Fayetteville’s Prodigal Songwriter Returns

Fayetteville’s Prodigal Songwriter Returns
Courtesy Photo Joe Purdy, folk singer/songwriter and native Arkansan, has made a successful career with his intimate, heartfelt music. His songs have been featured on episodes of “Lost,” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” and he recently just finished an impromptu tour with Billy Bragg.

Courtesy Photo
Joe Purdy, folk singer/songwriter and native Arkansan, has made a successful career with his intimate, heartfelt music. His songs have been featured on episodes of “Lost,” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” and he recently just finished an impromptu tour with Billy Bragg.

Joe Purdy, the 34 year-old singer songwriter and Northwest Arkansas native, is an old soul.

You might want to compare his music to Bob Dylan’s, but he’d quickly reject any such comparison. The inspiration comes from the music he exclusively listens to — the kind of music that continues to “wow” him. He only listens to vinyl records that were made before 1973, and he just can’t bring himself to get into newer music — even though he knows he’s missing out, he said.

“If that’s the stuff that you constantly listen to and you really want to hear the best music that makes you think ‘Wow, I can’t even do that,’ and if you stay a fan of music and you keep listening to the guys who are the best, and you aim for that… it keeps you sharp,” Purdy said in a phone interview. “I haven’t even breached half of the old records that I plan to know by the time it’s all said and done. That stuff schools me every time, and those guys have always been my teachers. But, I’m just an angry old man, so don’t listen to me.”

Purdy is quite the prolific songwriter, too, as evidenced by his 13 albums he’s written. He’s able to translate just about any feeling that sits with him into a song. The words just come out of him. For a time, he had a fear that he’d lose that ability, but if it hasn’t happened yet, it probably won’t happen, he said.

“I do it because I kind of have to,” Purdy said. “It’s my therapy at the same time. If you can say something that you’d be embarrassed to say out loud otherwise, but you can make it rhyme, for some reason you’re forgiven. Once I figured that out, everything else started to get a little easier. I don’t force songs, and if they’re not coming I don’t try. There’s always something that’s in there that comes out.”

Purdy’s most recent record, “Eagle Rock Fire” was recorded with analog tape in an effort to emulate the kind of recordings made on his favorite records. The entire album was made in an analog process from making the record on tape, mixing on tape, and cutting the lacquer mastered from the tapes, and he had all computers removed while recording and mixing down the record.

The vinyl record version of the album is completely unaltered from any digital processing, with nothing but the pure recordings etched into the record. The recording of the album only took them about five days and they did most of the tracks in one or two takes, Purdy said.

“I wanted to make an album where we were making music with our ears instead of our eyes,” he said. “We didn’t want any screens in the room. If there’s any mistakes or nuances that were recorded, we kept them in to keep it authentic to the moment.”

The album name comes from the first song Purdy wrote for it about his neighborhood outside Los Angeles in Eagle Rock, Calif. When told to evacuate his home last summer because of an incoming fire, he didn’t pack up his guitars and belongings. He sat down, and he began to write a song. The verses read, “Warn all the horses, warn all the riders, that the fire is coming down.” When he finished the song, the evacuation warnings passed.

The music of “Eagle Rock Fire” is as expected; rootsy, southern and heartfelt. The songs carry the theme of being a country boy in the big city and finding a place, both physically and spiritually amidst the change of space. It’s truly a songwriter’s album, full of stories with musical accompaniment.

Northwest Arkansas Roots, Music Career

The last time Purdy played in Arkansas was at JR’s Lightbulb Club. At the time, they still had concerts in the basement and they still made pizza, which Purdy affectionately remembers was “the fucking best.”

While talking about the Fayetteville scene on the phone, he remembered one of his favorite shows in Fayetteville was watching The Cate Brothers perform with Levon Helm, legendary drummer and singer for The Band.

“That’s the last time music meant something to me in Arkansas, was watching Levon,” Purdy said.

As a side note, the year before Helm died in 2012, Purdy was invited to open for one of Helm’s infamous Midnight Ramble shows where Helm would invite musicians to come and play out on his land. Purdy said singing “Tears of Rage” with him was living out a bucket list moment.

“It was one of the favorite moments of my life,” he said. “It was incredible just to sit behind him and his kit and listen to the way he plays. There’s just never been a drummer like him. He’s the best there’s ever been as far as I’m concerned. He had such feel.”

Some of Purdy’s biggest moments in his career are due to getting some of his tracks featured in hit TV shows like “Lost,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “House M.D.”

“It’s pretty nice,” Purdy said. “It’s a blessing. It’s really nice when you can have something in somewhere where it seems to mean something and it’s a poignant moment when the song is heard. I’ve had the most success from those situations, obviously opposed to just sort of being in the background. It’s a way for a guy like me to have a career.”

A few weeks ago he and folk singer Billy Bragg dropped into south St. Louis, Mo. while on tour together to play an impromptu benefit concert for a Ferguson food pantry and helped unite the community protesting the recent police brutality in Ferguson. It was another one of those bucket list experiences, Purdy said.

So, if you get the chance, you can check out Northwest Arkansas’ prodigal songwriter at George’s Majestic Lounge Tuesday, Sept. 16 at 8 p.m.

Joe Purdy

Where: George’s Majestic Lounge

When: Tuesday, Sept. 16 at 8 p.m.

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