Mickey Newbury

"Stories from the Silver Moon Cafe"
  A fan's comment
By Hank Beukema

From the opening eight syllables that Mickey Newbury sings on The Silver Moon Cafe, I immediately felt relief and exhilaration....Quite alot for eight syllables...Here's the deal...

        Sometimes we put our heroes on such high pedestals, all they can do is fall, or if they don't fall all the way, sometimes they slip... C'mon, everybody gets older, everybody gets tired, everybody at some point has given everything he had to give and just plumb run out, both of energy to do it, and of something to say... I can remember watching Mickey Mantle in his final year of 1968, sometimes wanting Not to watch or to turn my head away... The higher the pedestal we put 'em on... Well, in those first eight syllables, singing, "There's a blue moon in Kentucky," I knew I had not lost another hero; I knew the pedestal still stood, tall and proud... For I heard That Voice, with all its world weary pain, all its beauty and joy, and all its unmistakable dedication and energy to perform the task at hand...

        Mickey begins, then, another series of Stories of America, stories of the backroads and the trains, the bedrooms and the roads...; filled with unforgettable characters that sometimes don't even care where they go, as long as it's somewhere... People who find truth in their lies, love in their shadows, and anger in their sadness... People who "have a longing for a pure and simple time when all we had between us was a dream and one thin dime." People who cannot even turn in the direction of their memories, let alone face them... All are Real people, but some are even ones that we know; Louis Armstrong, Lefty Frizzel, and Hank Williams become brushstrokes in the artist's palette....Mickey talks about a storm comin' that he can feel in his belly and in his gut, a storm that will eventually lead to a brighter day, but in the meantime we better "gather up the children and head for higher ground." He leaves us with a father praying for his son and his woman, that they may find truth and love, and eventually peace...

        Mickey Newbury has shown up, here in the year 2000, with all of his skills intact; his voice, angelic and ethereal at times, raw and gritty at others; his music, possibly prettier and lovelier and sweeter than ever before; and of course, his stories, his paintings, his photographs of you and me and the people we would be or could be or sometimes would never want to be; they're all here in these thirteen Stories of America... but what is also here is the story of Mickey Newbury, a hero who never wanted to be, an idol who just wanted to write and sing, a man with all of everything he ever brought to the game still evident and still as vital as when we first Came To Hear The Music those thirty some years ago... Stories From The Silver Moon Cafe will stand forever as a testament to the man who formed it, and shaped it, and to those of us who, in finding our heroes, find ourselves....

-----------------------------------Visit Camp Buckman

Mickey Newbury
 conducted by: Jodi Krangle 

 Mickey Newbury was inducted into the the Nashville Songwriter's Hall of Fame in 1980
 - and for good reason. 

 From his web site: 

      Newbury's songs have been recorded by Ray Charles, B.B. King, Bobby
      Blue Bland, Jerry Lee Lewis, Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson and Joan Baez,
      among others. He once had four songs simultaneously in the R&B,
      Country, Easy Listening and Pop Charts. He is perhaps best known for his
      composition "American Trilogy", a pastiche of Civil War-era songs also
      recorded by Elvis Presley. 

 He gave a wonderful interview. It's quite clear that, thrumming through his words like  a heartbeat, is a continuing love for the process of writing songs - no matter where  that takes him.

 Question: When did you first start writing songs and what prompted you to do so? Do  you have a musical background? 

 The first song I wrote and had published was titled "Just As Long As That Someone Is  You". It was written in 1959, and recorded in 1965 by Jimmy Ellege. I started writing  songs because I wanted something of my own to sing. I, at that time, was not aware  that the songs I heard on the radio were not written by the folks singing them. I had  always loved poetry, and found it easy to integrate a melody with poetry. 

 I have had no formal musical training. I took violin lessons as a child. I played so badly  I was asked to sing instead at a Christmas show. That was my first performance. I  have not stopped singing, since. In 1954, I started singing with a group named the  Embers. We had our first record contract with Mercury Records in 1956. I sang with  that group until 1958. I dropped out, and went into the military in 1959. After being  discharged in 1963, I started writing again. In 1964, I signed a publishing agreement  with Acuff-Rose Publishing, in Nashville, and I have continued to write. I have  recorded for several labels, producing 18 albums over the past 35 years.

 I was not a touring artist, preferring to write and record as much as possible. I have  had two releases a month, by other artists, for the last 35 years. 

 Question: That's quite a record, Mickey! Can you tell us something about the  business behind that? By that, I mean: how do the publishers and/or recording artists  go about getting the right to record your work? How did you get your work to them in  the first place? Have those methods and those agreements changed over the years?  And if so, how have they changed? 

 It is a publisher's responsibility to copyright, protect, exploit, and collect: although in  many instances they fall soundly short. In my case I was affiliated with the largest  publishing company in Nashville, when I, in 1964, arrived. It was a very satisfactory  arrangement for the first few years, until the record industry started their own  publishing companies. The incestuous nature brought on by that union, made it very  difficult, if not impossible to have a song reviewed by a producer. I, personally, had  the majority of my "covers" from artists listening to my albums, when I was actively  recording. Acuff-Rose had less than 50% to do with getting anything cut for me. 

 A publisher has what is known as the "first right of refusal" which means I can choose  the first artist who gets to cut it. After that onetime exclusion, it becomes public  domain, and can be cut by anyone, with nothing more than a licensing agreement with  the publisher. The rate is a statutory rate, set by the Patent and Copyright Office of  the US, which leaves me no control over who cuts the record or the payment for that  right.

 Question: What song of yours do you consider to be the most successful and why?
 (This doesn't have to mean financially... However you've come to judge these things  over the years.) 

 I consider "San Francisco Mabel Joy" to be the most successful song I have written,  for several reasons. First, it was a five minute song written in a two minute world. I  was told it would never be cut by any artist. Second, I was told you could not use  the term 'redneck' in a song and get it recorded. It has sold in excess of 55 million  records. It broke the rules and it broke the walls down. It became the foundation for a  new form of expression in country music. It was chosen in the millennial year as one of  the top 100 folk songs of the past century. 

 Personally, I like "Doggone My Soul, How I Love Them Ol' Songs" 'Tis a fine line I walk.

 Question: So what are your thoughts on "going against the grain", so to speak? When  do you think it's a good idea to take the chance and when do you think it's better to  "fit the mold"? Have there been particular times in your life when you did something to  "fit the mold" and then were disappointed that you did? 

 It depends on whether you are a singer/songwriter or a songwriter/singer. In my case  I chose to focus on writing. I would perform just enough to get feedback from the  audience to insure a fragile thread was left unbroken. My captive audience, unlike the  radio or dance audience, was the only audience I made any attempt to reach. In  other words, Jodi, I tell my audience stories, and have no desire to be background  music for conversation, dance music in a lounge, or the latest fad. 

 Question: That's an extremely valid (and honest) answer, Mickey. Thank you. On a
 different note (pun intended), How do you deal with writer's block? Do you experience  it? Do you believe it exists? 

 I never have "writers block". I consider that a "time of gathering". Now, I will admit
 there have been times when sleep depravation released a torrent of writing, but  unfortunately not the best. 

 Question: (This is actually the current songwriting survey question and I thought I'd  get your perspective on things too...) Have you been following the  RIAA/Napster/Scour debates at all? How do you think songwriters will be affected by  it? And do you think copyright law as we know it, will survive the evolution of the net?

 I would sooner be robbed by a fan than a company. The fan may be broke and have  but one choice. There is no excuse for the way the "songwriter" is robbed by  everyone from the record company to the broadcaster, by the pure bottom line...  Greed. If it continues, sadly, in time, the music will suffer. It takes many many years  to learn how to write a song properly. Songwriters will be forced to hit the road in  order to make a decent living and in my opinion these two careers are related but not  compatible. 

 Question: In your opinion, how is it that the songwriters are being robbed these
 days? Who are the worst offenders (I mean, in general - not particular companies)  and is there any way, do you think, to prevent it? 

 I have no control over my music. The Government tells me what I am to be paid for  my work and for how long. If a songwriter had the same cost of living increase from  the 1930's that the legislature seems to always find for its members, I could afford to  hire someone to sit here and type these answers. I find it very strange, how long the  performance societies have escaped the same charges Bill Gates is facing now, and  AT&T faced some years back. With the world now connected via the internet, there  can be no doubt what song and at what time any song is played at any time and  place in the world. SO! I now step down from my apple box. 

 Question: What are you doing these days, Mickey? What's in store for you in the  future? What projects are you excited about that you're working on now? 

 I have always chosen short, attainable goals. There may be no future. I once thought  30 was old... Well, I'm afraid I've seen many decades go by since then. Remember  "Never Trust anyone over Thirty". So long ago...and yet ..only yesterday. Here I am  at sixty; I still love to write. I love words... wrapped in music. It's funny; I detest  letter writing and yet, I so dearly love song writing. So, I will continue to write songs,  I suppose until my last breath. I will record until I cannot hear...phrase a line...or...no  longer love this most selfish mistress. 

        More information on Mickey Newbury can be found on his web page.