I started. But in the past year, I’ve finally let out the clutch. Now I’ve hopped back on and I’m driving down the road.”
Listen online to Jeff Black here ‒ click on “radio.” The Coaldale Schoolhouse show will begin at 7 p.m. and tickets are available at the door. For more information or to purchase advance tickets, visit Brown Paper Tickets. For bookings email Michael Millsap at Millsap@pcisys.net.