For Darrell Scott, inspiration is the key, whether he’s writing a song or playing it.
The man who has written hits like the Dixie Chicks’ “Long Time Gone” and is an in-demand session player in Nashville said inspiration can take some time or be of the moment.
The time, for him, comes in writing.
“I’m a songwriter who largely waits for inspiration,” Scott said in a recent phone interview. “I don’t write every day. If I did, I’d come up with something that sounds like I made myself write. I’ll just be quiet and something taps me on the shoulder and I’ll pay attention to it. The better and more inspired songs come from that process.”
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The immediacy of the moment comes in performance.
“Moment to moment, thought to thought, now to now,” Scott said. “That’s what it is and what it’s supposed to be. I’m not trying to repeat myself from town to town. If I’m doing my job right, tonight’s show shouldn’t sound like last night’s. There will be some songs that are the same, some sounds that are the same. But if you’re looking for nuance, it will be different. I’m not a trained monkey that repeats things over and over.”
That said, Scott said writing a song like “Hank Williams’ Ghost,” for which he received the Americana Music Association’s Song of the Year award in 2007, can require a little more work after inspiration hits.
“There’s a little dance between writing the song and ‘where did it come from?’ ” Scott said. “You don’t want to be so precious with it that you can’t change it. But you can’t do too much to it. It’s kind of a dance between shaping a song, controlling a song and being quiet enough as a songwriter to listen to the song and where it wants to go.”
Scott has written songs that have been recorded by, among others, Brad Paisley, Faith Hill and Keb Mo’. But he said he doesn’t think about who will be doing the song besides himself as he’s writing.
“If I’m sitting in the middle of a song and think, ‘So and so will like this,’ it’s an absolute guarantee they won’t hear it,” Scott said. “It’ll end up being a lesser song because I was thinking about what to wear to the Grammys.”
Born in Kentucky, Scott was raised in Indiana, the son of musician Wayne Scott, his career cast before he reached second grade.
“I grew up in a family band,” he said. “I started playing at 6 years old. I played churches with my dad and brothers. Then my dad started playing honky tonks. I was playing honky-tonks at 14. It’s the only job I’ve ever had.”
Scott, who studied poetry and literature at Tufts University, settled in Nashville 20 years ago. A master of multiple instruments as well as a singer and songwriter, he’s one of Nashville’s top session players.
In 2010, Scott joined Robert Plant’s Band of Joy for its yearlong tour, playing mandolin, guitar, accordion, pedal and lap steel and banjo, as well as providing backing vocals.
That experience became more than playing the songs exactly as they appear on Plant’s Grammy-nominated folk rock-meets-prog rock album, “Band of Joy.”
“Band of Joy actually got looser over the year-and-a-half we played,” Scott said. “You’d never call it a jam band. But there were elements that were different from night to night. We were playing the same song in the same key every night. But there was a twist in there. You can do that if you work at it.”
Most often, Scott does the twisting of his songs on stage by himself, generally playing guitar.
“I’ll just be the Lone Ranger on stage,” he said. “The good thing about that is I can change at any moment. So maybe I’ll do an extended solo if it feels right or put two or three songs together, kind of fly with what I feel.
“I don’t just do my songs. I’ll do a Johnny Cash song,” Scott said. “Since Merle Haggard passed, I’ve been doing a song of his every show. I kind of throw everything I have into my performance, my set, my records. I try to bring all of my parts to what I’m working at.”
Scott’s current set is filled with songs from “Couchville Sessions,” the album he released in May.
“The songs are from the past and the recordings are from the past,” Scott said of the album. “They’re from 2001 to 2002. In 2015, I finished the recording. I added a keyboard player across the record and harmony singers. I got a narration from Guy Clark (who died shortly after the album was released) last summer. So it’s an old record and a new record.”
But you can guarantee that those songs or any others that he plays won’t sound like they do on record, well beyond the fact that he doesn’t have a band to fill out the arrangements.
“The song, from my point-of-view, doesn’t want to be the way I wrote it in the room, tempo, dynamic range, key,” he said. “It’s not something to be repeated the same way the rest of my life. Performance is another way to take it and be honest and in the moment.”