John's In-Depth CMT Radio Interview

In addition to the interview focusing on the new "A Ride Back Home Video" that John and Little Big Town's Karen Fairchild did for CMT's Top 20 Countdown show in Nashville last week, both sat down for a lengthy Q&A for CMT Radio. The session covered a lot of ground besides the video, including John's current and future plans. Portions of this interview will air on Wednesday, May 20th on CMT Radio Live with Cody Alan.

The upcoming summer concert tour with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson (Bob Dylan's 2009 Ballpark Tour), of course, was a major conversation starter.

"When I got the phone call from Bob [and he asked] 'Do you want to go out and do these shows with us?,' I went, 'I don't know. Willie's 78. Bob's 68. I'll be the youngest guy-yeah, I'm going!' Anywhere I can go and be the youngest guy, I'm gonna go!"

The 57 year-old also recounted the phone conversation with Dylan years ago regarding John's direction of Dylan's "Political World" video: "I said, 'Bob, here's what we're going to do,' and he said, 'Okay, just don't make me look stupid.' That's all he said!" Asked about any sense of competition with his fellow superstars on the summer tour, he dismissed any such thoughts.

"I think competition is very healthy if you're in a boxing ring or football field, but I don't really like to have a competitive nature against another artist or other set of artists or another tour," he said. "I think it's unhealthy and juvenile--and I know because I used to [feel that way] when I was a kid [but] I found no victory in that at all."

John did say that he liked the family-friendly nature of the tour, and was asked about whether he tailored his music to attract a younger fan base.

"I don't even think about that," he responded. "I think it's important to have fans and important to try be accommodating to your fans if you can [and] if you can be accommodating you should, but I quit making records a long time ago with the idea of accommodating anybody other than what the song needs to have in the song."

He expressed relief that he no longer felt forced to accommodate the pop charts with his songwriting.

"When I first started out I had to have hit records," he noted. "Back when I started you had to have hit records or else you were done. That was always in your mind. Thank God, that's over!"

John was asked if he had a favorite song.

"Everything is emotions," he said, declining to single one song out as a favorite, but citing a new version of "The Real Life" that will be included in his forthcoming box set "On the Rural Route 7609."

"One of the most thrilling things in my life just happened to me," he said. "When I was growing up [Paul Newman's widow] Joanne Woodward was my favorite actress. I admire so few people [but] in my mind she was the best actress ever to walk on screen and she was so beautiful, too. And she's 80 years-old and just read [the lyrics to 'The Real Life'] for my box set that's getting ready to come out.and I just couldn't believe it because she made the poetry so much better than it really was."

He thinks that when the box does come out (maybe in October or November, he said), "People will go, 'Wow! I never really realized that's what the song is about!'"

John said he'd also include in the box a stripped-down version of "Cuttin' Heads" duet track with Trisha Yearwood "Deep Blue Heart," prompting Karen to jokingly huff, "So I'm getting replaced by Trisha Yearwood?" No, replied John, "but I felt like calling [Trisha] up and saying, 'Gosh, I forgot about that song. You were fantastic on that song!' I mean, she's just fantastic."

Taking a more serious tack, Karen mentioned that many artists are covering John's songs ("Every festival I go to people are covering things!"). Asked whether he'd been approached by country artists seeking his songs, John said he didn't know ("Ask my publisher!"), but added, "I've had people ask me to write songs for them but I'm very reluctant to do that. I've tried it a couple times but people always have an expectation of what they want you to do and you can always tell they're disappointed. They wanted something similar to what they have heard [like 'Pink Houses'], and that's an impossible feat."

Speaking of songwriting, Karen noted that John had told Little Big Town that "all those great Kristofferson songs and Willie songs [are] the standard for you guys." This led John to declare that "when you write a song you have to think about [Kris Kristofferson's] 'Sunday Morning Coming Down.' Write a song like that because if that's not the standard you're going for, you're selling yourself short."

Here he reflected on the celebration of Pete Seeger's 90th birthday at Madison Square Garden the night before.

"So many people in your life give up too early and never get back again," he said. "That's not the way to live life. Seeger taught us that last night, 90 years-old up there in that sold-out place. He may look a little funny with his hat and flannel shirt, but he can kick your ass!"

He was asked about his earliest compositions, and said, "My first songs were so terrible, you would wonder why I would continue to even pursue [songwriting] as a job! My first songs were stupid and silly, but that's the way all songwriters are. Elvis Costello's first album was genius [and] a lot of people made pretty great first albums--but I wasn't one of those people. My first album was unlistenable."

It was pointed out that he had since won the adoration of his fans.

"It embarrasses me," he revealed. "I don't think any of us got into any type of entertainment field anticipating that would happen. We all got into it for a lot of reasons, but it never dawned on me that people actually pay attention to what you're doing."

Told that he was a role model, John exclaimed, "What? If I'm a role model we're in trouble!" When Karen praised his paintings and said she has nagged him for one, he said, "You know what would happen: I would give her a painting and she'd go, 'Oh, well, yeah, I kind of like that other one better!" Responded Karen, "No! They're all so great!"

The interview ended with John asked if there was something he wishes he'd done better.

"That's a good question," he said, "a very good question." Giving it some thought, he concluded, "I'm interested in life--finding out as much as I possibly can. We're only here so long and then clock out, so it's important to learn and experience as much as we possibly can."