Charlie Haden Returns To His Bluegrass Roots As a kid, Charlie Haden was a yodeling cowboy during radio's Golden Age. He's since become a respected jazz bassist for musicians such as Pat Metheny and Keith Jarrett. But the bluegrass of his youth was an irresistible siren song, and now he's recorded Rambling Boy with friends and family.

Charlie Haden Returns To His Bluegrass Roots

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In the 1930s and '40s, during radio's golden age, live shows were popular from coast to coast.

(Soundbite of Haden Family Band Radio Show)

HADEN FAMILY: Hello everybody.

Unidentified Announcer: And good morning friends. Howdy, howdy everybody everywhere? The Haden children, Karl Junior, 13, with his guitar...

HANSEN: Back then, listeners to KMA in Shenandoah, Iowa, might have tuned in to hear the Haden Family Band. Charles Edward Haden stole the show as the 2-year-old yodeling cowboy.

(Soundbite of Haden Family Band Radio Show)

Mr. CHARLIE HADEN: (Yodeling)

HANSEN: Charlie Haden's singing career only lasted until his teens, when he was stricken with a strain of polio that affected his vocal cords. But with music coursing through his veins, he went on to become one of the jazz world's most sought-after bassists and composers. He played with Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett, John Coltrane, Ringo Starr, and has been a longtime collaborator with guitarist Pat Metheny. But the bluegrass music of his youth was an irresistible siren song. So now, with his triplet daughters Petra, Tanya, and Rachel, and son Josh and wife Ruth, he's made the recording that's been on his mind for years. "Rambling Boy" by Charlie Haden Family & Friends will be released Tuesday on Decca Records.

(Soundbite of song "Rambling Boy")

CHARLIE HADEN FAMILY & FRIENDS: (Singing) I was rich, but a rambling boy. Too many a city, I did enjoy.

HANSEN: Charlie Haden and members of his family are in the studios of NPR West in Culver City, California. Charlie, I want to welcome you back to the show.

Mr. CHARLIE HADEN (Musician): Thanks, Liane. Thanks for having us.

HANSEN: Oh, I'm not going to neglect your family, believe me. But do you mind if I ask you a couple of things first?

Mr. CHARLIE HADEN: I'd love it.

HANSEN: All right, you've been playing jazz for years. What finally set this family bluegrass project in motion?

Mr. CHARLIE HADEN: It's been in my mind a long time, especially it came to fruition when my wife, Ruth, got us all together to go to my mom's in Kissee Mills, Missouri, on her 80th birthday. We were sitting in the living room, and Ruth said, why don't you all sing together? I said, what'll we sing? And Ruth said, why don't you sing "You Are My Sunshine"? So we started singing. And it sound so great that Ruth said afterwards, you guys got to do a record someday.

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

CHARLIE HADEN FAMILY & FRIENDS: (Singing) Single girl, single girl, she's going dressed fine...

HANSEN: Introduce your wife. Ruth Cameron, you're there. Hi, Ruth.

Ms. RUTH CAMERON: Hi. Hi, Liane.

HANSEN: Hi. You - you know, that day in the '80s when you and Charlie packed up the kids and went to see grandma, and you got the family singing together, could you have imagined that this would be the result?

Ms. CAMERON: Well, Charlie and I met in 1984, and I'm the stepmother of these wonderful children. And I had heard the old acetate tapes of the Haden family, and I just thought it would be interesting to see how they blended. And when we finally decided on a song that everyone knew, it was really quite magical because they all just kind of fell naturally into a harmony. And the blend was so beautiful, I don't know if they remember this, but everyone kind of looked at each other and went, oh. I don't know whether they expected it to sound so good.

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

CHARLIE HADEN FAMILY & FRIENDS: (Singing) I hear a voice calling. I've gained a reward. For the land where we never shall die.

Mr. CHARLIE HADEN: I knew that my daughters could sing these songs because they have such great ears, and they sing together a lot. And I was a little nervous at first, I've got to admit, because I'm a jazz musician. I hadn't done this in years and years. And everybody did it for me. I just sit back and play the bass.

HANSEN: I heard you had a crush on the bass player from the Carter Sisters. Is that why you started to play bass?

Mr. CHARLIE HADEN: Well, that's the thing that really, you know, kept me going strong when I met Anita. She was playing bass with Mother Maybelle and Helen. And she was so gorgeous. I was nine years old, she was 15, and I fell in love with her. And when she picked up the bass and started playing, I said, man, oh man, that's it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song "Wildwood Flower")

CHARLIE HADEN FAMILY & FRIENDS: When I woke from my dream, my idol was clay. All portions of love had all flown away...

HANSEN: You know the players on this recording, it's kind of like a volume of who's who of American musicians from Nashville and beyond. I mean, you've got the wonderful dobro player Jerry Douglas, and guitarist Sam Bush, and you've got Vince Gill, Rosanne Cash, plus your friend Pat Metheny. And it seems that there were little jazzy touches.

Mr. CHARLIE HADEN: There is, well, you know, all the guys that played on this record are all jazz fans. They wanted to do this record because they love my music and they wanted to be a part of this music. And, you know, including Bruce and Vince Gill and Dan Tyminski who I heard sing "Man of Constant Sorrow" from the movie "O Brother Where Art Thou." So that was a great highpoint for me.

(Soundbite of song "Oceans of Diamonds")

Unidentified Singer: (Singing) I'd give an ocean of diamonds, Or a world filled with flowers, To hold you closely, For just a few hours. Hear you whisper softly...

HANSEN: Petra and Rachel, are they in the studio as well?

Ms PETRA HADEN (Singer): Hi.

Ms. RACHEL HADEN (Singer): Hello.

HANSEN: Hi, who's who?

Ms. PETRA HADEN: I'm Petra.

Ms. RACHEL HADEN: And I'm Rachel.

HANSEN: All right. I can tell you apart. Sure. Petra, I want to ask you about this project because you do some beautiful tunes on here. I am particularly fond of "The Fields of Athenry."

Ms. PETRA HADEN: Oh, thank you. When I first heard it, my dad played it for me over the phone from this movie "Veronica Guerin." And this little boy was singing it. When my dad said we're doing this song for the record, I said, I want to sing it. That's my song.

(Soundbite of song "The Fields of Athenry")

Ms. PETRA HADEN: (Singing) Our love was on the wind, We have dreams and songs to sing. It's so lonely around the fields of Athenry.

HANSEN: Rachel, there's a story that you, when you were playing with Petra, you where in a group together. You ran into June Carter at a Johnny Cash concert.

Ms. RACHEL HADEN: Yeah, that's when our band actually opened for Johnny Cash at Carnegie Hall, and I shook Johnny Cash's hand. And he said, how you doing? And June Carter was just lovely as ever. And I said, I'm Charlie Haden's daughter. And she said, oh, yodeling cowboy, how is old Charlie doing? You know, it was really touching and really nice.

HANSEN: You know, the three of you, with your sister Tanya. I mean, your harmonies are extraordinary.

Ms. RACHEL HADEN: I think that we just - we all, the girls and I, Tanya, Petra and myself, we just always sang together. It started in summer camp. We started when we were like four or five, right?

HANSEN: And Tanya?

Ms. TANYA HADEN (Singer): Hi.

HANSEN: Hi. What was it like for you growing up?

Ms. TANYA HADEN: We were always singing. We would sing three-part harmonies just for fun, because we shared a room. So before we'd go to bed, we'd all sing "Kum Ba Yah." And then we'd all fight over the high harmony. And I'd always be stuck with the low one. But that was OK.

HANSEN: You do a song, "He's Gone Away"

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

Ms. TANYA HADEN: (Singing) He's gone away for stay...

I was just really nervous to sing by myself without Rachel and Petra because I've never done a solo like that before.

HANSEN: Did dad basically give you the nudge and say, go on in there, Tanya, you can do it?

Ms. TANYA HADEN: Yeah. Well, if he had confidence in me, then I had confidence, because he can be pretty critical, in a good way, in the best way. You know when he likes something. You know when he doesn't. So I was really scared to sing in front of him. But then when he said, keep going, and, you know, it made me feel a little bit better.

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

Ms. TANYA HADEN: (Singing) Look away, look away over yonder.

HANSEN: Well, Tanya, I don't think people know that your husband is actor, comedian, musician Jack Black, currently appearing in the film "Tropic Thunder." A lot of people know him, certainly, from "School Of Rock" and "High Fidelity" and other memorable movies. Jack, are you there?

Mr. JACK BLACK (Actor; Musician): Yes, hello.

HANSEN: Hello, you sing this song "Old Joe Clark"?

Mr. BLACK: It's true. I'm on the Haden Family album. I am part of the family now.

HANSEN: Is this new for you, given - I associate you with rock and guitar.

Mr. BLACK: Yeah. This is the first time I've ever sung a bluegrass or country song.

HANSEN: Really?

Mr. BLACK: So it's pretty exciting, a brave new world.

HANSEN: And what do you think?

Mr. BLACK: You know, I was nervous about it. I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to pull it off. But then once I got into the studio and Charlie taught me the melody line and lyrics, I started singing. And something took over my body and I felt like I was transported to another time. Can you play the track? Doesn't even sound like me.

(Soundbite of song "Old Joe Clark")

Mr. BLACK: (Singing) I wish I had a nickel. I wish I had a dime. I wish I had a pretty little girl to kiss and call her mine.

HANSEN: You do a great job with it, by the way.

Mr. BLACK: Thank you.

HANSEN: It's wonderful.

Mr. BLACK: It was a lot of fun.

HANSEN: Are you torn now with your sons? I mean, you know, do you want to say, oh, you got to learn this. I want you to learn this rock and roll, but, then you know, there's this bluegrass over here, too.

Mr. BLACK: No. I am only teaching bluegrass and folk and jazz. They're not even going to know that rock exists. And I am doing a new movie, "School of Jazz." I'm focusing everything - all of my powers in a new direction.

HANSEN: You've changed, Jack. You've changed.

Mr. BLACK: No. That rock is rubbish.

(Soundbite of song "Old Joe Clark")

Mr. BLACK: (Singing) Fare thee well, old Joe Clark, Fare thee well, I say. Fare thee well, old Joe Clark, I'm going to stay.

HANSEN: Josh Haden, you're there too, right.

Mr. JOSH HADEN (Musician): Hello.

HANSEN: How are you?


HANSEN: Tell us about your song "Spiritual." I mean, this is a song that was recorded by Johnny Cash. But this is your song, right?


HANSEN: Were you surprised when Johnny Cash recorded it?

Mr. JOSH HADEN: To say the least.

HANSEN: Yeah. I bet. How was it for you in the studio?

Mr. JOSH HADEN: In the studio, we listened to the original version of "Spiritual" which was done by my band, Spain, and we also listened to Johnny Cash's version. And the guys literally huddled together, and the musicians took the song and changed it into a song with a bluegrass foundation.

(Soundbite of song "Spiritual")

Mr. JOSH HADEN: (Singing) Now all I have is you. Jesus, oh Jesus, I don't want to die alone.

HANSEN: Dad, Charlie Haden, can I bring you back into this conversation?


HANSEN: How are you?


HANSEN: It must be intense in there in the studio with all the family.

Mr. CHARLIE HADEN: I love it.

HANSEN: I bet. You know, Charlie, you haven't done a lot of singing in public since you were a kid, but the last cut on this record is you singing "Oh, Shenandoah."

(Soundbite of song "Oh, Shenandoah")

Mr. CHARLIE HADEN: (Singing) Oh, Shenandoah, I long to see you. Awake you rollin' river. Oh, Shenandoah, I long to see you...

I wanted to do "Oh, Shenandoah" because that's the town that I was born in, and as a tribute to my mom and dad for giving me all of this music that they gave to me. I don't really sing this as a singer, because I'm not a singer, but I wanted to do it for them.

(Soundbite of song "Oh, Shenandoah")

Mr. CHARLIE HADEN: (Singing) Been seven years, since I last saw you...

HANSEN: Charlie Haden, his new CD with family and friends called "Rambling Boy" comes out Tuesday on Decca Records. He and the family joined us from NPR West in Culver City. Thanks to you all.

Mr. CHARLIE HADEN: Thank you.

Ms RUTH CAMERON: Thank you.

Mr. BLACK: Thank you.

(Soundbite of song "Oh, Shenandoah")

Mr. CHARLIE HADEN: (Singing) A way, I've found a way across the wide Missouri.

HANSEN: You can hear Charlie Haden's "Rambling Boy" collaborations with Elvis Costello, Dan Tyminski, and more, at This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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