Photo by Bella Mazzola
There’s a timeless sound to the nostalgic pop songs featured on Logan Ledger‘s debut EP, the T-Bone Burnett-produced I Don’t Dream Anymore. Though Ledger grew up as a student of bluegrass and old school country, the influence his grandmother had can’t be underestimated. There is little doubt that Elvis and Orbison left a lasting impression on the songwriter as you make your way through the EP.
The way Ledger went from relative obscurity to being filmed playing songs in the backyard of one of the biggest rock stars of the last 30+ years is something movies are made of and, perhaps someday, Ledger’s story will be told on the big screen. But that’s putting the cart before the horse so we’ll give Ledger a little time to ramp things up before becoming a household name!
On November 8, Ledger – performing as a solo act – will open for the Nashville-by-way-of-the-UK duo Ida Mae show at Rumba Cafe. You may recognize Ida Mae’s name as the opening act on Greta Van Fleet’s recent headlining tour. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 day of show.
We had a chance to chat with Ledger on an off day in Chicago where he was hanging out at a friend’s house.
I understand your early music education came via your grandmother.
In a sense. When I was a really little kid, like 7 or 8 years old, she introduced me to a lot of music that probably would go on to define a lot of my personal tastes and ideas about music. She gave me an Elvis CD and I was hooked. Orbison and all the doo wop groups, Jerry Lee Lewis and all that kind of stuff.
Do you remember the first artist that you discovered on your own?
When I was 12 or 13, I started playing guitar. And, my parents didn’t really listen to old country music or folk music. My dad was a classic rock guy. I started taking guitar lessons from this guy named Nick Shryock who this eccentric guitar teacher in my town and he introduced me to the music of Bob Dylan. I knew who Bob Dylan was but I didn’t really know the catalog. I mean, I was 12! (laughs) Through Dylan and being wowed by what I heard, I wanted to figure out what his influences were and where this music came from. I started exploring music on my own and I got really into the Smithsonian Folkways label. I’d go to a Barnes & Noble whenever I had enough money saved up and just buy random Smithsonian Folkways CDs. The first bluegrass record I heard was just a random purchase, it was a live record of Country Gentlemen. They are still one of my favorite bluegrass bands, sort of hardcore folk bluegrass. They were from the Washington DC scene and they were all educated, college kids except for Charlie Waller who is from Louisiana. The folk/bluegrass thing really appealed to me, like old songs, quirky arrangements, Charlie Waller’s singing really appealed to me, he was sort of a crooner which was not the typical bluegrass thing. From there, I got into banjo playing and discover Flatt & Scruggs and Bill Monroe and Stanley Brothers. That’s how it started.
This was all when you were an early teen?
Yeah, like 12 or 13. By the time I was 14, I was pretty versed in the old school bluegrass, like the most famous of the lot. I didn’t know about Reno & Smiley or Red Allen or some of the more obscure bluegrass acts from that era.
Most teenagers are probably turned onto music by the radio or their friends. I can’t imagine you had a lot of friends who were listening to the same stuff you did.
No, I had zero. Not until high school did I run across people that actually, they maybe didn’t know that much about it, but they thought it was cool. That was around that time, 13, 14, 15. One of my oldest childhood friends, his name is Sam Grisman. His dad is a famous mandolin player who played with Jerry Garcia and people in the Bay Area acoustic music scene. Through Sam, I learned a lot of music as well. He was kind of my musical compadre. We were friends freshman year of high school and then we kind of drifted apart, got into different social scenes. It took us a while to get reconnected but now I’m really good friends with him again. He’s my oldest, continuous friend.
When you’re going to Barnes & Noble, you mentioned you were buying CDs, not vinyl.
No, not vinyl. When I was that age, the town that I grew up in for part of my childhood is a town called Mill Valley which is a nice suburb north of San Francisco. There was this famous music store there called Village Music, it’s like one of the most famous record stores in California. When I was in middle school, it went out of business. And I was thinking, if it had just hung on for 10 more years, it all would have been okay (laughs). I remember we used to take the free 78s out of the bin and throw them like frisbees. Nobody cared anything about vinyl at all.
How do you listen to music now? Are you buying vinyl? Streaming?
I’m probably like most of the people my age, I mostly stream. If I really like something I’ll buy the record. I’m a collector and I like buying vinyl. I’ve gone through periods of my life where I’ve spent way too much money on it.
I always liked to read liner notes in albums and CDs. That’s one thing that is missing with digital and streaming music. Is there a physical copy of your EP and do you have a Thank You list?
No, it’s a digital-only EP. Part of the reason for that is because we decided to do it two or three months before we did it. There wasn’t really any time to make a physical copy. I am going to be putting out a 45 of one of the songs on the EP. I do have a 45 of “Starlight” and “Imagining Raindrops”, but it’s only for sale at shows because I don’t have a store on my website.
This might seem like a strange question but are you a music fan as well as a musician?
Yeah, for sure. I definitely am a music nerd. I’ve always been a history geek, so part of my fascination with older music is just purely from a fascination with the past. But I like contemporary music too. I’m a fan of music. I don’t necessarily go to as many shows as I used to but I think that’s partially because in Nashville if you go to a show you just end up running into 15 people you know and they want to have a conversation. I’m in Chicago right now on tour and have 3 days off and I’m thinking about going to see a show because I can’t imagine a better scenario because I’m not going to know anyone. I’ll just get to watch.
Did you ever hang out behind a club and try to meet a band that you were a fan of?
Not really. When I was a teenager, I didn’t go to a lot of shows. I guess I didn’t really put it together that that was something you could do. The kind of shows that I would go to were bluegrass festivals. I was heavily invested in that world and there wasn’t a lot of music that was happening contemporaneously that I really identified with and, if there was, I didn’t know about it. I was in my own little weird bubble.
When you were first starting out, were you writing your own songs or were you trying to learn other people’s songs?
Both. At the very beginning, it was definitely me trying to cover stuff but when I was 15 or 16 I started writing my own songs. I got really into it. And then I stopped for 3 or 4 years and started again in my early 20s.
When you first started playing out, did you have to pad your sets with covers?
I have done that in my past. When I was a kid, I was learning covers because I really identified with the folk revival and that was all about covering traditional songs. I thought part of being a legit folk singer was doing your homework and learning the old songs and having that frame of reference. It was like going to school.
You live in Nashville now?
I’ve interviewed a number of musicians recently from Nashville and it seems like it’s not just a country city, that there are a lot of different types of musicians who live there.
I think any sort of music that veers in a rootsy direction, any sort of guitar-based rock or country or folk or Americana, that’s the city to be in. It’s the center of that world.
Do you play out regularly in Nashville or are you more on a touring cycle?
I don’t really play that often in Nashville any more. The last thing I played in Nashville was a house show and I have a show coming up in December and that’s kind of it. I used to play Nashville a lot, I was in cover bands and was playing on Broadway and playing for tips, that whole thing, not playing my own music. People tend to get discouraged playing Nashville too many times. I guess the residencies can be a thing, especially for people who are trying to get a record deal. I don’t really like playing in Nashville. It can be cool if you have a lot of friends who come out but it’s not like playing in another city for me which is more a pure reaction to the music. In Nashville it’s more like you’re hosting a party.
Do you pay attention to the business side of things? It seems like getting on Spotify playlists and/or getting a song in a commercial or Netflix show is this generation’s version of getting played on the radio or having an video on MTV.
It’s on my radar, it’s one of the ways people nowadays can hear your music. I always wonder how do you get music to people in 2019 because no one really listens to the radio. People do but in a haphazard kind of way, everything is so niche and people just find their channel and stick to it. I’m always looking at ways of broadening my audience through playlists and movie placements. Also, like a television placement is the only way a musician and make any money! Otherwise, it’s just touring. I don’t know anybody who is making money off selling records.
Speaking of touring and selling records, what’s the plan for the rest of the year and 2020?
Next year will probably be heavy touring and a lot more touring with a band than solo, mainly this year it’s been solo because I don’t have a thick enough calendar to hire a full-time band that would have any sort of consistency. I like having the opportunity to build something and work with the same people. It gets kind of annoying having to hire a different band every tour. If you’re a solo artist, you just kind of have to live with that.
So you’re doing this current tour by yourself?
Yes. It’s different. I don’t have a tour manager or anything, it’s just me. It gets a little lonely, but I’m staying with friends of mine in Chicago and they are really nice folks. It’s like a vacation for the next 3 days. Then I play some more shows and everything will be good. I like alone time so I don’t mind it.
That was going to be my last question but I was reminded that you’ve played some shows with some pretty great artists, T-Bone Burnett produced the EP. You’ve worked with a lot of people with some pretty amazing resumes.
There have definitely been some surreal experiences through T-Bone and others. Have you heard the story about how I met T-Bone?
I may have read it but go ahead and tell me.
I think it’s been written about somewhere but I don’t remember where. I have a friend named Mark Thornton who runs a studio out of his house in Nashville and he works on bluegrass projects and instrumental records and things like that. One day I was at his house and he had this microphone that he had just bought, sort of an old vintage microphone that looked like a weird needle. And he said, “Why don’t you play some songs into this microphone and we’ll see how it sounds?”
I played a couple of my original songs and didn’t really think anything of it. I don’t think I even really played in time, I wasn’t taking it all that seriously. A couple of weeks go by and Mark calls me and goes, “Hey man, my fried Dennis Crouch came by and turned those songs into demos.” I’d heard the name Dennis Crouch, I knew he worked on T-Bone records and I knew he was in the Time Jumpers. I’d seen Elvis Costello play once with him and I was like, “Oh, that’s cool.”
I listened to the demos and they sounded really cool. They turned them into professional sounding things. But, I was like, I don’t know why they did this. A couple days pass by and Mark calls me up again and says, “Dennis sent the songs to T-Bone and he wants to meet you.” Totally crazy. I go into Mark’s house, meet Dennis for the first time, get on the phone with T-Bone’s assistant and the next day I’m in Los Angeles.
I met T-Bone, we had dinner and he said, “We’re going to make a record.” It happened that quickly. The next day, I go over to his house and he was getting ready and he was like, “We need to go to a barbecue at Bono’s house.” So we went to Bono’s house!
You realize the rest of your career is not going to be like this, right?
Yeah! It’s still one of the most surreal experiences that has ever happened to anyone that I can even think of. It was so wild and crazy, coming from not having any sort of connection to the music industry other than just playing in bar bands to being at this weird barbecue.
Bono was really nice. T-Bone had me play some songs and Bono filmed it on his phone. Somewhere in Bono’s iCloud is a clip of me playing some songs.
Well, I don’t know that you can end with any better story, so thanks so much for your time.
Visit http://loganledgermusic.com/ for more info.