Though guitarist Moot Davis grew up a New Jersey rocker, he had an appreciation for country music thanks to his West Virginian parents. But it wasn't until he saw a certain cola commercial that he really turned a corner.
"It was either Coke or Pepsi," Davis recalls. "Basically, the delivery man is wheeling a soft drink into a store, and as he's putting in his product, he sees the opposing product, and goes and grabs one to have a drink of it. And then, 'Your Cheatin' Heart' by Hank Williams starts playing. It just mesmerized me — it changed everything."
Davis plays rockabilly, honky-tonk and what some critics have called "thinking man's country" on his new album Man About Town. He discusses it with NPR's Jacki Lyden and performs two songs.
JACKI LYDEN, HOST:
When we get a CD from a left-handed rockabilly guitarist from New Jersey whose name is Moot, who can resist?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROCKET")
MOOT DAVIS: (Singing) Got a rocket in my pocket and I'm a dream I love to stab in the back. It's a fine line between broke and just a little crack. And if I don't watch my step, they're gonna sweep me up and carry me out...
LYDEN: In addition to rockabilly, Moot Davis plays honky-tonk and what some have called thinking man's country on his new CD, "Man About Town." And he is. Moot Davis joins us now in Studio 4A, having come down from New Jersey. Welcome.
DAVIS: Thank you very much.
LYDEN: Would you forgive me if I asked you how you got the name Moot?
DAVIS: Oh, no, not at all. When I was about 20 years old, I went and lived with an uncle in New Mexico, and he's a bit eccentric. And Moot happened to be a guy that he ran into on a hunting trip. And we would just make jokes about this guy named Moot. And he started calling me Moot and it just sort of stuck and it just became a nickname.
LYDEN: A noble family tradition.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
So, you brought along a guitar today, and I think - I can give them a little hint - you're playing a Fender Telecaster on the CD cover.
DAVIS: Right, right, on the CD cover.
LYDEN: Not there.
DAVIS: Right, right. This is just an acoustic guitar. But, yeah, I have a Fender Telecaster that I've been getting a bunch of compliments on, so it's...
LYDEN: Well, would you switch up and play us something lovely on that acoustic guitar?
DAVIS: I'd love to.
LYDEN: Thank you.
DAVIS: Just a little thing called "The Day the World Shook My Hand."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE DAY THE WORLD SHOOK MY HAND")
DAVIS: (Singing) Oh, this world's full of heartaches that you can't understand. Slipped through my fingers a grain of golden sand. The day the world shook my hand. Hang around here, honey, long enough, and all your soft edges just get tough. Day the world shook my hand. Shook my hand, and called me son. Shook my hand, said boy you're the one we've been waiting for. Met a girl with that magic in her eyes, and her tongue told the saltiest lies. Day the world shook my hand. Now, it's driving rain outside, and I'm just trying to keep my pride dry. Day the world shook my hand. Shook my hand, and called me son. Shook my hand, said, boy, you're the one we've been waiting for. Yeah, you're the one, we've been waiting for.
LYDEN: That was beautiful.
DAVIS: You're very kind.
LYDEN: Now listen, Moot, I can't say that I'm a Jersey girl. I don't know everything from the Kittatinny Mountains to the Jersey Shore. But I read you were a rocker growing up, and what I'm hearing is a little more channeling Roy Orbison. So, what turned you around?
DAVIS: Well, you know, my mother and father are from West Virginia, so that kind of music was around the house when I was growing up. And my father would come home and sing, like, "Hey Good Lookin'" to my mom and stuff when he'd come in the door.
LYDEN: I heard a certain cola commercial had something to do with it.
DAVIS: Yeah, yeah. There was a - basically, it was either Coke or Pepsi and basically the delivery man was wheeling in the soft drink into a store, and as he's putting in his product, he sees the, you know, the opposing product and goes and grabs one to have a drink of it. And then "Your Cheating Heart" by Hank Williams starts playing. And it just mesmerized me. It changed everything.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LYDEN: You got a country album here, and a country album would be nothing without a tale of good old murder in cold blood. And this one has a bit of a Mexican feel. It's called "Black and White Picture."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK AND WHITE PICTURE")
DAVIS: (Singing) I've got a black and white picture of the man I used to be. Features they all look the same, but I swear it ain't me. I was young and always ready, but I never understood, that sometimes the things I want, well, them things ain't no good.
Well, a friend of mine asked me if I've ever written a murder ballad. And I said, you know, no, I'm not, you know, really wasn't my thing. And they said, well, you should try and see what you come up with. And I thought, well, if I'm going to write a murder ballad, I guess, I'm going to try and, you know, write one for, you know, so whenever I had to write another one. So, this is what I came up with.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK AND WHITE PICTURE")
LYDEN: Oh, that is such a good old cowboy ballad style you went to.
DAVIS: Excellent. Thanks.
LYDEN: I love it. So, your first two albums were cut in Los Angeles, but, Moot, I know you also took a break from music to travel to New Zealand and do a little acting.
LYDEN: So, L.A. might have been less of a schlep.
DAVIS: Right, right, right. Well, the whole idea was to get out of L.A. for a while. Things were getting fairly stale for me, you know, musically. And it was just, you know, it was just becoming a grind and I was falling out of love with music. So, I thought, well, I need to get away and just go figure, figure it out. And New Zealand seemed like it was far enough away and I was able to go over there and, you know, I did some sort of small acting work. I worked in a play, and that was over there called "The Devils." But it was great. I hadn't acted in, you know, seven years or so. It was just great to not have to - there was nothing attached to it, so there was no heartache involved, you know.
LYDEN: So, I don't know much about the music scene there. Is there any influence from your time there on this CD?
DAVIS: Well, I think I wrote about 80 percent of the songs there that are on this album. And it was just being able to get away and sort of clear your head. And then, you know, if you're a songwriter it just sort of naturally starts happening again. So...
LYDEN: Well, another cut that we really enjoyed here is your opening track, "Rags to Rhinestones." And at first blush, it sounds like classic country.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAGS TO RHINESTONES")
DAVIS: (Singing) From rags to rhinestones, rented rooms to mansion homes. Riding long shiny cars, instead of walking alone in the rain. From rags to rhinestones, a shooting star out of the great unknown. Well, you should have seen me then, from rags to rhinestones, and back again.
LYDEN: Wow. I want to dance to this song. I got to tell you, I'm kind of getting ready to do that. But I also want to ask you: we've talked about everything from Hank Williams to being on the road yourself from L.A. to New Zealand. When you think in songs, how do you say, OK, I want to do this classic country song but I don't want it to be cliche?
DAVIS: Right. And that's sort of the big trick. And I don't honestly know how it happens. I mean, there are certain things that I don't want to talk about. So, "Rags to Rhinestones" though, was a song that took many years to finally come together.
DAVIS: I carried around pieces of it for years and then somebody told me a story about a fellow in Nashville, a person who sort of rose to a certain height and then just sort of nosedived. And for some reason that fascinated me. And it's kind of the same story of Hank Williams and all these other people that I find very intriguing. So, so yeah...
LYDEN: Having spent time there, did you like Nashville?
DAVIS: I did. Nashville was great to me, yeah.
LYDEN: And you can find those stories of people who came there to make it and they didn't.
DAVIS: Right, right. But magic happens there as well. I mean it's a place where it's still possible to go out there a nobody and become a somebody, you know?
LYDEN: Or go into a coffee shop and get a whole band by the time you walk out.
DAVIS: Yeah, it's possible. It's very possible.
LYDEN: So, you're going to play us one more song. First, I really want to thank you for coming in.
DAVIS: It was my great pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
LYDEN: And you're going to play us out on "Queensbury Rules." Queensbury, as in boxing, rules.
DAVIS: Correct, yeah. They are the old British boxing rules that basically say, like, no kicking your opponent when they're down. So, I just turned it into a love song.
LYDEN: That's perfect for a country song.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
DAVIS: Yeah, you're right.
LYDEN: That's Moot Davis. His new CD is called "Man About Town." And you can hear more of Moot's music at NPRMusic.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon returns next week. I'm Jacki Lyden. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.