Loneliness proves powerful for Jason

Rick Teverbaugh, July 2002

Loneliness is a powerful emotion, and in the case of Jason Ringenberg it may just have been powerful enough to provide the motivation for his newest release, "All Over Creation.

The disc contains a collection of collaborations with a wide variety of artists producing just as wide a variance of material. Some of the artists are widely known like Steve Earle, BR549 and Todd Snider. Others are mostly recognized within their own narrow sub-genres like Paul Burch and Lambchop.

"My previous album, 'Pocketful Of Soul,' was mostly a folk album," says Ringenberg, also of Jason & The Scorchers fame. "It was mostly about my family and a few historical pieces. It was an internal and personal album.

He hit the road to promote his work. Just him and his guitar.

"I think I just got lonely," he says. "I did a lot of support work and got a chance to play on stage with a lot of different people. From that, I decided to try and put together an album with some of the people I shared the stages with.

His enjoyment of performing is one of the things that keeps him ticking and out on the road.

"I'm a performer first and foremost," says Ringenberg, 43. "It's what I love to do. It's the reason I continue to do what I do.

The grassroots is right where his base of appeal can be found. It is the place where his music fits and where the music business fits him.

"Nashville, God love it, is cranking out music that's from a cookie cutter. It finds something that's popular and milks it to death. This young country thing. There were a lot of good artists making a lot of good music. Now that's all you hear.

But Ringenberg believes there is a thirst for more among the record-buying public.

"There's no question that there's a certain hunger for something different," he says. "There will always be an underground for music like that.

That underground might make its presence felt in the form of a small promoter doing monthly shows at tiny venues and clubs. It might be a radio station devoting a slice of time each week to the non-mainstream. It might be in artists putting out worthy music for a small label or doing it themselves out of a basement or a garage.

"It is a more healthy environment artistically," says Ringenberg. "It's a very grass roots experience. Artists at this level, if they sell gold it's a big event. In the corporate world, there's not much control over what you do. I've been there. You think you have some control, but you really don't.

So the internet has provided a big lift to his career and to those of his comrades, many of whom share the spotlight during "All Over Creation.

"It's made a gigantic impact," says Ringenberg. "I'm not sure I'd be surviving right now without it.

Certainly it has been a less expensive way to spread the word about his music and his body of work.

His body of work began when he ventured to Nashville in the early '80s from his rural Illinois pig farm. It was that trip to Tennessee that provided the opportunity to form Jason & The Scorchers. The band ripped through originals and covers with equal ferocity and little regard for country or rock conventions. That group is now generally regarded as helping provide the foundation for the alternative country movement that followed over a decade later. The music was probably more accurately the origins of what is now termed "cowpunk.

Such a wide variety of appreciation followed that Rolling Stone called "Fervor," the band's second EP, one of the 100 greatest rock and roll records. The Country Music Association called it one of the 100 greatest country records.

Part of The Scorchers legacy was a tradition of doing cover versions of songs nobody really anticipated hearing. "Fervor" had Bob Dylan's "Absolutely Sweet Marie." "I try to do that with all of my records," says Ringenberg. He revisits that tendency a bit on the new disc as he teams with BR549 on the Loretta Lynn hit "Don't Come Home A Drinkin'.

"It's been a very popular part of my stage act," he says. But not one that he can always revisit in today's format of just him, his guitar and a song.

On the Scorchers' disc "A Blazing Grace," the covers were George Jones' "Why Baby Why" along with John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Not many who knew the originals were prepared for the high energy, wailing guitar treatment they heard.

But don't expect that song to be part of the current repertoire. "If I try to do it now, with just me and the guitar, it really does sound like the original," says Ringenberg. "I don't want anyone to know that I really am a closet John Denver fan.

Life on the road and the excesses it can encourage mixed with some bad record deals led to the dissolution of the group in 1990. Ringenberg released a solo album in 1992, but in that same year, a compilation of The Scorchers work drew some critical and fan attention, eventually leading to the band reforming in 1995.

After the comeback album, "A Blazing Grace," "Clear Impetuous Morning" followed a year later. The timing of that release completely coincided with a big push the alternate country movement was receiving nationally.

Even the group's old label, EMI, took notice and reissued "Fervor" and "Lost And Found" on one CD. Some of The Scorchers early work was updated in '97 when the band recorded its first live concert which was released in '98 as "Midnight Road & Stages Seen.

Change has been a big part of Ringenberg's life. He put out his last three discs on his own label, Courageous Chicken. The first two were "Wildfires + Misfires" and "Rock On Germany." The former included alternate takes and rarities while the second was from a 1985 concert. The third release on that label was the solo "A Pocketful Of Soul.

But his new release is for the Chapel Hill, N.C.-based Yep Roc Records. There's ample evidence that while his intensity is still sometimes off the chart, his personal life has resulted in a change in the way he writes and what he writes.

Right in the middle of "All Over Creation" is the tune "Camille," a tribute to his daughter performed with Swan Dive. The liner notes show a photo of him and Camille and the song's lyrics reflect a sensitivity he has rarely shown in the past. "Now in my times of trial/I pray that I will find a way/To love and smile as openly/As you do every day.

"I believe I'm much more positive now," says Ringenberg. "There's a lot of feminine energy in my house right now. There's a more positive energy, and I thank God for it.

So perhaps his life just doesn't provide nearly as much fodder for the subject of his new songs. "I'm writing in third person a lot more now," laughs Ringenberg. "There's not nearly as much done in first person.

One thing that is being done in first person is touring to places beyond the continental United States. He has several trips to Europe upcoming, some of them in very minute spurts. Even though it might not make a lot of financial sense, he is still not reluctant to go.

"My response in Europe has always been as good or better than it has been in the states," he says. "In Europe, there is more support for all kinds of music. The governments get more involved in the support of music. I believe roots music is exotic to them, much more so than it is over here.

The new disc has some straight forward country, some rock, some hillbilly and some pop. The music clearly defies categorization, and that's a product of his own tastes and capabilities, yet he also realizes that it makes him a tough performer to market and get heard on commercial radio.

"Even though it isn't my direct concern, the difficulty in marketing me is part of my daily reality," says Ringenberg.

One of the cuts is a reworking of an old Scorchers standard titled "Bible And A Gun." Ringenberg has rewritten the lyrics to fit in with a Civil War time frame. Steve Earle, who wrote the song with Ringenberg, joined him on the disc for the new rendition. It was a reunion that he didn't expect due to Earle's demanding schedule, but when Earle showed up to sing his part, he not only got into his part of the duet, he also helped Ringenberg with some dialect lessons along the way.

"He told me if the singer was from Missouri, he would pronounce the state's name 'Mizzoora,'" recalls Ringenberg. "I was just blown away by the way he got into the song."

From a small Illinois town to a European musical attraction, Jason Ringenberg has covered a lot of ground and shows no signs of slowing down. He continues to attract new fans while maintaining a Pied Piper effect on his old fans who follow him through the many and varied permutations of his musical vision. He is one of the longer running enduring country success stories.

© Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher • countrystandardtime@gmail.com