Christopher Victorio / OC Weekly
Christopher Victorio / OC Weekly
Roger Alan Wade

Roger Alan Wade: "Orange County Hillbillies Know Their Outlaw Music"

If you love you some Roger Alan Wade, there's one thing you need to know: The Tennessee troubadour is kinda sweet on you too.

Wade--a purveyor of learned-it-the-hard-way ballads of love and woe, as well as the most hilarious odes to in-laws and fat people one can hear--is ready to heat up the Hootenanny this Saturday at Oak Canyon Ranch, saying his sets at the roots festival are great tune-ups for new recordings, and he's got one on the way.

The Weekly caught up with Wade during a phone interview Friday. He was taking shelter from the damnable Dixie sun in his Chattanooga home.  

"It's just one of the highlights of our year," Wade said about the annual Hootenanny, now in its 18th incarnation. "Hotrods and hot women...what more can you ask for? It seems like the Hootenanny puts you in a great frame of mind, heading into the studio."

Wade, who has written tunes for country legends like George Jones and Willie Nelson, plans to play songs from the album he's set to record this month in Santa Monica, with his cousin and record label lord, Johnny Knoxville

A proud Southerner who frequently drops a hospitable "aw man" from his gritty drawl, Wade said Orange County hillbillies know their outlaw music as well as anyone down south, and will hold you accountable for keeping the sound as authentic as a pulled pork sandwich.

"They're up on their stuff, but they don't cut you no slack," Wade said.

He's strung together some old songs written on the road, when he and Knoxville tore it up with whiskey and women and whatever else could get a man baked and laid. Wade expects the project to be a prequel to his "Degeullo Motel" album, a soul-washing, acoustic eulogy for the man he used to be.

On that album's "3rd Chance Blues", Wade sings of seeing life through sober eyes, with perhaps the most poignant moment coming when he says, "There's a look in my father's eyes when he looks at me I never seen before/there's a look in my children's eyes when they look at me I ain't never seen before/makes me glad I made it back and makes me know I'll never go that way no more."

Sober or not, if that doesn't make you sit and think about shit for a minute, you haven't lived enough life.

His new album will chronicle the days when "the party was still on, before it got sad."

Bored of the bottle and the blues it sings

Wade cleaned up a few years ago, when he no-showed an MTV meeting with Knoxville in New York City. He checked himself into a rehab instead. Wade had hit a wall and started taking life, music and family for granted. His cousin and road dog didn't mind the Big Apple flake job, and couldn't have been prouder of his recovery, Wade said.

"He has been so supportive," Wade said of Knoxville. "He just knew I was in over my head. We had some great times when I was rockin' and partyin'. (But) I was about six weeks from dying. He knew it was time."

Sobriety both freed Wade and scared the hell out of him. When asked if he fretted over losing his creativity in the absence of drink and smoke, Wade said it kept him up at night.

"Man, have you been readin' my mail?" he said. "I almost just surrendered to the fact that I was going to have to do something else to make a living. I almost took it for granted that, I just thought man, I'm certain I can't write anymore."

But as he says on "3rd Chance Blues", he's back in love with music and life. The writing process is more satisfying now, because it feels like real work, not a documentary of whatever debauchery occurred the night before.

"(That) bores me now," Wade said. "I don't want to hear some junkie's innermost thoughts. I want to hear (about) the man who stood toe-to-toe with it, with an anvil on his balls and handed it the hammer."

Heroes dead and alive

While the the booze and drugs are gone, Wade, who could be found in a library as much as a honky tonk bar, still has old friends in some of the early 20th Century's greatest American novelists. They continue to challenge him to write lines like "hollow echoes of warm words on the ruby lips of long-forgotten lovers, like fallen angels linger on the fringes of the shadows of my mind."

"I'm a Hemingway freak," Wade said. "Man, you read one just drives you as a writer. So how do you get there? And one thing about the drinkin' and druggin', we were sold the idea that all of our heroes (were great because of that). I come to find out they do it in spite of it. What could cats like William Faulkner have accomplished with a clear head?"

On the other hand, he is moved musically by the likes of Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson, Gram Parsons and the under-appreciated John Prine, whose influence on Wade can be heard in both his folksy turns of phrase on wisdom-rich songs, and storytelling gems laced with wry humor. If you need a ditty about folks who are "too fat to fly" (written about actor-director Kevin Smith getting kicked off a plane because of his girth), or throwing a party in your pants, Wade is your man.  

The music connects with Southern rednecks and peckerwoods out West alike, because, as Wade said, being broke and broken-hearted is a universal experience.

Ways and means under the Mason-Dixon Line

And the music Wade and other Southern songwriters are making these days seems drawn from a deep well of Dixie sauce that flavors nearly every line they write and every note they hit. From Drive-by Truckers to Hank Williams III, their history, heartache, people and places are faithful--if dangerous--muses.

"I don't know if there's some lingering chip on our shoulder from getting our ass kicked in the war between the states," Wade said. "There's something about being the perpetual black sheep and the last in line. There's just something eternally romantic about the barefoot soldier, you don't even have to agree or disagree with the politics. You know you're never going to be rich or handsome. The image of the South, there's great people here and amazing people...we're just big bullshitters.  We just kinda overblow things. It's just been marketed good over the years with the Southern romance. It's got all the ups and downs of anywhere in the world."

But while he shares the heritage of his peers, unlike many of them, you won't hear Wade whine about the music industry or the pop country fare heard on FM dials. Having travelled with fellow underdogs along the lonely highways, cheering on his outsider friends and hearing them cheer him on, Wade says it's the best time ever to be in the music business, no matter how hard it seems.

Gone are the days when musicians had little control over their product, and when the money made from a guitar player's sorrow was gobbled up by everyone from the record label owner to the secretary. Musicians today have no need to bicker, Wade said, because through the Internet, they can get their music to the world. 

"It's a smaller pie (but) you get the whole thing," he said. "You get total control."

Speaking of food, Wade said he's looking forward to Cali cuisine. Given the choice between Southern cooking done SoCal style, or grabbing some Mexican grub, Wade was pretty clear.

"Aw man, it's Mexican joints," he said.

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