Songwriter Black enjoys his musical journey

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Jeff Black opens the Six String Concerts season with a Friday, Sept. 20, show in the Columbus Performing Arts Center.

Jeff Black said he knew from age 10 he would be a songwriter. He's "(thrown) a line out there" so many times, he said, "it's hard to be philosophical about it."

Then Black, who turned 50 last December and is, in his own words, "The oldest emerging new artist," spent the next half-hour or so doing exactly that in an interview with The Beat.

A master storyteller, Black spoke often of journeys, beginning with his own journey making music.

"I've always played music, and I've always loved it," Black said. "That's the measure of why you're doing it. It's such a journey."

Black's path started in small-town Missouri and led him to Nashville in the late 1980s. He was fortunate enough to have a song recorded by Waylon Jennings (Carnival Song) and later by Blackhawk (That's Just About Right) that climbed the charts.

"Yeah, I made a little money, but not what you'd call a living as far as income," Black explained before returning to the idea of journeys.

"All that stuff helps your songs travel a little further."

Black discussed the change from Nashville at the time, where everyone was "waiting around, hoping to get a deal with a record label," to now.

"The songwriter community is a little more organized now, creating opportunities and making the road a little wider for folks. We're all underdogs, but we're a little more organized."

The process of making a record has changed in the years since Black's arrival in Nashville as well.

Black's latest, B Sides and Confessions Volume Two, was made primarily at Black's home studio, with Black handling much of the instrumentation himself (with some help from friends such as Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Matraca Berg and Gretchen Peters) before turning the project over to engineers who mix and master the audio.

"I have a studio at my house," Black said.

"There have been times I've had to tell my family 'I'm making a little work tape here. Can I have about five minutes?' "

An organized and connected community of musicians and a home studio means Black's house is often bustling with musical activity.

"There's lots of music in the house. And my kids are a little older now. They're in bands; my daughter plays guitar and writes."

"I have great friends who'll come over, and kids, they're hanging out and here's all these people playing music," Black said.

While Black confessed it's not easy being on the road when you've got kids, he knows from personal experience that you can still have a home whatever the circumstances.

"My dad was a truck driver, he was gone a lot, but he was never gone, and when he was home he was home. You knew mom and dad loved you," he said.

"And, like with any job, when you enjoy your job, it makes it all better. It's not easy. It's the hardest thing. But in the past couple years, (my kids have) started to get what dad does. They love my job."

As does Black, speaking again of his job and the journey.

"When you're making intentional music, it's all about where you hope it takes folks," he said. "There's a shared experience."

"You're really just trying to connect with a few people in a room. No matter where you're playing, and God knows I've played some places ... If people let their guard down, like you're doing in front of them on stage, all the stuff that doesn't matter goes away."

Sounds philosophical.

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