Charlie Haden Returns To Roots With Rambling Boy

The jazz musician's new album is a departure from his usual style. But bassist Hadin grew up performing on his family's country music radio show. In Rambling Boy, Haden's family performs with him, including his son-in-law and actor Jack Black. Also making appearances are country music singers Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, and Roseanne Cash, as well as Elvis Costello, Bruce Hornsby, and Pat Metheny.

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TERRY GROSS, host:

This is Fresh Air. I'm Terry Gross. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah. I hope you're enjoying the holiday with family or friends. We're going to spend some time with a very musical family: Charlie Haden, his wife and his children. Charlie Haden is a bass player and composer who became famous for helping Ornette Coleman start a revolution in jazz in the late 1950s. But Haden's new album returns to the country music he grew up with in the 1930s and '40s, when his parents had a country music radio show. His latest CD, "Rambling Boy," features his own children, his wife and some of his musical friends like Elvis Costelo and Roseanne Cash. Here's Charlie Haden on bass with vocals by his triplet daughters.

(Soundbite of song "I Hear A Voice Calling")

HADEN TRIPLETS: (Singing)

I hear a voice calling it must be our Lord, (it must be our Lord). It's coming from heaven on high. I hear a voice calling. I've gained a reward (I've gained a reward). In the land where we never shall die...

GROSS: In a few minutes, we'll meet the Haden triplets, Tanya, Rachel and Petra, their brother Josh, and Charlie Haden's wife, Ruth. They all sing on the new CD, "Rambling Boy: Charlie Haden, Family and Friends."

Joining us first is Charlie Haden. He was born in Shenandoah, Iowa in 1937, and two years later started singing with his family on their country music radio show. In fact, "Rambling Boy" features a recording of Charlie singing on the show at the age of two. Here's Charlie Haden's father introducing little Cowboy Charlie.

(Soundbite of radio show)

MR. HADEN (SENIOR): Honey, say good morning to all the little boys and girls. Say, hello all you little boys and girls.

Mr. CHARLIE HADEN: Hello, all you little boys and girls.

MR. HADEN (SENIOR): Say, I'm just fine.

Mr. CHARLIE HADEN: Just fine.

MR. HADEN (SENIOR): Just fine. And say, I've got a brand new song to sing for you this morning.

(Soundbite of baby talk)

MR. HADEN (SENIOR): This morning.

Mr. CHARLIE HADEN: This morning.

MR. HADEN (SENIOR): There you are. All right. Little Charlie has had so many, many requests to sing that dandy little song, "Roll Us Over The Tide." And then mama's going to take him out and get his big bottle of soda pop, so you sing real loud and nice here and a nice yodel. It's all right.

(Soundbite of little boy's voice singing and yodeling)

MR. HADEN (SENIOR): All right. Thank you, honey. Friends, that was...

GROSS: Charlie Haden, welcome to Fresh Air. Charlie, that is just about the most adorable thing I've ever heard.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Especially the yodel. What goes through your mind when you hear it?

Mr. CHARLIE HADEN (Jazz Musician): I remember being there, and I remember my mother holding me and my dad telling me, you know, he's going to go get me a big bubble of sodie pop if I sing. And it's, you know, it brings back really wonderful memories to me. And of course, that's a radio show from 1939, which was really edited to get it on the record. We didn't have that much space so you don't hear the commercials my father was giving, you know, for Wait's Green Mountain cough syrup and Sparkle Light Cereal(ph) and Allstate Insurance and talking to all the listeners out there and all the songs that my brothers and sisters sang. And the song that you hear me singing and yodeling is really cut very short. You don't hear the verse. You just hear chorus right before I yodel.

GROSS: How old do you think you were before you could sing on pitch?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HADEN: Well, my mom told me this story. She was rocking me to sleep, and I'm 22 months old, and she's humming all these Hillbilly songs, and all of the sudden I start humming the harmony. And she said, wow. You're ready for the show.

GROSS: God, that's so amazing. So, Charlie, would you share one of your favorite memories of your family's country radio show from when you were, you know, a child?

Mr. HADEN: I - every day was like a great experience for me. I just loved it. I - you know, when we were in Shenandoah, we were there until I was four, and then we moved to Springfield, Missouri. My dad got a farm near my grandmother's, near his mother's place, and we did our radio show from the farmhouse. And my brothers and sisters would go out and do the chores, milk the cows and come in, have breakfast, and my dad would crank the phone on the wall to let the engineer in Springfield know that we were ready to go on the air, and we'd do the show. And every day was like a wonder to me. You know, I just loved it.

And then we moved to Springfield, and we did all the shows from KWTO studios, which was - I loved that so much. I couldn't wait to get there. The double glass windows and the acoustic tile and the air conditioning and all the entertainers and, you know, that I met. And you know, then the people from Nashville started coming into Springfield to do this network radio show similar to the Grand Ole Opry called "Corns a'Crackin'."

And then, you know, Mother Maybelle and the Carter sisters were coming into Springfield and coming over and visiting my mother, and I got, you know, I was a little kid and Mother Maybelle was singing all these great songs in our living room, and I was just thrilled. It was like - I can't really pinpoint one day. I can just pinpoint the whole thing.

GROSS: What made you think of doing a family album of your own?

Mr. HADEN: Of course, this music's been inside me since I stopped country music and started in jazz when I was 15, and I have this music in me, inside me, and I have always thought about playing and singing again. I had to stop singing when I was 15 because I had bulbar polio that paralyzed my vocal chords, and that's when I started playing. And I - when I play jazz, the folk and Hillbilly music comes out of me in one way or another in different improvisational ways, and so, you know, my wife, Ruth, made a point of wanting us to go to visit my mother on her 80th birthday in 1988. She bought plane tickets for all of us. She said, I want the girls to go, I want Josh to go and us, a family reunion.

And we all went to Casinos, Missouri, which is south of Springfield in the Ozark Mountains, and at one of the gatherings when my mom made all this great food and homemade donuts, Ruth said, would you guys sing a song? And we all looked at each other, like, what? Because hadn't sung together, my brother and sisters and - so we started. We said, what are we going to sing? Nobody could decide so Ruth said, what about "You are my Sunshine"? Because I know everyone knows that. So we started singing "You are my Sunshine," and it was fantastic. And so Ruth said afterwards, she said, you've got to do this. You've got to do a country record. You've got to do a record with your family. It's really essential that you do this.

GROSS: You grew up, you know, singing in a family act. And I'm sure your parents told you what to sing on stage. Now managing, you know, like putting this record together that that features your whole family, your four children, your wife Ruth, what were some of the differences between being, you know, like the kid in the band, the kid in the family band and now being like the father in the family band?

Mr. HADEN: I - as I was growing up, I became more and more a part of the family preparations for the radio shows. We did two radio shows every day, and then later on, at the end of my - before my dad got out of the business, we had a television show in Omaha, Nebraska. That's when TV came in. And so I became more and more a part of that, as far as the production of the show and choosing the material and what songs we were going to do and what songs we wanted to learn. You know, my brothers and sisters, especially Jimmy, my brother who was five years older than I, he was a big part of, you know, the repertoire and what we were going to do, and I was very influenced by him and his love of jazz, and that's when I started listening to jazz when I was just a little kid.

With my family, it was like I wanted to make sure that they were all happy and that they really wanted to do this, and they all did want to do it. And of course, I hadn't done any country music since I was 15, and I was, you know, a little bit apprehensive and a little bit nervous about whether I could really pull this off. You know, I'm a jazz musician for 50 years. ..TEXT: So the first rehearsal we had over at the house with Ruth and the kids, and I was, you know, blown over about how great they were. I mean, they all sang with such great intonation. I played all these Stanley Brothers songs for them and the Carter family songs and Jimmy Martin, and they just, you know, took to it as if they'd been doing it every day. You know, the girls and Josh.

GROSS: My guest is Charlie Haden. His new country music CD featuring family and friends is called "Rambling Boy." We'll be back with Haden and his three daughters who sing on the CD after a break. This is Fresh Air.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is jazz bass player Charlie Haden. His latest CD returns to his roots when he sang with his family on their country music radio show. He's joined on this CD by family and friends. Here's a track featuring his triplet daughters, Tanya, Rachel and Petra, who have each had careers in Indie rock. They'll talk with us in a minute.

(Soundbite of song "Single Girl, Married Girl")

HADEN TRIPLETS: (Singing) Single girl, oh, single girl. She's goin dressed fine. Oh she's goin'dressed fine. Married girl, oh, married girl. She wears just any kind. Oh, she wears just any kind.

Single girl, oh, single girl. She goes to the store and buys. Oh goes to the store and buys. Married girl, oh, married girl. She rocks the cradle and cries. Oh, she rocks the cradle and cries.

GROSS: That's "Single Girl, Married Girl" from the new Charlie Haden Family & Friends CD, "Rambling Boy," and my guests are the three singers who we just heard, triplets Petra, Rachel and Tanya Haden. Welcome all of you to Fresh Air. Your father, Charlie Haden,is in the studio with us as well. What beautiful voices you have and what great harmonies. Did you grow up singing harmonies like that with each other?

Ms. PETRA HADEN: Yes, we did.

GROSS: How did that started? How did you get started singing harmonies together?

Unidentified Ms. HADEN #1: I don't really even know how to answer that. I think we just sang, you know, since we were 10, maybe, at summer camp. I don't...

Unidentified Ms. HADEN #2: It was younger than that, like seven - six, seven, eight. We were always singing.

Unidentified Ms. HADEN #1: I think I remember it at summer camp.

GROSS: And what about the song we just heard? Did you choose that song? Did - Charlie, did you choose it?

Mr. HADEN: They chose it. I mean, you were singing it before...

Unidentified Ms. HADEN #1: We just thought it would be a given because we've sung it live before. And we know - you know, we know it like we put our socks on.

Unidentified Ms. HADEN #3: We just sort of like that song.

Unidentified Ms. HADEN #1: Yeah. It's easy. It's fun.

GROSS: How did you start singing it? It sounds like you've been singing it a long time.

Mr. HADEN: I think I played a Carter family record for them one day, and they just loved it, you know. And then I left the room. They took it from there.

GROSS: You know, it's amazing that you all have such a great voices, and of course, you grew up in such a musical family. What were you exposed to musically of your father's music? Either, you know, his performances on record, concert, or just him playing, or you know, practicing around the house?

Unidentified Ms. HADEN #2: I remember listening to whatever our dad was listening to. There was always something playing musically, and a lot of jazz, of course...

Unidentified Ms. HADEN #1: Classical music and jazz.

Unidentified Ms. HADEN #2: I remember always sitting in our dad's lap, and he would have big, huge headphones on. And I remember, like, tapping him and trying to talk to him, and he'd say, just a minute, because he was listening to something...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Ms. HADEN #2: Oh, boy. But you know, there was always music playing.

GROSS: Would you mind if I asked you three to just sing something acapella briefly just to show us where your harmonies fit with each other? Just a few bars, just, like, maybe you could kind of chime in one at a time just to hear where all three voices - how all three voices connect.

Mr. HADEN: Sing something from the record.

Unidentified Ms. HADEN #1: How about - what is the other one that we sing all three of us together...

Mr. CHARLIE HADEN: When you sing...

GROSS: It's...

Mr. CHARLIE HADEN: "A Voice From On High."

Unidentified Ms. HADEN #1: (Singing) A hero.

Unidentified Ms. HADEN #2: Yeah, let's do that one.

Unidentified Ms. HADEN #1: OK, you start it, Petra.

(Soundbite of song "A Voice From On High")

Ms. PETRA HADEN: (Singing)

I hear a voice callin' it must be our Lord

HADEN TRIPLETS: (Singing)

It must be our Lord. It's comin' from heaven on high I hear a voice callin' I've gained a reward I've gained a reward. In the land where we never shall die...

GROSS: That's so great. Do you - now do you trade off who sings high and who sings low and who sings in the middle? Do you have similar ranges in your voices?

Unidentified Ms. HADEN #3: We try - we trade a lot.

Unidentified Ms. HADEN #1: Rachel likes to sing the pretty melody part, so a lot of time I get scooted to the bottom without really knowing it.

GROSS: What was your reaction when your father proposed this CD to you of, you know, a family album of country songs?

Unidentified Ms. HADEN #1: Finally.

Unidentified Ms. HADEN #2: Yeah. We said, about time, let's do it.

Unidentified Ms. HADEN #3: Let's do this.

Unidentified Ms. HADEN #2: Because we've been thinking about it for a long time, right?

Unidentified Ms. HADEN #1: We've been talking about it for a long time.

GROSS: Charlie, when your triplets were born, did you - I don't know if you knew that three were on the way, but when they were born, did you think to yourself, they're all going to sing, they'll sing great harmonies together and some day I'll record with them?

Mr. HADEN: I knew they were going to be the best singers in the world, and just like Josh, too. I knew that, you know, my family was like that, and I knew my kids were going to be like that. It was no - no thought about it. It was just going to happen.

GROSS: We're going to bring in your brother, Josh Haden, in a couple of minutes and talk about his track on the new family album. First, I want to thank you all, Petra, Rachel, and Tanya Haden. And while we're playing musical chairs and you're leaving and Josh is coming in, I want to play a track, Tanya, that you recorded for the family album, and it's "He's Gone Away."

Ms. TANYA HADEN: Oh!

GROSS: And I - this is such a beautiful recording. And I know some of these lyrics, the who will tie my shoes and who will glove my hands part, but I always heard it as a more like up tempo, you know, banjo-fretting kind of song. And this is a beautiful ballad. And do you know, like, several different versions of this song?

Ms. TANYA HADEN: I've heard faster versions of it, but the version that I've listen to the most is the one by Jo Stafford.

GROSS: Oh!

Ms. TANYA HADEN: And she sings it - she sings it pretty slowly too.

GROSS: Oh, that explains it. She's a jazz singer, not a country singer, yeah.

Ms. TANYA HADEN: Yeah. And she - but she really belts it out, so I was nervous because I can't - I'm more, you know, of a quiet singer. So...

GROSS: Well, this is gorgeous. So this is Tanya Haden, "He's Gone Away," and Bruce Hornsby is at the piano from the new "Charlie Haden Family and Friends" album.

(Soundbite of song "He's Gone Away")

Ms. TANYA HADEN: (Singing) He's gone away for this day a little while. But he's coming back if he goes 10,000 miles. Who will tie my shoes. And who will glove my hands. And who will kiss my loving lips When he is gone, look away. Look away...

GROSS: Music from the recent CD, "Rambling Boy," featuring Charlie Haden, family and friends. That was Bruce Hornsby on piano. We'll hear more music and meet more of Haden's family in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is Fresh Air.

(Soundbite of song "He's Gone Away")

Ms. TANYA HADEN: (Singing)

He's gone away for this day a little while. But he's coming back if he goes 10,000 miles. Oh, it's papa who will tie my shoes. And mama who will glove my hands. But who will kiss my beautiful lips.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is Fresh Air. I'm Terry Gross, back with Charlie Haden and members of his family. Haden, who is one of the most important bass players in the history of jazz, returns to his country roots on his latest CD, "Rambling Boy." He grew up in the 1930s and '40s, singing on his family's country music radio show. His CD features vocals by his wife, his children and friends. Joining Charlie Haden and I is his son, Josh. He's also the lead singer of the Indie rock band, Spain.

Josh, you're the oldest of the Haden children. What are some of your earliest musical family memories?

Mr. JOSH HADEN: Probably my earliest musical memory is seeing my dad practice his bass in the living room of our old apartment in New York.

GROSS: And what impact did it have on you?

Mr. JOSH HADEN: It most likely made me want to be a musician when I grew up.

GROSS: Now, the song you sing on the Haden family CD is an original, a song you wrote called "Spiritual." And Johnny Cash recorded it. He did a great version of it on his CD, "Unchained," one of the sessions he recorded late in life. How did Johnny Cash end up recording the song that we will soon hear you sing?

Mr. JOSH HADEN: I think that at the time, Rick Rubin was producing the record for Johnny Cash. And Rick Rubin liked the song and presented it to Johnny Cash, who liked it. And that's how that happened.

GROSS: Josh, this is a song about, you know, it's a plea to Jesus that you don't want to die alone. Did this song come out of religious belief or is it more of a character song writing about somebody else?

Mr. JOSH HADEN: I think it's a little of both. When I wrote the song about maybe 15 years ago, and I decided that I wanted to be a serious songwriter. And I kind of wrote it as an experiment in storytelling. And I think out of all the songs I've written, that's the one that resonates the most with people. So, you know, I really like that song.

GROSS: Charlie, tell us what you're doing on bass behind your son.

Mr. CHARLIE HADEN: I'm just trying to make everything, you know, sound complete. That's what I do when I play with anyone. And I'm just following Josh, following the song.

GROSS: Well, let's hear Joshua Haden singing his song, "Spiritual," with his father, Charlie Haden, on bass. And while we listen to this, we're going to bring in Ruth Cameron, Charlie's wife, and then we'll hear the track that she sings on the new CD. And this, again, is from the new CD, "Charlie Haden Family and Friends: Rambling Boy."

(Soundbite of song "Spiritual")

Mr. JOSHUA HADEN: (Singing)

Jesus, I don't wanna die alone Jesus, oh, Jesus. I don't wanna die alone My love wasn't true, now all I have is you Jesus, oh, Jesus. I don't wanna die alone Jesus...

GROSS: That's Joshua Haden singing his song "Spiritual" from Charlie Haden's new CD, "Charlie Haden Family and Friends." And of course, we heard Charlie Haden on bass. And joining us now with Charlie Haden is his wife, Ruth Cameron, who sings a track on the CD. Ruth, thank you for being here.

Ms. RUTH CAMERON: Pleasure.

GROSS: And I want to ask you about the track that you sing on the CD.

Ms. CAMERON: Mm hmm.

GROSS: It's called "Down By The Sally Garden."

Ms. CAMERON: Right.

GROSS: Tell us how you chose this track.

Ms. CAMERON: Well, the thing that - there were several things that really impressed me. I love poetry, and of course, William Butler Yates wrote the lyric, and he took it from old Irish tales that had been handed down throughout the years and fashioned the lyric as he imagined an Irish folksong to be. And then it was put to music, I think, after that. And it has something very special in the lyric for me about, you know, how we waste our youth. And you know, it's shame we didn't have the same wisdom when we were younger.

GROSS: Well, why don't we hear it. This is Ruth Cameron singing "Down By The Sally Garden" with her husband, Charlie Haden, on bass from the new CD, "Charlie Haden Family and Friends: Rambling Boy."

(Soundbite of the song "Down By The Sally Garden")

Ms. CAMERON: (Singing)

Down by the Sally Gardens. My love and I did meet She crossed the Sally Gardens With little Snow White feet

She bid me take love easy As the leaves grow on the tree But I was young and foolish And with her did not agree

In a field down by the river...

GROSS: Music from the recent CD by Charlie Haden, family and friends. We'll talk more with Haden and hear him sing after a break. This is Fresh Air.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Charlie Haden. His latest CD, "Rambling Boy," returns to his country roots when he sang with his family on their country music radio show back in the 1930s and '40s. The CD features Haden's family and friends.

Charlie, the last track on your CD is you singing, and people who have followed your career know that although you sang as a boy with your family on their country music radio show, polio affected your voice and your vocal cords and stopped you from singing. But a few years ago, you recorded a track again, "Wayfaring Stranger," and you sing again on the final track on this CD. And the song is "Shenandoah," which is also the name of the place where you were born. This kind of tears me up every time I hear it. Tell me why you chose this song as the one that you would sing on the CD and what the song means to you.

Mr. CHARLIE HADEN: It means a tribute to my parents who were traveling around the United States before I was born, auditioning on all the big radio stations with my brothers and sister. And they were on their way to Des Moines to do an audition, and there was a blizzard, and they stopped in Shenandoah at a motel. And while we were there, my dad went over to the radio station in Shenandoah and auditioned and got the job. And they stayed in Shenandoah for four years, and that's where I was born, and that's where I started singing with them.

And the two rare times I've sung since, you know, I've been in contemporary music is the "Wayfaring Stranger," which was with Quartet Westin, Shirley Horn, and Strings. And then this time, they were both a tribute to my parents. I don't sing these songs as a singer. I sing it in tribute and thanking my mom and dad for making this music and creating this music and my being a part of it and it being inside my soul. And I want to thank them, you know, whenever I can thank them. And this is the way that I can thank them because I know they hear this - they hear this. So that's why.

GROSS: You know, I always say that you're the most melodic and emotional bass player I've ever heard. And I think that that must have something to do with the fact that you grew up with this, that you grew up with melody and harmony and songs about life and death and love and loss. I mean, that's just - it's so deep inside of you.

Mr. CHARLIE HADEN: Yes. The music, you know, both of the indigenous art forms in music that come to the United States, you know, Hillbilly music and folk music came over from England and Scotland and Ireland into the Appalachian Mountains and the Ozark Mountains where I was raised. And then, my attraction to jazz was, of course, the struggle of the African slave in the Underground Railroad and the music that evolved from that. And so this music is very, very melodic. It's filled with wonderful chords and voicings and harmonies, and I grew up with these harmonies. And I'm so lucky because this was my early musical education, and I feel very fortunate.

GROSS: Just one more thing about your singing. I know there was a long period when you physically couldn't sing because of the polio that you got when you were young. When you sing now, what does it feel like physically to sing?

Mr. CHARLIE HADEN: It's very difficult for me because intonation is one of the priorities in my life is to play the music in tune, and I don't use my voice every day the way a lot of singers do, you know, who are professional singers. When I did the "Wayfaring Stranger," I hadn't sung in forty years or whatever, you know, since I was 15. And so - and I didn't practice, you know. And so I got in the studio and just sang. And it was - I think I did one take or maybe two. And on "Shenandoah," I was kind of nervous because I wanted to be in tune, and then I started thinking, you know, I'm doing this for mom and dad. I'm not doing this, you know, to be a great singer. I just want to do this, and so I just relaxed and did it. But whatever.

GROSS: Well, I find it incredibly moving and I'm so glad that you sang it. So, let's hear Charlie Haden singing "Shenandoah" from his new CD, "Charlie Haden: Family and Friends." And Charlie, it's just been great to have you back on the show and to talk with your family. Thank you so very much.

Mr. CHARLIE HADEN: Thank you, Terry, so much for inviting us.

(Soundbite of song "Shenandoah")

Mr. CHARLIE HADEN: (Singing)

Oh, Shenandoah, I long to see you Away, you rolling river. Oh, Shenandoah, I long to see you away. I found a way across the white Missouri.

It is seven years since I last saw you Away you rolling river. It is seven years since I last saw you away I found a way across the wide Missouri

Oh, Shenandoah, I long to hear you Away, you rolling river. I'll take across your rolling water away. I found a way across the wide Missouri...

GROSS: Charlie Haden with music from his latest CD, "Rambling Boy." The CD also features his family and friends.

Coming up, we'll hear some new holiday music written for Steven Colbert's holiday special and talk with Steven Colbert about it. This is Fresh Air.

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