Sometimes people argue over who is the greatest living songwriter or who is the greatest male or female songwriter or who is the greatest songwriter in Texas, Nashville, New York, California or wherever. Usually the songwriters that these people bestow the "greatest" title on is whomever is the current critical darling songwriter of the week, And they may very be right, I don't know. I always abstain from these kinds of discussions because songwriting ain't baseball or football. Songwriting can't be discussed in those black and white terms for many reasons. One of the reasons is that there are too many fantastic unknown or little appreciated songwriters throughout music history who I think are as good or even better than many of the names I often hear mentioned.
For example Mickey Newbury. A case could easily made that he was as responsible as anyone for the golden era of country songwriting in the 1960's and 70's. Some of his songs were quasi-autobiographical heartbreakers while others were beautifully sketched narrative ballads but almost all are as good as anything written by anyone anywhere anytime.
John Prine said that "Mickey Newbury is probably the best songwriter ever." Kris Kristofferson said, "God, I learned more about songwriting from Mickey than I did from any other single human being." You can't argue with those guys.
You may have never heard of Mickey Newbury but you certainly heard his songs. They've been covered by (a very short list): Elvis, Willie Nelson, B.B. King, Tom Jones, Dottie West, Jerry Garcia, Etta James, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles, Roy Orbison, Phish, Joan Baez, Buddy Rich, Keith Richards and, even, Englebert Humperdink. An extremely impressive list of admirers. I highly recommend any of his albums if you want to hear a master at work.
The Newbury song I recorded, "Mobile Blue," is from his classic concept album, Frisco Mabel Joy. It was cut as part of a tribute CD to Frisco Mabel Joy and Newbury that was put together by No Depression's Peter Blackstock a few years back that deserved more attention than it received. The track was recorded in 2000 at the sessions for my Public Domain CD and features Rick Shea on the biting electric guitar, Joe Terry on the pumping piano, Bobby Lloyd Hicks slapping the skins, Brantley Kearns on the swinging fiddle and former Rodger Miller/Hoyt Axton/Dillard and Clark/Jackson Browne bassist, David Jackson thumping the stand up bass. The backwards guitar intro is by Jazz guitar innovator, Bill Frizzell.
- Dave Alvin, October 30th, 2007