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01 Jul 2022

ON THE RIGHT TRAX: Eric Paslay talks the ghost of Johnny Cash

ON THE RIGHT TRAX:  Eric Paslay talks the ghost of Johnny Cash

Singer/ songwriter Eric Paslay

When you get to sit down and chat with a man who co-wrote country music's song of the decade for 2010-19 (Barefoot Blue Jean Night  by Jake Owen, co-written with Dylan Altman and Terry Sawchuk); who is also a co-writer on Keith Urban's  Wild Hearts  (with Keith, Brad Tursi, and Jennifer Wayne); who had the legendary Ricky Skaggs offer him advice as he waited in the wings to make his Grand Ole Opry debut; who had 'the Gambler', Kenny Rogers, record one of his songs AND had Kenny himself request that he be ON the record as well; and - as if ALL of the foregoing wasn't already cool enough - he's also the man who brought Aerosmith's Steven Tyler to the Grand Ole Opry for the first time...that, my friends, is a good day! 

And OTRT had  just that kind of good day recently when we sat down with the guy who has all of the above as part of his story. That man is singer/songwriter  Eric Paslay, and he took a little time-out from being on tour with UK country superstars The Shires to talk to us. 

On the morning we spoke Eric was in the UK where he had just completed the first few dates of that twenty-five show run opening for Ben (Earle) and Chrissie (Rhodes) on their tour, a road-trip that ended at the London Palladium just last week. With the tour having been postponed a couple of times in the last two years because of...well, you-know-what..., I began our chat by asking Eric how it felt to finally be back out there in front of fans on this side of the world again? 

"They've been amazing, and it feels amazing! It's still unbelievable that we're actually here, that this actually happened. In the music business and the touring world, after over two years of having a tour on-hold, it's kind of amazing that we're actually doing it! And I keep telling Ben and Chrissie, 'We're actually here! I'm a real boy, in the UK! [laughs]. So it feels great. And obviously it's great to see the fans again. I've been touring over here for about five or six years so it's cool to see familiar faces. Yeah, we're back. Back touring live, it's crazy!" 

Well that UK tour gave Eric the perfect opportunity to celebrate his new album, the brilliantly titled,  Even If It Breaks Your Barefoot Friday Night.  To those who may not know, that title is an amalgamation of some of his biggest hits as an artist and writer, namely;  Even If It Breaks Your Heart, Barefoot Blue Jean Night,  and  Friday Night. The album is a new take on those songs, an approach I love because I think great songs - and these are definitely that - will always stand up to being reimagined. And this concept is always all the better when the writer himself is actually involved. 

But what I was wondering, though, was in deciding to do an album like this one, did it mean that in the back of Eric's mind there were always different ideas for these songs? Or perhaps, was it more that once he decided to go in this direction, that was when he started to think about different ways they might sound? 

"Definitely lyrically, they're the original [songs], there might be just a couple of words a little bit different. Actually, on 'Barefoot Blue Jean Night' the original name was Frankie, but I thought I'd put Jake in there [this time] since Jake Owen recorded it. My buddy Jake had his dad hook him up good, ya know [laughs]. I just thought it would be amazing to go in and record some of the hits I've had as a writer. I've had 'live' versions  of them that we've recorded, like 'Live In Glasgow' and some other albums. But yeah, I just thought it would be fun to do that. And fans have been asking for it for years cos' I play 'em almost every night. Then to go in and reimagine some of my own hits [as an artist] with 'Friday Night' and 'She Don't Love You', 'Song About A Girl', and to do 'The Driver', for which Charles Kelley (of Lady A) and Dierks [Bentley] and I were nominated for a Grammy for, it was kind of a cool experience to do it. And I thought it was time. And thanks to my mother-in-law for having the genius  idea of what to name it! She was like, 'Just put all the names together!' I tried some, and hey, it worked! And that's fabulous cos' it's just kind of a fun record. I mean, I was like, what do I call this? I didn't want it to be 'Greatest Hits', that would sound like I was full of myself [laughs]. I love the name of it, and I love that it's out. We're sellin' a bunch of records on the road, and it's fun to see cds get sold and fans lovin' it. If you come to one of the shows you'll see that I'm signing every one...my hand is about to fall of! But we're good, we're good [laughs]." 

In promoting this new album, Eric has done something that I haven't seen any other country artist do yet, and that's bring NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) into play. Now, like most people, I probably have a vague understanding of what NFTs are and how they're supposed to work, but I was really curious to know what sparked the idea for Eric to introduce them into his career as part of how he wanted to connect with his fans? 

"I came across a company that does NFTs in Nashville. And like everyone, I was like, 'WHAT is an NFT?!' [Laughs]. Why are people paying for a picture on their phone?! So I had to re-think it for the music world, of block-chain technology, etc, so it will help with ticket-sales to make sure you're not scalped. That's another whole interesting world of making sure the receipt is the receipt, you can't lie about what's on the black-chain, which is cool. But to me, I'm just kind of viewing it like the first one, like here's a golden-ticket. There was a $25 ticket - a hundred of 'em - we sold out pretty quick. It's kind of like the hundred NFT community, fanclub with the never-ending ticket. So my goal is never-ending value, unpredictability, anything can happen from shows, to hangs, to asking 'em what songs they think I should record for the next album. I'll play ideas for them. The first meeting I gave away one of the lights that I built that we ended up having as a second NFT, it was called the 'Light Out of Darkness', these antique lights. I love those because they cast these amazing shadows. I built the base out of a black wallnut tree that fell in our yard during a tornado we were hit by in Nashville."

"And right now",  continued Eric,  "the third NFT that we're doing - I mean, they all have a digital aspect to them, the lights are spinning...one of those lights I built that just keeps spinning, ya know - but the one now is sort of like a 3-D image of my head that we did, it spins forever [laughs]. But the biggest part about the third  NFT is I'm literally selling away 10% of the album. I'm selling ten 1% ownerships in this album. We've auctioned off the first one so far, it went really well. I'm probably still giving everybody a [good] deal, I don't know! [Laughs]. You're guaranteed to have five #1 hits, the Song of the Decade in country music, and two Grammy nominations, two ACM nominations, and a CMA nomination...here, would you like to own this album with me? So it's interesting to see that. And hopefully everybody makes way more money that they bid on it. As a music fan [myself], I think that'd be cool. I wish I could have owned a Keith Urban record, ya know, or a part of it. The more it's played, the more you get paid. It's fun. So that'll be a whole new experience too. I'll probably have a hang with the ten, or the one! There might be one dude, or lady somewhere, buying up all ten. I don't know. So we'll see what happens. Every three days we're selling another 1% of the album, and there'll be ten of those. It lasts for thirty days, and it's still going on right now." 

Eric played the Grand Ole Opry again just a few weeks before our chat. For me, as a country music fan, anytime I get to talk to an artist who has actually played the Opry is always a count-my-blessings moment. And anytime I talk to someone who has played it, they feel that same way about getting that  opportunity. So  for Eric, what's his favourite Opry moment or memory? 

"The one that sticks with me the most at the Opry is the first time I got to play it. I lucked out. Pete Fisher was the general-manager at the time, and I knew him for years. We were at a Christmas party, and I think I'd been signed to Capitol for a few years [at this stage], maybe a year. But typically, as soon as you get a record deal the Opry might ask you to play. And I kept thinking, like, 'God, Pete hasn't asked me to play the Opry yet, jeez, what did I do wrong? I thought Pete liked me!' [Laughs]. So we were at this party standing around, and he was like, 'Eric, you've played the Opry, what? Ten times now?' And I was like...'I've never played it.' He was stunned, like, 'You've NEVER played it?!' [Laughs]. But it was in December, that's how I lucked out, because a week or two later I got to play the Opry, and it was actually at the Ryman Auditorium where  the Opry originated. It was cool to play the Opry, and in the original room, ya know. I remember standing there, about to go on stage, and Ricky Skaggs is standing next to me. I mean, it's frickin' Ricky Skaggs! One of the best bluegrass musicians ever, he's incredible. And he goes to me, 'Ya nervous?' 'Yeah', I replied, 'It's the Opry and you're Ricky Skaggs!' [Laughs]."

The late Kenny Rogers actually recorded Eric's song,  Turn This World Around, which is awesome in itself. But even more cool, is the fact that Eric ended up in the studio while Kenny sang, and ended up on the track as well...and because Kenny himself wanted Eric there! 

Eric takes it away... "Yeah, man. So that was a time where I was writing two, maybe three songs a day. I was on tour. I was radio-touring. I was crazy, crazy busy. I remember this one day, I didn't have time to go home, but I didn't really have time to do anything else either, so I just thought to myself, well I'm just gonna drive around Nashville! All of a sudden my phone rings. The producer  is on it, and he's like, 'Hey, is this Eric?  I say yes and he goes, 'Hey, who sang backgrounds [vocals] on 'Turn This World Around'? Kenny Rogers is recording it.' I said yeah, I heard he might be, this is amazing! Then the producer says, 'Well, we recorded it, and he'd love to have your voice on it if you're the one singing the backgrounds and the harmonies.' I said yeah, that would be great, but man, I'm crazy busy right now, I don't know when we can schedule it because I'm out on the road...!' But then he asked me what am I doing right now, and I actually had like two hours! [Laughs]. So he tells me to come by the studio and we'd do it. So I pulled in, he's got this little studio behind his house, a cool little pool out the back. I walk in and...there's Kenny Rogers! He's there! They didn't tell me Kenny was there! It was just him and the producer."

"And seriously, Kenny was just one of the sweetest guys I've ever been around. The best storyteller."

And through that friendship Eric got to open some shows for Kenny, who he describes as having been,  "Just an incredible performer".

"I  remember standing in the studio singing, just layering these harmonies, there was a lot goin' on, ya know. He taps on the glass, 'Eric! This sounds amazing! I have to leave cos' I really need to pee! I'll be right back. I'm not leaving cos' it sounds bad, you sound amazing!' [Laughs]. He just knew how to make everyone feel extremely comfortable. Like I just met the guy. And he's Kenny Rogers! One of the most famous people on the planet. And after that, I actually received a letter in the mail, he literally wrote me a hand-written letter and signed it thanking me for the song and for sharing my time with him. And I got to see him on his last tour. I know the world misses Kenny Rogers, but I'm glad he was here to share his love with us. I will always cherish that memory, and being able to say that Kenny Rogers was my friend, and a really good guy." 

~ 'Even if it breaks your Barefoot Friday night',  the new album from Eric Paslay is out now. 

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