Shel Silverstein is best known for his books of children's poetry, including The Giving Tree and Where The Sidewalk Ends. But in addition to being a writer and illustrator, Silverstein was a talented songwriter. He wrote songs for artists including Dr. Hook and Marianne Faithful and, perhaps most famously, was responsible for Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue."
Country singer Bobby Bare Sr. collaborated with Silverstein and was one of his closest friends. His son, Bobby Bare Jr., even sang on one of Silverstein's songs in 1973. Now, father and son have curated a tribute album in memory of Silverstein. Twistable, Turnable Man features 14 performers — including Frank Black of the Pixies, Lucinda Williams, My Morning Jacket and Andrew Bird — covering songs written by Silverstein.
Father and son say they wanted to do the tribute album to expose Silverstein's songwriting to a wider audience.
"There were at least three sides to Shel, and one of them, of course — a lot people didn't know — was writing songs," Bare Sr. tells NPR's Guy Raz, host of Weekend All Things Considered. "And he was a brilliant writer."
Bare Sr. says Silverstein possessed incredible energy, writing for at least 20 hours a day. He says Silverstein was so prolific that he often wrote on his hands and even his clothes.
"What he writes is so, so descriptive — so visual that you couldn't help but respond to it," Bare Sr. says. "It's like watching a great, great movie."
Bare Jr. agrees and says songs were just another vehicle for Silverstein's writing.
"Music was a tricky way for him to sneak his poems in your ear," he says.
Although Silverstein had a gift for songwriting, the Bares both say he wasn't a talented singer.
"It's very painful," says Bare Jr., laughing. "He screeched."
Silverstein and Bare Sr.'s last project together was a group called Old Dogs, formed in 1998 by Bare Sr. with country legends Waylon Jennings, Mel Tillis and Jerry Reed. Their album included 11 humorous songs, all written by Silverstein, about getting older.
Only a year later, Silverstein died at age 68. The Bares didn't have a chance to bid farewell to their dear friend, but they say working on this project and listening to old Silverstein recordings was a new way to remember him.
"This is probably my way of really saying goodbye to my old friend Shel," Bare Sr. says.