Tom Russell Pays a Visit in 1988


This Saturday (the 28th of August, 2021) we’re going back to 1988 again, to January 30th.

If you heard the Archival show from February 6th of ’88, you will remember that Bill Monroe was scheduled for a big show with Boston City Limits on the 7th, but was hospitalized and had to cancel. Today’s Archive is a week earlier, so you’ll hear announcements for that show; we didn’t know the future. It’s an argument for presenting these Archival productions in chronological order, but at this point I’m just dibbling and dabbling, picking out shows that might have been special at the time because of guests and/or performers.

The feature for this show is an extended ‘Chin-’n’-Spin’ (our term for an interview with records) with singer and songwriter Tom Russell, who was in town for a double bill that night at Nightstage with Joe Ely. Tom had a new album out on Philo/Rounder. Old Sinc and Tom explore some of the new songs on this project, featuring Tom and his virtuoso country band.

I separate ‘singer-songwriter’ with a conjunction because the hyphenated term has become so bandied about in the folk-cum-Americana world that you have to ask: Who isn’t one? Tom Russell, like our old friend John Lincoln Wright, is as much performer-bandleader as accomplished writer, and so needs celebrating in both roles.

Tom is still active, touring, recording, writing, and (like Howard Armstrong, whom we featured from 1997 in our previous Archival show) painting. I must confess I have not paid as much attention to his work as I should have, though often playing some of his great songs from years back, like ‘Veterans’ Day’ and ‘Blue Wing’. I was struck by a song we hear in this Archival show, from his Road to Bayone album that was new in 1988: ‘U.S. Steel’. It was eerily evocative of the great devastation wrought on the heart of America by shipping our industry abroad, well underway by the late ’80s. Tom’s latest album, which I have not heard, is called October in the Railroad Earth, a title which intrigues me.

As usual, remember that while some artists and venues are still with us, 1988 was a long time ago, and the shows we talk about are long past. I’ve left many Country Calendar announcements in, because they remind us of the rich world of country and bluegrass events in the area back then, and they have always been an integral part of the Hillbilly show.

So tune in this coming Saturday and return to Hillbilly at Harvard on January 30th, 1988. Along with hearing Tom Russell talk about his life to date, it was a pretty entertaining show./CL

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