Charley Crockett taped his debut on Austin City Limits on Wednesday, July 27th, and those lucky enough to be sitting in front of their computers or phones at the time got an opportunity to see the entire taping stream live online.
What’s great about catching one of these tapings either streaming or in person is you get a full set of songs instead of what is culled down for the half hour television presentation, along with all the between-song banter, which sometimes can be some of the best parts.
That was the case for Charley Crockett, who after coming out to perform an encore song, told a story behind one of the songs from his upcoming album Music City USA, which is set to be released on September 17th. It’s also a story about signing his first record deal. The song inspired by the story was called “Are We Lonesome Yet,” and after first being reluctant to reveal the inspiration for the song, Crockett was goaded by the cheers of the crowd and opened up.
Crockett said that while the backstories of many musicians is embellished, if anything, his has been toned down. As a guy that rode trains and played street corners for years before anyone propped a microphone in in front of him, he has plenty of stories to tell.
Charley Crockett said:
I did build this from a Louisiana street corner. I did build this on the backroads. I sweat over every track in this nation—this great, beautiful nation. And it ain’t always pretty, but to me it’s beautiful.
And the first deal I ever signed was right off a train car in New York City believe it or not, in the canopies of the concrete jungle they call Manhattan. And I remember being in this office with this powerful, powerful person. And she was pounding her fists on the desk of her office, and she said ‘Charley Crockett, it’s a Coke and Pepsi world. It’s a Barnum and Bailey world. And I don’t know if you’re ready.’
And I said, ‘Well ma’am, I don’t know if I’m ready either.’
She said, ‘Charley, I just want moldability out of you.’
And I said, ‘Ma’am, I don’t even know what moldability means. But I don’t like it.’
And so she hands me this newspaper clipping out of The New York Times, and it was an article celebrating what would have been the 100th birthday of Woody Guthrie. And she give it over to me, she’s says, ‘You know what your problem is Charley?’ And I said, ‘No ma’am, but I figure you’re ’bout to tell me.’
And she gives me over the piece of paper and she said, ‘You just want to be Woody Guthrie.’ And I said, ‘Ma’am, that is the first and last compliment you ever gonna give me.’
I never did see her again, and I’m sorry for being the rough-around-the-edges young man that I was at the time … Well, I’m really not that sorry.
Then Charley Crockett performed the song “Are We Lonesome Yet” with just his acoustic guitar.
Big ‘ol city has sure been hard on me
Filled with people as far as you can see
Electric billboards selling what comes comes next
They’re really saying, are we lonesome yet?
Charley Crockett also said recently, “Bein’ raised up in Texas, Austin City Limits was the background to our lives. It was so far beyond my reach. Much like the Grand Ole Opry, maybe even more so. When they asked me in January if I was willing to do late night TV, I told em I didn’t care a lick about it. They said, ‘well what DO you want then?!?’ I replied ‘I just want Austin City Limits on PBS like Willie and George and Johnny and Freddy and Gatemouth!!!’ Two months later they put us on season 47.”
Hopefully when the actual Austin City Limits episode airs, they include Charley Crockett’s story. But if they don’t, it needed to be preserved somewhere for posterity. Perhaps there’s a little innocent embellishment in it, or perhaps it’s 100% true. But either way, it’s 100% Charley Crockett, who’s always 100% himself, which is what makes him so interesting and engaging.
Stay tuned for the date when the Austin City Limits episode featuring Charley Crockett will air.