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Ta-Nehisi Coates' and a beautiful struggle

Ta-Nehisi Coates' pays tribute to his father in his Memoir.


Other segments from the episode on June 19, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 19, 2009: Interview with Ta-Nehesi Coates; Interview with Carol Leifer; Interview with Jimmy Dale Gilmore; Interview with Wayne and Darrell Scott; Interview with…


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Ta-Nehisi Coates' 'Beautiful Struggle' To Manhood


This is FRESH AIR. I’m David Bianculli of, sitting
in for Terry Gross. Father’s Day is on Sunday, but why wait? Today,
we’re playing excerpts from some of Terry’s interviews that had sons or
daughters talking about their dads.

We’ll start with journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates. One of the
things that made Coates different from a lot of other kids in West
Baltimore, where he grew up, was that his father was a former Black

His dad ran a small afro-centric publishing company called Black Classic
Press that was in the basement of the house. Upstairs, he presided over
a family of seven kids. Coates writes about his childhood in his memoir,
“The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons and an Unlikely Road to

Coates is now a contributing editor and blogger for The Atlantic
magazine. His article about Michelle Obama was published in The Atlantic
in January, which is when Ta-Nehisi Coates spoke with Terry Gross.


You came from a very unusual home. Your father raised seven children
with four mothers, and they were all, including the four women,
considered your family. Would you describe the arrangement?

Mr. COATES: Yeah, well, the first to understand is it wasn’t planned.
That’s the biggest thing. It’s not like – and it certainly wasn’t a
situation in which it was a polygamist household.

My dad was a young man. Being a young man, not necessarily always being
particularly careful, and I’m quite thankful for that now, he had
relationships with four different women at various points, and in each
of those cases, there were kids yielded. In two of the cases, it was
multiple kids - with my mother, there were two kids. The first woman he
was married to, first wife, there were three kids.

My dad hated the term step-brother. He hated the term step-mother, step-
father, all that. We really didn’t do that. He hated the term half-
brother. There were no halfs. We were raised to be really, really close,
and basically, most of the kids lived with their mothers for the most
part. If a kid was having trouble in school, particularly the boys were
going through hard times, my dad has five boys, they would come and live
with my dad. And my dad was, as many dads are across the country, the
disciplinarian who would get the kid back on track.

They would, you know come over on weekends. So there might be different
combinations of kids. It might be my sister Kelly(ph) and you know, my
sister Chris(ph) and me, or it might be my brother, Big Bill(ph) as he
was called at that time, My brother Malique(ph), my brother John(ph) and
me. It could be any combination of kids.

It was a very interesting thing. I have to tell you, though, I didn’t
consider it particularly unusual because, quite frankly, there were a
lot of kids in the neighborhood who had a similar situation except in
most cases, the father was not there. And so I actually didn’t
necessarily feel I was blessed, but I knew I was blessed.

GROSS: Did your father live in your home?

Mr. COATES: Yes he did, yes. I lived with my father all my life, until I
was 18, at least.

GROSS: Your father had been a Black Panther. Was monogamy one of the
institutions he was opposed to?

Mr. COATES: Yes, it was, very much so. And the Panthers had a sort of
doctrine of free love at that point, which I write about in the book. I
don’t know how much my dad was, in his mind, opposed to monogamy when he
hooked up with my mother.

You know, child rearing was very important in my parents’ relationship,
and I think it overshadowed romantic love. It was about getting those
kids together and getting them out of the house and making sure
everybody became productive members of society. And romantic love was
really, really secondary despite the fact that both of them had the
yearnings that all human beings have.

I don’t know how much it was that my dad theoretically didn’t believe in
monogamy at that point in time or that it just wasn’t where he was, from
a romantic person, that he wasn’t in love for most of the marriage.

GROSS: Your father published – had a small publishing company in the
basement and published books by African-American authors, afro-centric
books. Did you read those books growing up? Did they have an influence
on you?

Mr. COATES: I devoured them. I devoured all of them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COATES: And you know, I felt - a way that I felt at the time and
later, you know, come back and questioned some of the stuff, at the same
time seeing the importance of having it out there.

At the time that I was coming up in Baltimore, crack had hit the city,
and guns had just flooded everywhere. I mean, I’m talking about 10-, 11-
, 12-year-old kids with guns out on the corner selling crack. It changed
the temperature. It changed the volume. It changed how the city felt.

It was a much more violent city during the time that I was coming up.
And the thing you have to know about me is there was no religion in our
household, so there was no broader sense of what should explain where we
are. And I think just as a kid searching for answers, I was looking for
anything to explain what was going on, why young boys were being shot
over Starter jackets with the Philadelphia 76ers written across the
front, why, you know, a kid would come to school in a pair of shoes and
end up walking home in his socks because he got beat up, and somebody
took off his Air Jordans.

I didn’t understand how it was that my world was like that, and yet you
would turn on the TV, and there was a completely different world,
obviously, out there were people had nice lawns, and you know, kids just
went to school. They didn’t necessarily have to worry about any level of

I took to, quote-unquote, “afro-centric books” as a way to explain that
to myself. It was a kind of a mythology, a religion for me that
explained where I was, who I was and how I had ended up in that
particular space.

GROSS: At the same time, you also read a lot of comic books.

Mr. COATES: I did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You say my default position was sprawled across the bed, staring
at the ceiling or cataloging an extensive collection of “X-Factor” comic
books. So how did your father react to you reading comics in addition to
you reading serious books, you know, what he would consider serious

Mr. COATES: My dad had a position that kids reading was a good thing,
and you had to take kids where they were. You really, really did. I also
write in the book about how I played Dungeons & Dragons. Now you have to
– you know, knowing my dad and where he was in terms of black
consciousness, having a kid, you know, play a game that is based in, you
know, Tolkien and Norse mythology sounds like a weird mix, but in fact,
my dad appreciated the imagination that was inherent in the game. He
appreciated the sort of abstract level of reasoning.

There were a number of things that young black kids were doing at that
particular point in time that was not particularly healthy, and yet here
I was with my brother doing this, exploring a creativity.

My dad was very, very encouraging of that. Now we would have a whole – a
lot of conversations about how race and how race played out in those
particular worlds. But he never was, you know, a sort of people who was
like I don’t want you playing the white man’s games or something like
that. I don’t want you reading the white man’s comics.

That didn’t really exist in my household. He was always very
encouraging. And the other thing that you have to understand about my
dad is when he was a kid, he collected comic books.

GROSS: Aha, okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COATES: So that was key. That was key. And so there was, in fact, a
moment when I was younger, he talks about with my mom, you know, trying
to get me off of comic books and get me into more serious reading. He
said, you know, don’t do that. Don’t do that. You know, the boy is
reading. Encourage that.

GROSS: You said that your father would tell you, when you were on your
bed reading, that you had to go outside, that you had to – he said this
is your community. These are your people.

Mr. COATES: Right.

GROSS: What does that mean to you as, what I imagine, was a kind of
alienated teenager or preteen reading “X-Men” comics at home?

Mr. COATES: I was very angry at him. I was very, very angry that he was
sending me out. Again, and this is, you know, just to put this
chronologically, this is at a period before I start reading, you know,
books about African-Americans for myself, as opposed to being assigned.

I didn’t understand why my world was different. And moreover, I felt
like I had two parents, two really smart parents. I had a mother who
worked as a teacher. I had a dad who worked at Howard University. Why
were we living in West Baltimore? I didn’t understand that at all. I
felt like if we could – you know, we were as good as anybody else. We
could live in the suburbs, have nice lawns, et cetera. This is my
thinking around 12 or so. Moreover, why do I have to go out and be
around kids who are of a different background than me? Now, here’s a
lesson that my dad…

GROSS: Kids who wanted to beat you up too, I might add.

Mr. COATES: Yes, yes, yes, some of them. Some of them - I developed some
great friendships, but yes, that was certainly part of it. Now my dad’s
thing was that he was raising men, as it came to me, for all seasons. He
wanted people who were comfortable in the neighborhood, people who were
exposed to things outside the neighborhood, people who could be
comfortable in many different worlds.

You know, he had a great, great feeling that despite what was going on
in the community, you could not – and I can remember my mother, in fact,
saying this all the time - you could not be scared of your own people.
You could not. Now, you had to be smart, you had to be safe, you had to
take certain steps, but you could not develop broad, big sort of
paintbrush ideas about black people.

GROSS: Did your parents live in West Baltimore, which was largely a
pretty poor community would you say? And you say the crack epidemic had
really spread there. Did they live there for political reasons as
opposed to economic reasons?

Mr. COATES: Yeah, I think, as a child, I interpreted it as political
reasons. I think it was partially political reasons, but it was, in
fact, at the end of the day, also economic reasons. I mean, we owned our
own house. It was, you know, a good house. My dad still owns it to this
day, and it wasn’t particularly expensive for the time. And I should,
just to be very clear about where I was, you know, West Baltimore, like
any sort of broad area that gets painted as a ghetto, was actually quite
economically diverse.

So the area where we were was pretty much a working-class area. I would
not call it necessarily call it a poor area. We had Section 8 housing
and that sort of thing, but it wasn’t like I was raised in the projects
or something like that. It wasn’t that sort of situation.

Now, you can’t insulate yourself from what’s going on in the broader
community of West Baltimore and the city as a whole, but where I was
raised, there were not a lot of fathers around. But the mothers who were
there worked, and they worked hard.

GROSS: We talked a little bit about the neighborhood you grew up in and
the impact that had on you. You’re raising a son now. What kind of
neighborhood are you raising him in? And did you consciously choose that
neighborhood to raise a son in, or did you just end up living there and
having a son?

Mr. COATES: Right. I live in Harlem. I’m in Harlem, which again, it’s
tough to – people think of Harlem as a ghetto. It’s very tough to
describe Harlem as a ghetto because it’s just so diverse.

I mean, there are folks like me who are college graduates there. There
are people who have been there all their lives. You know, just the other
day, I was doing some reporting. I was riding around with a gentleman
who lives in actually the projects of east Harlem who was working on
getting his son into an elite boarding school up in New England.

We drove up there and did that. So there are all kinds of people there.
I’m a big fan of the diversity within the black community and sort of
bringing that out and myself, you know, exploring that as a writer.

I do want Samari(ph), my son, to have some sort of consciousness about
what it means to be an African-American. Now, that’ll change by the time
he’s, you know, as an adult, and he’ll have to figure some of that out
for himself. But I don’t want him in a situation, as I think sometimes
happens with certain people, in which he perceives African-Americans as
alien to him.

I don’t want him learning about African-Americans from watching TV. I
don’t even necessarily want him learning about African-Americans
strictly from listening to music. I want it to be a lived experience.

I think Barack Obama said something really great in the campaign. I
think about this always in regards to my son. He said: I’m rooted in the
black community, I’m not limited by it. And if I could do anything for
the kid, I mean, that would really be what it was.

GROSS: Well Ta-Nehisi Coates, thanks so much for talking with us.

Mr. COATES: Well, thank you for having me, Terry.

BIANCULLI: Ta-Nehisi Coates. His memoir, “The Beautiful Struggle,” is
out in paperback. Coming up, comedian Carol Leifer on memories of her
father. This is FRESH AIR.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Carol Leifer On Life, Comedy And Finding Love At 40


This is FRESH AIR. Out next guest on this special Father’s Day salute is
comic, actress and writer Carol Leifer, who got an early start in comedy
hearing her father tell jokes when she was a kid. She started working
the comedy clubs when Paul Reiser, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David were
getting started, and they became her friends.

She later wrote for the NBC series, “Seinfeld,” and has starred in her
own TV comedy specials. Terry Gross spoke to Carol Leifer earlier this
year upon the publication of her memoir called “When You Lie About Your
Age, the Terrorists Win.”


Carol Leifer, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

Ms. Carol Leifer (Author, “When You Lie About Your Age, the Terrorists
Win: Reflections on Looking in the Mirror”): Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Your opening essay in the new book is about your father, who
recently died at the age of 86, and you write that he’s the reason you
wanted to be funny because he was funny. And in this piece, you tell one
of the jokes that he used to tell. It’s a, quote, “dirty joke” that you
didn’t get when you were a kid. It’s such a great joke, so I have to
start by asking you to tell it.

Ms. LEIFER: Okay, well a guy goes to the movies with his pet chicken.
And he buys two tickets and the person says, who’s going in with you?
And he goes, well, my pet chicken here. And the ticket person says hey,
you can’t bring an animal in the movie theater. So the guy goes around
the corner. He stuffs the chicken down his pants, goes into the movies,
and the movie starts, but the chicken is starting to get a little hot.
So the guy unzips his fly to let the chicken stick his head out and get
a little air.

So a little bit of time has passed by and a woman nudges her friend and
says, you know, this guy next to me just unzipped his pants. And the
woman goes eh, look, you know, you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.
And the woman goes, yeah, I know, but this one’s eating my popcorn.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I love that.

Ms. LEIFER: Yes, hilarity ensues, but I remember as a kid, you know, my
father telling this joke a lot and getting big laughs. And I was young
enough that I didn’t really understand it, you know, because all I heard
was a chicken and, you know, a zipper, and it didn’t really make sense.
I found out, you know, what the joke meant later, and that just might
have been the thing that pushed me into lesbianism, but…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Which we’ll get to later.

Ms. LEIFER: Yeah, but I really – you know, my father was the king of the
joke-tellers. And I was so impressed as a child watching him hold people
in rapt attention with these stories and it had a big impact on me.

GROSS: So did he actually collect jokes?

Ms. LEIFER: He did. My father, he was the kind of guy that, you know,
he’d always say, throw out any subject and I got a joke on it. And he
really – one of the high points of his life was - my mom is a Ph.D. in
psychology and she went to one of her psychology conventions and the
scheduled entertainment for that night had cancelled. And the
psychologists, knowing that my father was a big joke-teller, asked if he
would mind stepping in and telling some jokes.

And as I hear it, you know, he was thrilled and delighted. And he I
think told about a half an hour or 45 minutes of jokes, and he killed.
And it was really a fantastic night for him. I think to my father’s
generation, to have a career in show business was not something that was
accessible or something that someone actually did, you know. And I’m
really happy that he lived long enough to see a lot of my success and
was so happy for me. So it’s – you know, it’s nice that he left this
earth, you know, having seen that and shared that with me.

GROSS: When your father died, the family found a list of jokes that he
kept in his wallet. Did you know that he had that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LEIFER: I did know that he had that list of jokes. We all did, my
brother, sister and I, because you know, it ties back to that evening
that he entertained the shrinks at their convention. I know that he
thought if they ever asked him to perform again, he wanted to be
prepared. So he had his list of jokes there.

GROSS: So when the family was dividing up his possessions, you got the
paper with the jokes that you say you now keep in your wallet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LEIFER: Yes, I do keep it in my wallet. And if I’m ever stuck at a
show, I’m certain I will have no problem whipping it out and going
through the list. I - you know, I did a special many years ago. I think
I spoke about it the last time I was on the show, called “Gaudy, Bawdy
and Blue,” which was a tribute to these bawdy, dirty comediennes of the
‘50s and ‘60s. And I had asked my father to put on tape every dirty joke
he knew, and I think it’s about two hours worth of jokes. And I’m so
happy that I kept it so that I really feel like I have my father’s
legacy with me because he wasn’t a pro, but he had excellent timing.

He was an amazing comedian. And people who knew him, the first thing
they always said about him was that he was so funny. And I talk about
that in a piece that I think if my father knew that being funny was the
first thing that people said about him, that would be enough and make
him happy, not having had a professional career.

GROSS: What he did for a living, he was an optometrist.

Ms. LEIFER: Yes, he was, he was. But you know, he always shared funny
stories about, you know, being an optometrist. You know, people would
come in, and he’d say, he’d ask them, you know, can you please read the
eye chart? And they would ask, out loud? No, sir, you know, why don’t
you mime it for us.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LEIFER: Of course out loud. Or he would have people that would read
the eye chart and go capital E, capital F – you know, it’s like they’re
all capitals, okay?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LEIFER: So yeah, we – I miss him so much.

GROSS: Now you pointed out that your father and his friends never

thought that a show-business profession was anything that was in reach,
but obviously you did and you did it. So what made you think when you
were young that it was within reach for you, that you could go, you
know, be a professional comic?

Ms. LEIFER: I think because I started so young, it was a dream that
seemed possible to pursue. You know, I started doing stand-up comedy as
a junior in college. You know, my mother had said, I thought it was
something that you’d get out of your system, you know. But I clearly
remember my father saying, you know, dad I passed the audition at this
comedy club and I want to transfer to Queens and try to become a

My father’s like, you know what? You got to strike while the iron’s hot,
and I think that was great advice. I think it was an opportunity not to
be missed. But I do think the fact that I had still finished my college
degree, that was important to my parents. And I think to my generation
of comics, it was within reach. I think to – certainly to my dad’s
generation, I remember asking him why he had never pursued it, and he
said well, you know, someone’s got to make a living. And you know, that
generation, it was a really far-off dream and not within the realm of

BIANCULLI: Carol Leifer, speaking to Terry Gross earlier this year. Her
memoir is called “When You Lie About Your Age, The Terrorists Win.”
Here’s a great song Loudon Wainwright III wrote about for his daughter.
I’m David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Jimmie Dale Gilmore: In Song, A Eulogy For Dad


This is FRESH AIR. I’m David Bianculli in for Terry Gross.

For the second half of our Father's Day show, we’ve got three musical
sons telling stories about their respective dads.

First up, Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Gilmore is a singer from West Texas who
writes songs that would be described as alternative country. But in
2005, five years after his father died of ALS, Gilmore recorded an album
of classic country songs called "Come On Back." It was dedicated to his
late father and featured songs his father loved, including one by Jimmie
Rodgers for whom Jimmie Dale Gilmore was named. Gilmore visited Terry in
the FRESH AIR studio in 2005. He brought his guitar, and also brought
guitarist, Robbie Gjersoe who accompanies him on the "Come On Back" CD.

GROSS: Welcome everyone to FRESH AIR. It's really a pleasure to have you
here. Jimmie Dale Gilmore, this new CD is dedicated to your father who
died a few years ago. I want you to start with a song, "Pick Me Up On
Your Way Down," and what did the song mean to your dad?

Mr. JIMMIE DALE GILMORE (Singer-songwriter, musician): Well actually it
represents and entire style that I really associate with him. It's just
old, it’s honky tonk dance music it's what it amounts to and it's a, it
is one particular one that he really loved. I just, I have this memory
of him just, you know, with his kind of head tossed back and with his
eyes closed just grinning when this kind of music was on.

GROSS: Would you play it for us?

Mr. GILMORE: Yes. One, two, a one-two-three...

(Soundbite of song, "Pick Me Up On Your Way Down")

Mr. GILMORE: (Singing): You were mine for just a while. Now you're
putting on the style and you never once look back at your home across
the track. You're the gossip of the town, but my heart can still be
found where you tossed it on the ground, pick me up on your way down.
Pick me up on your way down when you're blue and all alone, when their
glamour starts to bore you, come on back where you belong. You may be
their pride and joy, but they'll find another toy, and they'll take away
your crown. Pick me up on your way down.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GILMORE: All right. That's the way we fake being the band playing
the song.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That's Jimmie Dale Gilmore on guitar, and singing, Robbie Gjersoe
who's singing harmonies and playing guitar. And that song is from Jimmie
Dale Gilmore's new CD "Come On Back." That sounded really great. As I
mentioned before, the CD is dedicated to your father who died of Lou
Gehrig's disease. Did he introduce you to country music?

Mr. GILMORE: Oh yes. Yes, for sure. He was from my very, very earliest
memories that music was always pervasive. It was radio. We didn't have
phonograph until I was actually in high school.

GROSS: Wow. That's pretty late.

Mr. GILMORE: And we - but my dad - we always had the radio going you
know. And my dad played, so he'll be sitting around the house playing
his guitar along with the radio or actually, you know, sometimes playing
that with bands for dances.

GROSS: And you quote a great advertisement for a dance that he was
playing where apparently he was one of the first musicians in West Texas
to use a solid body electric guitar.

Mr. GILMORE: That's right.

GROSS: So would you describe that ad?

Mr. GILMORE: Yes. It said - at this time, when I was very small, we live
I Tulia, Texas from the time I was from the time I was, until I was
about five-years-old and - on a dairy farm. And my mom recently, you
know a few years ago found a little clipping from the Tulia Herald, a
little tiny ad that said, dance at the VFW Hall featuring - with the
Swingeroos, featuring Brian Gilmore and his electric guitar.

GROSS: That's great. This...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GILMORE: It's was such a novelty.

GROSS: So did your father teach you guitar or did you learn that on your

Mr. GILMORE: He taught me just a little bit. He actually, he taught me
how to play "Wildwood Flower." And, but I, the thing is that I fell in-
love with the acoustic guitar and my dad was an electric player, and I
never did, to my regret now, I never did really learn to play the
electric well. I can fumble through with it. But I just learned - my dad
taught me a tiny amount and then I kind of went off in the really more
in the folk and blues direction as I was learning to play.

GROSS: I want you to do another song from your new CD, "Come On Back."
And the song I'm going to ask you play is a Johnny Cash song called,
“Train Of Love." But tell us first how you first heard Johnny Cash and
what he meant to you.

Mr. GILMORE: Well, I may have heard a few of his recordings on the
radio, a little bit. This was when I was very young. But my first real
memory of it was my dad took my sister and I to see Johnny Cash with
Elvis Presley. And I was about 12. I think she was about 10. And it was
a - I've often said that I suspect at that night completely determined

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GILMORE: ...the rest of my - at think at - I think that was one of
those places where a little...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GILMORE: ...a little deflection happened - that I loved that music
so much. I loved the both of them.

GROSS: Well I wish I was at that concert. It must've been really early
in their career, right after they both signed with Sun Records...

Mr. GILMORE: Yes. It...

GROSS: that concert with Presley and Cash. Wow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Well, would you do that song for us, "Train Of Love"?

Mr. GILMORE: Yes. I will.

(Soundbite of song, "Train Of Love")

Mr. GILMORE: (Singing) Train of love's a-comin', big black wheels a-
hummin’. Sweetheart's waitin' at the station, happy hearts are drummin'
oh. Trainman tell me maybe, ain't you got my baby. Every so often
everybody's baby gets the urge to roam. But everybody's baby but mine's
comin' home. Train of love's a leavin', leavin' my heart grievin' but
early and late I sit and wait because I'm still believin' oh we'll walk
away together though I might wait forever. Every so often everybody's
baby gets the urge to roam. But everybody's baby but mine's comin' home.

Mr. GILMORE: (Singing) Train of love's a goin' and I got ways of knowin'
you're leaving other people's lovers but my own keeps goin' oh. Trainman
tell me maybe, ain't you got my baby. Every so often everybody's baby
gets the urge to roam. But everybody's baby but mine's comin' home.
Every so often everybody's baby gets the urge to roam. But everybody's
baby but mine's comin' home.

BIANCULLI: Jimmie Dale Gilmore visiting Terry Gross in the FRESH AIR
studios in 2005. The CD, dedicated to his father is called, "Come On

In a moment, we'll come on back with another country music father-son
story about Darrell and Wayne Scott. This is FRESH AIR.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Wayne And Darrell Scott: Father-Son Country


Here's another musical father-son story for Father's Day. Darrell Scott
is an alternative country singer-songwriter who won an ASCAP Songwriter
of the Year Award in 2002 and plays with Steve Earle's Bluegrass Dukes.
Darrell's father, Wayne, is in his 70s and installs chain link fences.
When Darrell Scott became successful enough with his country music
career to start his own record label, the first thing he did was pay
tribute to his father. He produced an album of Wayne Scott singing
mostly his own songs, the songs that Darrell heard his father sing when
he was growing up. The album is called "This Weary Way." Terry spoke
with Darrell Scott and his father, Wayne Scott in 2006.

GROSS: Darrell Scott, Wayne Scott, welcome both of you to FRESH AIR,
pleasure to have you here. Darrell, when you started your record
company, the first album you released was by your father.

Mr. DARRELL SCOTT (Singer-songwriter): Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Now you know you're pretty well-known in the world of country

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So why did you want your first record to be your father's music?

Mr. D. SCOTT: Well I just thought it was important. His music is
important. I know I'm his son and all that and there's that going for
it, but I really feel that his music is important just because it’s so
pure and true, especially to the form of really country music or
mountain kind of music. And I just, I heard these songs all my life and
I know them backwards and forwards and it was just time to finally get
him to come and record these you know with a bunch of my friends here in
Nashville or in some cases, we went to him up in Kentucky in his living
room and it was - I just thought it was time.

GROSS: You said that you used to think that all the songs he sang were
by Hank Williams, and Johnny Cash and other venerated songwriters. When
did you realize a lot of those songs were his own?

Mr. D. SCOTT: Well yes, they kind of blended together because around the
house he would do all of that. He'd do Johnny Cash, and Hank, and Merle
Haggard and all that, and his own. And there was a time where I didn't
know which was which. It was just all blended in as what I thought were
great songs. I'd say probably somewhere in my mid to late teens I
started catching on that okay, that's the Hank stuff and there's the
Johnny Cash stuff and really starting to see his songs which were his.
And actually it took - there was one song which is the title of the
record, "This Weary Way," I didn't know that that was not a Hank
Williams song until my late 20s. It just seemed so perfectly Hank in
terms of style, in terms of structure, and that might be my, from my
opinion, my dad's best song. So that's one that took me an extra 10

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCOTT: figure out that it wasn't Hanks.

GROSS: Wayne Scott, why didn't you make it more clear to your sons that
you were writing songs?

Mr. WAYNE SCOTT (Singer-songwriter): I decided to try to be a singer
instead of a writer. I've tried write - singing my songs once and I
didn't like the cold feet and cold shoulder I got singing them.

Mr. D. SCOTT: And he's talking about a club. I mean we used to play
clubs like when I was a teenager.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MR. D. SCOTT: So he's talking about a night playing in a bar you know
where they come to dance and drink and play five sets a night as far as
the band is concerned. So that's what he's referring to, you know, that
he did his songs one night and you know, of course, they wouldn’t know
the songs and wondering why he's not doing you know the top 10 of the
country music at that time. So I think that was his brush with...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D. SCOTT: ...trying out new you know, his material out in public.
And he take...

GROSS: Did you give up after one shot at it?

Mr. W. SCOTT: Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. W. SCOTT: I never done it again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. W. SCOTT: Now that's all I do and it's great. I'm glad that he
talked me into doing it and I'm, it's a new experience to me and people
actually listen to me too.

GROSS: Well you’ve very generously offered to perform a duet for us, so
I'd like to ask you to do a song that Wayne Scott, you do on your CD,
and it’s called, "Sunday With My Son." And it’s a song that you wrote.
Let me ask you to tell us what you're talking about in the song. It
seems to be a song that directly comes out of your life.

Mr. W. SCOTT: Every word of it's the truth. That's the only way I can
write. I only have inspiration. I don't have no education. Not that it's
a gripe.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. W. SCOTT: I chose it. But, my son was - the youngest one - I hadn't
seen him in a long time and I had him one Sunday afternoon for three
hours. And we chose - I just love nature so we went out into the woods
to gather leaves and pinecones and things like that. And it was so
beautiful. The song started going and I had to keep turning my back to
him to not let him see the old man crying. And I come up with that song.
So by the next morning I had (unintelligible) of it and it said exactly
what I wanted it to say and this is it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So...

Mr. W. SCOTT: Do you want to hear it now?

GROSS: I absolutely want to hear it now. Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D. SCOTT: That's right.

Mr. W. SCOTT: Okay.

Mr. D. SCOTT: One-two...

(Soundbite of song, "Sunday With My Son")

Mr. W. SCOTT: (Singing) As I look back on some better years and things
don't mean a thing. Like chasing women, writing songs, riding trucks and
old freight trains. When I reach back for happy thoughts of things I’ve
done, one thing that I remember most is a Sunday with my son.
(Unintelligible) truth and honesty and this I kept remembering as we
gathered autumn leaves. When memory feeds up on the past of things that
I’ve done, one thing that I remember most was a Sunday with my son. I
fill his heart with happiness the way that he fills mine, but he just
can’t make up 10 lost years in just three hours time.

Reflections call for happy thoughts when it does what I’ve got one, one
thing that I remember most was a Sunday with my son. (Unintelligible)
truth and honesty. And this I kept remembering as we gathered autumn
leaves. When memory feeds up on the past of things that I have done, one
thing that I remember most was a Sunday with my son. When memory feeds
up on the past of things that I have done, one thing that I remember
most was a Sunday with my son, Sunday with my son, Sunday with my son.

GROSS: Oh, thank you for doing that. That’s Wayne Scott singing and
playing on guitar and his son Darrell Scott accompanying him on banjo.
And Darrell, thank you for bringing your father to our attention.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D. SCOTT: Absolutely, truly my pleasure.

GROSS: By recording him and pushing him, pushing him forward like that.

Mr. D. SCOTT: It's truly my pleasure.

GROSS: So, Darrell, you are – you have actually been able to make your
career in music both as a performer and as a songwriter. I mean as a
song writer you've had a several hits on the top of billboard country

Mr. D. SCOTT: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Watching your father when you’re growing up, watching him perform
but making a living all kinds of other ways, from working in the steel
mill, I think, and…

Mr. D. SCOTT: Mm-hmm. Steel mills and fence construction.

GROSS: Fence construction.

Mr. D. SCOTT: Filtering oil and all sorts of things.

GROSS: And moving around the country. So watching him do that and just
kind of playing on the side, did you think, well, me, I want to really
play professionally and make my life playing?

Mr. D. SCOTT: Yeah, I think I kind of knew that even as a kid. It just
was, I wouldn’t say easy for me but it came naturally. It was like a
natural thing for me to gravitate towards and to play and because I grew
up in a family band. My dad of course played and sang and wrote. And I
had older brothers who played and younger brothers and, you know, it’s
just what you do as a family, have some - camping or fishing or into
baseball or whatever. And our thing really was to play music, and so I
was kind of, you know, online for that, really from the age of six I
started playing.

And you know, because our family business was fence construction, which
is really hard labor out in the sun kind of thing - I also learned, you
know, at about 11 or 12 that it was better for me to stay home, and
while the others were working, you know, someone needed to answer the
phone and cook. We were a bunch of bachelors. Basically my brothers and
I lived with my dad. And so I was the cook and so I found a way to get
out of hard labor actually pretty early.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D. SCOTT: And I just kind of kept that up. I’m still not into hard

GROSS: Wayne Scott, when your sons were born, did you look at them one
by one and think this is going to be my band?

Mr. W. SCOTT: Yeah…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D. SCOTT: He absolutely did.

Mr. W. SCOTT: They are Ds.

GROSS: Yeah, all your sons. Their names all started with the letter D.
Why is that?

Mr. W. SCOTT: Yeah, that was for that reason, and they're…

GROSS: What, so you could start a band with them?

Mr. W. SCOTT: Yeah. And that their introduction to music was when they
come home I laid them in the bed and stood over them and played Hank
Williams, Johnny Cash, played with them about an hour or so. So you
wouldn’t wake up when you heard me singing it to them in the morning

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D. SCOTT: We were used to it.

GROSS: That’s funny.

Mr. W. SCOTT: They can sleep right through country music or they can
play it. Darrell, you knew he was a musician I’d say at three. Well, all
the boys are professional, but Darrell’s the best. I mean, he – if it’s
got strings on it, he can play it. And at three years old, it was vivid
that he wouldn’t be no fence builder.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So how did having sons whose names each start with the letter D
help you in playing music or creating a band? I mean, I don't get that

Mr. W. SCOTT: I was going to name them the two Ds, three Ds, four Ds, or
however many Ds it took, I said they're all going to be Ds, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D. SCOTT: So (unintelligible) the four Ds, five Ds, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. W. SCOTT: That’s the way it came. And honestly, that was the reason.
I was determined they’d been musicians.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you both so much for talking with us, thank

Mr. W. SCOTT: Thank you.

Mr. D. SCOTT: Thanks, Terry.

BIANCULLI: Wayne Scott and his son, Darrell Scott, speaking to Terry
Gross in 2006. The father’s album, produced by his son, is called “This
Weary Way.” Coming up, another musician, Branford Marsalis talks about
his father. This is FRESH AIR.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Branford Marsalis: On Jazz Fathers And Sons


This is FRESH AIR. We’re concluding our Father’s Day salute with jazz
saxophonist Branford Marsalis, brother of Wynton and son of the great
jazz pianist and teacher Ellis Marsalis. As a kid, Branford spent more
time listening Elton John and Led Zeppelin than he did checking out the
music that his dad was into. But Branford now has a long string of jazz
albums to his name as well as some genre-busting efforts including his
group Buckshot LeFounque, which combines jazz and hip-hop. In the pop
world he’s performed with Sting, The Dead and Bruce Hornsby, and for a
few years led Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” band. Terry spoke with Branford
in 2002.

TERRY GROSS: You grew up in what is now America’s probably most famous
jazz family - the Marsalis family. Your father, Ellis Marsalis, is a
pianist. When you were growing up, liking the music that you liked, did
you feel about his music the way, say, I felt about my father’s old
Benny Goodman records?

Mr. BRANFORD MARSALIS (Singer): I felt about my father’s music the way
that my next-door neighbor felt about his father the chauffeur driver.
That was just what he did.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. MARSALIS: How did you feel about you father…

GROSS: Oh yeah (unintelligible) I really disliked them until about much
older, till in my 20s, anyways.

Mr. MARSALIS: Jazz is not for kids. You know, there’s an argument. My
brother says jazz can be for kids. I don’t think - jazz has a level of
sophistication that’s just too hip for kids. It's not a music for kids
and it certainly wasn’t the music for me. But it wasn’t like he’d
playing and I’d go, arrhhh! I would just leave the room.

GROSS: You just didn't care.

Mr. MARSALIS: I turned on the television in the other room until it was
my turn to listen my music and then I play on Cheech and Chong and Elton
John and James Brown and whatever I wanted to put on. And my father
would stay out, and then when James Brown came on he’d come in and say,
yeah kid, yeah Jack, I like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARSALIS: And he would always dance to it. When he danced to it he
would snap his fingers on two and four (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That’s great. Yeah, yeah.

Mr. MARSALIS: “Cold Sweat's” going on, you know.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MARSALIS: (Singing) Like a cold sweat down, duh duh duh.

(Speaking) My father’s going, yeah. Da-da-da-da-di-da. And I’m, no dad.
Just funny.

GROSS: (Unintelligible)

Mr. MARSALIS: Oh yeah, it was classic, it was classic.

GROSS: Oh, great. So - what was your first instrument?

Mr. MARSALIS: My first instrument was the piano. And then when I was a
freshman, when I was in the first grade or second grade, went and
started playing the trumpet. And I wanted to play an instrument. So I
said I want to play the trumpet. And my father says, no, we’re not going
to have two people playing the same instrument in the same household. So
you have to pick something else. Okay, clarinet. Okay, fine, you get the
clarinet. And I played the clarinet for seven years until I was a
sophomore in the high school and then I switched to the alto saxophone
because I wanted to be a funk band.

GROSS: Yeah, that’s the thing. There are no clarinets in funk bands.

Mr. MARSALIS: If there were, it would be really bad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARSALIS: It wouldn’t work. It wouldn’t be a good vibe at all.

GROSS: So tell me, is your father, has your father been really pleased
over the years that you’ve come to love jazz and play it?

Mr. MARSALIS: Now he does. But my whole career to him is just one -
because my dad is, he has two words. I mean he always said, in typical
for Ellis Marsalis fashion (unintelligible) because he went into
concrete sequential and you’re a random abstract – I actually named a
record “Random Abstract.”

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARSALIS: I said, what’re you talking about, man, just talk to me
like I’m your son. What’s this concrete sequential crap, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARSALIS: And he went through it, you know, Winton does things like
A,B,C,D,E,F, and you’re like A,F,B,Z. And he just didn’t understand that
because if you have that really - he is the concrete sequential.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARSALIS: So it just seems like - it seemed just rampant, just like
a pell-mell kind of thing, like what in the hell is he doing? I mean, I
just confused the hell out of my poor dad.

BIANCULLI: Branford Marsalis, speaking to Terry Gross in 2002. He
concludes our special Father’s Day salute. So on behalf of fathers
everywhere, and of daughters and sons who love them, Happy Fathers Day
this weekend.

You can download podcasts of our show at
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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