Our sixth installment of 11 Questions with… features one of the best songwriters in the Dayton Music Scene! Charlie Jackson burst onto our consciousness with his solo record ‘These Days’ (released in late 2015-early 2016) that featured some of the most well crafted, mature and relatable songs about the problems of real life. Wanting a broader sonic textures for his songs, Charlie recruited Denny Cottle, Ricky Terrell and Brad Bowling for ‘Charlie Jackson and the Heartland Railway‘ which released their eponymous titled record in 2018. A terrific EP called well… ‘EP’ followed roughly a year later. Anyone who has had the good fortune to be able to attend some of those lives shows know that Charlie was often joined on stage with his amazing vocalist spouse, Amanda, who added not only vocal harmonies but some fantastic singing of her own to those songs and a series of classic country covers. In a more just world, these songs would be at the top of the country charts!
We especially wanted to catch up with Charlie and Amanda as they are preparing to release their first record together. The release show will be happening on July 25th at the Yellow Cab Tavern which has done a terrific job of continuing to be a safe source for local music during the pandemic.
As always we wish to extend our heartfelt appreciation to Charlie and Amanda who took time out of their busy schedule to answer 11 questions for our readers/listeners on YTAA! We appreciate learning about how these terrific songs came together.
Dr. J: What can you share with us about when and how you both started recording your latest record, The King & Queen of Dayton Country?
Charlie & Amanda Jackson (CAJ): We actually first started recording in Feb 2019 after just having our first show in Dec 18. After both of us (understandably) had some issues, we decided that we (and the songs) weren’t quite ready to be in the studio yet. So, we practiced a ton, and played a lot of shows and got more familiar with the material. In November of ’19 we went back in with Patrick, but the songs had all changed and evolved enough that we just started over from scratch. We had two full sessions in Nov, then another in January with Patrick and David Payne, and then a final one near the end of February with just David at the helm.
Dr. J: You have worked closely with Patrick Himes at Reel Love Recording Company here in Dayton, Ohio for several years, what first led to your recording with Patrick? How has that relationship shaped your music?
CAJ: Yes, Patrick mixed the first Railway record, and he had done such amazing work with so many artists in Dayton, I knew I really wanted to work with him in a broader capacity. We had hung out with Patrick quite a bit at shows and the Slovak Club so he had heard us play, and got to know us on a personal level. We had talked with him about what we would want a potential record to sound like, so we already had a head start toward making the album we really wanted.
Dr. J: The King & Queen of Dayton Country is a very different record than E.P. and Charlie Jackson and the Heartland Railway, how do these records compare? What influenced your work on each of them?
CJ: The two projects definitely have quite a few similarities and differences. The work I did with The Heartland Railway is far less country than this new album. My writing has always leaned more on the country side, but while working with the guys in the Railway it took more of a rock vibe to it. I have said before, we were a rock and roll band playing country songs. This new project certainly leans more toward a classic country/americana sound. Amanda and I both listen to a LOT of old country music. Like, the old stuff from the Sun Records days, 50’s and 60’s country. Stuff like Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Patsy Cline. This really influenced our sound more than it did for the Railway. I have always been a big proponent of letting things progress organically.
With the Railway and with this new album. I don’t try to tell the other players what to play or how to play it. I’ve told all of them, that I’m not going to tell them how to play their instrument when they’re better at it than me. I didn’t have a bullet-pointed list of what I wanted, or where and when I wanted it. I let them feel it out and flesh it out. I could’ve said I wanted a straight Nashville sounding Tele lead guitar on the album, and it probably would have ended up sounding very Merle Haggard and I would have loved it. By stepping back and letting Casey breathe with it, he gave the lead guitar a very Knopfler-esque quality that I wouldn’t have asked for, but I absolutely dig. My songwriting across all three releases, I think, hasn’t changed a whole lot, I feel like I’ve evolved as a writer but every release combines new material with songs that I’ve had for a decade or more, and they all seem to fit together nicely. Amanda and I are even breathing some new life into some songs I wrote about 13 years ago, and they’re turning out great. Its all about letting it breathe, and seeing where it can go.
Dr. J: ‘Call This Home’ – the first single from The King & Queen of Dayton Country – addresses forms of love and support that someone finds at home – is that a correct interpretation of the title? If that is correct, did you intend to address how difficult it is to make a loving home or did the song evolve in that direction over time?
CAJ: The song absolutely reflects love and support found within a partner. We didn’t intend to address difficulties in making/keeping a loving home. Every partnership requires communication and work, but when love is there, it is just there. We do fuss at each other and we playfully argue but in our 17-years of being a couple we have never truly fought. Our love and communication have kept the big blowouts at bay.
Dr. J: How did the song ‘Call This Home’ come together musically for you?
CJ: I wrote the chorus first; I had no idea what direction I wanted for the verses yet. I told Amanda I wanted her to write her verse. She (of course) told me that she couldn’t write a verse, but then started sending me lines. They were just some insight to how she feels and how she thinks. I used those lines to craft her verse. Her verse was written before mine. But this was the first song that Amanda really had a hand in writing.
Dr. J: Where do you often derive inspiration to make music?
CJ: I can draw inspiration from just about anywhere, but my biggest muse has definitely always been Amanda. In the love songs (even if they aren’t autobiographical) I use her as the focal point of the love itself. For the sad songs and the heartbreak songs I recall back to our times apart in the rockier years of our early relationship, or I look at what I now know I would be missing out on if that love wasn’t there. Now, with this new level where I’m writing songs about her and for her to sing, she’s even more of a muse than she already was. Not just lyrically, but even the way I arrange the music revolves more around her. I write in keys that showcase her as much as possible. When I can coax her out of her shyness and get her to sing out, especially in her higher register, she has this natural vibrato in her voice that is just beautiful.
Dr. J: How would you describe the music that you typically create? How has that process evolved or changed over time (especially as you think about your journey from These Days to Charlie Jackson and the Heartland Railway to The King & Queen of Dayton Country)?
CJ: Ok, first let me just say that I think it’s hilarious that you even put ‘These Days’ in with the others. Those are really just demo tracks, at best. I really didn’t know what I was doing with any of the 4 home recorded albums I released.
Anyway, I like to think of my music as honest and relatable. I try to lean more on being clever, I don’t usually delve deep into poetic symbolism and imagery. It’s a little stripped down, a little raw. Maybe it draws from the years in Punk Rock, but I like to get to the point and make it clear. I like to tell a story.
Dr. J: What is next for you musically? Do you have plans to record again with The Heartland Railway? How would you describe your thoughts at this point for your next project?
CJ: Up next, I’m really looking to record a solo record. I don’t know how many songs yet, more than likely just an EP. I want it to be much more stripped down, kinda like Nebraska, or Southeastern, or Cheaper Than Therapy. Not much more (if any) instrumentation than just me and an acoustic. Kind of a ‘back to basics’ approach.
Amanda and I also already have several songs on deck for a second Charlie & Amanda release. Some brand new, some of them are songs that I wrote at the very beginning of my journey into country music writing. We really have the advantage of the fact that before the Railway got together, I already had 4 self-released albums worth of songs in my back catalog. Amanda has taken over the duties of figuring out which of those lend themselves to a duet format, and figuring out who should sing which verse, changing pronouns so it makes sense, etc. So, we have plenty to call back on.
I’m really focusing as much as I can on this project. We have been practicing with the other players and I’m loving the band format with Amanda in the mix. That being said, while a Heartland Railway show in the future wouldn’t be off the table, I really see this project, with Amanda at my side, is really the direction I see myself moving forward.
Dr. J: What is your favorite song to perform with Amanda? What is your favorite song to perform with the Heartland Railway? What makes it a current favorite in your performances? Do you enjoy Live Streaming?
CJ: My favorite song with the Railway, definitely ‘Sugarbeet‘. Such a fun song to play, plus it has like 4 guitar solos in it. Just a barn burner.
With Amanda, from the record, my favorite would have to be Oasis. I love the way our harmonies intertwine on that one. My favorite one to sing with her, however, would have to be one of our new ones named Carolyn. She really belts it out, it’s a whole lot of fun. Once the world opens back up, I promise it will be a regular addition to the set list.
I do enjoy Live streaming to a point, but I really miss the interactions. That was one of my favorite parts of the show. Hanging out, laughing, raising a beer. There really is no virtual replacement for that.
Dr. J: What is one message you would hope that listeners find in the unique nature of your latest music?
CAJ: Laughter and love. Its really something when you not only share a household, and share love, and share a life with your Partner, but now sharing our music together, and sharing it with others. Being a little bit vulnerable and sharing some of the truths about life and love that we’ve learned. It really helps you connect. We’ve heard people say that our voices blend so well together, and we like to believe that it’s a direct result of us trying to be so in tune with one another on every level, that it really comes forward in our music. We are not overly private people and we share real life within our songs, some of the real-life issues are hard ones that we deal with every day or issues we have overcome. We hope people can look at those and understand that regardless of what life throws at you there are always ways to help you move forward in life. One of the ways to get through muddy situations has always been, and will always be, love and support. We offer that to each other and others.
Dr. J: As a musician, how are you adapting to the challenges of the Coronavirus?
CAJ: It’s a really weird time. Especially for those in the entertainment industry. Amanda and I are lucky that this isn’t our regular gig. We don’t depend on our music to help finance our daily life. Amanda works from home, so she hasn’t missed a day over the virus, my work has been a little spottier than usual, but I’ve still worked more than I’ve been off.
We have definitely missed the shows and all of our friends through all of this. Now, on the cusp of releasing out debut album, with the Covid numbers getting worse, we are definitely afraid that our release show won’t happen the way we have planned, and that certainly bums us out. But we are healthy, and we have each other. So, we can’t complain too hard.
Thanks again to Charlie and Amanda for taking the time to answer these questions! All pictures and images courtesy of Charlie & Amanda Jackson.