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Interview with Jimmy Davis: O' Brother Where Art Thou?

Brooks Blogger Erin Williams talks to Jimmy Davis about Memphis, music and where to call home. Jimmy Davis will lead an O' Brother Where Art Thou? sing-a-long at the Brooks on Saturday, September 14.


Anyone can say that they have seen a movie, but it’s the true fans who shush those who are speaking, talk back to the screen, and even proceed to sing along when their favorite melody comes up. In the folk-music laced film O' Brother Where Art Thou? the soundtrack stands apart with its just-for-film trio the Soggy Bottom Boys. But you’ll have to look hard to find a 'Man of Constant Sorrow' in Jimmy Davis, who is making his way back to the Brooks to lead a sing-a-long as the film is screened in its entirety on Saturday, September 14. Over 25 years after recording his 80’s hit "Kick The Wall" with the band Junction, the singer-songwriter’s youthful spirit continues to shine through. “That record still has some popularity in Asia and parts of Europe, which is funny in a way,” he says,"We’re going to the Netherlands in November, and I get recognized... over there. People know that record over there.”

He may reside in Texas, where he can be found onstage as a part of the country-rock group The Mystiqueros, but Jimmy Davis stands firm in his Memphis foundation. A true Renaissance man who has continued to reinvent himself time after time, the Memphis music legend chalks up his longevity to four words:  “I just work hard. It’s work. It’s fun, but it’s work.”

When things didn’t turn out more successful with "Kick The Wall", what made you decide to continue on as a musician?

-       Well, that’s the nature of the business, for one. And we weren’t done. We just went, ‘Well, let’s go get another one.’ The thing about when you’re young…you can fit into the youthfulness of the market and radio and all that stuff. It changes, and you get older and then whatever you’re doing isn’t popular anymore. You gotta do what’s true. That’s the thing about being a singer/songwriter is there’s no format to chase. To me it was just, ‘Well, I’m just gonna go and be a musician and a singer.’ I still sing on a lot of records and I still do jingles. I still sing radio commercials and TV commercials. It’s just working.

You were born and raised in Memphis and still have a 901 area code, but you now live and work near Austin. Do you miss your hometown?

-       I miss Memphis every day, but I would miss Memphis if I was on the road, too. I tell [aspiring musicians] all the time - being from Memphis is a gift. That’s a flag that you wave wherever you go. Memphis is the birthplace of everything. It’s the greatest musical city ever, and it’s weird - it’s like lot of people in Memphis don’t even know it, and a lot of musicians don’t even know it. There’s so many layers, and so much history of our town. It just gives us something different that is undeniable.

If you feel so passionate about the city, then why move in the first place?

-       I worked out in New York, I worked out of Los Angeles, I worked in Nashville – all publishing and recording. But I always lived in Memphis. I would never live in those towns. I really wanted those labels and publishing companies to come to Memphis. I never wanted to live anywhere else. And then when I got down here and started working with this band, it really became apparent that I should be down here. I was getting more cuts down here – people [were doing my songs], and the action wasn’t happening for me in Nashville and New York and LA anymore. It was happening here.

The show that you are performing at the Brooks is going to be very intense. How do you think it will go?

-       (Laughs) I don’t know yet! We’re trying to figure that out. I’m going to be living with this soundtrack and the movie during the next few weeks on the road. I’m going to really be soaking it in. Every time there’s a piece of music and singing in the movie, I’m going to play guitar and we’re all going to sing along.

Here’s what I do know – we’re gonna have a good time. There has to be a way to make people want to participate. People don’t just do that - it’s gotta be engaging to have them sing. That’s gonna be my job.

What I would really love to happen is that this isn’t the last time this happens, that we’re gonna have so much fun doing it that everybody goes, ‘We should do this again.’

At the age of 52, how do you continue to keep your talent fresh?

-       By saying ‘yes’ to things like this. I like to say that I reinvent myself. I had a successful rock band, I had a successful independent Americana band, I’ve had a successful solo indie career and now I’m in this cool band in Texas. It’s not staying in one genre or one style. I have a lot of friends from the Eighties who are in their fifties. They had hits in the eighties and they go on these tours with their hired guns and they play their hits which is great and they get to do that, and that’s their living. I can’t do that.

I still write. I’m working on a new project right now, writing new songs. The house that I live in is my workspace, it’s my studio, and it serves me as a writer. That’s important to me – that I keep creating and keep writing, working with new music and younger musicians – anybody!

In your career, what have you not done yet that you still want to do?

-       I look young for my age, and they may not have know what I’ve done  in my past. When they ask me questions like [this], I go, ‘All my dreams came true when I was 26.’ That’s what I wanted to be was a rock star, and it happened. It didn’t last that long. I’m still a musician. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about working and getting better and better and better and working with other people and just finding new ways to write a different song. I still learn something on the guitar, every time I play, or I play with somebody that’s better than me. That’s another I tell my kids – go play with musicians that are better than you, because even if you learn one lick from that session, now you’re better. And I just want to do that.