Posted August 25, 2014 by Jeff in Tunes

Joe Fletcher Takes His Time For All The Right Reasons

Joe Fletcher photo by Joshua Black Wilkins
Joe Fletcher photo by Joshua Black Wilkins

On his forthcoming solo album, You’ve Got the Wrong Man, singer-songwriter Joe Fletcher takes a different approach than he did on his first two albums with his band, the Wrong Reasons. The record, which features covers of songs by Brown Bird and Toy Soldiers, was recorded live over a few months on a mobile recording unit in Rhode Island, Georgia, and Tennessee. Fletcher sought to capture the spirit of recordings by Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Jimmie Rodgers and Bruce Springsteen. He spoke to us via phone from his Nashville home.

You moved to Nashville last October. What has it been like?
I’ve only been here about half the time. I wanted to move here and it’s been great. Most of my friends I’ve met from traveling around are here so it’s a great place to be based. There’s plenty of stuff to do.

Do you play there often?
Not too much. There are fun musician things to do. There’s this place called The 5 Spot in East Nashville. They have shows all week long but once a month they have a country Western covers night. It’s a separate thing from the lower Broadway thing. It’s musicians who do what I do. We get together with a house band and sing five country songs and rehearse the covers with the house band and have a fun night. As far as regular shows, I haven’t played here in a month. You treat it like a tour stop or you wear out your audience.

You used to be an English teacher and taught a course on American roots music. Talk about what first got you interested in roots music?
My gateway was becoming an avid Bob Dylan fan when I was in college. In high school, I was into Neil Young. In college, I get into Bob Dylan deeply. He’s still my favorite. For the next five years, I just read about him. Once I got everything thought I could get out of that, I became interested in his influences. That led me to Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family and Lead Belly. I’m interested in American history and the Civil War and the music ties in. I’ve been a music fan since I was a small child. I always taught music in all my classes. The roots class was an elective and there was a concert at the end of the year. I knew I did a good job when kids were fighting over who would do the Robert Johnson song or the Johnny Cash song, stuff that kids that age aren’t normally exposed to.

Being a Bob Dylan fan should have encouraged you to take up singing. He doesn’t have a traditional vocal delivery.
That’s true. He’s a great singer as far as range, he just has an unusual voice. It took me awhile. I still love the songs on my first record and I still play a lot of them. But I can’t listen to that fucking record. I can tell I don’t know what I’m doing. In five years, I’ll feel that way about this album.

And what about your second effort, White Lighter?
I don’t enjoy listening to my records and I haven’t heard that one in a long time. In my mind, I’m comfortable. I’m proud of the record. I’ll stand by the songs on both records. As far as overall quality, White Lighter was recorded better than Bury Your Problems.

Talk a bit about your approach on your newest release, You’ve Got the Wrong Man.
It’s a solo record. There are 12 songs on it. Nine of the songs are just vocals and guitar. There are no overdubs. It was all recorded live on a cassette four-track I had used for demoing songs for a long time. These songs are quieter, spookier, finger pickin’ songs that have a Townes Van Zandt vibe to them. As I was demoing them, I felt they were done. I was traveling a lot and it was time to make a record. It was beyond time to make a record. I kept touring and touring and I couldn’t say no to different tours. I was moving at the time too. I could set up shop in a hotel room. You can hear cars going by occasionally. I like that.

A lot my favorite records are old Woody Guthrie or Lead Belly albums and that’s how they did it. It wasn’t a popular decision among my friends. They all thought I was crazy.

“Florence, Alabama,” is a sardonic song written from the point of view of a veteran sent back to the desert just as the love of his life arrives in his life.
That’s totally fictional. Someone pointed out to me that there are a ridiculous number of Alabama references on this record. There are three at least, which is strange since it’s a state I never lived in. A few years ago, I went on a tour after I left my teaching job. It was supposed to be a duo tour. On a day’s notice, I had to do my first tour alone. I was a little nervous about it. I’ve always been with one other person. At least a week was in Alabama and it had a profound effect on me. I’m grateful the guy quit on me the day before the trip; it opened a door I would be nervous to walk through myself. Amazing and strange things happened on that trip. One was a visit to The Hank Williams Museum. Another was a trip to the First White House of the Confederacy where Jefferson Davis lived. “Florence, Alabama” is a picture of this small town solider who realizes he’s fighting on behalf of these wealthy men and falls in love, deserts the Confederacy and comes back to find the girl’s not there anymore.

One song “Haint Blue Cadillac” concerns a fever dream that takes place at The Hank Williams Museum.
I got there at 11 in the morning right when it opened. I was the only person there aside from the lady at the desk. The first thing you see is the Cadillac that he died in. I didn’t know that was there at all and I was pretty moved by it. Right when I was about to leave I stopped at the car again and I was sneaking a couple of pictures, which you weren’t supposed to do. One of my favorite Hank Williams songs, “Ramblin’ Man,” came on and I just sat down and listened to it and looked at the car. It was one of those moments. The song sounds as sad as the words are. Something about the subject matter related to my own life. At the end, he was talking about his loved one standing on his grave. It was a magical moment. I felt like I was vibrating when I left that place. It was one of the things I thought and thought and thought about. I had the first line for a year before I wrote that song. It was two years before I finished it, which is not uncommon for me, I’m afraid.

I like the cover of Brown Bird’s “Mabel Grey.” Talk about that song a bit.
I started doing that song right when [Brown Bird singer] Dave [Lamb] got sick. I close my shows with that song. I used to say that I would play that song until he was back playing that song. Obviously, that didn’t happen. He was one of my closest friends in the world. I did a lot of touring with Brown Bird. I did the last one that they actually finished. He’s been one of my best friends. Dave heard that version of the song – we recorded it back in February. It’s a tribute to him. I wanted to keep awareness until they were back on the road. They were on a roll and gaining momentum. It’s one of those devastating things.

The record is out in September?
Yes, I’ll be selling it at the shows.

You’ll play songs from it?
The show is going to be completely different. It will be based on the new record but I’ll be on upright bass and [Brown Bird’s] MorganEve will be on fiddle. Whether you’ve seen me solo or with a rock band, it’ll be different. I’m excited about it.

Upcoming 2014 Tour Dates

Aug 27

Aug 28

Aug 29

Aug 30

Aug 31

Sept 3

Sept 4

Sept 5

Sept 6

Sept 20

Sept 25

Sept 26

Sept 28

Oct 2

Oct 3-5

Oct 8

Nov 1

Nov 11

Nov 12

Nov 13

New Vintage, Louisville, KY

Mahall’s 20 Lanes, Lakewood, OH

Howler’s Coyote Cafe, Pittsburgh, PA

Abilene, Rochester, NY

Campfire Festival, Lakewood, PA

Great Scott, Boston, MA

Dream Away Lodge, Becket, MA

Columbus Theatre, Providence, RI

Rockwood Music Hall Stage 1, New York, NY

The Basement, Nashville, TN

Pappy and Harriet’s, Pioneertown, CA

Way Over Yonder Festival, Santa Monica, CA

Soda Bar, San Diego, CA

Standing Sun Winery, Beullton, CA

Keepin’ It Country, Bandit Town, CA

The Crepe Place, Santa Cruz, CA

HiFi, Indianapolis, IN

The Earl, Atlanta, GA

The Pinhook, Durham, NC

DC9, Washington, DC


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].