“My name’s on the back of many more records than on the front,” says Austin-based producer, songwriter and guitarist, Stephen Doster. “This new record will only be my fourth as an artist,” he explains of “Arizona,” arriving November 4th via Atticus Records, “And it’s the record I always hoped I would make.”
Doster’s musical story starts in 1982, when he was a young man on top of the world, recording his debut album with James Honeyman-Scott of The Pretenders producing it.
“During the sessions, Jimmy was called back to London to cut a new Pretenders single,” Doster remembers. “He was coming right back to Texas as soon as he was done.”
The rest of the story is a public and sad event in music history. For Doster, it was very personal.
“A friend entered my room about 48 hours after Jimmy left,” Doster says. “Jimmy’s wife Peggy Sue sent him over to tell me that Jimmy had died because she didn’t want me to hear about it on the radio first. He was a great mentor to me and it was a horrific loss for the music world.”
In a funk, Doster put the recordings on hold and headed to Nashville with Nanci Griffith and Lyle Lovett to play guitar on Griffith’s “Once In A Very Blue Moon” album. It was there that Doster decided to put what he had learned from Honeyman-Scott to use, embarking on a career as a record producer.
Since that time, Doster has helmed over 70 albums by mostly Texas-based acts, while continuing to make a living by writing songs for others and performing hundreds of shows a year. His credits include a who’s who of respected names including Willie Nelson, Dr. John, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Joe Cocker, Squeeze, Johnny Lang, Charlie Sexton, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Gatemouth Brown, and Little Feat among many others.
As for players on “Arizona,” let’s just say that a long career in music means a long time spent making musical friends.
“The band members on this record are all veterans and their playing on “Arizona” is off the charts,” Doster says of the crack team he assembled for the album. “They’re all among my favorite players.”
Heard on “Arizona” are Dony Wynn (Robert Palmer, Robert Plant, Dr. John) on drums, George Rieff (Jacob Dylan, Joe Walsh, Dixie Chicks) on bass, and Kevin Lovejoy (Kat Edmonson, John Mayer, Spoon) on piano and keys. Doster also acknowledges rising Austin record producer James Stevens who co-owns local studio EAR with him. “He was a big part of this record.”
Digging into the story behind the new material, Doster says that while “Arizona” may not be a concept record, “There does seem to be a storyline with a beginning and ending. It’s filled with characters in transition looking for a place to land.”
He explains, “There is a woman who keeps appearing throughout who may be the same person. On ‘Arizona’ (the album’s title track and first single) she is younger than on ‘Second Story Balcony,’ perhaps.”
Further into “Arizona,” these characters become less restless and more reflective.
“The closing song ‘Into The Night’ is literally and figuratively the end of the line,” Doster says. “Along the way we have a basketball player (‘Pistol Pete’), a war veteran (‘Throwing The Ball’), and a down on his luck playboy (‘Your Simple Mind’).”
As for the inclusion of “Baby There’s No One Like You,” Doster exclaims “I wanted to cover my own song!” This Doster tune was originally co-written with Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton of Double Trouble, and was first recorded by Dr. John and Willie Nelson for the Double Trouble album “Been A Long Time.”
“That record was largely seen as an unspoken tribute to their friend and bandmate, Stevie Ray Vaughn,” Doster explains. The appearance of the song on “Arizona” offers a glimpse into Doster’s vision of the tune.
As for what even brought Doster back into the studio to make “Arizona,” he supposes that the catalyst was leaving Austin proper with his wife to live by a river in the country.
“It has had quite a cathartic impact on me,” he says of what is literally a new point of view. “There has been a lot of joy and tragedy on my way getting here.”
The results of Doster’s journey to the front of another album cover can be heard when “Arizona” arrives on November 4th via Atticus Records. Doster will tour the UK for a month upon the album’s release, with US dates planned for early 2015. “Arizona”’s title track and first single is streaming now.