Lucinda Williams’ Buick is in town, and it’s hot – Chicago Tribune
As one of the reigning queens of Americana, Lucinda Williams has her choice of top-shelf collaborators. When it comes to her backing band on tour, she relies on the rocking bluesy riffs of Buick 6.
The trio consists of drummer Butch Norton, guitarist Stuart Mathis and bassist David Sutton. They will perform with Williams when she comes to town for a three-night stand at SPACE in Evanston on Dec. 29, 30 and 31.
It promises to be a hot run of shows leading into New Year’s Eve. “There’s a whole amazing vibe with Lucinda,” says Norton, calling from his home in Los Angeles. “Every musician she’s ever had with her is there because they can play. She doesn’t tell you what to play. It’s very organic.”
Williams is equally enamored of Buick 6. “The best band I’ve ever had, hands down,” she said to the applauding crowd last year during a gig at the Stone Fox in Nashville.
It was Williams’ husband-manager Tom Overby who came up with the name for the band. The moniker was inspired by “From a Buick 6,” the Bob Dylan song featured on his album “Highway 61 Revisited.”
Buick 6 initially grew out of a group of musicians who were backing Williams on the road and in the studio. The original lineup was a quartet with Norton, Sutton, Doug Pettibone and Chet Lyster. They released one self-titled album in 2009. Pettibone left the band around 2010 and Lyster around 2012, both to pursue other projects.
Mathis joined on guitar 3 1/2 years ago. The retooled Buick 6 released “Plays Well With Others” in 2015 on Highway 20 Records, Williams’ imprint label.
We caught up with Norton recently to talk about Buick 6 and the band’s work with Williams. This is an edited transcript.
Q: When did you first meet Lucinda?
A: I met her in April, 2007. It was on the side of a stage in Minneapolis, five minutes before I was going to do my first-ever gig with her. I had done a soundcheck with the rest of the band, but Lucinda doesn’t do soundchecks. She doesn’t rehearse. She said, “Hi Butch! Nice to meet you. Good luck!”
Q: How did you get hired for that initial gig?
A: I had gotten a call the week before that show saying the band’s (then-drummer) Don Heffington was quitting. The band had a week off and asked if I could fill in for him on the tour. I said, “Great, send me the soundboard tapes.” They sent me the tapes I’d asked for and was told, “Here are 35 songs to learn.” I charted them out. I learned them. Of course, only 10 of those songs were played at the gig.
Q: Did you click with her quickly as a player?
A: I jumped on stage and felt comfortable right away. Afterward, she and her husband Tom were ecstatic and said, “You’re in.” That was it.
Q: Is Tom usually on the road with Lucinda?
A: They are together 24/7, 365.
Q: As a singer-songwriter, Lucinda is only getting more accomplished with age. What has it been like watching her work up close?
A: I’m coming up on 10 years playing with her. In the last year, she sounds stronger and more focused than when I started. It gets better and better. She’s creating and writing amazing stuff. It’s very exciting for us and great to be a part of it. It fuels us. We get to create with her. We have that back and forth. It’s a blessing as a musician. I’ve always wanted to contribute like that and she lets you contribute. She doesn’t want it any other way.
Q: What is your schedule on this tour with Lucinda?
A: We open for her as Buick 6. We get a 35-minute set. We’ll do some songs from our new record. There’s a short break and then we play with her. We kick right into Lucinda mania. It’s a great thing for her fans. They really love what we do. It’s a very unique and amazing situation that Lucinda and her husband Tom have afforded us to do this.
Q: Do the members of Buick 6 have other gigs as individual players?
A: We all work with different artists when we’re not out with Lucinda. All three of us also have our own side projects and records we’ve done. Stuart has a couple releases of his own material which are songs in more of a singer-songwriter format.
Q: How do you write new material together as a band?
A: There’s a lot of collaboration. All our backgrounds and ideas come together. Our Buick 6 stuff is more instrumental and groove oriented. It’s born out of us playing and jamming and furthering those ideas.
Q: What inspired you to play the drums?
A: It was during the 1960s. I was bitten by Ringo. When I saw him in the Beatles on Ed Sullivan it was indelible. If you talk to any drummer my age, mid to late 50s, they will tell you that was the starting point. I started when I was 6 years old. I’ve been playing for 52 years.
Q: Did you immediately ask your parents for a drum kit?
A: I begged and begged and stomped my feet. In first grade they bought me a toy paper drum set that they got from Sears. They thought, “We know this phase will pass.” In third grade I asked for a drum set. They got me a snare drum. All my friends in the neighborhood had drums they never played, so I’d sneak into their garages and play their kits when they were on vacation. I finally got all my own pieces together by seventh grade. I was hooked. I knew this was what I was born to do. My parents had nothing to do with music, although my mother is artistically creative. They’re still wondering when this phase is going to pass. My family is all librarians, business people, doctors and lawyers. I came out of nowhere. I’ve been very stubborn and stuck with it.
Q: When you first became a touring musician, was it a revelation to be out on the road?
A: There’s no guidebook or lessons or college or schooling that tells you how to do this. It’s all trial by error. My family said, “Keep going. Don’t give up.” I strongly said that to myself, too.
Chrissie Dickinson is a freelance writer.
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 29, 30 and 31
Where: SPACE, 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston
Tickets: $40-$250; 847-556-9756 or www.evanstonspace.com