The music history archives are filled with stories about great songwriters, men and women who’ve contributed so much to the rich tapestry of American song, but who’ve never really been elevated higher than cult status as performers.
You know their songs. You might even know their names: From Jimmy Webb to Townes Van Zandt, from Kris Kristofferson to Iris DeMent to Wendy Waldman, Tom Paxton and Guy Clark. The list goes on and on.
Add the name of Tom Russell, who’ll perform an intimate concert Friday inside Craftsman House Gallery. Both Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen have named his “Gallo del Ciello” as one of their favorite songs.
Americana, that handy catch-all genre that certain people use to describe vaguely articulate story-songs, usually acoustic and folkie and sometimes with a country edge, has its own catalog, about the size of Sears Roebuck’s at Christmas. It’s packed page-by-page with top-tier singer/songwriters beloved by their peers, but virtually unknown outside of one of those niche channels on Sirius XM radio.
Russell, who’s been writing and recording since the late ’70s, has never had anything resembling a hit record, but his songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Doug Sahm, Nanci Griffith, k.d. lang, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Iris DeMent, Dave Van Ronk, Joe Ely, Dave Alvin and Ian Tyson, among others.
His The Rose of Roscrae was named “The top folk album of 2015” by England’s Mojo magazine, and lauded as “maybe the most important Americana record of all time” by UK Folk. The album made Top 10 lists the world over, including the Los Angeles Times’.
No less a songwriting giant than Bernie Taupin called Russell’s October in the Railroad Earth the best record of 2019; Russell himself described the songs and sounds as “Jack Kerouac meets Johnny Cash in Bakersfield.” Guests on the album included Bill Kirchen on lead electric guitar, Eliza Gilkyson on vocals, and the Grammy-winning Texmaniacs band.
He is the award-winning author of five books, he holds a degree in criminology (bet you didn’t see that coming) and taught Sociology in Nigeria during the Biafran War.
No less than Lawrence Ferlinghetti once said “Tom Russell is Johnny Cash, Jim Harrison and Charles Bukowski rolled into one. I feel a great affinity with Tom Russell’s songs, for he is writing out of the wounded heart of America.”
Tickets to Friday’s 7 p.m. Craftsman House performance are available by calling (727) 323-2787.