Last summer, I went on a river trip with a friend of mine, Travis, who should have a court-ordered tattoo that says: “Warning: I May Talk About Todd Snider.” Or at least the judge should have made him sign up for a registry that requires him inform anyone who gets on a raft for a four-day trip on the Yampa that he will, in fact, talk about Todd Snider. A lot.
Who: Todd Snider withRambling Jack Elliot
Where: The Commonwealth Room
When: Monday, Oct. 19, 2019
How: Tickets and info here.
It’s because of Travis that I’m on an early morning phone call with Todd Snider. Travis’s oversharing chatter was infectious and so I was curious to talk to the man who inspires such gushing devotion. Snider is friendly and laid back when he answers his landline from his home outside of Nashville, and I start out of the gate with the tattoo bit.
“Oh yeah I get that but don’t know what that’s about. I just get up and say what I mean,” Snider says chuckling. “I’m not out to change anyone’s mind at my show. What I do feels more like a dare. A folk singer gets up and says whatever he wants and that’s a dangerous thing. You don’t know who is in the audience, the brother of the girl you’re singing about could be out there or the boss man is there and you’re singing about unions. But that’s the deal.”
Todd Snider is a Troubadour, one of the last, a roaming drifter with a pocketful of songs, stories and a guitar. It is a tradition that goes way back, Guthrie, both Arlo and Woody, Utah Phillips, Dylan, etc. And it’s a hell of a thing to roam the Earth, like Cain, stand up in front of whoever and try and say exactly what you mean and not care if people get it (or don’t). It’s a compulsion, a calling, a lifestyle, a grind and the adoration and esteem his fans hold for him, points to the increasing rarity of Snider’s breed in the world.
“It’s a way of life,” he says. “It’s not a golden ticket, you don’t get to be Bruce Springsteen but it beats work. I don’t have a lot of responsibility; I just travel along.”
Snider once said that a folk singer needs to be able to set up in 15 minutes and get off the stage in 5, it’s a practical production thing but it’s also a philosophy for life. Snider doesn’t even carry keys or a wallet, much less a cell phone.
“A lean dog runs a long race,” he says. “The less you need the better.”
No phone, no pool, no pets. King of the Road.
He has no plans to slack off his nearly constant touring. He says his father died at 54 and now at age 53, every day he gets is fine by him.
“If I dropped tomorrow, I’d be at peace with it,” he says. “I never thought I’d get this far. I did a ton of drinking and drugs; I was in a dangerous band for a long time.”
That band was The Hard Working Americans, a “supergroup” with the bassist Dave Schools from Widespread Panic, Chad Staehly of Great American Taxi on keyboards and Duane Trucks, also from Widespread Panic, younger brother to Derek, on drums. In 2019, founding guitarist Neal Casal died.
“We lived that shit, we stomped on it,” he says. “Playing rock ’n’ roll is not as easy as it sounds. We did it the old-fashioned way. No one stopped ever. It was the band the whole time. I’d take acid for huge stretches at a time. You’d get off the bus to get a fucking snow cone and some hippie would be there and hand you drugs. I think that was the last opportunity I’ll have to live like that.”
Snider put most of that down a few years back. He quit drinking and everything else but the weed he smokes daily.
“I don’t regret it or feel ashamed of it, I just knew I didn’t like it anymore.”
These days Snider is nostalgic and ruminative, his latest album, Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3 delves into mortality, unfinished songs and the like. It looks back at the way things were and things that have just disappeared. Pay phones, cigarettes on airplanes the newspaper. And, he says, wistfully, rock ’n’ roll.
“Rock ’n’ roll kind of really seems be kind of gone,” he says. “Sure, there are folks making good rock ’n’ roll, Jack White, guys like that but it’s the lifestyle I don’t see as much. It was a tribal thing and there was an intensity and seriousness to all of it. There used to be this genuine drive to make a difference, not just entertain. When the Beatles sang ‘All You Need is Love’ they had everything in the world to lose but they said it.”
“These new bands don’t seem to hardly be saying anything in their songs,” Snider continues. “They’re good songs, clever but it just feels like a word salad sometimes. I know less about that songwriter than I did when I started. The only guy that I see out there just baring it all is Kanye West. He just took his pants down and left them down, I sometimes feel sad for him and I wish the best for him, but I say don’t change it.”
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