Alison Krauss And Buddy Cannon On The Working Relationship Behind 'Windy City'

Feb 20, 2017
Originally published on February 20, 2017 12:45 pm

Alison Krauss and Buddy Cannon go way back. Cannon, a veteran country songwriter and producer, remembers hiring Krauss to sing harmonies on one of hear after hearing on of her early demos on cassette in the early '90s. "I've been blown away ever since," Cannon says.

Krauss has a new album out called Windy City. Produced by Cannon, it is her first solo album in 18 years. She says her friend's instincts are almost always right.

"I'm very interested when he decides he wants to keep something — I want to know why," Krauss says. "When he goes, 'Oh, that's good. We gon' keep that.' It's like, what is it that he loves about that? ... But you can't second guess somebody's instinct."

"I think 'right' means the same thing to both of us," Cannon chimes in.

Krauss and Cannon spoke with NPR's Rachel Martin about the making of Windy City, pushing through vocal trouble and what it's like to collaborate with Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton. Hear more of their conversation at the audio link.

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Making music can be an intimate process, so it helps when the people making it have a certain rapport.

BUDDY CANNON: What are we doing?

ALISON KRAUSS: I'm like - well, I was trying to open my...

CANNON: No, I mean, what are we doing?

KRAUSS: You mean now?


KRAUSS: This is an (laughter) - this is an interview for NPR, Buddy.

MARTIN: That's Alison Krauss talking with her producer Buddy Cannon. They go way back. Cannon remembers hiring Krauss to sing harmonies after hearing one of her early demos - on cassette - in the early 1980s.

CANNON: I've been blown away ever since.

MARTIN: (Laughter) How old were you in - whenever that was?

KRAUSS: I was 13 or 14.

CANNON: You were 13.

KRAUSS: Thirteen.

MARTIN: Wow. Oh, gosh.


MARTIN: Good gravy.

CANNON: You were very tall.


CANNON: Yeah. (Laughter) I could tell by listening.

KRAUSS: You could?


KRAUSS: (Singing) Windy city, you're holding my baby...

MARTIN: Alison Krauss has a new album out. We're hearing the title track to that now. It's called "Windy City." It is her first solo album in 18 years, and Buddy Cannon produced it. Alison Krauss says Buddy's instincts are almost always right.

KRAUSS: I'm very interested. Like, when he decides he wants to keep something, I want to know why. But you can't second-guess somebody's instincts. And when he goes, (imitating Buddy) oh, that's good. We're going to keep that.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

KRAUSS: And, you know, like, what is it that he loves about that?

MARTIN: Did you ever say, you know what, Buddy? - I'm not hearing it that way - you're wrong?

KRAUSS: No. I don't think there's ever been anything that I questioned that he was doing. I mean, I don't think so.

CANNON: I think right means the same thing to both of us.


KRAUSS: (Singing) River in the rain, sometimes at night you look like a long white train, winding your way away somewhere. River, I love you. Don't you care?

MARTIN: I heard it took three years to make this album. Is that right?

KRAUSS: Well, it was - it's been done a year. But it did take a long time. I was having vocal problems.

MARTIN: Do you mind if I ask about that, Alison?


MARTIN: What was going on vocally?

KRAUSS: You can kind of hear it in - on my voice now. I just get raspy. They just call it dysphonia, which is, like, a fancy word for being hoarse. And it feels unnatural, and then you're doing a lot of forcing to make something sound right. And then it's false emotion...

CANNON: So I couldn't...

KRAUSS: ...And then nobody believes it...

CANNON: I couldn't hear that. Everything she was doing sounded good. But I finally figured out that it wasn't feeling right to her, you know. It was too hard. When it's right, it's easy.


KRAUSS: Sometimes in a time of trouble, when you're out of hand and your muddy bubbles roll across my floor...

KRAUSS: It was really a problem in the last few years. You know, you get where you're so focused in on what you sound like that you kind of forget how to sing, sort of.

MARTIN: You include on this album a cover by Willie Nelson. It's a song, "I Never Cared For You." Whose idea was it to tackle this?

CANNON: We were just going through songs at my office. And, I mean, we must have listened to pieces of hundreds of songs. And we had a Willie Nelson hour, I guess.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

CANNON: And when that one came on, she said, I want that one.


KRAUSS: (Singing) The sun is filled with ice and gives no warmth at all. And the sky was never blue. The stars are raindrops searching for a place to fall, and I never cared for you.

MARTIN: Has Willie Nelson heard this?

CANNON: Yes, he has. I was with him at his house in Maui about a month ago. And it was so cool to sit across the table from him and see him reared back in his chair with his eyes closed, smiling, listening to it.

MARTIN: Have you collaborated with him before, Alison?

KRAUSS: Yeah. I've sang harmony on a record of his. And we did a couple summers of touring with him.

MARTIN: How do you feel about collaborations in general?

KRAUSS: I adore the process of it. It's like trying to get inside somebody else's head. Like Dolly Parton, who sounds, like, you know, it's just the easiest thing in the world for her to sing something and it's so naturally perfect. And then when you try to go sing harmony with her, you know, it's like Pandora's box. Nobody else does it like that. And you're thinking, how in the world can I match it? And then the times that you sing with someone else and the more that you don't match them, the more romantic it gets.

MARTIN: There is a real intimacy to it.

KRAUSS: Yeah. And when you have headphones on and you can hear every tiny click, or you can hear their teeth coming together and spit flying out of their mouth, I mean, it's pretty - it's pretty...


MARTIN: Now it sounds less romantic, actually...

KRAUSS: It's pretty amazing.

MARTIN: ...When you put it that way (laughter).

KRAUSS: No, it's a fascinating process. I love it.

MARTIN: Before they left, Alison Krauss told me the story of one other song they picked for the record. It started when she told Buddy about an old bluegrass tune she loved when she was growing up.

KRAUSS: It was called "Dream Of Me." And it was so sweet. And he goes, "Dream Of Me"? Well, I wrote that. I'm like, what? And so it turns out he wrote that song, so then we had to do it.

MARTIN: (Laughter) That's pretty cool.

KRAUSS: It was cool.

CANNON: Now that - that song's been recorded probably a half a dozen times. This is my favorite.


KRAUSS: So dream of me every time you get to feeling blue. Dream of me, and I'll be dreaming of you.

MARTIN: Did you two get closer as friends through this process?

KRAUSS: Further away.


CANNON: We're thinking about doing a clogging album.

KRAUSS: Yes. Just taping ourselves clogging.

MARTIN: I think that's a great idea, you two.

Alison Krauss, her producer Buddy Cannon - their new album is called "Windy City."

Hey, you two, thanks so much.

KRAUSS: Thank you.

CANNON: Thank you.


MARTIN: I can't wait for the clogging album.

CANNON: Oh, it's going to be good.

KRAUSS: It's going to be awesome.

CANNON: You should hold your breath.


MARTIN: OK, bye. Bye, dudes.

KRAUSS: You should hold your breath - that's not (laughter)... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.