Stacey Zering

An Interview with the WorkHouse Poets: Part II of II

A band with 40 years of mileage has experienced just about everything. But for singer/guitarist James Manganello of the WorkHouse Poets, wisdom can arise from the most difficult of experiences. In our second part of our interview with the WorkHouse Poets, Manganello discusses life, death, and Waylon Jennings.



Q: What's the best gig you ever had? 

A:  I can tell you without hesitation that the best gig I ever had is a gig that we do every year in October. Me and the boys go up to the Sierras to a place that is very special to us. It is 800 acres of the most pristine wilderness in the Sierras. There is a cabin, built at the turn of the century, with no power, only solar, and some propane. It takes 30 minutes on a dirt road to get there. We go there for the weekend and write, sing, play, eat, and drink. I fancy myself as quite a chef so I usually will fix some sort of pasta dish, bring some good California wine, and other sundry items. Larry Elrod (vocalist/guitarist) usually buys steaks and cooks them. We do a live electric set for the neighbors on the deck with the help of a rather quiet generator. At night, after dinner, we bring out the banjos, mandolin, harmonica, fiddle, accordion and guitars, and play some of our favorite folk and blues songs. Then we put on some great music, get a little more drunk, and drift off to sleep. Usually we will have a crowd of about 15 or 20 neighbors. It is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and I feel very lucky, to be there with the band. Of all the varied gigs we have played, this is my very favorite. It sums up the love we have for music, this land, and each other.

Q: Would you consider any of your songs to be autobiographical? If so, which one is the most personal to you?

A: Before I answer this question, I think it's important to point out that while I write most of the songs in this band, we have another wonderful songwriter in Larry Elrod. He has been my brother in arms for over 40 years, and while his songs aren't as long or as tortuous as mine, they are filled with wonderful comments on the world we live. His song "Citizen Soldiers" is a heartbreaking take on folks like my old man, who fought in the Pacific, and his father and others. It is a song about another time in this country, when things were much simpler. Sometimes I think about our folks and how hard they fought to do what was right and provide for their families. It has always been a big deal.

I think the great songwriters in this country or the world for that matter, try to be subtle in their personal references, and we don't get to be in their heads when they create these works of art. All of my songs have a bit of me lodged down in the belly of the beast. Everything I write is run through the gauntlet that is my life. It's your job as the listener to try to figure it out, and it really doesn't matter. If a song moves the listener, then I have done my job. If not, then I’ll take pleasure in what it means to me. If one listens to some of my songs they can see the references. on our new cd, I wrote a song called "Hey Boy." I’ll tell you a little about that song. I feel like as we get older, as we move along on this journey, there are two really important issues. One is whatever you do, do not go up on your roof. That time is over. The other and much more important issue is, as we age, it is so important for our survival to fight off irrelevance. When I wrote this song, I had lost a couple of dear friends who meant so much to me. They were friends for many years. one of them, Pat O'Laughlin was the only person I’ve known who could feel my musical pulse, even though he wasn't a musician. All of my earlier journeys across this land, whether it was Newport, New Orleans, SXSW, the Salinas rodeo, listening to Johnny Paycheck and Buck Owens, Pat was my compadre. At the same time my daughter Jamie had her first child, and I was feeling the pull of the shifting sands of time, so to speak. The boys in the band think it's a sad sad song, but I see it more as a changing of the guard, and in the last verse I tell you, "It's not the singer, it's the song." It was one of those songs I brought to the band as a dirge, and they kicked it up, changed it musically into what it is today.

Q: What was it like sitting a table with Waylon Jennings? Did you say anything to him?

A: Waylon was somewhat troubled and trying to figure out his musical direction. No, we didn't talk about this stuff. I was 21-years-old. I told him what I have always told artists throughout the years when I have had the chance to talk to them. I tell them how honored I am to meet them, and that their music moves me. I always feel humbled and lucky to have a moment or two to spend with them. I do remember how slicked back Waylon’s hair was, and he wore one of those long leather braces on his wrist. I think he had just made an album called Nashville Rebel and was in his Bob Dylan phase. When you think of it, it was pretty amazing,

Q: What do you think of SXSW? I heard it's much different now than it was initially.

A:  You cannot underestimate the influence that SXSW has had on Americana music. It did what no other festival did. It brought out unknown young bands and gave them a platform to sing their songs. But the last time I went, it was ridiculous. I had to e-mail some folks from Austin on Craigslist, who offered to sell wrist bands, and I paid way too much. In addition, when some of the name acts appeared at some of the venues, wrist bands couldn't even get you in. I used to love to scan the SXSW website and plan out my itinerary, which had to have a schedule and a back-up schedule, but it was fun. However, I think for now I am done with SXSW, until they find a way to shrink it down. I wish them well though, as it has been a great musical adventure, and one that stands for independent music and folks much like us. Read Part I of II


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Tags: Americana, Bob, Dylan, Jennings, Poets, SXSW, Waylon, WorkHouse


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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by Kyla Fairchild Jul 6.