English Translation of April 2021 Feature Interview
Link to Article: https://www.musikansich.de/
Interview partner: Rob McHale
Time: April 2021
Location: Statesville / North Carolina
Wilhelmshaven Interview: email
Style: Singer / Songwriter / Folk
Rob McHale, a neighbor of Tom Dooley, unpacks … info
Our colleague Wolfgang Giese had already reviewed a Rob McHale record in 2014, and a further review of the record Prophets on the Boulevard led to closer contact with the musician from North Carolina. At a concert on October 25, 2009, Wolfgang and his wife met Rob and his partner Meg for the first time, and a lasting friendship developed. The artist, who is very knowledgeable about history, has dealt intensively with certain figures and legends of American history and also performs them very passionately live. Stories about Jesse and Frank James, General Custer and especially Tom Dooley are part of it. Now Rob has agreed to answer a few questions in an interview.
Rob McHale: I was born in Washington, D.C. born and raised in North Carolina. It’s a wonderful place to live, the climate is similar to parts of Europe, although it can get a little warm in summer.
MAS: What music did your parents listen to when you were young and a child and also later?
Rob McHale: My parents enjoyed big band music, like Glenn Miller, especially they liked music with brass instruments like Herb Alpert And The Tijuana Brass, and I really liked that too. Her favorite music was quite a far cry from the music that was establishing itself in the US and Europe at the time.
MAS: Which music had a deeper influence on you when you were growing up, were there special bands or musicians that you can name?
Rob McHale with Wolfgang Giese
Rob McHale: Back then, it was the folk revolution and the acoustic scene that really got it going, and various rock bands. There were a lot of different styles that I enjoyed and I preferred many of them. So the artists who made the most impression were Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Neil Young, CSN, John Prine, Eric Clapton, The Beatles, The Stones, The Eagles and the Allman Bros.
Then the blues got me too, and I was a fan of the Chicago blues and the Delta blues, people like Howlin ‘Wolf, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Willie Dixon and Robert Johnson. I had become friends with that. I think Dylan and Guthrie were the ones who reached me the most in terms of their lyrics and lyrics. However, it was the blues that can touch your soul directly. I was fascinated by the flawless guitar playing of an Eric Clapton or a Buddy Guy.
MAS: Do you remember your first live concert and which one was it?
Rob McHale: My first concert was Jethro Tull’s at Clemson University in South Carolina.
MAS: How did your life develop on the way to your songs, and when did you write the first? Are there any events in this context that have shaped you and the content of your songs?
Rob McHale: Well, I started writing my own songs in my early twenties, but I often feel that I have only been writing really good songs since I was in my late thirties. I loved the sound of the acoustic guitar from an early age, but initially I devoted myself to an “electric” period for a few years. All along, however, something was dragging me to get back to the acoustic guitar, and that’s where my real roots lie.
In my twenties I also worked as a cargo pilot and flew old machines from the thirties and forties like the DC-3 all over the United States and Canada. It was a lot of fun, even with the sparsely equipped cockpit that often leaked, allowing rain or snow to get through. We were exposed to every possible weather situation back then and for a few years it seemed like a survival game. I have had to leave some planes behind due to engine failures or other important issues, but the joy of flying has helped me overcome some of these precarious situations.
In my early forties I knew that musically I was actually set up too broadly, I played too many styles, so I ended up concentrating
In my early forties I knew that musically I was actually set up too broadly, I played too many styles, so I ended up concentrating exclusively on the acoustic guitar. At that time I also bred horses (Belgian and German warm-blooded animals) and later also cattle. The farm environment played a huge role in shaping my music. Living in harmony with nature is soothing for the soul – walking in a forest, just sitting by a small stream and listening to the gentle flow of water, the gentle sounds of birdsong.
It was part of the reality of life, working outside in the rain and snow, then the heat of the Carolina summers, and looking after the cattle 24/7. I’ve done everything you can imagine on the farm, I built several hundred meters of fences and worked in the fields or on the buildings if necessary, actually I didn’t seem to mind, it was a great lifestyle and there was one good connection with mother earth. Today I still like to visit the farm, even though I no longer raise cattle.
MAS: When did you record your first album and how did it go from there?
Rob McHale: I recorded and produced my first album, Company Town, in 2008/2009, negotiating with a record label and postponing the release until a decision was made. Back then was not the right time for me and the conditions would have been too restrictive. I met producer Chris Rosser soon after it was released in 2010, and I’ve recorded all of the albums with him in his Asheville, North Carolina studio since then.
MAS: What is the content of your albums usually about?
Rob McHale: I’ve always been fascinated by the 19th century and the Wild West, and I was also heavily inspired by the era of the US Civil War. Compared to our current human lifestyle, I was concerned with the difficulties people had to face back then just to stay alive. The many years of experience in agriculture helped and helps me to identify with their problems and their struggle for survival, always dependent on rain, sun and the nature of the soil. All of these songs that I have written are historically understandable and in many others I have tried to include my own experiences, have also traveled to certain places in order to establish an inner connection and I have also invented some stories and packed them into songs.
Whenever possible, I try to identify with the characters of certain people. So I also traveled to most of the historical sites of the songs, for example to Montana (“Custer’s last Stand”), to James Farm in Missouri (“The Ghost of Jesse James”), Castlebar, Ireland, (“The Castlebar Races “) or to Boston (” Common Ground “). I included some of the legends of that time on my 2014 album Fields, such as General George Custer and his last appearance on the song “Surrounded Again”, as well as his brother Captain Tom Custer, who also lost the Battle of Little Big Horn. Or in the song “Fire and the Guns” it’s Sherman’s destructive march in the south. Then there is Dred Scott’s eleven year struggle for freedom from slavery, which ultimately ended in rejection by the United States Supreme Court, and a little Irish story is told with “The Castlebar Races”.
Tom Dooley and Friends (EP, 2016)
The next album, Tom Dooley and Friends, I recorded as a dedication to Edith Carter, she is a historian, teacher and founder of a historic village in the heart of Tom Dooley Country. She also ran the Tom Dooley Museum in her Whippoorwill Village. The Carters are the descendants of an important person in the Tom Dooley legend, Dr. George Nicolas Carter. I met Edith for the first time after she heard about my Tom Dooley song “Tom Dula (Set me free)” and invited me to visit. Since then I have been friends with her and her family, as well as some historians and descendants in the area they call Happy Valley. That’s at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina.
The radius of the Tom Dooley legend encompasses an area of about five miles, except for the place of his conviction and execution, in Statesville, North Carolina, about 35 miles south. It was a great privilege for me to tell the full story at the Happy Valley Fiddler’s Convention, at Laura Foster’s grave at sunset and by candlelight. My brother Pat accompanied me at the event on his harmonica on my songs that I wrote about the legend. I was fortunate that Pat performed and recorded with me in the band for many years, over 25 years. Pat has a remarkable talent on the harmonica. I also tell the story in the podcast The real Tom Dooley Story, which can be found on YouTube.
MAS: Tell us something about Tom Dooley. You told me that you lived near the place where he was hanged.
Rob McHale: I live only 25 minutes from the place where Tom Dooley was hanged in 1868 (the correct spelling of his name is Dula, although it is pronounced Dooley) and about 40 miles from where the family is located Dula was alive. Tom was hanged for the alleged murder of his girlfriend Laura Foster – based on evidence in the first “National love triangle murder mystery” in the USA. Today Tom is considered innocent.
On the way, I met Charlotte Corbin Barnes, the author of The Tom Dooley Files and Dooley. Ms. Barnes studied this legend for over 30 years and discovered a wealth of information. For me, she is the leading authority in this area. Ms. Barnes and I have presented many historical shows in the area and will continue to do so in the future. A recent book by Danish author Jan Kronsell, Who killed Laura Foster (2020), is also an exceptional book on the subject. Jan made a special trip to the United States to do research for this 400-page, easy-to-read book.
MAS: How often have you toured Europe and where and when was that?
Rob McHale: I love to play in Europe, it feels like I’m at home. My ancestors lived in Hamburg, Alsace, Ireland and England. I have been performing in Europe since 2011, initially in Ireland, but in the last few years also in England and Scotland, and there was also a
been performing in Europe since 2011, initially in Ireland, but in the last few years also in England and Scotland, and there was also a trip to Germany in 2019. I hope this year (2021) to be able to catch up on the England tour that was canceled last year and also to be able to play a show in Crail, Scotland. I found that the audience seemed delighted with the contributions on American history and the similarities between cultures. You pay special attention to details so that I am always prepared for discussions after the show. I look forward to coming back to Europe and visiting other countries as well.
MAS: Are there major differences in the European audience and how does it differ from the US audience in general? Which differences can be particularly emphasized?
Rob McHale: In the US I play with my band and solo, mostly indoors, in theaters, cafes, at historical societies, libraries and at house concerts. I also occasionally play at several festivals and now and then there are venues where the audience is unfortunately quite loud. So I hold back and practice concentrating more. My band and I are like traveling companions, of course my brother Pat and Frank Berridge on bass, Jim Singer with his 150-year-old violin and Peter McCranie on dobro. I play the acoustic guitar and sing.
MAS: You often read that the time for CDs and LPs is running out and that there will only be downloads for music consumption. What do you think about it? Is it going to happen that way? And what would the consequences be for you as a musician?
Rob McHale: The music business has changed dramatically over the years and the digital trends have basically worked well for us, allowing artists to reach people all over the world. There are a lot more options now on radio and other media, but CD sales do best on shows. I like to give someone something physical, a CD that they can hold in their hand and appreciate and also to read the texts on it. Maybe in the future there will be a hologram with the art and the content and the music will only be streamed. But I prefer it, as it is now, with physical CDs.
MAS: What future musical plans do you have?
Rob McHale: We’ll probably start work on a new album in 2022. It’s always a wonderful development process. I love to listen to the contributions of the other musicians to the individual songs and to involve them.
MAS: Are there any musicians you would like to work with for an album and why?
Rob McHale: If there’s one studio production I dream of, it’s with Gordon Lightfoot. I like his style and his music, and because he’s a really great person in general, and you like to be with him. “The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald” is one of my favorite songs to this day.
MAS: Would you also record and play other music than you do now, if you could earn more money with it. If so, what music would you play to get into the charts?
Rob McHale: I’m happy with what I’m doing musically, I play with wonderful people in the band and I like to keep the tradition of storytelling and story alive. The folk audience may be smaller than the mainstream, but that’s where I belong. Original text on this: “I don’t think this horse can be painted a different color.”
MAS: Last but not least: Is there anything that you would particularly like to convey as a message to the readers of Musik An sich?
Rob McHale: I would especially like to thank the readers of Musik An Sich and the excellent staff for their commitment to folk music, which is very important to me. You are part of the lifeline of artists and it means a lot to all of us to have people to share our music with. They are the artist’s lifeline and it means a lot to all of us to have people to share music with. Thank you so much and I hope to see you all “on the flip side”.