Interview: Mark Chesnutt Keeps Traditional Country Alive on New Album
Mark Chesnutt landed on the charts over and over again in the late 1980s and '90s with No. 1 hits such as "It Sure Is Monday," "It's a Little Too Late" and "Gonna Get a Life." In the years since, the country music landscape has changed plenty -- but the 52-year-old's music hasn't.
On Friday (July 8), Chesnutt released his 15th studio album -- his first since 2010 -- Tradition Lives. It's a fitting title for the 13-track album, which the singer tells The Boot "doesn't resemble, in any way, new country."
"It’s not anything different that I’ve ever done," Chesnutt adds. "It’s the same kind of music that I always recorded."
Produced by Jimmy Ritchey, Chesnutt's longtime friend and famed producer, Tradition Lives was recorded purely as an answer to the artist's loyal fans, who have patiently waited for new music from the Texan.
"My fans on the road at meet and greets, autograph sessions, they’ve always asked me, for several years, ‘When are we going to have something new?'" Chesnutt shares. "I’ve done so many remakes for different companies that wanted me to do projects for them, and so I did those, but people were wanting some new songs, some original songs ...
"[My record label, Row Entertainment], they all know that I don’t want anybody telling me what I should record and what I shouldn’t record; they should know I know what I’m doing now, after 25 years," he continues. "Jimmy knows that I don’t want to do anything different."
Chesnutt hand-picked 12 original songs for Tradition Lives, a process that he admits took more than three years.
"We had a lot of trouble at first," he concedes. "We had to put a song search out, and we had to find some great songs. We recorded two or three songs at the very beginning, and I wasn’t happy with any of them, so we scrapped those and started over. I said, ‘These ain’t strong enough. We can find better tunes.’ So we did."
While the songs on Tradition Lives sound like pure country, with a nostalgic nod to the music of a previous generation, Chesnutt insists that he isn't trying to make some sort of statement.
"It’s the type of music I’ve always done," he maintains. "I wasn’t trying to prove anything or be a rebel or make a statement or say new country sucks or anything like that, at all. My fans wanted new music, and I had to give it to them."
The 13th track on Tradition Lives is a cover: "There Won't Be Another Now," written by Red Lane and recorded by Merle Haggard twice, once in the '70s and once in the '80s.
"I’ve always loved it, but I’ve never sang it; for some reason, it’s just one of those songs I never sang. I sang all of the other Haggard songs, most of them. That’s one I never got around to singing, but I always loved to listen to it," Chesnutt notes. "When I met Merle, I was telling him that was one of my favorite songs that he ever did. He said, ‘Yeah, that’s one of mine, too. It’s a Red Lane song.’ I said, ‘Well, I love it. I always have.’ He said, ‘Well, you need to record that.'"
Chesnutt forgot about his conversation with the country icon until late one night, when he and Ritchey were in Ritchey's studio, trying to find the missing piece to complete Chesnutt's new disc. Suddenly, Chesnutt remembered "There Won't Be Another Now" -- and before the sun came up the next morning, it was recorded.
"And that’s what’s on the album," Chesnutt says -- one take, and that was that. "It was before Red Lane and Merle Haggard died."
Unfortunately, Haggard never got to hear Chesnutt's version of "There Won't Be Another Now" -- but Lane did, right before he passed away in July of 2015. Chesnutt sent the song to Suzi Cochran, the widow of Hank Cochran, who was caring for Lane.
"He was dying at that time. He was sick; he was on his deathbed ... He could barely talk," Cochran remembers of his opportunity speaking to Lane "for the first and last time." But when he heard "There Won't Be Another Now," Chesnutt recalls, "Suzi said he had a big smile on his face when he was listening to that. And that made me feel great."
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