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Extra extra read all about it...Jason goes acoustic

By Andy Turner, September 2000

Jason Ringenberg is a busy man these days. Being a record company mogul will do that to a guy.

"I'll sit around and just order people around," Ringenberg says as he imagines the possibilities of the title. "I'll fire me. I'll order my wife and I around."

Frontman for cowpunkers Jason & the Scorchers, Ringenberg recently released an acclaimed solo album, the acoustic "A Pocketful of Soul," on his own Courageous Chicken Records, named in part because of his wife's fondness for the feathered creatures. In fact, Ringenberg and his wife, along with daughters Camille Grace and Addie Rose, live on a former chicken farm west of Nashville.

That simple setting and a desire to write some "personal things" about his life led to "A Pocketful of Soul."

At first, the recording was intended only to be passed among family members and friends.

"I thought it might be too personal," Ringenberg says. "I was really surprised when people started hearing it and getting into it."

He grew up on a family pig farm in Illinois that borders the Rock Island Line Railroad, where his parents still live and his dad at age 76 still farms.

With a howling wind serving as an introduction, Ringenberg sings longingly about the old farm on the album's opening track "Oh Lonesome Prairie": "Oh lonesome prairie where I was born/my mother's father he built that farm/I long to stand upon your soil/where winter's kill and summer's boil."

"I had never written a song about where I came from," he says. "All my family came from this area."

But there aren't as many family members living on that lonesome prairie as there as there once was.

"It's starting to dissipate," he says. "There was a time when all the aunts and uncles and cousins were all right there in that spot in the county."

And he considers moving back there every day. There's just one problem.

"There aren't a lot of recording studios and good guitar players there," he says. "But I have chronic homesickness all the time."

To record the album, Ringenberg enlisted the help of George Bradfute, a man he calls the "Van Dyke Parks of Nashville."

"He's completely unaffected by the music industry," Ringenberg says. Bradfute lives in an unremodeled Victorian house filled with old guitars, ancient records and a "cool vibe" that Ringenberg says is not manufactured.

"That's his house and where he lives and what he is," he explains.

Quite a few of the tracks were one takes.

"It happened really fast," he says. "It was a nice way to record. A really relaxed way to record."

To make sure he could put the album out without interference, Ringenberg decided to start his own label, something he had sworn not to do after seeing the trouble his friends encountered with self-run record companies.

"I said, I will never go through that. It's too much work.'"

Despite the time record mogulness requires, Ringenberg seems very happy. It's a quite change from 1992, when he released his first solo effort, "One Foot in the Honky Tonk," on Capitol Records.

"It's like night and day," he says. "The first solo album came from desperation and a feeling I had no other choice. The Scorchers had just broken up. It was really a bad time. "

"One Foot in the Honky Tonk" was constructed with a "major corporate attitude," Ringenberg says. He was credited with a couple of co-writes on the record that he says he had little to do with.

In contrast, he wrote all of the songs on "A Pocketful of Soul," excluding covers of "Whispering Pines" and "A Trail of Tears." "The Last of the Neon Cowboys" was co-written with friend Kevin Welch.

His two daughters are also new additions to his life since "One Foot in the Honky Tonk." He pays tribute to his oldest daughter on "For Addie Rose": "Oh my pretty little Addie Rose/The purest love all around you grows/I'll do my best for you heaven knows/Oh my pretty little Addie Rose."

The Scorchers reunited in the '90's to release two new albums and a live recording. The band is "semi-retired" as far as recording studio albums, Ringenberg says, but the band remains close and continues to play live, including a recent you-better-believe-we-still-got-it performance on CMT's "Western Beat with Billy Block."

The fact that "Western Beat" is even on the air supports Ringenberg's assertion that Nashville is much more open than when he first moved there in 1981. And Jason & the Scorchers certainly have a lot to do with that.

"I think we showed people there is an alternative to the Music Row power," he explains. But Ringenberg has no regrets about Nashville.

"So many people from that time had a chip on their shoulder about Nashville country," he says. "But in the early 90's, they were putting out some really good records.

"It's still to this day. Those people you hear complaining about Music Row. Get it over it. You need to figure out another way besides Music Row. You can't blame them because no one's listening to you."

In the fall, Ringenberg plans to do some acoustic shows in Europe, including London, where a Scorchers performance at the Marquee Club in 1984 inspired England's New Musical Express to proclaim it "one of the Top Five gigs of all time."

"It will be a big challenge. It's the first time I won't have the power of the Scorchers behind me. It's a big challenge and I think I need that challenge."