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BEAT HAPPENING

Alterna-country pioneer Kevin Welch's music tells listeners all they need to know about the fledgling genre

Back home, Welch and his labelmates are starting to make an impact, which is saying something, considering the extent to which Nashville, with its country-music industry, is a company town. Welch says his major-label experience was nowhere near as dire as those reported by others, but he wouldn't trade it for his current situation. "(Warner Bros.) knew me pretty well when I signed over there, so they knew what they were getting into. They didn't have any real expectations that I was going to start bending over backwards to try to record something that I thought some radio programmers would like. And they didn't pressure me too much. But having said that, I'll also say that the experience I've had on an indie, and particularly since it's Dead Reckoning, has been really much superior. And I would not have at the time, nor would I now, dream of signing a major-label deal in Nashville, or probably anywhere. The company's healthy, and it's just a blast. We've got a whole bunch of new projects we're working on right now, and the future is looking bright.

"Part of the reason we're able to make it work is that we had no desire to have this stuff played on mainstream-country radio, nor were we under the illusion that that was gonna happen. Those (radio) guys will come right out and tell you that they won't play indie labels. A case in point was a few years ago when Alison Krauss had a huge hit with a Keith Whitley song. It was a single, and it wasn't on her usual label, Rounder (an independent). It was part of a tribute album that was on a major label. As a result of that — and I would love it if you would print this; I think human beings ought to know this story — she was named the Country Music Association Vocalist of the Year. Her very next record, her next single, was on Rounder, and they wouldn't even play it. And this is the Female Vocalist of the Year. So when we went into Dead Reckoning, we knew that's the sort of thing we were up against."

In addition to writing for his own albums, Welch has had his songs recorded by Trisha Yearwood, Waylon Jennings, Roger Miller and Wynonna. Welch is a little bit off the beaten path of the Nashville tunesmiths-for-hire, though he says he'd like to be a little more accessible on that front in the future. "I pretty much wait for ideas to hit me, and then writing a song takes as long as it takes," he says. "I'll keep doing it that way, but I need to be spending more time with a pen in my hand and a lump in my throat, just staring at a blank piece of paper. I can't say I'm not doing that without saying that I ought to be."

Kevin Welch
Peter Norby
Kevin Welch

When it happens that someone picks up on one of his hard-won tunes, it sometimes seems a marriage made to order. "The last song of mine Waylon cut was a song called "Untitled Waltz," Welch says. "The rest of that title, which he didn't put on the record, was "For the Poet William Stafford.' There's a story about William Stafford, that he had a habit of completing a poem every single day, start to finish, seven days a week. And somebody said, "What do you do if it's the end of the day and you're really tired and the poem's just not very good?' He said, "Well, I just lower my standards.' And I loved that story, and wanted to put it in a song somehow. It took me several years, and when I did, it was one of those rare times when I said, you know, nobody's going to cut this besides me and maybe Waylon Jennings. And that's exactly what happened."

Kevin Welch performs on Friday, July 30, at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room. Also on the bill are the Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers, featuring Mark Olson and Victoria Williams.

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