11 Questions to a Nashville Musician: Phil Madeira

Phil MadeiraI don’t know how you could be a music fan in Nashville and not have come across Phil Madeira. Like his good friend Buddy Miller, Phil is just one of those guys who has his hands in a bit of everything. Madeira is quite well-known as a skilled multi-instrumentalist and treasured session-player and band member. He first made his way around Nashville through the Christian music scene with his first serious gig as a member of guitar-wiz Phil Keaggy’s band. Since 2008, he’s been one of the Red Dirt Boys backing Emmylou Harris. As a songwriter, his cut list includes quite a list of Nashville notables.

In 2012, Phil really unleashed his creative side spearheading an ambitious collaborative project called “Mercyland” which he called a “welcoming, healing and inclusive kind of Gospel record”. This record included a Grammy-winning song he wrote for The Civil Wars, “From This Valley.” A live performance of the record at the Downtown Presbyterian Church was a highlight of the 2012 Americana Music Festival. Last year saw a second volume which featured another strong cast of local artists and again received critical acclaim

On his own, Madeira has made three solo records with a fourth, “Providence” soon on its way. And if being a musician, songwriter, recording artist and producer isn’t enough, Phil’s also written a book entitled “God on the Rocks: Distilling Religion, Savoring Faith.” I’m thankful that somewhere along the way this busy fellow found the time to tackle these 11 Questions.


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

I grew up just outside of Providence, RI, in a town called Barrington. I moved to Nashville in 1983 to pursue a career in music. I didn’t mean to, but wound up in Christian music for about ten years. I made a lot of great friends, but the fit wasn’t right. Eventually, I met Buddy Miller, and he started using me live and in the studio. That wound up leading to my current gig with Emmylou Harris and Her Red Dirt Boys.

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

My first record was The Byrds Turn! Turn! Turn!​ Vinyl was the only choice back then. I loved The Byrds and still do. My dad was a minister, and it took a while for my parents to get used to their son listening to rock ‘n’ roll. I might have snuck this record into the house, except that the lyrics to “​Turn! Turn! Turn!” were from Ecclesiastes. It was an easy sell. The last record I bought was Song for My Father by the Horace Silver Quintet on CD. I was at dinner one night, and the woman I was with suggested we listen to Horace. I’d never really gotten into it before, but I love his Latin-influenced jazz.

First and last live concerts that you’ve seen?

The first concert I attended was Peter, Paul & Mary at the Providence Arena (I think that’s what it was called). I don’t remember the music, but Paul (Noel Stookey) was really funny. My dad took my brother and me; I was in the 8th grade. The last concert I attended was Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams at The Basement in Nashville. I sat with my dearest friend Sirkka Wood. It was moving and poignant. The sad songs are always the best ones; my saddest song is “Maybe”, written by Gordon Kennedy and me. Alison Krauss and Garth Brooks both recorded it, back when you could actually make some real money in this business!

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

Well, I dunno what the limitations are for this walk of fame, but Ringo recorded here. Put Ringo’s name on the dang thing. Or how about Bob Dylan? Where the heck is the Walk of Fame?

Where do you go in Nashville for coffee and pizza?

I live next to Bongo Java on Belmont and love the staff there. If I forget to make iced coffee when I go to bed, I jump over to Bongo and I’m good to go. For pizza, that place on 16th near the naked statue is pretty good, but I really don’t eat much pizza. Pizza is a scam, people. What I really love is the meat and the sauce. The bread is worthless. Kind of like music business bread!

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

Wow! What decade? I guess I’ll say Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline. Does Emmylou’s Wrecking Ball count? I think it was recorded mostly in New Orleans. What a record.

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

PM Restaurant on Belmont. It’s about 20 paces from my apartment, and they stay open fairly late. Plus, it’s obviously named for me.

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

Well, the Bluebird actually does call me once in a while. I put together a great round last September with Will Kimbrough, Kacey Chambers, Emmylou Harris, and me. Not a bad line up. The Bluebird really is an important club, and not just because it’s on the show Nashville. So many great writers cut their teeth there.

What are your favorite music venues to play in town?

The Ryman is always fun. Bluebird Cafe. Station Inn.

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

My pal David Mansfield (Bob Dylan, Sting, Bobby McFerrin, Alpha Band) needs to be down here. This town would be perfect for Dave, and he’d be a real asset. David plays just about anything with strings: guitar, steel, fiddle, viola. It’s a long list. He’s very, very proficient. He also is a legitimate string arranger and film composer, not to mention being a lovely guy.

Finally, what’s in your musical future?

Well, my record ​Providence​ comes out April 6th, and I’ll do some promoting of it. I’m pretty excited about these songs. But, I’m already writing the next solo record, what can I say? Red Dirt Boys are also finishing a new record. We’re Emmylou Harris’ band: Will Kimbrough, Bryan Owings, Chris Donohue and me. Of course, we’ll be out with her this summer and fall. We don’t mind kicking ass, and the new record is really top drawer. But for now, I’m happy for people to know about ​Providence


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