John Paul White, to paraphrase a Steve Earle song, may just be one of the last of the hardcore troubadours. By 'troubadour,' we mean one of those guys that lives to write great songs – more specifically, great country songs – and then get these songs into the ears of folks that will truly appreciate them. It's why he collaborated with a few of his country songwriting heroes to create the album "The Hurting Kind."
It's also why he's started a record label to assist fellow troubadours. Best of all though, "The Hurting Kind," which is filled with plenty of classic country musical elements, is a healing kind of album for anyone who have grown tired of all the annoying pop-country music clogging up the mainstream radio airwaves.
White's latest attracted a few A-list collaborators, which decidedly affected its sound. "Part of it was me being very selfish," White explains, "and me wanting to get in a room with people I've wanted to get in a room with for most of my songwriting career. My heroes, like Bobby Braddock ("This Isn't Gonna End Well") and Bill Anderson ("I Wish I Could Write You A Song," "You Lost Me"), but also Waylond Holyfield and Whitey Schafer."
John Paul White, This Isn't Gonna End Well (live), The Chapel, San Francisco, CA
"But the real reason is, this record I was making, I knew was really hearkening back to the records I grew up listening with my dad -- more the countrypolitan, Nashville sound kind of stuff. Earlier Nashville. The songs I was writing were already leaning that way, and I think I was looking for that music in the world, trying to find music that had that feel to it, with the troubadour, rose-in-the-teeth kind of thing. I just couldn't find it in the world that I've enjoyed doing so much and felt that, well, if that's what I'm looking for, that's what I should create."
"And I thought, 'I need to kill two birds with one stone here and sit down with the masters and pick their brains.' And talk to them about that era they were creating in, but also write a country song with them and see if they give me the thumbs up. If they give me that look, like, 'you're on the right track, kid.' And that's what happened. And I got to meet people that made me want to be a songwriter and hear stories about Marty Robbins and Roger Miller and all the greats. So, it was a win-win."
White, who was one half of The Civil Wars with Joy Williams until they split and previously put out a solo album in 2008, had memorable experiences with all his collaborators, but one left a bigger impression than all the rest.
"I guess I would say the one that stands out, is one that didn't end up on the record," recalls White. "It's the one with Whitey Shafer. Whitey wrote 'That's The Way Love Goes' for Merle (Haggard), 'All My Exes Live In Texas.' He wrote one of my personal favorite country songs, 'I Wonder If You Think Of Me,' recorded by Keith Whitley. And he hadn't written a song in about 10 years."
"I met his wife at an event, and she asked me if I knew Whitey, and I said, 'Of course I do.' And she said, 'Would you write a song with him?' And I said, 'Of course, I would, but...' And she said, 'I'm going to convince him. He doesn't write anymore. He doesn't think anybody wants the kinds of songs that he writes, but I'm going to talk him into it.' And she did. And I got to sit down with him, and it was eye-opening because he hadn't flexed those muscles in so long, that he was having a hard time getting the gears to turn."
"So, I left the verse and chorus with him and said, 'It's worth it to sit down with you and hear these stories about Merle, but if something happens, and it clicks, if it turns, then great. If it doesn't, it's completely worth it.' About a week later, she contacted me and said, 'He's written a verse.' He sent it to me, and it was gorgeous. It was a song that, when we made the final cut, it felt like it should stand on its own. It may be an EP of some of the songs that didn't end up on the record. He passed away not long after, and so I went and sang that song at his funeral. So, I'd definitely have to say that was the most powerful...it's a moment I'll never forget."
The song Schafer and White wrote together is "I'm Never Gonna Fall In Love Again." "It's a positive song," White explains. "I'm never gonna fall in love again. Anything else wouldn't even come close to this. I'm in the arms I already want to be in, so I'm never gonna want to fall in love again. And then singing that, and then looking at his wife in the front row was incredibly hard, but quite the honor."
White put his album out on Single Lock Records, an independent record label based in Florence, Ala. that he started with Ben Tanner of Alabama Shakes and a finance person, Will Trapp. "Starting the label was something that, looking back I seem to be making a lot of decisions to start endeavors that are financially silly," he says.
"Starting a studio. Starting a venue. Starting a label. But it was one of those things where we looked around us and we had a lot of artists in our backyard that were struggling to get their voices out there, and we realized a common thing that they all needed was to be able to go in and properly make a record. To be able to have the capital. To properly work with a producer of note in a studio. Not be working three jobs. To be able to concentrate on what they were doing."
"So really, the impetus of the label was that: just make records. And put people in vans and send them down the highway because we still feel that's the most important part of the equation; is making the record people can't stop listening to and playing shows people can't stop talking about. And from that nucleus, I started learning about what it really entails. All the other things. All the marketing budgets and radio promotion and trying to get on playlists. And just breaking through all the noise that's out there and getting people to actually hear the records."
"We firmly believe in the records that these artists are making. We believe in them wholeheartedly, but it's just harder and harder to get it to people's ears and get it through all the other things that are vying for their attention. Wearing that hat has been great for me, as an artist, as well, to see that side of it and see that art is one thing, but trying to pick that lock and get in front of somebody's face and get their attention, is harder and harder every single day."
"We're trying to hone it. We're trying to learn from every single release regarding what we shouldn't have spent money on or if we should have spent more here. This was a waste of time. This was a great idea. And we're a small enough operation that we can turn on a dime and modify our approach with every single release. I'm not Chicken Little about the music business. It's exciting to me to figure this all out because people still want great music, just as much as they ever did – maybe even more with the times we live in. So, it's on us to try and figure out how to get it to them."