If you’re going to either of the sold-out Todd Snider shows at Knuckleheads this weekend, have a good listen. It may be the last performance by the Todd Snider his fans have known for more than 20 years.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he told The Star recently. “I think I may not do any more Todd Snider. I might start over. I won’t pretend my name didn’t used to be Todd Snider, but I do want to put an end to that body of work. I feel it stands by itself. I want to put a period at the end of all those songs.”
Snider, 48, released his latest album of original material in March 2012, a collection of 10 songs he called “Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables.” In its three-star review, Rolling Stone magazine wrote, “Todd Snider’s latest is the sharpest musical response yet to the excesses of the 1 percent: hilarious, infuriated broadsides about economic injustice delivered in Snider’s stoner drawl over twangy roots rock.”
By the end of 2013, however, Snider was part of a five-piece band called Hard Working Americans. It included Dave Schools of Widespread Panic, Neal Casal of the Chris Robinson Band and formerly of Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, keyboardist Chad Staehly of Great American Taxi, and drummer Duane Trucks, brother of Derek Trucks.
In 2014, the band released its self-titled debut, a collection of covers. An album of original material is in the works. Snider said he found the band environment refreshing.
“I like it,” he said. “I’ve always liked to jam; I’m kind of an acid-eater. But this is not a vehicle for me. It’s not me trying to do what I do better. I don’t say anything on stage. I just sing. I’m not the main guy. The songwriting is completely collaborative. I’m the third guy on the totem pole when it comes to songwriting. I’ve learned so much about tempo, about pace, about singing and pitch.”
Snider’s current tour has been pitched as a commemoration of the 10th anniversary of his album “East Nashville Skyline” and the 20th anniversary of his 1994 debut, “Songs for the Daily Planet.” Snider said that wasn’t necessarily the case.
“Yeah, I saw that on some posters,” he said. “I don’t do the posters. I don’t really do anything special for it. I’ve always been playing songs off those records.”
If there were signs that Snider was thinking about retiring this part of his career, they started in 2012, the year he released “Agnostic Hymns.” In April of that year, he released a tribute to cosmic-country songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker, a close friend and a big influence on Snider. A month later, he released a memoir, “I Never Met a Story I Didn’t Like.”
“My friend Peter Cooper, a writer for the (Nashville) Tennessean and a songwriter, helped me a lot,” Snider said. “I just told him my stories, and he typed them in. It took about two weeks. It didn’t feel artistic or even therapeutic. I talk all the time. I’m a yammering person anyway, so it was easy.”
Among the many anecdotes is one involving Garth Brooks, who wanted to record Snider’s song “Alright Guy” for the film that would launch Chris Gaines, the now infamous alter-ego Brooks created. The project didn’t materialize, but Brooks compensated Snider for it anyway with a check for $10,000.
In the book, Snider writes about the backlash and resentment that arose as Brooks became even more successful and famous: “Because of Garth’s massive success, there’s a bit of a push and pull in Nashville about him. When you sell more records than anyone has ever sold, you tend to make more people jealous than have ever been jealous of a singer. It’s a crock that I think prevails in this country: We bully the people who entertain us.”
Snider said he is a Brooks fan: “I like him and I like his music, too. I thought he was one of the last really great ones.”
Anyone surprised by that ought to know Snider has plenty of tolerance for what’s coming out of Nashville, where he resides. After listing some of the younger songwriters he likes — Jason Isbell, Justin Townes Earle, Hayes Carll — he mentions Sturgill Simpson, who he hasn’t seen perform yet.
“Everyone is talking about him,” Snider said. “It would be cool if he became a normal old country star. But that’s the hard thing: becoming a normal old country star.
“The thing about it is these hipster people want country music to change. But the people who like country music don’t want it to change. It’s what they like. They don’t want to listen to me babble about my bull….
“I like anybody who gets up and sings and performs,” he said. “I’m on their side. I’m rooting for anyone who is driving to a gig.”
He will continue going to gigs, though it may only be as part of his band.
“Hard Working Americans is working on an album of 16 songs I made up,” he said. “I wrote the lyrics and they make the music. Everyone is ready to go back out but we’re waiting on our guitar player. He’s in the Chris Robinson Band. They play so much.”
He may do more solo material, but he sounds relatively certain what he writes won’t sound like what he’s written.
“The songs I make up now don’t make very much sense,” he said. “I work them really hard but, it’s hard to describe. They’re from a different place. I just don’t think I feel like I can make up any more songs like the songs I used to make up.”
Todd Snider performs Saturday and Sunday at Knuckleheads, 2715 Rochester. Both shows are sold out.