Run Skeleton Run and Tales of Bloody Bones
Welcome to a conversation with David Childers
There isn’t much better than when you get to your mailbox expecting the same ol’ junk, only to find there is a non-descriptive brown envelope in there with your name on it. “I wonder what this is,” I asked myself. I threw the many circulars and statements to the side, and did the standard package shake to see if I could hear anything rattling around. Nothing!
I ripped off the top and found that there was a CD in there. It was Run Skeleton Run by David Childers. I had talked to Ramseur Records about the upcoming album and they were kind enough to send me an advance copy to take a listen to. Now I was really excited. I was going to hear something that only a few people have had a chance to listen to yet.
David Childers lives about 20 minutes from me in the same small town of Mt. Holly, NC, where he grew up. The first time I saw David was a number of years ago with his band, The Overmountain Men. The Avett Brothers were playing a homecoming show at the Bojangles Arena in Charlotte, NC, and they had a little side stage set up outside the venue where The Overmountain Men were going to play a set prior to the arena opening. Bob Crawford, the bass played for the Avett Brothers was a part of The Overmountain Men, so I was hoping he would make an appearance as well. I got there early in the hopes of catching Bob play. I wasn’t familiar with David and the band at that time, but what I found was that Bob was keeping the rhythm section on point for one of our local treasures, David Childers. They were also joined by Joe Kwon and Jim Avett, so it was really an amazing combo that afternoon. They entertained us with folky, Americana sounds that I still remember to this day.
As took a stroll down memory lane, I figured I would pop this CD in and take a listen… then I decided that I should listen a few more times. I felt like I was on a journey through the different stages of a man’s life as he grew up from a self-conscious young boy to a man who has come to realize that all his experiences have brought him to where he is and there is nothing left to fear as he moves toward the inevitable. The CD is in my car, and I loaded it onto my MP3 player as well. From the moment it starts playing, you get a treat by one of our favorite sons, Scott Avett. Scott does a vocal interpretation of one of David’s poems with a fiddle wrything alongside him; it eventually leads into the upbeat title track, “Run Skeleton Run.” It’s hard, nay impossible, for me not to snap my fingers and bob my head along with “Skeleton.” The new record has 12 songs on it and I have to say that once I start it, I just let it play until it is over.
I can’t remember the last time I had done that. There are some songs of an autobiographical nature like “Radio Moscow” and “Greasy Dollar.” These are both based on the experiences of a young David growing up in a small town where he didn’t really fit in. “Radio Moscow” paints a picture of a boy who was different than other kids, and would go up in his attic and listen to his shortwave radio and fantasize about how exotic other places in the world must be compared to his current station in life.
“Greasy Dollar” came out of his experiences working with older men who were digging ditches and cleaning up the sides of the roads to be able to provide for their families.
This song is a tribute to those men who were always kind to a kid who was self-proclaimed as young and dumb at the time. This song really resonated with me with its lyrics: Diggin ditches all day out by the freeway/with a backhoe and shovel crew/ What good is living and what good is dying/ if this is all I’m ever gonna do? But I’ve got to go on and earn my greasy dollar/so I can keep on working till I die.
This is probably how most people go about their life. Get up, go to work doing something that they feel they have to do, repeat until death. Gloomy thought, but motivating as well.
Other tracks are based on stories shared by others with David. “Manila” was written based on the experiences of a young naval veteran coming home in 1968 from the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam War after making a stop in Manila. As they drove around Charlotte, his friend Earl was telling him what it was like being in the thick of it and pouring his heart out about the things he had seen. One thing he said brought back good memories was his time in Manila. I have been to Manila, and as soon as I heard the song, I could imagine the Wild West atmosphere, that still exits to a large part that the Philippines had to be for a bunch of young guys coming out of a war zone in the late 60s and 70s.
“Belmont Ford” is a history lesson of the disastrous floods that came through the area back in the early 1900’s and the death and destruction that was left in its wake, the remnants of which can still be found on the bottom of the Catawba River.
“Hermit” was co-written with Mark Freeman about a Coastal NC man who chose to isolate himself from society. There is some degree of romanticism to disappearing and removing the stresses and responsibilities that limit us.
There is only one thing that I found disappointing with Run Skeleton Run, and it really upset me. I did not want to journey to stop with those 12 songs. I couldn’t believe that it was over, and I wanted more. I am joking, of course, about being disappointed, but I cannot wait to see what new music we see next from David.
After a few days of listening to the new record, I had the good fortune of being invited out to sit down with David and chat about the new music. I took the short drive out to Mt. Holly and pulled up at his home. Surrounded by woods, I pulled up his winding driveway and was immediately greeted by a few of his dogs who were so kind as to walk me to the door. It was evident that I was going to have a special afternoon.
There was art hanging up everywhere I looked, obviously his own work. David greeted me and told me to make myself at home as he was getting cleaned up. I was able to browse around and look at his art work and books. He has an amazing collection of military figures located in prominent places throughout the house. It took me back to when I was a kid and spent hours painting and setting up similar army figures. I found a nice spot to sit down in his sunroom. David came in and sat down in his recliner and asked me if it was ok if he relaxed a little as he put his feet up. I laughed. I mean, it was his house. I thought to myself, “it is nice to sit down with a polite, kindred soul.”
What prompted you to do this new record?
David Childers: Bob Crawford called me June 1st, 2015. I’m sitting right here in this same chair. He was like, what do you think about going back and doing a record with Don Dixon again? I’m like yea. Heck yea. Bob asked me if I mind going to Kernersville to Mitch Easter’s studio? I’m like no, not a bit. It was a slow process though. That phone call came in June 2015. I think we went up to the studio in November. The band went up there one day and crashed down a bunch of stuff. Actually what’s on the record. We listened to that about 6 months and went back in May of 2016. We spent about 3 or 4 days there in Kernersville. Then Don Dixon did what he does. He adds stuff.
DC: Yea, Don Dixon produced Room 23 in 2002/ 2003, different band except for the drummer, my son who has been a constant through it all. I had done a few albums but that one seemed to connect with people. I couldn’t find a label to do it, so Dolph Ramseur and Wayne Jernigan had a label called Silver Meteor and they put it out. That record actually got us into Europe. We got to play in Holland, Belgium, England, and Scotland a few times. I really enjoyed Holland the most. Don is an amazing ally to have and is so encouraging. I found out the best people I know, who are most accomplished, are so willing to share with you. They also accept what you have limitation wise and will work with that. I have had the privilege of doing some shows with Sue Foley lately, just some small things, but she is so gracious. She just brings out the best in you. That’s what Ole Don did. He brought the best out in us.
Did you write all the music and lyrics for this record?
DC: I either wrote it myself or co-wrote. There are about 5 co-writers. I think on all of them I came up with the lyrics except one song called “Hermit.” Marc Freeman from Cleveland and the whole band wrote that together. This record we did about 16 songs and we had to drop 4 of them. I guess we didn’t have to, but the idea of leaving them wanting more is kind of the idea. I have already got about 2 more albums written. Now I can say that, but when it actually comes down to doing it, I might not. There is always a culling that goes on to get songs on the record.
How do you write your songs?
DC: Mostly it’s people give me lyric ideas, and I just go with them. I am not really good with sitting down and making sure another person is getting it the way they want it. I’m just not very sharing. Give me an idea, or some lines, and I’ll take it from there. But, ideas are what I need. It’s what I lacked. I just need the idea for a song. It’s cool, it’s usually people who aren’t musicians or songwriters, they are usually people who are inspired by something that happens and, they want to make something that lasts. Make some art. On the new record some of those songs are “Goodbye to Growing Old,” “Belmont Ford,” and “Hermit.” I was impressed by the stories that people had in them that moved them. We have these things in our subconscious, and if we just open ourselves, we can find it . People spend too much time repressing their thoughts. Oh, don’t think thoughts like that. To me, that’s where the best stuff is.
How long did it take the band to get the songs down?
DC: The band has been playing these songs, most of them, a year or even longer than that. When we got to the studio it wasn’t any real work to learn it or figure it out. These boys brought it. I got a really good rhythm section, drummer, and bass player. Cory Dudley is an amazing player. Dale Shoemaker did some amazing guitar stuff. I know he is good but he even surprised me. That thing I’m talking about working with Don. It’s like working with a good coach. He brought in the absolute best.
You mentioned it was Bob Crawford who got you back in the studio for this record. Where did you meet Bob?
DC: I don’t know. I really don’t. Probably through the Double Door Americana Showcase, when I was invited to play. The folks there took me under their wing. Somewhere in there, I think Bob came in with a band called Four in the Floor or something like that. Then I met him when he would play with the Avett Brothers. They would play there too. Seem like he just took a liking to me. My wife and I ran into him up in Davidson when we were going to see Bob Dylan, and we ended up hanging out with him and eating dinner with him. From that point on, he played with us some and even travelled with us a little. He always seem like he cared a lot about me. Dolph Ramseur did too.
Since Bob gave you a call to record a new record, you two must be pretty close?
DC: Hell, I wouldn’t even be doing this if it wasn’t for Bob. In 2007, I just had really given up and become very discouraged for about a year and a half. I was defeated. I got real sick. It was like my entire immune system crashed. I had a crazy schedule. We would drive to New York on the weekend, and we would have to be back by Monday morning. Then we would take off and go to Atlanta, Nashville, Cleveland, and I was practicing law at the same time. It just wore me down. On top of that, I just was sick of the whole setup of the band. It got stagnant. Complacency is the biggest enemy. You have a little bit of success and you feel like, let’s just put it on cruise control. Let’s pretend we are rock stars and just show up for gigs not prepared to play. For a couple of years we were going in and writing in every week and rehearsing every week with the Modern Don Juans. We got two great albums out of that, and I am really proud of them. The guys just couldn’t maintain it, and they had better things to do I guess. I’ve learned peoples lives change, but that was a beautiful period. Though that time I kept writing. I sent Bob some lyrics and he sent me these songs back. He hired out musicians and made recordings of them. It was like he nursed me back into it. He’ll always say, he reached back and pulled me out of the dust and kicked me in the ass a little bit. I’m glad he did. This is serious to me. Gods given me a chance and a gift, and I want to respect that
How long have you been playing with this lineup?
DC: This lineup started right before Merlefest in 2014. We had a crisis in the band at that time. One very important member who wasn’t working out. We couldn’t keep going like that, and we had to restructure. We wanted to do well at Merlefest. Even though it was 11:30 in the morning on a Sunday, we wanted to do the best we could. I had just brought in Korey Dudley on stand up, and Dale Shoemaker moved from electric bass to guitar, which he is much better at. We had to really come together. There was a lot of dedication shown then. There was a lot of time spent rehearsing. Event the night before the show, we were in a hotel in Boone, up till like 1 or 2 in the morning rehearsing. We went in so jacked up and played a really good set. There weren’t that many people there but we had a good response. We went home and never heard back from them. I don’t think we will ever play there again, but that’s ok. That’s where we really came together. Thats where I said, these are quality dudes. I know they won’t let me down, and they haven’t. I can count on them.
Any of these guys from the Overmountain Men?
DC: The drummer, my son, and fiddle player, Geoff White. Bob Crawford was the producer on the Overmountain Men, but he only played a couple shows. Hell, he couldn’t, he was playing with the Avett Brothers. Problem was, the record label kept putting this picture out with him on it. You know, all these little girls would show up and think Bob was going to be there. They get me and some old balding fat men. You would see them check out real quick sometimes. I hope Bob and I can actually do some shows together again, because I really like playing with him.
I really felt a connection to the song “Greasy Dollar.” What’s the inspiration for this?
DC: I got my first job at 14 going on 15. My dad got it for me. He got me a job working for the city with grown men cutting grass and digging ditches. They didn’t have a lot of education, but they worked hard every day. I never could find a way to write about it that I felt worked. One day, the song just came to me. I see people really connect to that, It really is a sad thing having to get up every day going in like that.
Another song I really liked was “Bells.” It’s a pretty sad song… is it about someone you know?
DC: It’s definitely not about my wife. She is healthier than me. If anything, it would be her singing about me. I think it might have come from seeing people with alzheimer’s maybe. This is a song that a friend of mine Mike Jones kept alive. I’d forgotten all about it. We used to play it, and then I saw him play it one night and thought, hey I wrote that song. Then I started doing it again. I like that song.
There has to be a fun story with “Run Skeleton Run?”
DC: When I was a little kid, I remember we used to go up to Lenoir where my dad was from. I had this great aunt. She would tell this story about Bloody Bones. It was one of those stories they told little kids to scare them. I remember being in this dark, spooky old house sitting by the wood stove, and this old wrinkled up lady telling me that story. When I was painting that picture, the one on the cover of the record, it just came to me. Sometimes these things just come out of me. I think that’s how most of my songs come to be. I’m not really very calculated when I write. I don’t say, “today, I will write a song about a skeleton.” I just always have little tunes and things going on in my head. If i’m lucky, I can grab one of them and get to the tape recorder in time and throw it down.
How did you come up with the Scott Avett spoken word piece to open the record?
DC: Actually, that was Dale Shoemaker’s idea. He said, “why don’t you get Scott Avett to do one of those weird voices he does and say something or make a weird noise?” I had written that poem, and I don’t write poetry much anymore, but I thought that would be good to do. I gave it to Scott. He jumped all over it. I was told he did like 47 takes of it. I think he did that remotely. We weren’t in the studio or anything like that. He also did some banjo and some harmonies with me on the record too. He has always been a friend of the band. I probably haven’t spent time with him more than 10 times in my life, but he has always been like a fan. The Avetts doing “Prettiest Thing” really meant a lot to me. Having him on the record is a big plus.
Did you have any other special guests play on the record?
DC: Jacob Sharp from Mipso played mandolin and harmonies. David Niblock did some amazing guitar work on “Greasy Dollar.” We actually went to law school together 35 years ago We have reconnected. I knew he was a great player, but he did some amazing work on this. Don also played and did some backup vocals as well.
What about music do you love?
DC: I don’t know how to answer that. There is something about it that transcends the ordinary. It’s beautiful. Expressive. Revealing. Especially when people sing. There is magic in it. Playing with this band last night. It was like a machine in sync. It felt like riding some kind of amazing animal. That’s what it feels like. More and more, I feel myself closing my eyes while playing and getting lost in the song and it translates. When I looked up people were dancing and writhing about. That’s why I write songs. I want to make people feel something. Music brings it out in a listener and taps into something innocent, unpretentious, and bare and makes us feel things. Some things bring you tears they are so good. Like opera. I like listening to classical music and and arias. They have a feeling. I don’t always know what they are saying, but it doesn’t matter.
What’s it like when you open your eyes as you are playing and see people really getting into your music?
DC: It’s the best. It means you are connecting. Its working. I always tell people it’s a two way street. You are giving us energy, and we are giving you this music. I don’t have this happen much, but I remember going to St Louis one time to a blues club. I don’t go over well for blues people for some reason. We were up there knocking ourselves out and they wouldn’t even applaud. That was a tough night. When the audience is giving it back, I am going to play even more than I am supposed to.
How is life now that you can focus 100% on music?
DC: It’s interesting to get to this point. I am always writing songs ya know, especially since I don’t practice law anymore. I’m focussed on that. Up to a year and half ago I was still practicing law. It was becoming hostile and politicized and it felt futile then I started having some good things happen with art and music. My wife and I evaluated it and said let’s just go for it. We will do the best we can. We struggle, but we get by. This is something I prayed for. I’m not a church guy, but God is important to me. Most of my prayers have been answered, but that doesn’t mean it has been an easy thing. I wasn’t asking for a Cadillac. I just wanted to do what I really wanted to do. Even this is hard to do sometimes. It’s hard to make myself go out here and paint. Sometimes people buy them, and sometimes they don’t. You just gotta get up every day and get behind the mule like Tom Waits said. I am having a blast right now. Even as tired as I feel some days. Every night that I go out to play, I am always grateful. It seems like when I used to try to do things, I was resentful with kind of an irritable fatigue. Now I just feel so happy that I’m getting to do this. I get to go places at night and play music with these guys that I love. It keeps me really happy to be able to do this amazing thing. I feel lucky that I have people that care about seeing me play.
As we wrapped our time in the sunroom, I got to see some of his favorite paintings and had the pleasure of listening to David play a few songs for me. I could see that there wasn’t really anything contrived or planned with him. His music and art just come to him naturally. Once the idea is there, it just flows. He is a man who has come to a place in his life where he knows who his friends are and who he can rely on. Prayers answered, he can now focus on those things that have always made him happy. Those things that made him different as young man have now defined him and have taken him to a place where he can now take his craft to the next level.
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