How do you go about writing music? Your originals sound utterly timeless. Is that an intentional thing, or is it a matter of the water you swim in?
I don't know if "writing" is really the right term. Often, I'll have the seed of an idea from some old song that's been on my mind. Instead of going back to an old recording, I'll just write new lyrics, and before you know it, you got your own song. I guess they're timeless because the sources are. My favorite music is still the genius, classic, old-time country blues and roots music; the heartfelt, solo expression of the quirky, weird, oddball solo musician.
Your arrangements of old blues songs honor the originals and yet shine new light at the same time. How do you approach making these songs your own?
My approach is to soak up the music until its part of your own spirit, and then make your own version of it. Not much note-for-note copying, just inspiration, transformed. Also, using the musical base as a springboard for improvisation. Once you have the language of the style, then you can speak it in your own voice.
Let's talk about some of these songs. How do you keep replenishing the library? Where do you keep finding these little gems?
There’s a deep pool of quality songs that never seems to run dry. I am amazed by the power of it. I feel I've just scratched the surface, even after 30-odd years of playing and 11 albums. The focus and drive just keeps going deeper. I just get into a zone and sort of hypnotize myself. I'm just lucky others seem to want to come along with me.
You made a wonderful solo guitar CD a few years back, A Fistful of Riffs, which proved your mastery of your instrument. Any plans for another solo guitar project, or other experiments in the works?
I never really planned to make an all-instrumental record. It's only one aspect of the music. I do love the sound and twangy depth of the different guitars, and there will probably be a few instrumental pieces here and there, but I like my records to have mostly songs [with vocals]. I'd like to try a little dubbing, maybe play and sing harmonies myself, add some guitar parts. Mostly, though, my vision has remained steady: getting the most music out of one guitar, one voice and the rhythm of the feet.
You tour the U.S., Mexico and the United Kingdom frequently. Where else can our readers catch you in 2008?
My wife (and manager/sound engineer) Penny and I are out on the road about half of the year; we're in Mexico right now, and will play in the UK and Europe this fall, and around the U.S. this summer. It's been a blast. This is the revelation/vision I had at age 15, and it's very gratifying to have been able to realize it. Here, over 30 years later, we're living a great life through music.
"If I Could Holler"
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Keep up-to-date with Catfish Keith’s touring schedule and new CD releases at his “string-twanging home” on the web, catfishkeith.com