No hyperbole, no joke, no shit– Melissa Carper has made a perfect album. Evoking the warm confluence of Louis Armstrong and Jimmie Rodgers in the summer of 1930 that resulted in the iconic and influential “Blue Yodel No. 9”, Melissa Carper has indeed struck the mother lode with Daddy’s Country Gold.
A daring array of players and special guests accompany Carper across a dozen tracks dressed to the nines in clean, cool jazz-infused hillbilly serenades that linger in the air like fresh-cut hay. Currently residing outside of Austin, Texas with her partner (and Buffalo Gals bandmate) Rebecca Patek, Carper’s approach to music defies era, and if it begs a label, country will certainly suffice.
But don’t simply be lulled by her vintage inspirations alone. If Billie Holiday or Hank Williams were around making records with real live musicians today, those luminaries in the flesh might certainly call upon Carper (or “Daddy” as she’s known by her friends and bandmates) to lend an edge, craft a tune, or hold down the backbeat on the upright bass.
Daddy’s Country Gold transcends space and time to reveal its roots as well as a lush new canopy. It’s country music for yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
AI- Let’s dive into Daddy’s Country Gold. First off, Daddy, that’s you! How’d you get that nickname?
MC- I’ve had that nickname for a long time, first, just amongst some close friends and then bandmates would call me Daddy. People just got used to callin’ me Daddy, but I guess it first came about [when] I was in a band with some people and I would sort of take care of the business and stuff– and they just started callin’ me Daddy (laughs)! It’s hard to remember why, you know? It was just a joke. It was supposed to be a joke, obviously. And then everybody started calling me it!
Generally, you handle the bass duties in whatever outfit you’re working in, but for this album– and you do still play bass on this album– predominantly you’re the vocalist with Dennis Crouch standing beside the upright.
In this instance, concentrating on singing versus bringin’ up that backbeat– how’s that different for you? Because gettin’ ready for this interview, I was watchin’ a lot of videos of you performin’ live, and every time, you look like you’re just havin’ an absolute blast with the bass!
I’ve always recorded live, singing while I’m playing bass. It’s just the way I’ve always done it. It was really nice to not have the bass and just be able to sing. I didn’t realize how freeing that was gonna be. I mean, now that I’ve done it once, I wanna do it again because the bass does take a lot of my focus. I don’t even think about it. But also singing takes a lot of focus, so I’m not as able to be creative on the bass while I’m singing. It was really nice! And Dennis is the best! Having him play bass on those songs, it really brought the songs to life in a way that I’ve never heard them before– having him and all the great musicians!
You say that. Some of these songs and I don’t know how many of them exactly, but some of these go back a ways and have gotten a whole brand new treatment, new life into ’em. What was that like? The selection process of deciding what was gonna make it onto the album?
I’d say about half of the songs, or over half even, I’ve recorded before on various band CDs– a lot of them with The Carper Family, the trio I was in, in Austin, Texas when I lived in Texas before, and I’ve recently moved back to Texas. But I tried to pick what I felt were my better songs over the last 10 years or so and tried to pick songs that sorta went together. A lot of the country I write will have a bit of a western swing sound to it. So I have a lot of that and some of it’s kinda bordering on jazz, I guess. Some of it’s just straight country. I wanted to put new songs on there too, so the new ones I did, I’m testin’ out to see if people like ’em!
But the old ones I know are kinda tried and true. Songs like “Back When”, I recorded with The Carper Family. “My Old Chevy Van” also. “Old Fashioned Gal”, I recorded with The Carper Family. “Makin’ Memories”, we played a bunch, but we hadn’t ever put on an album, and same with “Almost Forgot About You”. So I’ve been playin’ those songs for a while, but I wanted the ideal band to put those on an album with. When I moved to Nashville, I had that in the back of my mind. I was like, “I really wanna make a “best of” album with some great musicians here,” and managed to make it happen right before COVID (laughs)!
I was gonna ask you when the timeline was of when you were puttin’ that album together at The Bomb Shelter.
We recorded at the end of January  and then did some overdubs in February and March. But I was first talking with Dennis and Andrija [Tokic] and doin’ the initial planning in October, November, December. So it’s been over a year now.
Let’s talk about some of those great, great players on the album. We’ve already talked about Dennis Crouch, but you’ve got the fantastic Chris Scruggs on there, Lloyd Green, Noel McKay and Brennen Leigh…
Yeah, they’re doin’ some harmonies!
Rebecca Patek, who is, I’m assuming, always with you.
Yeah, she played fiddle on there and so did Billy Contreras. And I’m sure you probably know, she’s the other Buffalo Gal and we’re partners.
What about recording at The Bomb Shelter? How did you end up there?
Actually, Dennis recommended The Bomb Shelter. I asked him and told him what kind of album I was wantin’ to make. We’d become friends kind of just because we both play bass. He came to a Buffalo Gals show and then we just started talkin’ and I asked him if he’d give me a bass lesson. He was like, “Well, you can come over and we can talk bass.” He doesn’t really give lessons. So we just started formin’ a friendship and we’d see each other around town. When I asked his advice, he recommended The Bomb Shelter and Andrija as a producer. I didn’t really know anything about The Bomb Shelter. I’d heard about it, maybe from a couple of other people that it was a good studio.
Working with Andrija was amazing! He’s so good! He’s really a master at recording to tape. He’s so fast at it, and I think he really captured the sound that I was wanting. We were all playing in the same room. The initial tracks, like Chris on rhythm guitar, the drummer, Matty [Meyer], Dennis on bass, the piano player [Jeff Taylor], and then me singing, we were all in the same room. We did those live takes that way, where all the mics were bleeding into each other, and I feel like you can hear that and feel that on the album– that it’s happening. Just the sound quality he got! I do feel like it’s reminiscent of some older-sounding recordings. I’m really happy with it!
It is! Reminiscent is a good word to use, but it’s also still very fresh. You mentioned that jazz and that swing style that’s on there, but it also feels very current, stylistically. Like, yeah, it’s classic, but it works just as well in 2021 as it would have in 1921, I think.
Cool! I’m glad to hear that it feels current. I always feel like I’m doing something that’s been done before, but just because that’s my influence as far as what I’ve listened to.
Tell me about that. If I understand it right, you grew up not only makin’ trips to the record store with your family but playin’ in a band with your family too. Were you playin’ the same kinda music then that you are now?
You know, a lot of it is similar. We’d play Hank Williams and Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson. We did just all the old country hits. We were playing in the ’80s is when we mostly played the clubs, so we would learn some of the new ’80s hits that were coming out too [like] The Judds and Alabama. I still play Hank Williams probably at every show, and I play Loretta Lynn.
My dad also introduced me to Jimmie Rodgers. We didn’t have any Jimmie Rodgers records, but when he realized how much I was into old country music, he bought me the complete collection of Jimmie Rodgers. He had gone to some festival and it was dubbed onto tape– all the 78 [rpm] records. He got me, I think, six or seven tapes, and I listened to those things over and over and over! I really love Jimmie Rodgers too! And then I started discovering on my own. In college, I discovered jazz, and I love the old jazz vocalists, the old blues vocalist too. So just a little bit of everything! But yeah, my family had a great country music collection and I grew up listening to that stuff and playing it.
You have spent a great deal of time traveling, moving constantly throughout your career. Have you been able to maintain a record collection of your own through all that?
No, I actually gave away my records at one point ’cause I was moving so much. Even when I’m livin’ in one town, I feel like I’m movin’ to a different house every year or something! But my good friend, she loves records and she’s more stable than me and so she’s got my records now and she’s takin’ good care of ’em. I’m sure if I ever wanted ’em back, she’d give ’em back to me. A lot ’em are my parents’ records. My parents aren’t around anymore. They’ve both passed, so I did take some of their old records and she’s holdin ‘onto ’em for me!
What did y’all call yourselves when you were a kid and you traveled around?
We called ourselves The Carper Family.
So you’ve just maintained that through your entire career!
When I moved to Austin in 2009, I started a group with Beth Chrisman and Jenn Miori, and we were struggling comin’ up with a band name. That was one of the ideas we threw around, The Carper Family, because we played old country. That’s what we were all playing. We were playing bluegrass and old country and we’re like, “Well, it sounds like Carter Family!” And they would call me Daddy too! So we’re just like, “Well, we’re a family!” People would always comment on how well our harmonies blended. So that’s just what we ended up with was The Carper Family, and it’s kind of funny that was my family’s band growing up too!
Daddy’s Country Gold also marks another milestone in your career. Did I see that this will be the first time that you have released your own vinyl?
Yeah! First for the vinyl! Yeah! I’ve, in fact, never made vinyl with any band. It’s an investment, but this album, I feel like is worth it. So I’m doin’ it!
Oh, I can’t wait to hear it on vinyl! Absolutely!
Yeah, I’m excited!
You mentioned the song earlier, “Old Fashioned Gal”, and I gotta know what you know about West Virginia ramps! Because I happened to be from Elkins West Virginia, where they do a ramp festival every year. Of course, they’re not doin’ it this year because of COVID. But where did you get that imagery and that story for that song? Did you spend some time there and eat some ramps?
Yeah! I did spend some time in West Virginia. I had a girlfriend that was from West Virginia, and I guess that’s the old fashioned gal in the song. We were livin’ in Texas, I met her in Texas, and she wanted to move back to West Virginia eventually. And we tried going back there one summer. I lived there for maybe three or four months. The closest bigger town was Lewisburg. Is that familiar to you? She was in Pocahontas County.
Yeah, my grandmother used to live in Lewisburg.
Okay, so you know exactly where that is! So we lived really out in the woods where she grew up. In this cabin that she rented from some neighbors that used to be her neighbors. They had a little cabin. We were just livin’ down the road from where her dad was livin’. Yeah, I’d never heard of ramps. So she introduced me to ramps! And then a lot of the flowers and various things that I mention, it’s just from hangin’ out with her and she’d be like, “That’s a buttercup!” She’d pick violets and make violet jam, and so a lot of that stuff is fairly literal in the song. I just picked it up from hangin’ out with her, I guess.
So, in addition to this new album that’s coming out, you’ve also been busy with some of your other outfits, your other incarnations. You’ve got a Sad Daddy album on the horizon that you recorded last summer, right?
That’s right! Yeah! How did you find out about that? I feel like the word’s not out that much on that.
Nothing nefarious. Just in the course of my research, I saw that it had been mentioned.
Oh, cool! Yeah, I guess we have a GoFundMe up for it, and I didn’t know how much I’d told my publicist about it, but yeah, I’m excited about that album too! We made it last summer when we all didn’t have many gigs and we all had extra time. We got together at one of the guy’s, he had a cabin in Greers Ferry, Arkansas, so we just hung out! We decided for the first time to try to write songs together. So we spent a few days hangin’ out to see if we could make that happen. And we did! We kinda like finished up pieces of songs we’d started and all helped each other out. Then the following weekend, I think it was the following weekend, we got together and recorded for two, three days in a row. It turned out nice, I think because we were spending time together in nature and in a cabin and it really captures that feeling. I’m proud of that! Right now, we’re mixing it, and we’re just about to the mastering stage.
And what about you and Rebecca? What’s next for Buffalo Gals as an entity?
Rebecca is also in Sad Daddy, so she’s part of that project. Buffalo Gals, we play quite a bit here around the Austin area. There’s a lot of outdoor venues and we were playing indoors as well, but we managed to keep pretty busy despite COVID. We’re doin’ a lot of playing, and we did just release an album last summer. We’re not talking about an album yet, but I imagine within the next year or so after the Sad Daddy album is finished, we’ll be recording again. We’re not really planning that far out. Just kinda seeing what’s happening. We don’t have any tours. I’m kind of planning a couple of little, I don’t even know if you could call ’em tours, but going back to Arkansas to a few towns and to sell the new album, doing some outdoor shows. And then I just booked Station Inn in June to have the album release in Nashville. I’ll have several of the folks that were on the album playing with me. So I’m excited about that!
That was my next question! What’s the plan for the album release?
Well, I’m doin’ an album release the day that it’s released. March 19th, I’m playing at the Sagebrush in Austin. I don’t know if you’ve heard of that venue? It’s a newer venue. It’s a beautiful bar, and then they have this great outdoor area too. I’ve got Jenn Miori Hodges of The Carper Family playin’ with me, Rebecca will be with me, and then Emily Gimble, who’s a great piano player. Have you heard of Emily?
I want to tell you that name sounds familiar, but I’m not positive.
Her grandpa, I think his name’s Johnny Gimble, played fiddle with Bob Wills.
Yeah, I know! And she in her own right is a really incredible piano player! And she sings great too! I think I’ll have a five-piece band. I’ll have a drummer too. So I’m excited about that show. That’s comin’ right up and then I’ve got that little Arkansas tour planned in May and then in June, I’ll do Nashville. I think I’ll do Kentucky and Indiana too. So doin’ a little somethin’! Not as much as I would have, but I’m piecin’ together a few things!