Born in Ohio, the country singer-songwriter-guitarist made his way to Austin in 1976 at the height of the cosmic cowboy movement. There he met his wife, singer-songwriter Julie Miller, and moved on to New York, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles before settling in Nashville. Over the past decade, he’s gone from being an obscure sideman to an award-winning recording artist and in-demand producer, working the boards for the likes of Patty Griffin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Two years ago, he signed on as the tour guitarist for the acclaimed Raising Sand collaboration between Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant and bluegrass artist Alison Krauss. His latest project is co-producing Plant’s new solo release, Band of Joy (Rounder).
You seemed to have no trouble working your way into the cliquish Nashville scene. Within two years you were playing with Emmylou Harris.
I didn’t know anyone when I moved to town. We were broke in L.A., which was why we moved. After that, everything happened pretty organically. Emmylou recorded a song of Julie’s, and I heard that she was looking for another guitar player, so I just joined the audition pile, and somehow it worked out.
How did you get involved with Robert Plant?
He came to an Emmylou show in Dublin. We talked about bands that we both liked from the sixties, Love and the San Francisco sound. I guess he kept my name in the back of his head. The Plant-Krauss tour was a life-changing experience musically.
You suffered a heart attack on the tour.
Actually, that was after the tour ended. I was producing Patty Griffin’s Downtown Church, and then I went out on tour with Three Girls and Their Buddy, which was Patty, Shawn Colvin, Emmylou, and me. I had a heart attack onstage in Baltimore. I made it through the song I was singing, finished the gig—
You finished the show?
Yeah, it was the meet and greet