The road to Crane’s Nest, Kentucky, winds along the course of a rushing creek, flanked on one side by a steep hill and on the other by houses that are decorated in Christmas lights and plastic Nativity scenes. The sky is low and gray here this winter evening. It is a lonely and beautiful place, a forgotten community that has the notes of mountain sorrow and joy caught in the tree branches and the flow of the creek. In the big curve just past the New Bethel Church is Scott’s Branch, and just a ways up the holler is Wayne Scott’s cabin that sits five hundred feet from his birthplace.
Members of the Scott family have lived here since 1893. “I can remember when we were all here,” Wayne says. “And now I’m the only one left.”
It took him awhile to make it back to the only piece of land that ever felt completely right to him, and now that he’s back, his music is flourishing, at age 71.
“I had to leave Eastern Kentucky,” he says. “There wasn’t any work. So I went anywhere I could find to push a broom.”
That journey took him to Michigan and Chicago (“I didn’t much like it anywhere up north,” he says), and then west to California. Once there, he found himself the single father of five boys when his wife “hit the road,” he says.
Wayne was raised in a musical family of twelve siblings on the tobacco farm where he worked six days a week as a child. “I had a total disease of music,” he says. When everyone else went to bed, he’d sit up and play and sing. “I’d go to the barn or the cellar or the coal mine to sing. I just couldn’t quit. I had to sleep, too, of course, but not as much as the rest of them because I loved music so much.”
He didn’t actually start playing guitar until he was 12, but would he have started earlier if his older brother hadn’t kept such a tight rein on the guitar they all shared. “As soon as my brother left, I dived for that guitar,” he says. “I already knew how to play just from watching everybody.”
While still in Kentucky, he even had his own show — “The Wayne Scott Show” on WCTT in Corbin (“I really thought I was getting into the big time there,” he says) — and he was always writing songs, most of which he threw away. But once he got to California, he felt it was best to put all that aside to focus on raising his children.
“They were always my number one priority,” he says. “I felt inefficient, but looking back I can see that I did a pretty good job — they all turned out real good — and people were all the time asking me how I did it. I think it was music that helped me raise them. We played together, had that bond. But it wasn’t possible for me to raise my children right and pursue my music, so I waited until they were pretty much grown before I started really playing in front of people again.”
When he was about 40, Scott thought he might as well start making some money doing what he had always enjoyed. “I knew that I could at least entertain drunks,” he says.
Still, he never made a huge surge to get his own songs published or recorded. But one of his sons did.
Darrell Scott is now one of Nashville’s most respected singers, pickers and songwriters. ASCAP’s Songwriter of the Year in 2002, he has written hits for the Dixie Chicks, Travis Tritt and many others. However, one of his most-loved songs, “With A Memory Like Mine”, was penned by his father.
Once Darrell cemented his success in the industry, he began to badger Wayne to record some of his own songs himself. The result of that pestering is Wayne’s first album, This Weary Way, which Darrell produced. It’s the genuine article, a collection of songs from a man who has loved music all of his life.
Joined by Tim O’Brien, Dirk Powell, Casey Driessen and many others, Wayne sings of hard living on “It’s The Whiskey That Eases The Pain” (a duet with Guy Clark) and “My Last Bottle Of Wine”; crafts Appalachian anthems such as “In The Mountains” and “I Wouldn’t Live In Harlan County”; and fashions all-out gospel barnburners on “Sinner” and “Since Jesus Came Into My Heart”.
Wayne’s songwriting philosophy is simple. “If it wants to be written, I’ll write it,” he says. “I was heavily influenced by Lefty, Cash, Hank. So I always just wrote for myself, and I think that’s good advice to follow.”
He has made a few trips to Nashville, and finds the attention daunting. “They had me down there recently signing autographs and selling CDs and all these people were talking to me,” Wayne marvels. “It was all real new to me.”
He wants to support the album as much as possible, but he’s not too keen on hitting the tour circuit. “I’m old, but I can still get around,” he says. “But still, I like to be here where I can see my own flowers, where I can feed my dogs.”