11 Questions to a Nashville Musician: Michael Shaw

Michael Shaw (Photo by Greg Kuchik)Photo by Greg Kuchik

If you read this Q&A with Nashville singer-songwriter before listening to his music, you likely will (1) hope that he writes songs as fine as he answers these questions and (2) suspect that his love for Waylon might label some of his music as “Outlaw.” Well, the answer for both is yes! Listen to the drop-dead gorgeous title track of his new LP, “He Rode On” for proof for #1, and the lovingly silly “Bad Honky Tonker” for #2. As for the latter, Shaw describes it as “The Bastard Love Child of Keith Richards and Dwight Yoakam.”

My warning to Country music fans is not to pass up this record which is now streaming everywhere. Serious about recapturing the class Country sound of the 60s and 70s, Michael recorded the record live to tape with the band all in one room in producer Grant Siemens’ hometown of Winnipeg.

Thanks much Michael for great tunes and one of my favorite 11 Questions I’ve had the pleasure to serve up. Hope to see you around town one of these days!

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

I’ve lived in seven states. I moved around a bit growing up, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio…. but it wasn’t till I moved to Montana that I found home. I lived there longer than anywhere and had a great life where I worked as a backcountry ranger in Glacier National Park and rode around on horseback in remote Northern Rockies wilderness amongst grizzly bears, wolves, mountain lions and other wild creatures. I played in a hard-driving outlaw country band that performed in Montana saloons and bars for rowdy crowds of authentic people who loved to rodeo swing dance and cut loose. Our favorite place to play was a log cabin bar out in the woods without cell reception. Everyone was there to party and the people were fully present, not on their phones posting on Instagram or whatever. Great fun. I paddled wild whitewater rivers and fly-fished blue-ribbon trout streams out my back door and skied uncrowded western slopes through deep untouched powder and spent winters on an isolated horse ranch where I wrote songs and prose and watched bald eagles fly up and down the Blackfoot River all day long.

At some point I grew tired of living in paradise and longed for traffic and concrete and steel and sweltering heat and turmoil and strife. I dreamed of eating at Biscuit Love and having my picture taken with the Taylor Swift wings. From thousands of miles away I heard the Woo Girls calling me forth like sirens in a Greek tragedy…. Also, I recorded an album and thought it might have more success if I left the wilderness for a bit and lived somewhere where I had cell connection and there was a music industry presence. I moved to Nashville just prior to COVID. Amazing timing on my part!

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 neither CD, vinyl, nor digital. It was what archeologists now refer to as the “cassette tape.” This was back in the Pleistocene Era when I rode my trusty T-Rex to the local brick and mortar record shop and bought some bad music typical of adolescents before (if they’re lucky) better taste sets in. The last record(s) I bought were vinyl. A couple weeks ago I found a little antique store off the beaten path outside Nashville and scored big. Elvis gospel, Merle Haggard’s Ramblin’ Fever, early Pink Floyd, a Frank Sinatra double album, John Hartford’s Aero-Plain ….it was like Christmas.

First and last live concerts that you’ve seen?

First concert was Waylon Jennings. I was still in my mother’s womb, and she says she felt me kicking in time with drummer Richie Albright’s bass drum. She says it was her favorite concert ever because of this. The last real concert I saw was The Stones in Nashville. It was a revelation. My first time seeing them unless you count the time they played in Missoula Montana and some friends, and I dragged a fifty-pound cooler up the side of a mountain and looked down on the band from hundreds of feet above and heard nothing but muddy reverberations. This time I had tickets! It was bittersweet cause Charlie had recently passed. But it still blew my mind into the stratosphere. Watching Keith play those sultry licks live and seeing Mick just completely murder the stage at 78…. there just aren’t words for it. It was a very powerful experience for me. I wanted to quit everything and go on Stones tour! After the show my friend and I walked across the pedestrian bridge to Lower Broadway, the world’s largest vomitorium, and preceded to drink Robert’s Western World dry. At some point late in the night I was wandering around the alley between Robert’s and the Ryman, where all the old Opry stars used to walk over to Tootsie’s, and just really feeling the spirit. I saw the ghost of Hank Williams at one point. Boy he looked pissed…. It was one of those great nights that leaves you with an afterglow that lasts for weeks.

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

Merle Haggard. Waylon Jennings. Ralph Stanley. Bill Monroe. So many….

Where do you go in Nashville for coffee and pizza?

I make my own cold brew at home. I’ll then warm it up with some vanilla almond milk and whisk in some Irish butter. It’s high-octane rocket fuel. You can solve world problems before breakfast when you drink this stuff. I’m currently drafting up a business plan to open up a little store in the gulch and sell it for $12 a glass to finance my next album. Pizza is Five Points in East Nashville.

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

The couple records Waylon did once he was free of Chet Atkins’ production, Honky Tonk Heroes and Dreaming My Dreams, are two desert island albums for me. Also, all of Loretta Lynn’s recorded output from the 60s and 70s. I spent an entire winter in Montana, back when I was living alone at an isolated horse ranch on the Blackfoot River, listening to nothing but old school Loretta. She’s my spirit animal.

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

Not Cook Out. I ate there one night and had to be immediately rushed to Vanderbilt ER when my blood pressure spiked through the roof. It’s only through the miracle of modern medicine that I’m here today. The above statements may or may not be true but regardless I advise avoiding this place and similar “restaurants” at all costs.

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

This one is EASY, a slow pitch right down the middle. The ghosts of Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt……and Guy Clark.

What are your favorite music venues to play in town?

Wherever they will have me. Getting Nashville gigs has not been easy. There seems to be a bit of a supply/ demand imbalance in this town….

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

Advocating for musicians to move to Nashville is like sending snow to Eskimos. I’ve actually been devising a plan to Pied Piper busloads of musicians OUT of Nashville to places like North Dakota and Nebraska where the locals might appreciate the influx of talent. Don’t tell anyone, but my plan is to commandeer some of those Broadway party buses, kick out the Woo Girls and the White Claws, then fill them with cold beer, vintage guitars, and Willie’s finest OG flower, thereby luring scores of local musicians onto the buses. By the time they know what’s happening they’ll be in Fargo.

Finally, what’s in your musical future?

Meteoric ascension. Supernovas. Bigger Bangs. I’m gonna make several albums of original music. I’m a prolific writer and I figure once the well dries up I might try co-writing. I’d like to eventually record a Bluegrass record so hardcore and lonesome that Dr. Ralph’s tenor can be heard singing harmony from beyond the grave. I’d like to do good things with my music that help people and the planet. I’d like to raise money for worthy causes like fighting breast cancer which unfortunately runs in my family. I’d like to help protect wilderness land and the dwindling habitat of my dear friends the grizzlies and the wolves. I’d like to facilitate celebrations and large gatherings where people come together and create spontaneous community by sharing in the joy and power of live music. One day I’d like to make enough money that I can take a couple years off and finish a couple novels I’ve been working on for some time and get them published. I’d like to build a log cabin out in the middle of nowhere where I can write songs, make moonshine, chew the bark off trees, howl at the moon, ride around on horseback and compose poetry and watch cloud formations…. the usual mountain man stuff.

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