South Australian bluegrass singer-songwriter Kristy Cox now makes her home in Nashville, where she has worked with the esteemed artist Jerry Salley. The pair is touring many parts of Australia soon, and I spoke to Kristy about the tour, her life in Nashville and how she balances music and business.
You are bringing this new show to Australia with Jerry Salley, and it’s different to what you’ve done before because if you were playing in Tamworth, for example, you have a band with you. How did you start to conceive of this you – because it’s a set show, you have stories, you have songs?
I’ve been working with Jerry Salley for about nine years – I’m getting old [laughs]. I started working with him when I recorded Breaking New Ground, and he’s just such an incredible songwriter and an incredible storyteller. An artist, singer, performer. Why he’s not a superstar I don’t know. He’s come back to Tamworth a couple of times with me and done the bluegrass shows but I really, really wanted to do a tour with him and show him Australia, where I come from, and more than just Sydney and Tamworth – I wanted to show him Victoria and South Australia, and right up the coast of Queensland and everywhere in between. And I really wanted to show the Australian audiences what the real Jerry Salley is about. You can hear his songs with Reba McEntire and other people singing them, but to see him do it and him tell you the stories behind how he wrote the songs and why he wrote the songs is really an eye-opener. And nobody ever leaves a Jerry Salley show without being completely gobsmacked at his talents. It was just one of those things where I wanted to bring him over and show a guy who’s influenced me so much in my music the place that I come from.
Did you work up to asking him – wondering, ‘Will he say no? What will it be?’ – or did it just come into your head one day and you asked?
I was trying to work out who to tour with in Australia and these days it’s hard to just go out and tour by yourself. And I had a new album and I knew I wanted to tour during that time of the year but I couldn’t think of who I wanted to tour with. There was a bunch of artists and we talked, and there’s so many people I’ve love to work with on the road, but schedules and everything didn’t work, and my husband said, ‘Hey, you should talk to Jerry and see if he’d like to go over and tour with you.’ And straightaway I said, ‘Yep, this is why none of the other ideas have worked – this is exactly what I’m meant to do.’ And I called Jerry and said, ‘Hey, would you like to go to Australia for five weeks and drive 4000 miles? It’ll be great fun, I promise!’ [Laughs] And he said, ‘Yes, I would love to.’ So it was good – it was literally just one phone call, and the next day the flights were booked and we started booking in the tour dates.
Are you doing that booking yourself?
I do most of it myself. It’s a big job.
So how do you choose? It’s one thing to say, ‘This is the town we’re going to’, but within that town there might be five pubs where you could play. Are you going to places you’ve been before?
Some of them I have, some of them are brand new. Some of them are places that Rebecca Lee Nye, who’s opening for us, suggested. Some of them I’d just really like to play in a place and I’d put it out on Facebook and say, ‘Hey, who’d like to hold a house concert?’ or ‘Who has a suggestion for somewhere to play here?’ We start in Victoria then head all the way up to Brisbane then down to Tamworth, then down across to Mildura, up to the Prairie Hotel in Parachilna on the border of the outback, down to Adelaide and then we send Jerry on his merry way.
And do you want to tour at that time of year because it’s warmer, for one thing, but also because it’s coming into Christmas and then you can be home around that time, to see your family?
I already had booked in the Cruisin’ Country in November and I knew that touring after that would be almost impossible with Christmas – December for touring is never really a good idea unless you’re doing a Christmas show. I knew I wanted to do quite an extensive tour – I think we’re doing 25 dates – so we’re starting a good five weeks before the Adelaide show, which is going to be a huge show. I’m really looking forward to that. And then I’ll do the cruise then I’ll go home and it will be five weeks of spending time with my family and letting them see Adelaide, my daughter, who they haven’t seen for a few months, and then go to Tamworth and head home [to Nashville]. So we’ll be home for four months and I’m excited.
Have you done Cruisin’ Country before?
I have not. I hope I don’t get boat sick [laughs]. It is something I’ve wanted to do, so when they asked me I said, ‘Yes!’
So the big Adelaide show is ‘Nashville Comes to Adelaide’. Catherine Britt’s on that and a few other artists – have you pulled that line-up together?
This will be the third year that we’ve run that show. My husband, Travis List, and I came up with the concept – it was ‘Nashville Comes to Gawler’ but it’s now Adelaide, we’ve moved venues into the city to be in a more central location. We both grew up in Adelaide and live in Nashville, and we wanted to give back to the country music community that gave us so much growing up, by bringing them a show that features artists who have either lived in Nashville, worked in Nashville, and give them the sounds of Broadway, basically – show them the music that we hear in Nashville. Bring them artists who might now tour in their area. I know it will be the first time in a while that a lot of the acts from that show have played in Adelaide, and Jerry’s never been to Adelaide. It’s a huge line-up – we haven’t had that many acts before, we’ve always had three acts and now we have six, so it’s going to be really good.
And you have Mike Carr, who’s going to perform as himself rather than as Buddy Goode.
He will be doing a little bit of Buddy Goode. He’s actually compering the night, so it’s going to be a whole lot of fun. We had Pete Denahy last year and the crowd really enjoyed having that comedy element to the start of the show. This year we thought Mike Carr would be perfect, so we contacted him and said, ‘Do Buddy Goode and Mike Carr feel like coming to Adelaide?’ He’s doing the Prairie Hotel with us the night before as well. I haven’t worked with Mike before, so I’m really looking forward to that.
You’re organising this tour … It sounds like you have an entrepreneurial or managerial side to you as well as the creative side. Do you find that they’re in balance – are you able to do as much creative work as you want or does that administration sometimes take over?
It definitely does. I have a law degree in my other life so I’m very much a control freak and I like to be very hands on with everything I do. Of course I’m a singer and an artist and a songwriter at the same time. I still play every day, I still sing every day, I still gig nearly every weekend and travel to festivals and play, but very much Monday to Friday, nine to five, my music hat comes on and my business hat comes on, and I think that’s really important for an artist. Not every artist has that business mindset, but if you don’t then you have to have to someone working with you who does, because they call it the music business for a reason: it is a business, and you have to have a business mentality to it. Unfortunately the songs and the talent and the music should be enough but it’s just not [laughs].
It’s great if you can do it yourself, particularly if you can find that balance.
I think the biggest challenge I have is sleeping and turning off. I don’t turn off very much. My husband is very much the same way – he’s very entrepreneurial – and we’re constantly thinking of tour ideas, show ideas. We love putting on shows – that’s one of the things that we’d love to do more of. We’d love to find different artists who, one, we want to work with but, two, we think would make a really great show, and put it on and take the risk and put it out there and see what happens. We’ve done quite a few at Tamworth – we’re doing four shows this next Tamworth, and it’s going to be the biggest we’ve ever done. Sometimes I think, Am I biting off more than I can chew? And the only way you know is if you get out there and give it a go.
Living in Nashville, I would think, supports you having those two sides to your life because it is Music City and very much an industry town. Has the city influenced you business wise as well as music wise?
Not as much, I don’t think. The industry thing, the size that it is here, allows me to spend my days not working a day job and working on my career. There’s plenty of work here and there’s plenty of things that inspire you. That’s the big thing, being in Nashville: every day I’m inspired to do more and I’m inspired to be better. Being surrounded by music constantly, I never get tired, I never get bored, and I’m constantly challenged. You can walk into any bar and the lady serving you a drink might be the best singer you’ve ever heard. So you’re constantly surrounded by people who challenge you to be better because you have to be. And I think that in Australia, that’s something that I needed – I needed to be challenged. I was getting way too comfortable working my nine-to-give day job and earning really good money, and I thought, If I don’t get out of here I can see myself going, ‘Well, this is just too easy to be a normal person who doesn’t make music’ – not that there’s anything wrong with that at all! But it just wasn’t for me. I needed to play music and I needed to be challenged, and Nashville gives me that outlet.
You obviously knew yourself well enough to know that if you got to 50 years of age and you hadn’t pursued that, you were going to be regretful.
Yes, definitely. And Trav and I say to each other all the time, ‘What’s the worst that could happen – we pack everything up and go home? We get jobs?’ It’s nice to still have Australia and we both still call it home, and we go back there four months of the year because we need some Aussie in our life. We need good coffee and pies and stuff, and we need some sense of humour and sarcasm. We miss that.
As you mentioned, you have a daughter – have you started her on an instrument yet?
Not yet, though. She does like to play my guitar, which kind of scares me because it’s worth a lot of money [laughs] but she kind of just strums it three or four times then stops and applauds herself – she hasn’t quite understood that that’s not quite the way it works. It’s very cute.
I presume she’ll be on the road with you.
Yes – my little girl has done eight international flights now and she’s very accustomed to travelling. I think her first flight she was six weeks old – we came back to America from Australia. Every gig I’ve done since I had her she’s either been with me at the show or in a hotel room behind the venue. She’s been everywhere and I think I have the opposite issue: she finds it really hard to stay home. She gets very bored very easily. She likes to be out and about and with people, socialising and listening to music. I’m raising a nice little honky tonk girl, I’ve noticed. She loves it. So she’ll be on the road the whole six weeks. I did have to be mindful booking in the gigs that we weren’t any further than about a seven-hour drive because she can’t handle the car for much longer than that. She’ll be at every show with a smile on her face – or asleep.
If someone’s reading this thinking, I don’t know about bluegrass – it’s not a genre I’ve ever been interested in, what would you say about bluegrass to entice someone to come to the shows?
Come to the show! [Laughs] Bluegrass is one of those things where I’m yet to see anybody who hasn’t enjoyed themselves at a show. The stories and the songs are incredible, and the energy of the music’s great. It’s like that with country music as well. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, ‘I don’t like country music but I really like you.’ That just tells me that they haven’t listened to any country music. Come to the show with open ears and an open mind and I promise you that you’ll walk out loving bluegrass music. Jerry Salley’s there – he’s the best! [laughs]
Kristy Cox and Jerry Salley on tour:
Saturday, 15th October 2016
Kilmany Hall, Kilmany – VIC – 6pm
BOOKINGS: Phone Sue on 0409 954092
Monday, 17th October 2016
Special guests Billy Bridge and Rebecca Lee Nye –
Star Hotel- Yackandandah – VIC – 7pm
BOOKINGS: +61 2 6027 1493
Tuesday, 18th October 2016
Private Event – Canberra ACT
Sunday, 30th October, 2016
Rooty Hill RSL, Rooty Hill, NSW – 2pm
BOOKINGS: FREE SHOW
Monday, 31st October, 2016
Special guests Allan Caswell and Rebecca Lee Nye
Hotel Blue, Katoomba, NSW – 8pm
Thursday, November 3rd, 2016
Mildura Victoria – Details TBA
Friday, November 4th, 2016
Nashville Comes to The Outback
Prairie Hotel, Parachilna, SA – 8pm
BOOKINGS: 1800 331 473