I recently had the honor of interviewing one of the greatest songwriters and most underrated musicians of our time. A man that I have greatly admired for years, one who has a big heart and loads of passion for his life and his music. Here is my interview with the wonderful Roger Alan Wade.
Alex Obert: As some may know, your cousin is Johnny Knoxville. How have you bonded with him over music throughout the years?
Roger Alan Wade: That’s been one of the sweetest things about doing this. And it’s been effortless. We both are just true fans of music, it’s all I know how to do and all I’m good for, really. He has been supportive and inspiring, just a real ally. Man, he’s just a true fan of music and he’s dead serious about it, as someone who truly appreciates music. I don’t know that I know anyone that’s as genuine a fan and his instincts are impeccable. You’ve gotta have somebody you trust, as a writer and a singer and a player, you’ve gotta have somebody you trust. And he’s the guy that I trust enough to make records good. When I’ve got something I wanna run by somebody musically, he’s the guy. He has a great ear, a true love for it, and he is brilliantly and beautifully honest. He doesn’t spare my feelings at the expense of the work and of the music. He’ll be honest because he loves and cares about the music. Man, it’s a shame it’s so rare, but it is. It’s a very rare thing and I treasure it, man. It has been what I’m most grateful for, having access to his brilliance and his honesty.
Alex Obert: When did you realize you had a gift for songwriting?
Roger Alan Wade: I can remember even as a young, young child, having a real fondness for poetry and poets. I’m not certain that it’s due to a love of art or my pension for laziness and lack of ambition. It sounded like a really fun way to get through. But I always remember being fascinated by Emily Dickinson and Wordsworth and Longfellow, all these poets I would discover as a child. I still think about it at times, I remember even as a kid, writing couplets and just trying to express yourself in a compact, clear way. And in an honest way. As far back as I can remember, I would always have a snippet of paper or a scrap of paper and writing something on it. I never really thought anything else of trying to do it any other way. I always felt like I never could explain what a writer was, but I knew that it was more than pencils and paper and spelling and punctuation. I knew it was all about what you’re feeling, not even what you’re thinking, getting honest to the point that it makes you uncomfortable. And it’s always been that way because when others teach to write, the emphasis is always on punctuation and spelling and all the rules. I never understood that part. I have never not understood what a writer truly is. Write about what makes you uncomfortable, what makes you scared. To hell with punctuation, out with all the rules, man. You can teach a monkey that stuff, but you gotta learn to feel.
Alex Obert: When did you first give singing a try? How did that come about and lead to you realizing, “Hey, I can sing!”?
Roger Alan Wade: I used to think I was a lot better than I was. And now, I’ve got to a point where I’m comfortable with my singing. I never was that taken with myself as a singer, but I got listenin’ to Mick Jagger, for instance. He sounds the same now as he did forty years ago and he just got comfortable with the way he sounded and just rolled with it. The only thing I knew about singing was that I liked to do it. I loved the way Townes Van Zandt sang and the way Kris Kristofferson sang. And Willie. And Dylan. Woody Guthrie even. Guys that are maybe not viewed as classically good singers, but they sound like some cat you would talk to in a cafe with nobody else around. And it’s the way they would tell you a story. It’s a means of communicating, rather than some sort of sonic gymnastics to show off your chops. I like them cats that use it just as a means of communicatin’. I would rather consider myself a communicator than a singer. I don’t have those chops, so to speak. I don’t wanna. I think it gets in the way of the story. I always thought I could sing, but I didn’t know anything about tone and time and all the things that make you a singer per se, but I would think about how my grandfather would tell a story. He’s a fascinating storyteller. And then I’d just try to do that in time and meter and get as close to a note as I can, but I try not to get caught up in it where it ruins my singing.
Alex Obert: One singer in particular, how did you develop a relationship with Johnny Cash?
Roger Alan Wade: I had the sweet fortune of writing for the same publishing company as my friend Rosey Carter Cash. This was when Johnny Cash wasn’t at the peak of his popularity. He had gone into a bit of a lull in the early eighties and he wasn’t in vogue at the time. It never occurred to me that he wasn’t cool or in vogue, he was always like Elvis to me. I can remember they called me in the office one day and I didn’t know who Rosey was, but they introduced us. And we got to talking and I didn’t know who she was or where she came from. She asked me, “Who do you like?” And I was like, “Man, Johnny Cash!” I want Johnny Cash to record my songs, which would have made you about thirty bucks at the time, whereas Kenny Rogers would make you a half million, but I didn’t give a damn about that. I was like, “I’d rather have Johnny Cash recording my songs.” I came in the next day and June Carter was with Rosey, I come to find out that Rosey was John and June’s daughter. We became very dear friends and just played music all up and down the line and John and June would have me up there at their house with them they’d let me drive around Mother Maybelle’s Cadillac. No one would ever let me drive because I wasn’t a very good driver, but they let me drive in style. Rose would stay down here at Mom and Dad’s and I’d just come and go at John & June’s and it was a really cool time and I remain grateful for that. They always treated me well and they left me with more stories than I could ever tell. I have fond feelings and fine memories of Rose and John and June.
Alex Obert: I’d love to get your thoughts on Johnny Cash’s cover of Hurt.
Roger Alan Wade: It’s hard for me to be objective about Johnny Cash because anything he does, I’m automatically on his side and I automatically think it’s awesome. I personally love it, but like I said, I can’t be very objective about it because anything he does, I’m all for it. But I think one of his wonderful qualities is that he can do anything by anyone and turn it into a Johnny Cash thing. In my mind, that’s just another fine example of him putting his brand on something.
Alex Obert: Getting into covers, what are your thoughts on the two covers of If You’re Gonna Be Dumb, You Gotta Be Tough by Smut Peddlers and Karen O?
Roger Alan Wade: When I list people that have recorded my songs, I’ve always included them because I’m just a huge fan. And Smut Peddlers are just great cats and I was truly honored by that. I consider Karen O covering If You’re Gonna Be Dumb, I consider that to be right in there with Johnny Cash or Waylon Jennings or anybody that’s ever done my work, that means as much to me as any of those things. I’m as proud of that as anything that’s ever happened to me musically, someone like Karen O that I respect so much as an artist to do that.
Alex Obert: That song was featured in Jackass The Movie, but aside from Johnny, what’s your relationship like with the other guys?
Roger Alan Wade: Man, one of my things that I’m most proud of Johnny Knoxville for is the way he treats others and his basic goodness. He’s been so good to me and I’ve seen him be so good to others. The rising tide raises all ships and for him to share that tide with so many has been awesome just to watch, how many folks have been positively effected by him chasing his own dream. It’s really had a great effect on others. He’s done so many wonderful things for me, it’s hard to single out any one, but one of the nicest things he’s ever done for me was introducing me to his friends, all those cats, the Jackass boys. They have all, each and every one of them, has always treated me with total love and total respect. I count each and every one of them as dear friends. I pull for ’em, man, it’s so nice to see them doing good. Just to have been introduced to them and exposed to that wonder of it all, man, has been one of the sweetest blessings of my life. I’m very grateful for it. They’ve always been good to me and I count them all as friends and I’m very blessed to do so.
Alex Obert: I must ask, would you ever do any of their stunts?
Roger Alan Wade: No, I don’t have the nerve. Man, I respect what they do. It amazes me to see so many imitators, but you never see anybody pull it off with quite the magic that those cats do. There’s just some little intangible that they bring to it. From all the imitators and everybody else and all on YouTube you can find, boatloads of people trying to do it, but there’s this magic that they bring to it. And man, I’m leaving that to the pros, to the masters.
Alex Obert: Getting back into music, I would love to get into some song titles of yours and get to know the influence behind them.
Roger Alan Wade: Absolutely.
Alex Obert: If Guitars Were Guns.
Roger Alan Wade: Man, I had this fascination with guys that live by the gun. Not modern day cats, but guys out there as it’s you against the world. It’s gotta be scary and run a chill up your back to just be on your own to that degree. I spend a lot of times thinking about those things and trying to make up stories about it or thinking about old stories about it. And it was kinda like that’s all they had and they made it through. Not to get off the subject, but pretty good gunfighters don’t last too long. You never hear about, “Hey, what happened to ol’ Montana Slam? He was pretty good.” You don’t hear about that cat very long. If you’re a good gunfighter, you’ve gotta go for it. So you’ve gotta kind of respect that and it kinda seems like there’s parallels to that and trying to make a goal of it with a guitar too. Most of the time, there ain’t nowhere to hide and you just gotta lay it out there. It just seemed like a quick and compact way to get that across. It’s a showdown for the most part. The only difference is in music and with guitars, you gotta get used to losin’ because the rejection rate is pretty serious. If you had that kind of failure rate in gunslinging, you’d be one of them guys that you never hear about no more. But you’ve gotta bring the same nerve to it.
Alex Obert: You Turn The Key (On My Rack Of Spam).
Roger Alan Wade: I have always been fascinated by how Spam was packaged and how they did it so elegantly. It comes with that little key and you gotta hook it in to the little metal thing and roll it perfectly all the way around the container. And it just seemed like a really complicated way to package what’s basically a big wad of bologna. I never understood why they did it and put all that trouble into it, but it seemed like it deserved to be used as a metaphor for love.
Alex Obert: Stoned Playin’ Pinball.
Roger Alan Wade: I wrote that with a friend of mine named Tom Grant and we were just kickin’ around ideas. At that point in my life, I was pretty much convinced that pinball should be an Olympic sport. I was just trying to pay tribute to one of the great games ever invented. I think that song’s been recorded a few times. It had never been a hit, but to me, it puts the whole honky tonky hillbilly experience into three words, Stoned Playin’ Pinball. In a nutshell, that was my life.
Alex Obert: Chicken Song.
Roger Alan Wade: Man, we were riding up the road one day and my publisher at the time, Dan Bowen, he was giving me a ride to Nashville. He was never very enthused with my approach to business because I was just pretty much, “Whatever.” (laughs) He thought I was an idiot. And he mumbled one day about how a chicken wakes up to a new world everyday. He was kind of referring to me and I thought, “Man, that sounds like a song!” I ended up gettin’ real lucky and writing the rest of it down, just making up a story around it. And it turned out pretty good.
Alex Obert: Cowboy Angel.
Roger Alan Wade: I wrote that with my daughter, Shandy Dixon, who’s one of my favorite writers ever. We loved Gram Parsons and I think we started out writing about Gram and ended up writing about more what I was going through at the time. And she was an eye witness to it all. If I had to pick a favorite, that would be right at the top of the list. That song means something different to me every time I hear it. I was going through it and she was an eye witness to it. We got that song down as well as it could have been written.
Alex Obert: The Sun Don’t Shine On The Same Dog’s Ass Everyday.
Roger Alan Wade: I dunno. I still don’t quite understand that one myself. It was written for Johnny Knoxville’s birthday. One of the true pleasures of my life is getting to do The Big Ass Happy Family Jubilee on Sirius XM Outlaw Country with him every week. And one of the shows we did, it was his birthday, and what do you get Johnny Knoxville for his birthday? I mean he don’t care about fancy stuff. So, I sang him “The Sun Don’t Shine On the Same Dog’s Ass Everyday”. Just kinda making it up as I went along. The song consists of me trying get some donuts for Knoxville for his birthday. In the verses of the song I make a few phone calls. To Johnny Cash and Waylon and Neil Diamond and Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, and then finally call Willie trying to sell this song about a dog’s ass so I can get my cousin some donuts. It’s just a tall tale built around how a fella’s luck can swing from day to day.
Alex Obert: In closing, I’d like to hear your take on this, what do you have to say to those who want to go after their dreams?
Roger Alan Wade: That’s the only thing that we’re doing. I read a thing today that really explained it to me is if you look outwards, you dream, if you look inwards, you awaken. And so I would say chasing those dreams is a worthwhile way to get to the point where you can look inward and awaken. It’s really the only way to get there because if you don’t do it, you’re always gonna be wonderin’ what you’re missin’ and you’ve gotta chase ’em down to find out that it’s all inside all along. If I could make mention of my grandson, Roland Dixon, and his band, Sparkle Motion, I’ve gotten to play with them some and for me, that’s a dream gettin’ to play music with my grandson and his pals in Sparkle Motion. Of all the dreams I got to chase, man, this is the sweetest one. I wouldn’t have appreciated it before I chased some other dreams, I’d be thinkin’, “Man, it’s out there somewhere.” There’s this magic, untouchable thing, but it’s right there, it’s right in the palm of your hand. But the truth to it is very few people can realize that until they go out chasin’ their dream and it’s worth the chase to figure that out. I wouldn’t trade dream chasin’ for nothin’, man. It’s the only ride worth buyin’ a ticket for.
Roger Alan Wade with Sparkle Motion
Roger is playing Chris Pontius’s custom built “National Resonator” with his name, “Pontius”, inlayed at the 12th fret.