Todd Snider – by Rob Nichols
If it wasn’t so true, Todd Snider would star in the movie.
The story of a kid who hitchhikes from the great northwest to Texas, is befriended by local music legends, learns to play guitar, and heads off on his own to conquer America.
But close the curtain and turn on the lights. There is no movie tonight.
Instead, Todd Snider will deliver the real thing. The lost art of living, sweating, screaming, testifying, American rock and roll resurrected.
Snider, with his band the Nervous Wrecks, brings his roadshow into Fort Wayne for a concert at Piere’s on Friday, June 26.
After some success in 1994 with “Talkin’ Seattle Grunge Rock Blues”, a minor hit from his first album “Songs for the Daily Planet”, Todd and the band have toured nearly continuously since. His writing has continued to be some of the best and most honest music of any genre. The new album, “Viva Satellite”, rocks more than either of his two previous records, while still maintaining a social concieus worthy of a man who has a singer/songwriter background of Snider’s.
“Viva Satellite is decidedly more rock (than past efforts),” Snider told Rolling Stone this month.”But I don’t think it abandons our Jerry Jeff Walker/Joe Ely side, which is where we kind of come from.”
On stage iswhere the album, not to mention Todd, comes to life. Even from the first listen, album sounded like it would translate well live. It does.
But Todd Snider could probably make you dance to lyrics taken from a Betty Crocker Cookbook. And he would probably put a Chuck Berry riff to it to help it along, no doubt.
Fans who are seeing Todd for the first time when he hits town Fridaywon’t see a man and a band looking to tell you their troubles. As Todd points out in his live show, “we didn’t come hear tonight to stare at the floor and tell you how everything sucks.”
“If really feel we’ve gotten to the point where we’re the best band you’re going to see,” Todd said in an interview last week in the El PasoTimes, while the band was on a swing through the state that provided musical wings for the Beaverton, Oregon native. Snider moved to Austin with his brother Mike when Todd was 18. He lived there until heading to Atlanta in the late 1980’s before landing in Memphis.
“I think we are highly underrated'” he continued. “We are a good time rock and roll band, and you don’t see that kind of thing anymore.”
But the phrase is too simple for these guys. “Good time rock band” almost sounds like a description for a bunch of guys who go out and play Rolling Stones and Lynyrd Skynyrd covers.
Which is what Todd and the Wrecks can do. They aren’t afraid to hit the stage blasting with “Long Haired Country Boy”, or “I’m Bad. I’m Nationwide”, or even the hidden track from the new CD, “I’m a Nervous Wreck”. If it rocks, it works.
The band just finished an month-long stint as the opener for blues kid Kenny Wayne Shepherd. From most accounts, the KWS fans were won over by the Snider’s enthusiasm and straight ahead Tom Petty-ish rock and roll that hit them for 50 minutes each night before their hero took the stage. An unusual bill, but one that undoubtedly won Snider some new fans, since he has yet to hit the jackpot in the music business by means of a big radio hit.
Besides “Talkin’ Seattle”, he earned some airplay with “Alright Guy” from the first album, and also with the second record’s (1996’s Step Right Up) first single “I Believe”, a bold statement of beliefs ala John Lennon chained to a CCR backbeat. The first single from the new album, a restrained screamer called “I Am Too” stalled after reaching the top 30 on the Adult Album charts.
Still a long road traveled for a kid who went to Texas searching for a little direction in his life.
After joining his brother Mike in Austin in 1984, Todd started playing solo gigs and open mike nights in the area, eventually hooking up with singer/songwriter Kent Finlay, who befriended Todd and let him move into his house. Todd stayed three years, learning to “make up songs”.
Snider soaked in the rich Texas musical culture, grabbing inspiration from gonzo-outlaw-party boy-genius songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker and folks like Joe Ely, Hal Ketchum, Billy Joe Shaver, Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen. All the influences mixed together and added to Snider’s Skynyrd-Dylan-southern rock soul result in a sound that’s both original and stolen. And it is a good thing.
We can hear touches of all of those artists in Todd’s music. But his point of view, as his song points out, makes everything alright.
“He is a helluva writer,” Rock 104’s Doc West said. “That’s the thing that impresses me. I met him back when we brought him to town the very first time (1994), and he’s great on stage.
But there is a great photo of him on his first album, laboring over a pad of legal paper. He’s a writer, and he’s a very, very good one.”
His new record draws obvious comparisons to artists like Petty, with it’s accessible lyrics and ringing guitars.
“That never bothered me,” Snider said, of comparisons. “When people come up to me and say ‘you remind me of John Prine’ or ‘you remind me of Steve Earle’, I just say ‘great’.
“But I’ve been playing since I was 20. I’m 31 now. And (I’m being) compared to Tom Petty. I love Tom Petty, so if that’s my big tag for life, that doesn’t scare me,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s true,” Snider told Rolling Stone. “I thing we’re better than them.”
Reverence and attitude. Two of the biggest factors going for Snider. He had enough attitude to get kicked off his first record label, Capital Records, after not allowing the record executives force him into a studio with a band other than his own.
So Todd went back to Memphis and played a solo gig every Thursday at a club called The Daily Planet. He found Keith Sykes, musician who was in Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band. Sykes helped Snider get together with Buffett and in 1993, Todd signed with Margaritaville Records, a new label Jimmy had formed.
Like Buffett, Snider creates a concert party. With ace guitarist Will Kimbrough, longtime bass player Joe Marienchek (be ready, Todd will have you yell Joe’s name at least once during the evening) and former Afghan Whig drummer Paul Bucheghanni (pronounced Buk’-in-yanni), the band’s purpose also involves spreading the gospel of homegrown rock and roll.
Snider will fire up the crowd. He will make them sing. Everyone will dance.
“Every night, it seems we are getting better,” Snider said. “I never know what’s going to happen, but I know that we’re out there connecting souls.”
So turn off that old movie projector. Open the curtain. Turn it up. Todd’s in town.
Todd rants and rolls – by rn
I remember my first time.
It was Indianapolis, on a snowy January night.
Todd Snider and his band was at playing at the Patio. The line stretched around the corner. All I knew was some song called “Alright Guy” had reached through my car radio speakers and grabbed me by the shoulders and said “Uh, hey buddy. There’s something cool goin’ on here.”
And it was that first live show that hooked me. It wasn’t just the music, which was gut-busting good. It wasn’t the just the words, which were cool to sing with Todd. No, it was something Todd did three times. Five times.
Ten times. Hell, I had beer. I don’t know how many times, in the course of the show, he’d bring the band way down, and over top a juicy groove, Todd would rant.
Beautiful part was he took the crowd with him during the story, building the suspense until the band exploded back into the song like a wrecking ball into a building.
It still happens. At every show.
Rant and roll. Just like the examples below, compiled from actual Todd Snider shows over the past couple of years, all voiced while the band played on.
A lot of people over the last year have listened to our music and some people have written about it. Some have called me a cynic.
A cynic? I am here set the record straight. I am not a cynic.
I believe in a better world. I believe the meek shall inherit. Until all of us stop counting on or blaming the rich white politicians to take care of us, and as soon as we turn around and make ourselves into a country instead of this big, fat beer commercial we have become, it will happen, sooner than later.
Memphis, Tennesee, 1996If you’ve ever seen us play before, you know we don’t like to leave until every single solitary person in the entire building is singing and has made unforgettable asses of themselves.
We make you the same promise we makes everybody. If you look straight ahead, and you let everything go and let yourself shake and let yourself do what you want to do, I promise when you wake up tomorrow and can’t quite remember what you did, please remember that you weren’t as big of a jackass as I was.
Bryan, Texas, 1997And then we get into a van and come to a town in Indiana where a bunch of people are wanting to connect in a spiritual sort of way.