American country singer Sam Outlaw had such a blast on his first trip to Australia back in February, during which he opened for Justin Townes Earle at several shows including one at the Grace Emily, he virtually couldn’t wait to get back down under.
“I’d said to my manager, ‘Hey, you have to get me back down to Australia’,” Sam laughs down the line from home in Los Angeles. “So I really pushed him on that and said, ‘Aim for October’. I really forced it as I had already told people I’d be back soon.”
That has led to Sam performing at Out On The Weekend with Dawes and Kasey Chambers along with a host of other acts in Melbourne and Sydney as well as a return visit to Adelaide to once again hit the Grace Emily.
“And I’ll be coming over with a guy from Melbourne who plays fiddle and mandolin,” Sam says of Greg Field who works with Dear John and The Bakersfield Glee Club.
“And I may have a couple of other players with me too by the time I get there,” he adds. “We’re working on that.”
When Sam last graced the Grace, after spending a couple of relaxing days checking out Adelaide, he ended up doing Justin Townes Earle’s merchandise for the evening.
“Well, actually, my wife did Justin’s merch stuff that night,” Sam laughs. “She’s much better looking than me and so much better at selling stuff. So I just stood around.
“So I’m lookin’ forward to gettin’ back there because that Grace Emily show [with JTE] was my first ever in Australia,” he adds. “And I just remember the people being so polite and respectful.
“At first I kinda thought I was doing something wrong because there didn’t seem to be any real feedback from the audience, but I realised it was because they were just being very respectful.”
Sam, who conveniently uses his mother’s maiden name as his stage surname, scored the services of Ry Cooder to produce his latest album, Angelino, with the produce’s son, Joachim, playing drums.
“And the great thing about that was that Ry came to some of my live shows,” Sam says. “Ry offered to play some shows with me in Nashville to familiarise himself with the songs before we went into the studio
“So the studio sessions were my regular band with Joachim on drums and Ry on guitar and then we invited Bo Koster from My Morning Jacket to play some Wurlitzer and piano and a few other people [Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), Gabe Witcher (Punch Brothers) and Chuy Guzmán].
“And everyone in the room got along together really well and 90% of what people hear on the record is us crankin’ out the songs in the studio,” he says.
“So it was a lot of fun and, obviously, Ry brought a lot of his experience into it all,” Sam reflects. “And it was one of those intangible things because Ry has an almost child-like enthusiasm for music. He loves exploring new things.
“And I originally thought he was just going to produce the record, so having him play on it as well was a real thrill,” he adds. “So to watch him contribute in that way was fantastic.”
“Oh, I kinda grew up listening to one particular group, the western swing band Asleep At The Wheel,” Sam says when asked how he first got into country music. “And from that I quote unquote ‘discovered’ people such as George Jones and Emmylou Harris.
“And while I’d been writing songs since my early 20s, they didn’t really begin taking shape in the country genre until I was a little older.
“But, yeah, Asleep At The Wheel were a big part of my childhood and that’s what led to me looking into other country artists,” he adds.
The South Dakota-born singer is surprised to hear that Asleep At The Wheel’s original steel player, Lucky Oceans, now lives in Australia and presents the national ABC radio program Daily Planet.
“What! Really? I had no idea. That’s awesome. Wow!”
You can’t really chat to a country musician from California without mentioning Bakersfied and asking where she Sunshine State’s country music capital is.
“It’s about 90 minutes in a straight shot north east of Los Angeles,” Sam responds. “So there was that famous tribute kinda record that came out in the late ’80s called A Town South Of Bakersfield that had people like Dwight Yoakam, Rose Flores and Jim Lauderdale on it.
“And I finally got to play there for the first time this summer back in July,” he adds. “So that was a lot of fun because we got to play The Bakersfield Museum Of Art and we’ve been asked back to play a festival in a couple of weeks just before I shoot down to Australia.”
Are you working toward your next release?
“I probably have two full albums worth of songs,” Sam suggests, “so there’s plenty of new stuff that I need to find time to record. But I’ve also been going back over some older songs that maybe didn’t get a proper release at the time.”
Sam recently toured the US with Dwight Yoakam.
“That was a dream come true,” he laughs. “And I’d met Dwight the night before in New York City as we were both there doing a live thing for a satellite radio show.
“But I’ve been really lucky that way because I’ve opened for some of my favourite people. People such as Clint Black, Sheryl Crow – that was a real treat – and Asleep & The Wheel,” he concludes.
Sam Outlaw will ride back into the Grace Emily, 232 Waymouth St, on Wednesday 21 October with Häna & Jess (from The Sloe Ruin) as special guests.
By Robert Dunstan