Conversation with Colin Linden: On Nashville (the place) and Nashville (the show)

Article by Kolston Gogan and Heather Beresford.

While researching the specifics of Colin’s work for this interview, his personal website was one of my first stops. Here is some of what you can find there:

“Colin Linden is a genuine renaissance man of roots music. He is a member of the highly successful trio, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, a singer and songwriter, an in-demand and prolific record producer, musical director on the hit TV show Nashville and sideman to the stars as guitarist for the likes of Bob DylanBruce CockburnEmmylou HarrisRobert Plant and Alison Krauss. At last count, the total of recordings on which he has played approaches 400, while over 100 albums bear the “Produced by Colin Linden” credit.” 

With credentials like that, where do we even start?! His website also features a brief overview of his life story. It reads like a dream. This is a man who has met his idols, played with his peers, earned their respect and now continues to create and collaborate with nearly every waking breath. There is a lot to be said about the business of music in recent history and even more that could be said about its future. Sitting amongst those conversations is Colin and his home of 21 years in Nashville, Tennessee. In the midst of his holiday preparations, I got to ask him a bit about it, this is what he had to say.

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KG: It sounds like you have a full house for (American) Thanksgiving this week! And next week you’re on your way to Collingwood. 

CL: When we (Blackie and The Rodeo Kings) came to Collingwood, Steve (Vipond) extended an invitation for me to come and play and I ended up getting a couple of other shows in Ontario. I’m gonna play in London on Thursday, Grimsby on Friday and then I’m back home in Nashville on Saturday. Its a quick trip but I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been doing a lot of solo playing these last few months and its really been fun. I’ve always loved doing it. In some ways, playing by myself, is the ultimate in freedom and I really love doing it.

I’ve never played at that particular venue (Crow Bar and Variety) but I’ve played in Collingwood a few times. Im looking forward to it again. It’s such beautiful country. Are there still leaves on the trees there?

KG: I’m sorry to say that we’re on the other end of fall here. I wanted to ask about Nashville, the show you were working on. It’s just had its last season. What was that experience like?

CL: I worked on it from the first episode through to the last episode. It was a truly wonderful experience. I made friends that I’m hoping to have for the rest of my life. I got the chance to be involved in something that had such a positive resonance in our community and in music generally. It was great, the greatest thing was the cast. They were such wonderful people to work with. The woman who created it, Callie Khouri, is not only a brilliant writer, director and a real visionary but she also really venerates the calling of being a musician. She really knows what’s special about that. 

Her husband is T Bone Burnett which is how I got to know her. T Bone was the executive musical producer the first year. He really formed the persona of a lot of the characters. Buddy Miller was his right hand for that first year and then Buddy took over for the next 3 years. Getting to work with those guys was an honour beyond belief. 

KG: The show was about a 6 year commitment for you. Thats a long time to be working with the same people. Would you say that it became like a family?

CL: It really is and it was a totally unique situation because the lines between reality and fiction were really vague sometimes. The music was real. Those people, their characters, sang those songs with everything they had and really put out so much of their own spirit into the songs and into their characters. We did everything we could in the music department to make, even the way it was portrayed on camera, absolutely real. We did the very best that we could. It was a bit of an uphill battle because not everyone shared the enthusiasm for those ideas. For the first 4 years, there was certainly a tremendous amount of respect paid to that. We, the music department, did everything that we could to have it honour real people and real music. It was a big deal to us. 

KG: I can understand that, with the show being based on such a musical centre of the world. 

CL: A completely unique one too. Other (musical) places in the world, they’re such big cities like New York or Los Angeles or London. Nashville, in a lot of ways, is a huge music scene but its also a small town still. Even though its grown 3 times in the last few years, it still has a personal, small town feel. I think thats really conducive to making good music and people have known that about this city for a long time. Thats what attracted so many people. 

We’ve been here for 21 years now. My wife and I are both from Toronto. Today actually marks 21 years to the day that we moved here with a plan to stay 3 months and try it out. We’ve basically never left. We rented a place for 3 months because I was signed to a publisher here. They were very supportive of me. I had come here to write a number of times previously at that point. I said, lets try it for 3 months, just to be focused on writing for that time. I had a busy year before that, I was touring with Colin James, producing his record and a few other albums, doing some work with Blackie and The Rodeo Kings and I thought this would be a good window to come down and try it out. The guy who rented us the place said “anytime you want to come down here, its yours.” We kept our apartment in Toronto for a couple of years but basically we moved here then. It did take time, effort and money for all of the paperwork but I still get to do everything I love to do in Canada. I’m still up there a lot. Although this year, I wasn’t there a lot. I did do a tour in October of Western Canada and now I’m coming up to do these shows. 

KG: Do you feel that Nashville has had an impact on your music? The sense of time and place having their own unique effects.

CL: Tremendously. It totally does. For the most basic reason to begin with, which is that the bar is so incredibly high here. Any night of the week you can go to a club or a concert and hear the very highest level of song writing and singing and instrumental work. From where I’m sitting right now, within a mile or so there are literally dozens, probably hundreds, of really amazing recording studios where people are making music at a really high level, every single day. You’re surrounded by people that you can learn from all of the time. People who are real pros, or who have been doing it for a long time, or some people who are brand new and giving you ideas that you never would have thought about. 

Nashville is so much less expensive than other music centres so a lot of people come through here to record or rehearse for a tour. Its a destination for a lot of people, its easy to get to and its not that expensive. Those things contribute to a lot of people coming here and its small town in a lot of ways which makes things easier to get around to. Which is all very conducive to being productive. 

Then there is the whole environment of the music itself and that of living in the South where there is a tradition of music, all kinds of music. Where we live is in between two churches and the music that we hear on Sunday mornings is bound to have an influence and be inspiring. Its had a tremendous influence on me over the years, in so many ways. 

KG: Do you get out very often to enjoy music as a spectator?

CL: I go through periods of time where I do. My wife and I just built a studio, so a great amount of our time and effort has gone into that. We just finished the first album that we made, top to tail, in the studio for an artist from Spain who came here to work with me. Virginia Maestro, she’s a really great singer/songwriter. When I’m head deep in it like that, I don’t get much of a chance to go out and hear music. Although I still do, as much as I can, and theres always good stuff going on. I play in town as much as I can too because there are always some cool things that can be garnered from that.

KG: What was the process like in building a studio for yourself?

CL: We had a pretty developed studio in the house for a long time. In terms of making records, I have a pretty developed aesthetic of what I like for studio stuff. My wife has a really great sense of style and ergonomics which helped with getting the most out of the space, She had a great amount of imagination that went into that. 


Ever evolving and developing his craft, I look forward to listening to the magic that is sure to come out of Colin’s new space, as he adds to his growing lists of album performances and albums produced. In the meantime, you can listen to Colin at a live and intimate show as part of the Crow Sessions. You can catch him November 27th, tickets can be purchased through the Crow Bar and Variety website.