Interview by Luc Brunot.
Original version of the interview published in Bands Of Dixie #53 (November - December 2006)
Neil Carswell has just released a very interesting first solo CD. This great singer, who has already two releases in preparation, may become, in the coming years, one of the southern artists hat could explode to a larger audience. Bands of Dixie had to meet him to discuss, to interview him on his "Good Man's Journey" album and of course to learn more about the Copperhead's adventure.
I'm happy to interview you; I like your voice so much! Let's begin by the beginning. I think you're from North Carolina?
Yes, Lake Charles, North Carolina.
The South had a bad reputation with the racial segregation. Did this problem still exist in North Carolina when you were young and, more precisely, did you listen black artists through the radio or in concert?
Yes, racial discrimination still existed but we did not promote that in our music. Many times there was confusion about the confederate f lag we used, but it was to represent our southern heritage. I listened to all the Motown and Memphis artist; Marvin Gaye, Temptations, Al Green Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Otis Redding.
Were some of these artists influences for you?
Al Green, Ray Charles, Otis Redding influenced my singing style, but I can only hope to have the soul in my voice they sing with. I want to incorporate more from their style into my music.
Who were your others influences?
I loved listening to Jim Croce, Paul Rodgers, Bob Seger, Burt Cummings, Rod Stewart, John Prine, and of course Lynyrd Skynyrd, Charlie Daniels, Allman Bros, Bob Dylan, Beatles, and Led Zeppelin...
How did you begin to sing and play guitar in your youth?
I started singing very young, and picked up guitar at 12 years old and began playing gospel in church...
What was your story before the Copperhead era?
I started writing songs in Junior High and High school first trying to learn how to play all the classic rock songs I could learn, I played football as well in school which helped me to learn more discipline and to be more aggressive over my goals.
When was formed Copperhead?
I met John Byrd in high school 11th grade and we started the band which was called "The Past" because the name represented the classic rock of the passed which we played. We met manager Dirk Peterson who suggested to come up with a better name for the band to help the band be accepted as an original band as we started writing our own music, so we came up with the name "Copperhead" and went in the studio to record our music.
where did the musicians come from and how did you meet?
We all graduated from high school in North Carolina and we started practicing many different places but got kicked out of many of them for being to loud" ha, ha, ha.
What were the main influences of the band and for the musicians?
Same classic rock acts Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Marshall Tucker, etc.
What were the main developments of the band's life before your Mercury record?
We started doing showcases with our attorney Charlie Phillips out of Atlanta, our manager called Atco Records in New York and we hooked up with Derek Oliver who connected us with Ely Bail in Memphis who brought the band there to record a 4 song demo to submit to Fred Davis music attorney; " son of "Clive Davis".
Did you record something before this record for Mercury?
Yes it was the 4 song demo that knock their sox off.
How did you get a with Mercury?
Fred Davis and Charlie Phillips an attorney from Atlanta negotiated a 8 album deal.
How did it occur that the legendary Tom Dowd produced your Mercury record?
After signing we needed a producer and I went to LA to interview some producers and our manager called Tom Dowd on a chance and he was interested in working with the band. He called back and wanted to produce so we flew to Miami, Florida with engineer John Hannlin who worked with the great David Briggs producer of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young...
Could you tell us about the recording sessions?
Tom Dowd was very demanding and it was quite stressful but he taught me a lot about myself and how to record. Dowd was a very psychological and philosophical and it was hard as a young man at the time to understand what he was teaching me. I started to work with him one on one and it became very spiritual in speaking with him about everything that was happening then. Tom Dowd became a mentor to me and I'II never forget that opportunity of working with him. "In fact the record took me to the crossroads which I nearly lost my mind" "a crazy time"...
Jon Byrd was the lead guitarist but, both of you are credited on slide. How was the repartition of the slide playing?
Some of the slide was cut live and John Byrd played most of the slide overdubbed in the studio. I played slide on "My Tear to Dry".
Didn't you play any guitar solos on disc or in concert?
Yes, I played in the studio, but I played more when performing "Live"...
I'm looking at the booklet and I see that Brad Durden, the keyboard player, is also credited on lead vocals. What did he sing?
Brad sang with me "Highway" trading vocals; I thought he was a great singer and needed to do more with the group... I got the idea to do a duo vocal from the song of Lynyrd Skynyrd "You Got that Right", and told Tom Dowd I wanted a song like that on the Copperhead record.
You wrote all the lyrics and the music was composed by you, alone sometimes, or with others sometimes. How were created the songs?
I wrote the majority and sometime collaborated with John Byrd, but most was my writing. I did co-write with Brad Durden, Eric Suttlymer, and Tony Hawkins.
What tell your songs?
I wrote about my childhood experiences lost relationships, and lost relatives, living on the road, "rock & roll you know".
Were they written before the recording sessions or during these sessions?
Most songs were written before the session, but 3 songs were written during the sessions; Highway, Hard Living, Lazy Days...
What are you preferred songs?
I really like the song "Lazy Days" of f the Copperhead records... My recent material off my new solo CD, "Good Man's Journey" are the songs "Cane Preacher and Good Man's Journey" but I really like them all. The upcoming release for 2007 is called "Southwind" and a favorite song off this record is "After Call"...
A thing that I like very much on the disc is the guitar solo on "Where Will I Be". Do you remember how Jon Byrd created it?
It was one of the earliest songs we had written together and he really worked hard to find a melodic solo which I really loved what he came up with for the song.
If I'm not wrong, the studio tracks of "Live & Lost" were from the same sessions of the Mercury CD. How many songs did you record?
No, all the studio recordings where recorded at Southern Tracks, and The Tree in Atlanta as well as the mobile unit at clubs and rehearsals....
On "Live and Lost", released in 2002, there are four live versions of songs that were on the Mercury dice. Did you play on stage all the songs of your disc? Did you play some covers? Maybe some of your songs not recorded?
Yes, I always played guitar "Live" and we played all of our Copperhead material, as well as covers by; ZZ Top " Whiskey Mama", "Dobie Gray's "Drift Away"...
Why didn't you release a whole live Album?
We considered that because of all the songs that were recorded LIVE but the band broke up before we could finalize all the songs, and we decided to release a mixture of studio and live to create the title:"Live & Lost...
Could you tell us about the life on the road and the shows?
Many ups and downs hard living fast women and it depended on where we became hot on radio is where we went. Copperhead stayed on the road constantly...
With which bands did Copperhead share the stage?
We opened for Lynyrd Skynyrd, Blackfoot, Molly Hatchet, 38 Special and Foreigner... Kentucky Headhunters and 38 Special is who we worked with most of the time.
When and why Copperhead disbanded?
We broke up in 1995 because I was going threw some spiritual soul searching and the band didn't understand and were becoming jealous about all the attention I was receiving for being the lead singer and songwriter, I went to the crossroads the band wanted to go a different direction then where I wanted to go so it was time to stop fighting them and myself.
Are you still in touch with the Copperhead's musicians?
Not really, I know that they still are in North Carolina working...
What are they doing now?
John Byrd and Tony Hawkins are working in a Corporate Rock Band together playing a few clubs and private party's locally...
Is there a chance of a Copperhead's reunion?
No not at this time, but I'm open if all the members were in agreement to do something like this in the future.
What did you do after Copperhead?
I traveled like a gypsy and wrote songs, I went to Europe to ski in the Swiss Alps and had several relationships and wrote more songs. "I did whatever it took to stay alive"...
Your solo album, "Good Man's Journey", is released this year but the songs are from different sessions. Were they created and recorded at the same period? When?
Yes some of these songs were written and recorded a few years back and some here in Nashville after I moved here earlier this year.
Your voice, with Copperhead, was strong and good but on this new disc, it's more sonorous and beautiful, it's incredible. How did occur this maturation? Did you work it on?
I guess you could say it is evolving as I get older and more mature in writing and Singing...
How occurred that Johnny Neel and Chris Anderson play on most of the songs? How did you meet them?
I was working with Travis Tritt's rhythm section and they introduced me to Johnny Neel and then Johnny introduced me to Chris Anderson. We worked on Ruby Jane, Glasses of Wine, and 6ood Man's Journey and I thought this would be a great team to work with on my solo projects.
Could you tell us something about the others musicians?
I met Barry Gudreau thru a friend and new he was lead guitar of Boston and ask to do some recording with him which Cane Preacher features his classic lead guitar Sound. He also will be featured in my upcoming project for 2008. Stu Kimble of the Bob Dylan Band I met after the break up of Copperhead and we wrote the song Righteous Side a song about the break up of Copperhead. Stu is working with me on my solo projects.
The beginning of the disc is more rock and the end more country and sweet. Is it on intentional evolution?
Yes it is somewhat intentional; I'm discovering my own Sound and solo career with this recording.
What are the main characteristics of the making of this album?
Taking time to gather material from past and present and creating a common thread to establish my direction which is why it is called "Good Man's Journey"...
Are you satisfied with the sales and the critics?
Yes it is receiving great reviews and I hope to gather some new and old fans that will buy my CDs at my web site: www.neilcarswell.com
as well as going to CD Baby...
Do you have some radio airplays?
Yes radio is starting to pick up the Good Man's Journey CD in Europe, Canada, and USA...
Do you sell mainly in North Carolina, in the rest of US or in Europe?
We are selling well in Europe and USA....
I suppose you still play concerts. How is composed your band?
I am preparing a new line up of musicians and doing some solo performances.
Will you tour, after this disc, to promote it? Where? Is there a chance you might come in Europe?
I will be touring here in USA and will prepare a tour for Europe to support this CD in 2007... Oh yes real soon I hope, "I want to go ski in the Swiss Alps again" ha, ha, ha...
What are now the next projects?
I'm working on the second solo release for 2007, which I'm real proud of called "Southwind". I have a third record in the can for 2008, so I will be busy...
In the booklet, you thank God. Is the religion important for you? Do you play Christian music too?
Yes, my influence from playing in church carried me thru the hard times and God has always blessed me with the opportunity to express myself with my music...
I know that France hasn't a good reputation in the USA after the war in Iraq. Is it still the same situation and, you, what do you mean about us, the French people?
I feel that the French people support the fight against terrorists, but I don't really know what the heart of the French people feel about Iraq they only hear and follow what their government decides, much like here in the USA. I never been to France so I really don't know the French people.
What is the Southern rock for you?
Growing up in the south it was natural for me to have that Sound and influence in my music. I really enjoy the lyric and the vibe of the guitar rockin'...
We don't know too much bands of North Carolina. Could you give us some in formations about this?
Well I know that James Taylor, and Cry of Love being from North Carolina. There are many great musicians from there you just have to dig deeper to find the good soil, "ha ha ha..."
My last question is: what are your favorites Southern rock albums?
"Street Survivors" Lynyrd Skynyrd; "Eat a Peach" Allman Brothers; Marshall Tucker "Greatest Hits"...