I had the immense good fortune Friday night of catching Tift Merritt at The Mucky Duck in Houston, where she played two full sets. Merritt resides pretty high on my list of singer-songwriters alongside folks like Joe Henry (there's a stunning live bootleg floating around out there of Tift singing Dylan's "Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" with JH accompanying her on acoustic guitar, part of a NYC I'm Not There celebration).
Anyway, the shows were phenomenal, and I sat about two feet from pedal steel and guitar player Eric Heywood, who has toured and recorded with Merritt for a couple of years now. He is on a very short list of in-demand steel players who has played on many fantastic records. Since most of the music I love today sprung from that mid-1990's No Depression explosion, I must owe Heywood a cosmic debt because he played on some of my favorite records of that period (Richard Buckner's Since being chief among them). He more recently lavished some gorgeous pedal steel upon John Doe & The Sadies' Country Club, which has become an enduring favorite of mine over the past few years.
After the show, Eric was kind enough to chat with me for a while, and I mentioned the blog. He is fairly deeply connected with the same circle of musicians as JH, most recently due to his recording and touring with Ray LaMontagne and The Pariah Dogs, which also includes Jay Bellerose, Jennifer Condos and Greg Leisz (though Leisz did not tour with them, to my recollection). But even I didn't realize he toured with JH during the Short Man's Room/Kindness Of The World period and recorded with him on Fireman's Wedding and Trampoline. Most recently, Heywood added pedal steel to Lisa Hannigan's Passenger, appearing on the track "Safe Travels".
I just wanted to give some recognition to yet another talented musician who can be counted among Joe Henry's trusted confederates. Check out this 2008 interview with Heywood from No Depression, and marvel at the sheer number of great recordings he has contributed to over the years, here and here.
And be sure to catch Tift Merritt if she heads your way so you can check out her wonderful band for yourself.
UPDATE 2/18/13: And just in case you've seen Tift Merritt with Mr. Heywood recently, and you were wondering what that beautiful Tele he plays is ("Why, yes, DK – I was wondering that."), check out the website for Creston Guitars where his guitar has its own page. I was in Burlington, VT, last year for Grace Potter's Grand Point North music festival, and several of the local acts were outfitted with Creston guitars. Turns out Creston has followers well beyond the borders of Vermont! Please excuse the guitar geekery.
UPDATE: Here's a really nice video of Ms. Merritt and Mr. Heywood performing "Small Talk Relations" together on a recent episode of Last Call with Carson Daly (taped at The Troubadour in LA):