On The String: Colin Linden, From Howlin' Wolf To Nashville To 'Amour'

Mar 6, 2019

Getting an early jump on pursuing your dreams is important, and it would be hard to jump earlier than did Colin Linden at his destiny in blues and roots music.

“As a little kid I grew up in White Plains, NY and we were right around a lot of things that were going on,” Linden says in the new episode of The String. “One day I saw an advertisement at Sam Ash music for a concert. August 23, 1968 with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Chambers Brothers, The Soft Machine and special guest Big Brother and the Holding Company. So me and my Mom and my two brothers went to see Jimi Hendrix. I was eight.”

Then when he was eleven years old, by which time his single mother and his brothers had moved to Toronto, he went to a matinee show featuring Howlin’ Wolf, one of the most intimidating figures to ever play blues music. Colin arrived extra early to get a seat in the all-ages balcony, early enough to see Wolf finishing lunch down below.

“I darted through the balcony and went down the stairs and I introduced myself. I just felt drawn to meet him. Because I was so fascinated with him after I first heard his music. And he was wonderful to me. I said “Mr. Wolf, I’m only eleven and they won’t let me downstairs but would you come upstairs and talk to me. And he came up the stairs and we spent the afternoon talking.”

Teenaged Colin Linden made an album in the late 70s with Sam Chatmon, member of the pre-war Mississippi Sheiks.
Credit colinlinden.com

With some vital music and career advice under his belt, it wasn’t long before Linden made a sweeping pilgrimage around the Deep South, befriending some of the greats of the rural, pre-War blues. Soon, he was recording with some of them, writing songs, making relationships and touring, and he never had any other life in mind.

Today he’s 58 years old and a long-time Nashvillian, known to everyone in roots music as an all-around brilliant guitarist, songwriter and producer. He’s been a musical partner since the early 90s of Canadian folk rock hero Bruce Cockburn. He’s recently finished a six-year stint as one of the music directors on the TV series Nashville. And he’s just released a new album in collaboration with Luther Dickinson, a collection of timeless love songs called Amour.

In a career-spanning interview, Linden talks about the mentorship of older blues artists:

“I think with a lot of them, they didn’t have throngs of people that interested in what they were doing. And I think it meant something to them. I felt like they had given me a mission. I felt like Wolf really gave me a mission.”

And working on Nashville:

“Pretty early in the show they asked me to basically teach the cast members who were playing parts and to supervise all the (live) music scenes. When it became a live (touring) show, I became the musical director for the live work and did that until the season finished. So it was a huge part of my life.”

And the vision behind the new album Amour:

“I get ideas a lot for projects that are thematic and I had an idea there was a commonality between a certain type of love song – songs I remember listening to my whole life, where the melody has a kind of a melancholy. And that body of songs traversed different styles, but most of them were around when I was a kid. And I said “Careless Love” is sort of the id of the record, because it can be a jazz song, a blues song, a folk song. There’s a sentimentality in the melodies, where you could play the songs without even singing them and you kind of get the feeling. And Luther (Dickinson) said ‘that’s a great idea.’”

The hour is rounded out with a visit with Cousin Bob Clement, now the proprietor of Cowboy Jack Clement’s former home and personal recording studio.