Good morning, everyone!
Happy 4th of July!
I believe living in a 'free' country and having the ability to do what you love doesn't get much more American than that. Wayne Willingham is one of those people.
Let's Open the Chute!
Let’s step back to early days. Do you recall what first inspired you to be an artist? Seeing Buddy Holly on TV, or any other guitar-playing singer. I grew up in Michigan and we’d get Canadian stations as well, so I saw and heard a huge array of styles. I can’t recall a time when it wasn’t an aspiration.
When did you make the move to Texas? In 1984, my first wife and I took a corporate transfer from her job. Live music, like everything in Detroit, ebbed and flowed with the auto industry, and we were sick of snow and slush. Detroit was in an ebb, and I remember the exact words I said that prompted our decision, “We can be broke anywhere.” No regrets.
There were some big names on the country charts in 1970, when you were first starting out. You list some of your heroes on your website. What about those artists spoke to you? I think we’re all products of the music that was popular in our high school days, and we filter out the aspects that really reach into our hearts. For me, the lyrics are what put some over the top; whether it’s Pull Simon or Gordon Lightfoot or Joni Mitchell, they all could turn a phase that creates a picture in my mind. That said, the songs that last have music that also captures my imagination.
You spent twenty-six years on the music path then just walked away one day before coming back to the fold around 2015. What brought you back and what did you hope would be different? I was with a friend and heard a guitar duet that she knew. She introduced us, and told them I used to play. One offered his John Lennon model Gibson to me (nice!), and I played it some. I hadn’t touched my guitars in years, but a few things came back to me, so I didn’t completely embarrass myself.
When I handed it back, he said, “Alright, who are you? Nobody just picks up a guitar and just plays like that.’ I gave him my short story. That got me thinking, if he heard it, maybe I can still play. I had more free time than the last couple decades, and thought, “Let’s see how much I can get back.” I got out one of my guitars and started dedicating a couple hours a day to practice. Well, one thing led to another…
What did you doing during the break and had you let go of the music entirely or was there still a hum, or vibration below the surface waiting for a chance you’d hear? I really didn’t miss music after I quit; I enjoyed listening to more variety and had mostly fond memories. And man, was I busy with other things. I’d gotten into programming and data management, and was a partner in my own company. You can’t do music at a high level and then just forget it, but I truly had no thoughts of playing at all, much less performing. Then again, nobody claps when you finish writing a computer program.
You released your first album in 2017. Had you done any albums prior to the break? No. I’d recorded some of my own songs, and I used to do session work for other artists and for advertising agencies. In the early days, professional-quality recording was much more expensive. Thanks to digital, it’s gotten less pricey and easier to produce.
How do you think your music has changed both from the 70s when you were first starting out to now and what changes did you see for your music if you were going to give this another shot? Maturity is the main difference. That leads to a little more discipline, and for me, a more scientific approach to songwriting. All the early lessons are still there, like “less is more” and “Play like you mean it”, and how to perform to an audience and not just play the songs.
I wasn’t really giving it “another shot”, and I’m not even now. While I treat it like a business, I’m not doing it for the money – my business/tech career set me up well enough. I’m delighted to break even, and record and perform my own music and in my own way. One mantra of mine is “This time, it’s personal.” And it is. That said, I’d love to expand my audience. I’m gratified to have some dedicated fans, and I think I have something to offer.
With the exception of the pandemic break, you’ve released a new album every year since you’re return. What is next for Wayne Willingham? Wayne is going to settle into his new home with its new music room, and write. I’ll be inviting fellow songwriters over to collaborate – co-writing has never been an emphasis for me, but I’m looking forward to it.
Gonna slow down on albums. I feel like I rushed the last two. The songs are some of my best, but I hear things that I wish I’d arranged differently. I turn 70 this year, so I’m not thinking past one more – yet. This may be my exit, and I want to do it right. Maybe at least 6-8 reworks of previously released material, even some live recordings, then at least as many brand-new songs.
How’s this for an album title? Mulligans and Swan Songs
You have a loyal fan base. What do you hope new people hearing your music will keep them coming back? I hope that people can resonate with the feelings that are under the lyrics and music, that it touches something within them. I hope they can laugh and cry for the right reasons. The best compliment is when somebody says, “Hey, listen to this – it made me think of you.”
Here's a tune off of his Stonehill Sessions album from Wayne's YouTube Channel -