Ten Years Of Playing For Change: A Conversation with The Doobie Brothers' Tom Johnston, Plus a Chat with Bradley Walker and A dada Exclusive

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<p>Playing For Change / <em>We Are One</em></p>

Playing For Change / We Are One

Playing For Change's We Are One concert poster

A Conversation with the Doobie Brothers' Tom Johnston

Mike Ragogna: Tom, how are you doing?

Tom Johnston: I'm doing well! At the end of the month, it's off to Seattle to do a show with The Eagles, then we're going to do the thing I'm calling you about—Playing For Change.

MR: How did you get associated with Playing For Change?

TJ: One of the guys who was the drummer when we were touring, Peter Bunetta, was the one who came to me with the idea that we should do a video for [The Doobie Brothers’] "Listen To The Music." We've been talking about it since 2014, when we were down in Australia playing a blues fest in Byron Bay, and they were too. I ran into Peter. I hadn't seen him in a while. He brought it up but we didn't really do anything for about a year and a half after that. We actually finally cut my part of the video in Noe Valley and then they added various people over the next year or so all over the world, which is how they normally do their videos. It makes them really interesting. I've seen quite a few and I get a kick out of them. They're really fun.

MR: The concept of Playing For Change, with people playing music together all around the world, what are your thoughts about that?

TJ: I think it's awesome, I think it's a very interesting concept. I don't know anybody else that's doing it anywhere. Mark Johnson kind of runs that end of it and he does a lot of traveling with various musicians. They have a basic core but it kind of changes on a fairly regular basis as far as who's playing what. As that goes through, it changes and rotates and what have you. They also travel all over the world and run into musicians and singers in all kinds of places. I think that's what gives it such an original feel even though they're doing covers per se. They probably have some original tunes as well but mostly, I've seen the covers they've done. Some of the instruments they use are fascinating. I don't even know what some of them are.

MR: Moving forward, what are the plans? What would you want to do?

TJ: Well, it's really not what I want to do, it's what they want to do. This was their idea and I said, "Yeah, let's do it." They started it in Noe Valley with a bass and drums and a guitar tracked that I put on the headphones and played along with. Then they took it from there and they got James Gadson playing drums on it and they got Ellis Hall playing piano and singing on it. He's incredible and they got some people that they have on a regular basis. They kind of have a standard set of musicians and then they have other people that they discover anywhere from Beirut to Africa to South America to Japan. You name it, they go all over the place.

MR: The concept of globally creating music together is fascinating.

TJ: And they don't do it digitally. They actually go to the place to record it and they take along a camera team with them and record video of it, so you get the full impact of the person that's actually doing the work. They don't send a track so people can do whatever in ProTools. They go there and do it live. That's what makes it very interesting. The original thing that started this off--or the first one I ever saw anyway--was their video for "Stand By Me," which I think has something like ninety-four million views at this point. It started in New Orleans and then took off from there.

<p>The Doobie Brothers</p>

The Doobie Brothers

photo credit: Andrew Macpherson

MR: You're also celebrating the tenth anniversary of Playing For Change at the Mayan Theater. What will that event be like?

TJ: From what I understand, we'll have played in Seattle almost the night before we do this, and we're going to fly down to LA, practice for one day just to run through the songs with the band they put together, and then we're going to play at the Mayan Theater. The idea is to raise money and to raise awareness of what they're trying to do besides bring entertainment to people, which is definitely different than what most people see. I believe they raise money to build music schools, and provide teachers and instruments for people in impoverished areas of the world that don't have them. They distribute instruments to various people everywhere and in the process, they also learn of other musicians and indigenous instruments that you and I have never heard before. It's kind of one hand scratching somebody else's back. It's a neat thing and I enjoy watching it go on.

MR: You've recorded with them as well, right?

TJ: Yeah but not in a studio. My recording was done in a park. When I say a “park,” I don't mean with kids and frisbees everywhere. It was actually not too far from where I used to live in Noe Valley, just down the street from the house I used to live in. It's in a Redwood Forest park; it's a beautiful atmosphere. We just went out there and I was sitting on a table. They had their recording equipment and put the mic up by my guitar and face and I played and sang the part while listening to the other parts on headphones.

MR: At this concert, you're also going to have some of Little Feat and other guests appear. These are pretty much folks you've played together with already through the years.

TJ: They are. There are the guys from Little Feat—Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett. James Gadson's going to be there on drums.

MR: Kenny Gradney's going to be there too.

TJ: And Ellis Hall, Lee Oskar, Pat Simmons, John McFee and I are going to be there from the band plus whoever else they're going to use—I don't know who's going to be playing bass from the house band. If Kenny's playing bass, then he'll be playing bass when they're up there. It's going to be a mix and match of quite a few people, I understand. It should be a lot of fun. I'm a fan of a lot of the guys they use. One of them is from The Netherlands, I think his name is Clarence Bekker. He's got a fantastic voice, unbelievable. Ellis Hall has an amazing voice, great singer. He's on the video. Anyway, there's going to be a confluence of people at the Mayan Theater waiting to make music and I think it'll be a lot of fun.

MR: With regards to The Doobie Brothers, the other night I brought out No Nukes and listened to it top to bottom. The Doobies have been socially conscious and active for decades. Was it around No Nukes that everybody came to the realization there was a bigger picture than being a rock star?

TJ: Right, I think that's probably true. I wasn't there for that part of it. I left the band for a while to do solo work but we've done an awful lot of stuff since then, everything from raising money for Vets to working with various medical problems for people and helping them out. We've written a lot of songs about the world around us and what's going on, and put out an album called World Gone Crazy, which was very fitting and still is. You can't live in this world and not be aware of things. On a daily basis, it never lets up.

MR: It seems that’s a natural process, musicians connecting with people. First it happens through the music, then that next step to want to participate in their lives in a bigger sense.

TJ: I think it's because you also interact with so many people as a performer. You meet so many people all over the country, all over the world, and you talk to them. They come up and talk to you and tell you about some experience in their life. It might be through a song that meant a lot to them for instance, one that got them through a tough patch in their lives, be it a war or something in their personal life; a marriage or how they partied their brains out. All of the above. In doing that, you interact with people and you get a different take on what's going on out there. Normally, in the daily course of life, you just do what you do. You drive down the street, you fly here, you fly there, and you're not really interacting. You might be looking at it but you're not really involved in it, whereas at a show, you are brought together with the people that make up those places where you are and they tell you the stories of their lives a lot of the time. It's fascinating. You learn a lot—politically, emotionally, a lot of different ways. It can't help but influence what you think, what you write, maybe even how you perform.

MR: I was listening to Morning Joe one day and his guest Ken Burns said he sees direct parallels between 1968 and now. This must be an interesting, difficult, and maybe even inspirational period for creative people, because of everything going on. The hurricanes, the white house dramas, health care politics, everything that's going on in our culture. How does a sensitive musician do it? How do The Doobie Brothers deal with all these compounding intense events that seem to happen hourly now and stay such a creative unit?

TJ: If anything, it makes you more creative. We spend a lot of time on busses so we watch a lot of political TV because a lot of our guys are politically interested in what's going on in the world as well as the United States. We're all watching it unfold and there isn't a day that goes by when we don't watch about ten stories about this stuff. Of course, there's the climate change situation, which we all think is responsible for things like increasing hurricanes, flooding, and rain just as much as there is drought on the other end of the scale. I live in California and we just came out of seven years of really bad drought. You hear about the glaciers melting. A lot of it is just where you go. We're going to be in Europe at the end of October and they've had an awful lot of activity going on over there with terrorists and that kind of thing. You can't help but be affected by it. Anybody that watches the news is affected by it. But if you are a person that plays an instrument, and especially if you're a songwriter, which I am, it's pretty hard not to involve that in your lyrics and the things that you write about.

MR: And the causes you align yourself with because it's just life.

TJ: And believe me, there are a million people out there who want you to join their cause, so you kind of have to pick and choose the ones that you feel you can do the most for and also the ones that resonate with you the most.

MR: What made Playing For Change one of those causes for The Doobie Brothers?

TJ: This is actually a fairly recent thing. I think one of the reasons is that it revolves around music and around the ability to share music with some other people around the world. Also by giving instruments to youngsters who are on their way up, whether they use that as a way to make a living or a way to express themselves. I think that's something we can all relate to because we've all done it. It's just something that comes naturally.

MR: I've interviewed you before and I don't know if I've asked this question, what advice do you have for new artists?

TJ: I get asked that a lot. It's a tough question to answer and here's why. The music business is in constant flux. It has changed so much in five, ten-year increments. From the days when you were putting out records, a physical item that you could hold in your hand and put on turntables and listen to it on your fabulous sound system, and then it became tapes and then it became CDs and then downloading and now it's gone on to streaming. The way music gets to people, the actual ownership of music has now become something that's on your computer rather than something you physically hold, look at, touch. Same with the artwork. It's all kind of gone away and it's a worldwide thing. And there are things like Spotify and Pandora and all the rest of them. I guess that's the largest platform for music right now. Radio is still in there. Getting on radio is way harder than it used to be. It used to be the way you disseminated music if you had a single or something like that. Now it's on Spotify. As far as “making it” or getting involved in the music business, the amount of people trying to do it has, God, more than quadrupled. There are so many kids trying to get in the door and I've met quite a few of them because my daughter's one of them. I've met a lot of people as a result of that and from our travels and running into them at shows. It's really competitive. It's always been competitive, but not like it is now.

When we started, there was a door to get through and we weren't even trying. We were just playing and having fun and we accidentally ended up going through that door. You've always had to have a following, a certain group of people who liked your music and wanted to come to the shows, but it was kind of small, it was local. Now it's international. You try to get your following built up all around the world and specifically in the United States, if you're a US artist or in Europe or whatever, via YouTube and the internet and Facebook and Instagram and all this stuff that didn't used to exist that has all come to the forefront and is now part of the deal if you want to get known. And then it's still hard, because there are so many people and all of these TV shows that expose people to a much larger audience simultaneously than they ever would have had before. I don't know how many of those people actually make it. It's a whole different world.

Essentially, my advice is always the same—get to know your instrument, your voice, and hopefully both. If you write, that's great. They really encourage you to write these days. But there are just as many people out there who have made it who don't play anything and they can sing but they're not necessarily stellar in the vocal department. They just happened to know the right people. They got hooked-up and all of a sudden, they're on the road and working all the time. That's another thing that's changed. You used to sell an album and then you would tour to support the album. It's exactly the opposite now. You might put something out and nine times out of ten, you're wasting your time making an album because no one's going to listen to it. They're going to listen to stuff on Spotify and make their own playlists and it might involve several artists. Although people still put albums out, they don't go out to a store and buy them anymore. Downloading still happens to an extent but the rest of it is still on streaming. Basically, you go out and make this recording, be it an EP of three or four songs or maybe even two songs, you get it on Spotify, and then you go tour and what you put out is to support the tour now. People are doing that all the time. There are a lot more people on the road. There are a lot more people to go see, and there are some fantastic artists out there. There are people who will blow your mind, how talented they are. They don't always get heard, but they are out there. How big they blow up depends on how much money they have behind them and who they know and all that kind of stuff.

MR: I'm wondering if there's a hint in what Playing For Change is doing, a paradigm for how artists should be relating to and interacting with each other in the future.

TJ: If you want the honest answer to that, it's "I have no idea." You're playing music, you get seen via the video, and maybe somebody will be attracted by that. That does happen. I'm not going to say that happens every day or happens a lot but it has happened. There is one word that I have to say is integral to making it in this business and it's called “luck.” I don't want to bum anybody out but as I said, we weren't trying to make it when we made it. We were just playing all the time because we really dug playing. It just so happened that somebody we knew got us involved with a recording studio and we made a demo. It got to Warner Brothers. Warner Brothers really dug the demo, they came up and listened to the band, and we signed with Warners. I don't think that kind of stuff goes on anymore, at least not that way. People are dedicated to making it. That's the endgame. That's the goal. I think music should be the endgame and the goal. The music you're making should be the most important endgame of them all. I don't care what genre it is. It doesn't really matter. I think the quality of the music you're playing, getting out there, and building a following should be what it's all about no matter what year it is. Hopefully, people will still approach this from that point of view.

MR: To that point, maybe everything fell apart in the music business because we put the emphasis on the product over the music.

TJ: There are a lot of people who'd go along with that. You know their names very well. But I really firmly believe—because I know that there are great musicians and singers and songwriters out there—it's just a matter of getting them heard. Because it's become so extremely overpopulated with people trying to do it, that doesn't always happen, and that's a shame. It really is. It's just finding the space to get it out there and get it to the people who need to hear it.

MR: What are you working on personally? What's happening on The Doobies’ front?

TJ: We're working, we've already started fooling around with another album. [laughs] I hate to use that word, because now it's become archaic. We're working on tunes. I never quit writing. It's my hobby, if you want to look at it that way. I have a studio at home and I've always got my stuff up and running when I get home and I get finished with the "honey do" list. I go up and just start laying down ideas. They might be all over the place, they might not be something The Doobies would ever use. It might be rock 'n' roll, it might be New Orleans-y, it might be R&B, it might be all over the map. I don't like to be limited in where I can go musically so I do stuff that goes quite a few places.

MR: Are you planning to put that music up online?

TJ: No, it's just up on my hard drive. That's where it lives.

MR: Do you get the urge for that to be your outlet? To somehow get that music out there?

TJ: Yeah, a lot! We'd love to do that as a group but doing it as an individual? I haven't tried that.

MR: But don't you just have to get it out there, let your songs live beyond the hard drive?

TJ: The biggest problem with all that is touring. We're on the road a lot. When I get home, I have a tendency to not do anything for the first three days. I just sit there and vegetate—well, maybe not that long, maybe a day and a half because then you have to start doing stuff that needs to get done around the house and pay bills and all the normal stuff. Then you can take some time to go up in the studio and see where you end up. As far as having the time to put it out, right now, everything's consumed by the band. When I was doing solo albums, I pulled away from the band. I wasn't in the band and that was all I was doing so I had plenty of time to do whatever I wanted. That was before the internet, before computers, before having music software and all the kind of stuff that really facilitates writing at a much higher speed—if you want to look at it that way—and also allows you to do a lot more stuff you couldn't do before, instrument-wise.

MR: What are The Doobies up to otherwise? You're going to be performing with The Eagles...

TJ: ...yeah, we've already done two of the classics—The Eagles, Steely Dan, and us on one day, and the next is Fleetwood Mac, Journey, and Earth, Wind & Fire. Both of them have already happened. I don't know if there's going to be more of those in the future with other people. I know we're doing one with just The Eagles at the end of this month and possibly a couple more down the line. I don't know if they've been booked. This is something new that just came about this year, and was brought about pretty much by Irving Azoff and company. It really was a lot of fun to do. You've got about fifty-thousand people out there in front of you inside of a baseball stadium. It's quite an event; it's really fun. The first one, we had to run off and do another show in Detroit, so we flew to LA after doing a show in Ohio and then got up, played the next day at the LA stadium. Then we got on a plane as soon as we got offstage and flew to Detroit and played there the next day so we didn't get to see anybody. The following one we did in New York and we got to hang around and watch Steely Dan and The Eagles, which was phenomenal. I didn't get to stay around the next day and watch the other three bands I mentioned simply because we had to fly someplace else but it was quite a deal. It was really well done. The production was top-notch and everybody played really well.

MR: Was Walter Becker there?

TJ: Walter was not there. Walter was ill, seriously ill by that point, although I didn't know that then and he's since passed away.

MR: Right, very sad. As I mentioned earlier, you bands have all known each other for so long, playing in the same circles together.

TJ: It's amazing in these last few years how many people left the planet. It seems like it's an accelerated rate but I still think it has to do with the age group. I'm not really sure.

MR: Or maybe it’s just who wants to stick around for the Trump years.

TJ: [laughs] It's a possibility. I don't know if anybody's really going to step on a rainbow for that account.

MR: One of my favorite periods for The Doobies was during Living On The Fault Line and Minute By Minute, that’s also when you guys backed Carly Simon, Nicolette Larson and others on their recordings. When you look at those years, all the records you guys played on individually and collectively, what is the mark that you feel this group called “The Doobie Brothers” have left on culture so far?

TJ: You know who judges that more than us? The people who listened and were aware of the projects you're talking about. I would say that because the band is a confluence of styles and always has been from the very start. No one came in and said, "We're going to do a concept album, we're going to go in this direction." Whatever kind of music you played when we started this band, you brought to the table. The guys who were writing the songs brought in blues, R&B, rock 'n' roll, what they now call “Americana” but I call folk blues, country, all that stuff, got thrown into the pot stirred together, and whatever came out was The Doobie Brothers. It still is that way. It hasn't changed and it'll always be that way. That's what makes the songs what they are and that's what makes the band what it is. If you go back to the early stuff, you take something like "Long Train Runnin'," that's an R&B kind of lick. At the same time, you've got Pat finger-picking over the top of it. You've got a drum pattern that is more rock 'n' roll than anything else and the lyrics being what they are--which I don't consider the best lyrics we've ever done--you put it all together and it's a song that might resonate with people. You might go to a song like "Black Water," which is a totally Americana kind of song that talks about New Orleans. You might go to something like "Another Park, Another Sunday," which is the good old story of breaking up with a chick but it involves kind of an R&B feel mixed with a whole lot of acoustic guitars, which is not normally done. Everywhere we go, we add all of these elements together and that's kind of what the band is about and will probably continue to be about. I don't see that ever changing. What we're going to leave people is a style that is unique to this band.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne





photo credit: Graham Becker

The band dada (yes, lower case) is celebrating their 25th Anniversary, and has recorded their first new singles in over a decade. According to dada drummer/singer Phil Leavitt...

“Think Yes meets The Police meets The 5th Dimension. I know, your head just exploded. We had just come off the road from the first leg of our 25th Anniversary tour in March and we were hot. That's always a great time to record...if you've got some songs. We didn't. Although we had just spent 6 weeks together rehearsing and touring the country we hadn't been in a recording studio together for almost a decade and the last time it didn't go so well. But like I said, we were hot from the road so...let's give it another shot.
“Any band that's been together for a quarter century has some baggage. That can make the creative process difficult. The past standing in the way of the future. We didn't talk about it. We just let it all go and got back to why we got together in the first place. The sound. Three people making a sound totally unique to us. We don't sound like anybody else. There's a great joy in that. That's what we focused on.
“We didn't have a lot of time. Only four days to get a couple of tracks before we all went separate ways. And remember, they weren't written yet.
“We went in to the Way Station in Coldwater Canyon with our great friend and Grammy award winning engineer/producer Dave Way. We jammed and came up with a couple of cool ideas. We got the first track "The Bluebird" in two days. Wrote the lyrics on the spot. The second track proved a little harder to nail down. I thought we needed a song that expressed our love of music and how it connects people. Joie had an idea and we kept working on it but it just wasn't right. Mike and I were talking about it needing something really different to set it up. He came in the next day with this intro that took it to a new place. That got us rolling. We put the pieces together and it worked. It sounded just like us.
"‘Take Me To The Song’ is the ‘lime’ side of our Limited Collector's Edition vinyl 45 pressed on lemon/lime virgin vinyl. It's available at dadaforever.com<http://dadaforever.com>”

dadaforever Tour Dates: Sept 2 Globe Hall Denver, CO Sept 5 Schubas Chicago, IL Sept 6 Southgate House Revival Newport, KY Sept 7 Diesel Pittsburgh, PA Sept 9 Café Nine New Haven, CT Sept 10 Once Ballroom Somerville, MA Sept 12 The Met Pawtucket, RI Sept 13 Rockwood Music Hall New York City Sept 14 The Wonder Bar Asbury Park, NJ Sept 15 World Café Live Philadelphia, PA Sept 16 Rams Head Live Baltimore, MD Sept 17 State Theatre Falls Church, VA Sept 19 The Norva Norfolk, VA Sept 20 Pour House Music Hall Raleigh, NC Sept 21 Smith’s Olde Bar Atlanta, GA Sept 22 The Merry Widow Mobile, AL Sept 23 House of Blues Parish Room New Orleans, LA Sept 24 White Oak Music Hall Upstairs Houston, TX Sept 26 Rockhouse Live Memphis Memphis, TN Sept 27 High Watt Nashville, TN Oct 1 Rogue Bar Scottsdale, AZ

Also included for your enjoyment...


<p>Bradley Walker / <em>Blessed</em></p>

Bradley Walker / Blessed

Bradley Walker's Blessed album artwork

Some of the top names in country, gospel and bluegrass, including Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, The Oak Ridge Boys and many more, are collaborating with an artist who works at a nuclear power plant by day, but has found success as a traditional country music artist. His upcoming album, Blessed: Hymns and Songs of Faith, will be released October 6.

A Conversation with Bradley Walker

Mike Ragogna: Bradley, congrats on your new album Blessed: Hymns and Songs of Faith! How did this come about? This is a dream project of yours, right?

Bradley Walker: It is. And I'm so fortunate to have Jimmy Fortune, The Oak Ridge Boys, Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, Rhonda Vincent, Charlotte Richie, Ricky Skaggs and The Isaacs on this record. I grew up singing and admiring many of those artists, so to be able to do this is all really just a dream come true.

MR: You recorded the CD with Ben Isaacs. What was it like working with him?

BW: I've known Ben Isaacs for many years, back to my bluegrass music days. That's kind of how I met his family. Ben and I have wanted to work together on an album for a long time, so when this opportunity came around, we went to Ben and thought that would be a great pairing to make this record. We had a blast. He is such a great mastermind when it comes to working in the studio. Ben knows where I come from, from a musical standpoint. So having Ben at the helm has been a very good experience and something that I've enjoyed very much.

MR: How did you choose the material? I imagine it was both of you choosing, right?

BW: It was. I wrote down a long list of hymns that I've always loved. We just tried to pick the best 12 or 13 songs. We knew we wanted this to primarily be an album full of hymns and familiar tunes people would know. We also knew that we wanted to include some new songs that people wouldn't know. My goal has always been to pick the best of the best.

MR: Where did the new songs come from?

BW: Well, we only recorded one brand new song. It's called "Say Something," and it's written by Tim Menzies and Sonya Isaacs. I had that song for about a year and just loved the message so we recorded it. And the other songs on the album that are maybe a little lesser known are songs that we both love, mostly from the bluegrass gospel world, like "Drifting Too Far from the Shore." Another newer song to a lot of people is a tune called, "Cast the First Stone," and that song was written by Joe Isaacs, Ben's dad. With this being produced by Ben, I felt like we needed to include that song and I'm glad we did. It's a great mixture of familiarity and some new songs thrown in.

MR: What are some details about the DVD?

BW: Well, the DVD was filmed at the Gaither Studios in Alexandria, Indiana. If you're familiar with Bill and Gloria Gaither, who are gospel music legends, this is on their label and part of their company.

MR: You're a DOVE-nominated artist. What was it like getting nominated? How did it feel?

BW: It's amazing. It's proof to me that when God's hand is on something, He takes it above and beyond anything that I could dream of. I could never even imagine having three DOVE nominations. To be in the same category with people like that is just amazing to me and it's just one of those things, you give all glory to God. It's not me, it's Him.

MR: So there wasn't a criteria for there to be Christian artists on this album?

BW: Exactly. I've always considered myself a country singer, I grew up on country music and grew up loving traditional country music and also bluegrass music. That's just the path that my musical career has taken. When Ben and I sat down, he said, "If you were shooting for the moon, who are the people you've always wanted to sing with and who are people who have influenced your musical style?" Alison Krauss... I've always dreamed of having my voice and Alison's voice together on something. We know each other and I consider her a friend so to have her on this record is a dream come true. Same with Vince Gill. He sang on my very first album, Highway Dreams. Ricky Skaggs is someone whose music I grew up loving—all these artists, Jimmy Fortune, Rhonda Vincent, The Isaacs. What they do is a representation of who I am. When you have a chance to make an album like this, at the end of the day, I wanted it to be musically a representation of who I am.

MR: The word "inspiration" is applicable because of the theme of the album but inspiration’s other definition also comes into play because these are people you were inspired by outside of the religious connotation, right?

BW: That's exactly right. They've all, at some point in time, been involved in gospel music. Vince Gill used to sing "Drifting Too Far from the Shore" with Emmylou Harris when he was part of the Angel Band. The Oakridge Boys started out as a gospel group. Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White and Alison, I would venture to say gospel music has always been a part of what they do. Maybe not that particular genre all the time, but gospel music is definitely a part of all these folks and what they have done through the years.

MR: It seems that at some point, there was a fork in the road where “Gospel” became separated from “Christian” music. I'm confused what happened within the genre. Can you educate me and readers about what the difference is or what happened in the history of Christian and Gospel music?

BW: This is all just one man's opinion, I'm definitely no authority on this. But I think there are different forms of Gospel music. With any genre of music, there are different forms. Gospel music, to me, would almost be any form of faith-based music. The term that you see a lot of times is "Southern Gospel." Bill Gaither's music and what he's been such a huge part of over the years is what's widely known as "Southern Gospel" music. It's a southern-flavored form of Gospel or Christian music. I just want to make great music. We don't always have to label the genre of music if it's good. My goal has always been just to make the best quality music that I can make that is in the style that I love. For me, that's gospel music with a country flavor to it. When you listen to this album, you're going to hear lots of steel guitar, lots of fiddle, mandolin and banjo on some tracks. It takes all those influences from the country music world and the bluegrass music world and we infuse all that into these timeless songs. And that accomplishes what I've always wanted to accomplish without trying to put a label on it.

MR: It seems that God and faith had a lot to do with getting you through life's challenges.

BW: Absolutely, no doubt. Personally, I don't know how anybody can go through life without having faith in something beyond this life. With the challenges that I've faced, I would not be where I am in life without my faith. I wouldn't wanna know what life would be like without it. The whole journey of being where I am now, making this music with Bill and Gloria Gaithers' blessing and with their belief in what I'm doing and being able to be talking with you today, that to me is all part of God's plan. I feel like I'm where I'm meant to be and where He wants me to be in making this music, and that's why I'm here. He's put me here to be able to be talking to you today about this music we're getting ready to release. I could have never imagined something of this magnitude and I feel like the good Lord has brought me here. I really do, no doubt at all.

MR: You have some health challenges.

BW: I was born with a non-progressive form of muscular dystrophy and I've been in a wheelchair my entire life. That presents some challenges, but it's all I've ever known.

MR: But you pushed through and you've had a full life regardless.

BW: Absolutely. I've been blessed. I work a full-time job, been working straight out of high school, pretty much. I went to work and had been working a full-time job while pursuing a music career at the same time, and that's a big reason why I chose the title of this new album, Blessed, because it's how I feel. I feel that my life has been blessed beyond anything I have ever deserved, and that's the other side to this that I've always wanted to convey with people. No matter what challenges you may be going through in your life, whether it be a physical challenge that you can see, like in my case, or other challenges people go through every day that you can't see. No matter what challenge you might be going through in life, with God, anything is possible. You can get through anything with the right attitude. With help from your family and the good Lord, you can make it through anything. That's the other message I always wanna try to send to people. You can make it through trial; you can make it through hard times with His help.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

BW: Well, the music world is changing so much. From a strictly musical standpoint and an artistic standpoint, stay true to who you are. I think that a lot of times people try to make singers and artists conform to what they want them to be, for whatever reason. But I think people are longing for something out there that's authentic, something that's real. Stay true to who you are, keep doing what you do and have that faith in God that He will put you where you're supposed to be. Be original and more than anything, have fun. I've always said if music wasn't fun to me, then it was time to do something else because at the end of the day it's supposed to be fun. If you enjoy what you do, other people will enjoy it, too.

MR: So do you imagine you'll be having some fun for a few more years?

BW: I sure hope so. Nobody knows what the future holds, but I hope that I can continue to make great music for a long time.

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