Jon Dee Graham

Jon Dee Graham
Photograph by Rodney Bursiel

The longtime Austin singer-songwriter has seen his share of troubles over the years: a decades-long struggle with substance abuse, a 2008 car accident that broke both of his knees, and his son’s serious illness. Still, Graham remains a relentless worker. In May the Hobart Brothers and Lil’ Sis Hobart, his collaboration with Freedy Johnston and Susan Cowsill, released their debut album. A little more than a month later he put out his ninth solo album, GARAGE SALE

The story I heard about this record is that your friends at Top Hat Recording in Austin gave you some free studio time.
They gave me this gift to come in and do whatever I wanted two days a month. That’s how the record started, with this complete lack of pressure or even of a goal. I wasn’t trying to make a record.

What was it like to be in the studio without any set goal?
When I was on New West Records, it was very much results oriented. We needed to get this done, for this amount of money, and we had to fit these criteria. And when I started doing records independently, there was no money—it was very results oriented because the clock’s ticking. So it was a little scary this time to go in and it’s just, “Yeah, you can do whatever you want.” That song “Bobby Dunbar”? I had read this story in an Old Farmer’s Almanac about this boy who was lost about a century ago in Louisiana, and then there was this identity mix-up when he was supposedly found, and the story haunted me. I kept thinking about it, and I went into the studio one day, sat down at the piano, and it just started coming together. The piano wasn’t even located in the cutting room—it was out in the lounge. One of the windows was open, so you could hear birds and kids playing outside, which sounded stark and weird. We pushed the piano out onto the patio and recorded there, and that’s why you

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