11 Questions to a Nashville Musician: Paul Burch

Paul BurchListening to a Paul Burch song can be an invitation to the past. Harking back to a traditional country sound, Burch freshen things up just enough to make him one of the Americana genre’s most revered and respected current artists. To get a good sense of his knowledge and respect for tradition, just look at records he mentions in this brief interview.

In addition to a dozen records over the last 20 years under his own name, Paul has also been involved many other great musical projects that have come out of Nashville. He’s certainly a go-to music man who is ready to answer the call from his many Music City friends. Paul Burch is a Nashville treasure and it’s been fun lately to see him branch out with things like his recent WXNA interview with Billy Bragg.

If he’s not playing solo, he is with his band which has one of the coolest names around: the WPA Ballclub.

Burch is not only loved in Nashville, but across the pond where I have British friends who seem to hear news about him before I do!

Over the years, his East Nashville residencies at the old Slow Bar and the current 5 Spot have become legendary. Keep an eye out and the chances are good that he’ll be playing a show around town somewhere. For a real treat, try and catch him pair up with his good friend and one-time Nashvillian, Miss Laura Cantrell, one of my favorite songstresses.

It’s an honor to have Mr. Paul Burch answer my 11 Questions.


Where are you from originally, when did you move to Nashville and why?

Much of my family is from the Washington D.C. area. I was born in the district, but I spent my childhood in Northern Virginia and rural Maryland in farmhouses: one the former home of Arthur Godfrey, and the other most certainly haunted. As a teenager, I lived mostly in Indiana with some time in Mississippi. I then went to Cambridge for several years performing with The Bag Boys and would bus to Greenwich Village to play solo at a club called the Speakeasy. I moved to Nashville in 1994 to be a recording artist. Wish granted. Except I forgot to tell the Genie that I wanted to sell them, too.

What are the first and the last records you bought, and where did you buy them? Were they CD, vinyl or digital?

The first record I recall buying was The Beatles’ Revolver probably at the age of eight or nine. But, records were often gifted to me prior to that. My Uncle Jim ran a discount record store and gave me Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Volume II which Bob put together and had what were new recordings with Leon Russell and Happy Traum. That came out in 1971 (I was five) along with John Prine’s first album.

The most recent purchase I made was a collection of Dinah Washington’s first albums on CD and Jimmie “Duck” Holmes’ It Is What It Is. Jimmie taught me Bentonia (Mississippi) tuning which he learned from Henry Stuckey who also taught Skip James. The most recent LP that I bought was Lee Morgan’s Sidewinder. But, Jon Langford just gave me his new album Four Lost Souls which is beautiful.

First and last live concerts that you’ve seen?

Jazz pianist Les McCann was the first professional musician I saw when I was probably six. Friends of the family were acquaintances.  He and his band were always very nice to me.  The most impactful concerts I saw in my youth were probably Bob Dylan on his gospel tour in Oxford, Mississippi and Jason & the Scorchers at the old 9:30 Club in Washington around the time of their first release.  The most recent would be last night. I saw Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, and Darlene Love in New York, and a couple weeks ago, the North Mississippi All Stars.

Whose star should be added to the Music City Walk of Fame?

Jim Ridley

Where do you go in Nashville for coffee and pizza?

I’ve probably had more coffee from Bongo Java than any other shop but Drew’s Brews is my favorite local coffee. 8th Avenue coffee is very tasty. Crema is tasty.  We enjoy DeSano’s pizza in our house.

What’s your favorite record to ever come out of Nashville?

There are two answers: Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny” and Robert Knight’s “Everlasting Love”.

As for the rest:

For singles, perhaps Gene Vincent’s “Be Bop a Lula” and any of the Johnny Burnette Trio records cut here. Red Foley’s “Midnight” and the Jimmy C. Newman and Kitty Wells records that Owen Bradley recorded in his living room are great. Johnny Horton’s “I’m Coming Home.”  Hank Williams “Mind Your Own Business” which I managed to sing backwards at Pete Finney’s recent wedding.  Sam Phillips briefly had a studio here and cut some great records there for Charlie Rich and Jerry Lee.  Jerry Kennedy’s productions are great. Is there a better country record than Jerry Lee’s “Another Place, Another Time”?  Everything Bill Porter engineered at Studio B. Elvis’ “Big Hunk of Love” with three lead guitars! Killer.

For albums, from the 50s, probably Marty Robbins’ Gunfighters would be at the top of the list along with the Everly Brother’s Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. I listened to Marty’s album quite a bit.  Lots and lots of Gospel from the 50s and 60s. The Radio Four’s “How Much I Owe” is tremendous. From the 60s, Etta James Rocks the House and all the other usual suspects. In the 70s, the Fabulous Charlie Rich is a favorite and Steve Miller Band 5. In the 80s, Steve Earle’s Guitar Town is hard to beat as is the Scorcher’s first record.  In the 90s, I like Tom House’s The Neighborhood is Changing. Raising Sand by Allison K. and Robert P. featured my longtime bandmate Dennis Crouch on bass. Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker is a great record. Fats Kaplin’s solo records and Phil Lee’s records made at George Bradfute’s house. Whatever Lambchop album “Cowboy on the Moon” is on. Anything that Mark Nevers recorded. The rough mixes of Beverly Knight’s record Music City Soul and the rough mixes of Vic Chesnutt’s Salesman and Bernadette are pretty great too before the hacks at their record labels started fiddling with them. I worked Beverly’s session.  She’s brilliant. She sang everything live, one or two takes.  She overdubbed one three-word line. Everything else was a keeper.  My favorite performance was probably Bobby Bare sitting on a couch showing us how we were going to play “Are You Sincere.” But the record we can’t hear any more that is probably lost forever is also a favorite: an acetate that Greg Garing owned of Jimmy Martin and Vassar Clements in a recording booth around 1950 or 51 performing “20/20 Vision.”

Where’s the best place to eat late night after a show?

My house.

The Bluebird calls and asks you to host an “In the Round.” Pick three local songwriters to join you.

Robyn Hitchcock, Jack White and Gillian Welch

What are your favorite music venues to play in town?

My dining room after a party or your dining room after a party!

Name a musician who you’d like to see move here?

Smokey Robinson. Kendrick Lamar. The Replacements. The Gallagher brothers.

Finally, what’s in your musical future?

More of all of it, I hope.

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