10 Questions with…Joseph Childress
Welcome to singer-songwriter Joseph Childress, who started writing and playing music in the mountains of Teller County, Colorado when he was 14 years old. Five years later – inspired by Woody Guthrie’s autobiography Bound For Glory – he strapped his guitar, Mama, to his back and hopped a freight train to see the country. Dubbed a “perennial vagabond” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Joseph traveled and toured for two years, hopping trains and living in a van. His wanderings were punctuated only so he could play music, work ranch on the plains of Niobrara County, Wyoming, and rest his head in San Francisco, where he eventually settled down. All the while, his heavily circulated self-released CDs, known to fans as “the Rebirths”, was inspiring devoted listeners in all corners of the country.
I read that you were inspired by Woody Guthrie’s autobiography to hop a freight train, live in a van, and tour the country, and you did so for about two years. What where your hopes jumping into such an adventure?
Thank you for asking! I didn’t have many hopes really… other than to experience the world in a way that I had never experienced before. I had hoped to write more music, which I did, and had hoped to find new things to write about, which I did. Something that stuck with me after reading Bound For Glory was how much Guthrie cherished the simple life and those that lived it. He found beauty and likeness in what many might call the ordinary, although he was far from it. I share that appreciation. I had hoped to connect to the world, my country, from a place of humility. There didn’t seem to be better way to do it than than travel like Woody Guthrie did, to go into the world with only the shirt on your back and grab as many experiences as you can. And that’s what I did, for a time, and l try to hold on to that perspective now. It taught me that most people are good, and that will always stay with me.
Did you read choose your own adventure books growing up?
I think I read a few. I don’t remember enjoying them much.
We’re a bunch of writers here at ATWN strongly influenced by music. How about the music man? Are you more a fan of fiction or nonfiction?
I am HEAVILY influenced by writing; long and short form, fiction and nonfiction. I approach most of my song lyrics from the perspective of a storyteller. I’ve always wanted to write a book. I even have a few outlines. Unfortunately, I’m terrible at both prose and follow-through. I love fiction and nonfiction, though I’m fonder of fiction. I read more nonfiction, though, which is strange.
Can you give us a book you just couldn’t put down?
The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy. That book destroyed me.
I know you can strum a guitar but do you play any other instruments or have any other talents?
I grew up in a very musical household so I had a lot of instruments lying around. I’m best a guitar, trumpet and drums (trap kit). I have no other talents, sadly. Some would say I am good at fly-fishing, which I have done for years, but I think I’m just lucky.
What musicians inspire you?
There are too many to answer that fully. Some artists that come to mind:
Bob Dylan, Fugazi, Michael Gira, Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Ali Farka Toure, Will Oldham, Atahualpa Yupanqui, Radiohead, Leonard Cohen, Elvis, Leadbelly, Abner Jay, Mississippi Fred Mcdowell, Miles Davis, A Tribe Called Quest, Caetano Veloso, Kyle Field, Tim Cohen, Taka Tazawa, Arvel Hernandez and a million others. Recently deceased inspirations: T-Model Ford, Jason Molina, and George Jones
Do you still have the van you lived in?
I lived in two vans and I no longer have either of them, sadly. I moved from a van to a closet, and then from the closet to a house. I now live in a house on the beach with an insanely cool woman and a dog.
You live in San Francisco now but grew up in the Colorado mountains. What do you miss about Colorado?
I miss the excitement that comes with transitioning from one season to another. I miss epic sunsets. I miss my family. I miss the smell of my family’s barn and horses. I miss fishing with my Dad in quiet mountain streams. I miss the wilderness being right in my backyard. Colorado is a wonderful place. San Francisco is great too.
If you could choose one fictional character from a novel as a friend, who would it be?
Ford Prefect (from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams)
When you read: Hardback, paperback, Kindle (e-tablet)?
I made the switch to Kindle a few years ago and never looked back. There’s just no comparison. Sorry, purists.
Thank you, again, for taking the time to answer these questions. I’m looking forward to spreading the word about your raw and real tunes.
It was my pleasure.
Buy Joseph’s album REBIRTHS