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American Routes Shortcuts: Charley Crockett

Charley Crockett Image by Taylor Grace.jpg
Taylor Grace
/
Charley Crockett

Singer/guitarist Charley Crockett plays what he calls "Gulf and Western” music, a combination of blues, R&B, soul, country and more found along the Gulf Coast from Texas to Louisiana. It makes sense, since that's where he grew up, living with his mother in a trailer. Charley’s lived many lives, hitchhiking with his guitar from coast to coast, playing in subways and city streets in New York City, New Orleans and Paris; working farms in California, running into trouble with the law and later his health with open heart surgery. He's recorded several highly acclaimed albums and is known for his takes on classic country tunes as well as original songs. But for Charley, the blues is where it all began.

Charley Crockett: That's kind of how I started out: standing around in empty doorways in Deep Ellum and you know, sliding into guitar pools on Saturday afternoons at, you know, in the back of Adair's Saloon there on Commerce. I used to be just this kind of annoying kid, you know, that those old timers, you know, I was just somebody that was kind of irritating them at first. I couldn't really play, or they didn't want to hear it.

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CC: You know, I had such a rough situation eventually where so many things hit the fan. The best idea going forward in my life at a certain point, as I was becoming a young man, was to just stuff my things in a duffel bag and take this pawn shop guitar my mama bought me, and I just started hitchhiking.

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CC: And I didn't end up at that conclusion easily. Lot of really bad things happened, a lot of tough breaks and family life and issues with the law and stuff like that. And I guess I always wanted to go to New York City because, you know, of Bob Dylan, because of, you know, Woody Guthrie. There was something there that I was looking for. Of course, it wasn't what I was looking for it is what I got trying to find this diamond in the rough, you know, in those streets.

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NS: I mean, at what point do you begin to feel like, "Oh, I could do this for a living, and maybe the way to go is folk and country music," I mean do you have like a realization moment?

CC: Man, I don't know. You know, there's so–

NS: Crept up on you.

CC: It crept up, it crept up. You know, the thing about standing outside–I'll make a short story long and put it like this: started in a park in New York City. But eventually I tried street corners, got ran off a lot of street corners, got the cops called a lot, you know. Then that drove me into subways, playing on subway platforms in New York City. Playing on the platforms is competitive, you know, I was playing at subway stops that weren't competitive, that didn't make a lot of money. But then I kind of started there, and no one would bother me. And I got a lot better by being able to sit in the same spot for hours at a time and work out music.

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To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.