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Sun May 26, 2013
Music Interviews

Marshall Chapman: A Lifelong Rocker, Measuring Time By Elvis

Originally published on Sun May 26, 2013 1:11 pm

When Scotty Moore, Elvis Presley's former guitar player, tells you check out the music of Marshall Chapman, maybe you should give it a listen.

Moore is just one of many to sing Chapman's praises, but it's especially fitting that a member of the King's entourage should endorse her. Chapman says it was a 1956 Elvis concert that convinced her, at 7 years old, to make music.

"They mark time like A.D. and B.C., right?" she says. "For me, it's sort of B.E. and A.E. It was a life-changing event."

For 40 years, the Nashville-based musician has been writing songs that have been covered by everyone from Joe Cocker to Emmylou Harris. Along the way, Chapman has found time to write for an off-Broadway musical, act in a feature film and the TV show Nashville, author a couple of books and write a few pieces for Garden & Gun magazine.

Marshall Chapman has just released her 13th album, Blaze of Glory. She speaks about it, and her discovery of rock 'n' roll while growing up in the Jim Crow South, with NPR's Rachel Martin; click the audio link to hear their conversation.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DON'T WANT NOBODY")

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

When Scotty Moore, Elvis Presley's former guitar player, tells you check out the music of Marshall Chapman, maybe you should give it a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DON'T WANT NOBODY")

MARSHALL CHAPMAN: (Singing) Woo-hoo-hoo, woo-hoo-hoo, aww, I don't want nobody calling me their honey but you. I don't want nobody giving their money but you. I don't want nobody. I don't nobody...

MARTIN: Scotty Moore is just one of many to sing the praises of Nashville-based singer-songwriter Marshall Chapman. For 40 years she has been making her own music and writing songs that have been covered by everyone, from Joe Cocker to Emmylou Harris. Along the way she's found time to write for an off-Broadway musical, act in a feature film and the TV show "Nashville," author a couple of books and write a few pieces for Garden and Gun magazine. She is a busy woman.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Ms. Chapman has just released her 13th album. It's called "Blaze of Glory." And she joins us now the studios of member station WPLN in Nashville.

Ms. Chapman, welcome to the program.

CHAPMAN: Thank you, Rachel. It's great to be here.

MARTIN: So, your 2003 memoir says that as a kid back in 1957, you were taken to an Elvis Presley concert.

CHAPMAN: That's true.

MARTIN: And that after that you were done, you were over, you knew what path you wanted to take.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Is that all right?

CHAPMAN: Well, you know, they said it marked time like A.D. and B.C., right?

MARTIN: Yeah.

CHAPMAN: That's how we mark time. And for me, it's sort of B.E. and A.E.

(LAUGHTER)

CHAPMAN: Yeah, it was a life-changing event. I mean, he was changing the whole world at that time. This was 1956. I'm seven years old sitting in what was known as the colored balcony. I mean this was back in the Jim Crow South. And I probably wouldn't have gotten in if I'd been downstairs, but my parents were out of town. And I just remember Cora saying: Come on, child. We're going to go hear this man sing. Say he white but sing like he colored. And the rest was history.

MARTIN: Who was Cora?

CHAPMAN: Cora Jeter, she was a cook. She was a black woman that worked for my family.

MARTIN: What was it in that early sound of rock and roll that touched you?

CHAPMAN: Well, you know, I was just growing up in that real proper Southern, white-bread kind of existence. And here's this music. You know, I used to listen to this station 'cause, you know, we had black people living in our house. And so, down in the basement there was a woman named Lula Mae Moors down there ironing and I go down there, 'cause she was always listening to the radio. And I'd hear things like...

(Singing) Get out of that bed and wash your face and hands. You better get in that kitchen and make some noise with the pots and pans.

And I'm like seven years old and up stairs they're listening to Vivaldi, you know. So I spent most of my time in the basement.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Speaking of early rock and roll, let's listen to the first cut on the record. This is called "Love in the Wind." You sing this with Todd Snider. Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE IN THE WIND")

CHAPMAN: (Singing) Loving you is like loving the wind.

TODD SNIDER: (Singing) No, it's not a thing that you can hold in your hand.

CHAPMAN: (Singing) Easy come and easy go.

MARSHALL CHAPMAN AND TODD SNIDER: (Singing) And on a heart like mine, it'll take its toll.

CHAPMAN: (Singing) Never know when I'll see you again.

SNIDER: (Singing) Loving you is like loving the wind...

CHAPMAN: Yeah, I call that tracks comp(ph) - Bo Diddley on acid.

(LAUGHTER)

CHAPMAN: It's just - that's the way it happened. You know, whenever I'm writing songs it's like it seems like the rhythm and the words just kind of come out at the same time. I don't ever impose one on the other. They just seem to happen together.

MARTIN: How did this song happen?

CHAPMAN: Where was I? I was down in Mexico. I spend a lot of time down in Mexico and I had a crush on this guy. It was like, you know, I'm married. OK? And so, you know, you think at my age you'd to be over these things. But I think it only gets stronger.

(LAUGHTER)

CHAPMAN: It's almost like: Last call. You know? So anyway, it was late at night and I, you know, there was no way this thing could - but oh, my God. He just really affected me. So I just was sitting there in this room by myself. I just dunt-dunt-dunt and I started loving you is like loving - he's a real desperado type anyway. It would have been a disaster if we'd done got together.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Isn't that always the way?

CHAPMAN: As I say, it was God doing for me what I couldn't do for myself.

(LAUGHTER)

CHAPMAN: But no.

MARTIN: Did you tell your husband about that?

CHAPMAN: Yeah, we do. We talk. We're very honest with each other, so that's why I'm comfortable, you know, talking about it. We don't keep secrets.

MARTIN: How long have you been married?

CHAPMAN: We've been together it would be 23 years this December. We've been married - I swore I'd never get married and then we did get married. When did - we got married about eight years ago. I think somebody needed insurance so we got married.

(LAUGHTER)

CHAPMAN: Doesn't sound very romantic, but actually I like the idea of being married. There's a great Southern expression go where your spoken for. You know? And I like that. And I also like that you're really not looking over your shoulder, thinking you're going to find a better deal.

MARTIN: Except when you go to Mexico.

CHAPMAN: And you go to Mexico, you get distracted. Hey, I'm a human being and I think it's important to have a lot of crushes. I wrote an article about crushes one time. I had about six going at that time. I think its part of being alive. I think the crush is an underrated relationship. Now, you don't have to consummate the crush but it's important, I think, to have them.

How is your crush count these days?

MARTIN: Yeah, I'm not in the talk about it.

(LAUGHTER)

CHAPMAN: Come on, give it up.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: So, you wrote all but two songs on this CD.

CHAPMAN: I did.

MARTIN: What does it take for someone whose music is so often covered by others, to cover someone else's tune? For example, you've done your rendition here of Hoagy Carmichael's, "Nearness of You."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEARNESS OF YOU")

CHAPMAN: (Singing) It's not the pale moon that excites me, that thrills and delights me. Oh no, it's just the nearness of you. All right. Isn't your sweet conversation that brings this sensation. Oh no, it's just the nearness of you...

That song is just a song I've always loved. It was on the very first album I ever bought, in 1963. That album was called "Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs." And he was the guy that had that big hit...

(Singing) Boom, boom, boom, stay, ahh-ahh, just a little bit longer.

So, the second track on that album, "Stay" with Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, was this Hoagy Carmichael song. I like to put a song or two on an album that just raises the bar. I call it rug-burn music...

(LAUGHTER)

CHAPMAN: Purely romantic.

(LAUGHTER)

CHAPMAN: I mean I tell people this album kind of started out as rug-burn music for sexagenarians, you know.

(LAUGHTER)

CHAPMAN: I didn't even know that's what I was. I knew that there was a septuagenarian and an octogenarian. And then I thought, well, I'm in my 60's so there's got to be a word for what I am. And I looked it up and I found sesquicentenarians. And I think, no, that's like every 150 years-or-something. So I finally found this word in it and I just about fainted when I saw that it had the word sex in it. And I thought perfect.

And then the thing - when I pulled out of Mexico and, you know, did the right thing, it was almost like a little death or something. I started - my own mortality was just like my handwriting in front of my face. And so the album deepened into sort of the whole mortality thing. So there you go.

This is a wonderful time. I love this age. It was like don't you hate it when you just fit right into some worn-out adage like: Life begins at 40? You know, well, for me that was true 'cause I figured some things out by then. And I thought my life would be over at 40. You know? I really did want to go out in a blaze of glory, you know, like Janis Joplin, just explode on stage one night.

But then I woke up one day getting ready to turn 40 and I was a mess. And I had to kind of straighten up.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLAZE OF GLORY")

CHAPMAN: (Singing) I never intended to make it this far. I never had a fall-back plan. I always thought I'd go in a blaze of glory, blaze of glory. Blaze of glory.

MARTIN: (Reading) I never had a fall-back plan. I always thought I'd go in a blaze of glory.

This right after a song called, "Not Afraid to Die" in which you say: I did everything I could to die young. There are some dark thoughts in there, Marshall.

CHAPMAN: Well, I don't know if they're dark. They're real to me, you know? I think we're all dark and light and that's where these songs came from.

MARTIN: Well, Marshall Chapman, it has been a pleasure.

Her new CD is called "Blaze of Glory." She spoke with us from WPLN in Nashville, Tennessee.

Ms. Chapman, thanks so much for speaking with us.

CHAPMAN: Thank you, Rachel Martin. It's been a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLAZE OF GLORY")

CHAPMAN: (Singing) Blaze of glory, blaze of glory...

MARTIN: And you can hear a couple of full cuts from "Blaze of Glory" at nprmusic.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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