Jump to Content

Welcome! You’re browsing the No Depression Archives

No Depression has been the foremost journalistic authority on roots music for well over a decade, publishing 75 issues from 1995 to 2008. No Depression ceased publishing magazines in 2008 and took to the web. We have made the contents of those issues accessible online via this extensive archive and also feature a robust community website with blogs, photos, videos, music, news, discussion and more.

Close This

Town and Country - Shorter Artist Feature from Issue #35 Sept-Oct 2001

Elbert West

Pitching to himself

NASHVILLE, TN

Elbert West is “livin’ the life.” Sure, that’s the name of his new album on Broken Bow Records, but more importantly, it’s the state of mind he lives by.

“It’s Friday night for me every night,” West says. “It’s Christmas every day. I’m livin’ the life. Most people dream about it, but I’m in it.”

West is a “new traditionalist” with more than a few eccentric twists. His voice inevitably draws comparisons to George Jones’ rich baritone, while his live shows — with a band featuring a half-dozen or so well-weathered players — are something akin to Mad Dogs & Englishmen meets Conway Twitty and Hasil Adkins in a fight-your-friends roadhouse.

Country artists often borrow all the wrong things from rock ‘n’ roll (distorted guitars, crashing backbeats and light shows), but West was blessed, or cursed, with James Dean-style rock ‘n’ roll irreverence. Yet at 33, he’s also no stranger to one of the more cutthroat sides of the music business. In the early ’90s, he penned “Sticks And Stones” and “Can’t Break It To My Heart”, the first two No. 1 hits for singer Tracy Lawrence.

It was a time of learning — the hard way — for West, who grew up dirt-poor in the southern West Virginia coalfields. “I made about a half-million dollars within three or four years, and pissed it all away,” he confesses. “It’s amazing how quick green paper turns into water when you haven’t had it.

“You don’t think this business is crazy? You walk in, tell them who you are and what song you wrote. They pull it up on a computer and hand you a big ol’, fat juicy check. I was broke, I didn’t have no lights on in my apartment, but I looked good for a day and ate like a king for a week.”

Older and wiser, and tired of hearing publishers tell him his songs are “too country for Nashville,” West is now an artist as opposed to a songwriter, a distinction more to his liking.

“Songwriting is a nasty, nasty job, and only a handful truly get enough cuts to make a good living at it,” he says. “I was not comfortable in that political thing — trying to fight and scrape for those cuts. Plus, there’s no freedom because publishers want you to write ‘with the times.’ I just want to tell the truth and be what I am.”

West says Livin’ The Life represents exactly what and who he is, and that he’s not beholden to anyone or anything but himself. “Don’t get me wrong, those songs were good to me,” he said. “But this record I got — that’s me. It’s what I want to say, and the sound that I want to make.”

As his own career takes off, West is no longer concerned with pitching his songs to other artists. “Don’t try, don’t care about it,” he said. “I’m a recording artist now and I happen to know me personally. So I can pitch my songs to me and I know me will listen to them. That way, I don’t have to go through all the bullshit I had to as a writer.”

And you’d better believe that when his single “Diddley” brings home the bacon, West will be breaking ground on a guitar-shaped swimming pool a la Webb Pierce.

“Definitely,” he said. “In fact, I’m not only gonna do the guitar, but I’m gonna go ahead and do the whole seven-piece band — fiddle, steel and everything.”

But seriously, folks: “I’m not an extravagant guy,” West says, “but if I’ve got it and the basics are taken care of, the rest of it’s just to have fun with, to help people and enjoy some things I wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.”

Enjoy the ND archives? Consider making a donation with PayPal or send a check to:
No Depression, 460 Bush St., San Francisco, CA 94108

Discuss

Did you enjoy this article? Start a discussion about it, or find out what others are saying in the No Depression Community forum.

Join the Discussion »

Find out what's going on in roots music. Share concert photos and videos, learn about new artists, blog about the music you love.

Join the No Depression Community »

Originally Featured in Issue #35 Sept-Oct 2001

Buy our history before it’s gone!

Each issue is artfully designed and packed full of great photos that you don‘t get online. Visit the No Depression store to own a piece of history.

Visit the No Depression Store »


From the Blogs

  • Jimbo Mathus on Americana Music Show #188
    On episode 188 of the Americana Music Show, Jimbo Mathus plays tracks from Dark Night Of The Soul, talks about going from "sepia tones to ultrachrome" and the "crazy Mississippi white boy chain."  Also in this episode, indie rock from Bobby Bare Jr., heartland rock from Jonny Two Bags, country rock from Rodney Crowell, road tripo music fr […]
  • The War on Drugs: From Dylan to Dire Straits, By Way of Attrition
    Whether on the basketball court or onstage, when two supreme talents join forces, it tends to make things better. Michael Jordan needed Scottie Pippen, LeBron James needs Dwyane Wade, McCartney clearly needed Lennon, and Salt would be a run-of-the mill condiment without Pepa. But there are exceptions to such… […]
  • Dylan, "Desire" and the (other) Story of Hurricane: A Lesson In Fatherhood
    Reading of the death of former pro boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter today awoke an old memory which reminded me how lucky I was to have, what in retrospect, was a pretty cool father.  I should add by "cool" I do not mean some kind of "over the hill hipster" who, in a desperate attempt at trying to stay relevant smokes pot or acts […]
  • Lachlan Bryan and The Wildes – Black Coffee (Album Review)
    After a successful solo outing, Aussie country singer Lachlan Bryan got his old band back into the studio and came up with this cracker of an album. It was released in the autumn of last year in Australia and subsequently picked up a major award as “Alternative Country” album of the year. Such acclaim means any belated praise from me is superfluous, but I’m […]
  • Album Reviews: Gord Downie & The Sadies, Bruce Springsteen, Lost & Nameless, The Annie Ford Band
    Gord Downie, The Sadies, and the Conquering Sun The lead singer of one of Canada’s most influential rock bands gets together with one of the best live bands ever for a collaborative effort and the expected results could range anywhere from confusion to straight ahead awesomeness. Thankfully (and not surprisingly, given the players involved) the semi-eponymou […]
  • Blackberry Smoke Is the Goddamn Truth
    Southern rock is a stylistic hodgepodge--a musical mutt.  Yet in this gumbo pot of a country, its impurities and cross-breeding make it the most American genre of all. And with the Allman Brothers drawing down, southern rock's current standard bearer is Blackberry Smoke, a lofty perch they hardly jeopardized during a lively set last night at Seattle […]

Shop Amazon by clicking through this logo to support NoDepression.com. We get a percentage of every purchase you make!


Subscribe To the No Depression Newsletter

Subscribe to the No Depression Newsletter