After more than four decades in the music business, Jimmy Phair is giving free rein to his inner songwriter, as can be seen on his latest album, Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue.
The new disc, which gets its official launch next month at Maryhill’s Commercial Tavern, contains six tracks penned by the septuagenarian country legend. It’s the first spate of songwriting he’s done in more than 20 years; some of the songs have been percolating for ages, others partially completed and filed away in his desk drawer. In working on a new album, pushed for and produced by Kitchener dobro guitar player Bob Tremblay, Phair went to the writing well in earnest.
“I discovered that, way down deep inside, Jimmy Phair was a songwriter,” he laughs over the phone from his home in Sarnia.”]Faced with a new album, a song like “Back Sliding Christian,” which he started writing six years ago then filed away in a drawer, suddenly fell into place: he got out of bed at 3 a.m. one morning and finished it in 20 minutes.
“Some songs just come to you. Others you have to to fight and struggle with,” he explained.
Other originals include “Country Music Makes More Sense,” “Cold Nights In Nashville” and “When Roy Acuff Was The King.”
The other tunes on the 17-track disc are ones he loves singing – “I have to like a song before I’ll record it.”
That’s always been his way, even when he started out decades ago with Jewel Records in Cincinnati and, later, on Jimmie Skinner’s Nashville label. It was common to do covers and to record other writers’ music, but Phair had to connect with the song before he’d record it.
This time out, there’s the likes of “Everybody’s Going On The Road,” which he originally heard on a Hoyt Axton record, and “Old Five And Dimers” by Billy Shaver – “it’s my style of song.”
“I wanted to find songs that Jimmy Phair would sing.”
Prompted by Tremblay, Phair began recording Something Old, Something New in January 2011, taking a year to complete the project while making weekly trips to the Kitchener recording studio. Along with Phair on vocals and flat top guitar and Tremblay on dobro, the album features names familiar to local country fans: Paul Weber on bass, Grant Haywood on drums, Dan Howlett on fiddle and Doug Dietrich on steel guitar.
“I own so much gratitude to not only the great musicians I recorded with, but to Bob Tremblay for putting the album all together. He put his heart and soul into it,” said Phair, noting much of the time was spent getting the vocal parts just right.
“As a vocalist, I’ve very critical of myself.”
With the album done, he’ll be back on the road touring again soon. Last year, there was 110 dates from spring through fall, and his calendar is already starting to fill. That includes a stop in Maryhill on Apr. 22 for the CD launch, with the whole band out to perform.
Phair, of course, is no stranger to live shows, even if he still gets nervous before each performance. His first paying gig came at the age of 14 in Sarnia, for which he was paid $1.
“I thought to myself ‘I’ve hit the big time,” he laughed.
Playing around town eventually landed him a radio show on CHOK, 15 minutes a week, which was a key way to get people out to his live shows. That, in turn, landed him a TV show on the CBC station in Windsor, which ran for five years. The TV show was instrumental in Phair’s decade-long association with the Wheeling Jamboree, the most listened to country music radio variety show after the Grand Ole Opry.
At 71, he’s got no interest in slowing down – music is not something you have to retire from.
“I love to entertain, and I’m not going to stop until people tell me to stop,” chuckled Phair.
And with the songwriting bug in full force, he’s already looking forward to starting work on another album; despite not being a huge fan of the recording process, the music will out.
The CD release party for Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue takes place Apr.22 at the Commercial Tavern in Maryhill, 1303 Maryhill Rd. Call 519-648-3644.