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Heart Strings: Archival Interviews With Legendary Musical Couples

You hear people say that being in a band or a duo is like a marriage, but do you know what’s musical and even more like a marriage? Marriage. When you start looking around in Nashville, you find quite a few happy couples whose personal partnership started with or were enlarged by musical collaboration. And as producer of The String over five years, I’ve found myself attracted, if that’s the right word, to couples who create together while sharing their lives together. Some co-write and tour together. Some pursue parallel tracks and talk over their hits and hurts at the end of the day. So these conversations were lovely and illuminating. So to mark Valentine’s Day, here are five couples finishing each other’s sentences, reminiscing together and talking about music.

Buddy and Julie Miller

They’re an iconic couple that practically defines Americana music, with a history of collaborative writing, recording and performing that’s moved countless fans and influenced countless musicians. Their solo work has displayed distinctive styles and spirits. Two of their duo albums have been deemed best of the year by the Americana Music Association. Buddy and Julie met in Austin in the 70s and pursued careers in New York and Los Angeles before moving to Nashville 30 years ago. Following a remarkably busy period for Buddy, the two found their way back to working together, and the result was Breakdown On 20th Ave. South from New West Records, one of the landmarks of 2019. I visited the Millers' home - on 20th Ave. South - to talk about two magical, interwoven lives.

Margo Price and Jeremy Ivey

Margo Price just announced that later this year she’ll be publishing a memoir, and that exciting entry to the modern country music literature will offer insight into the early years of her marriage to fellow musician Jeremy Ivey, back when they were living on the margins and trying to find the path for their musicianship and vision. Listeners to this December 2020 String heard some of those stories, along with plenty of processing of the years since Price’s special country songwriting and singing became the toast of the national media, leading to sold out Ryman shows, multiple Americana awards and a Grammy nomination. Price had released the fiery That’s How Rumors Get Started, and Ivey (who’d overcome Covid-19) had released his second new album in a year. It was a great remote chat with a 21st century roots music power couple, and we posted this feature about them at the same time.

Matraca Berg and Jeff Hanna

While they’ve written songs together, Jeff and Matraca have mostly pursued distinct careers. He’s a lifetime member of the innovative country rock outfit the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, including alum status on the historic Will The Circle Be Unbroken sessions of 1972. She’s a daughter of Nashville musicians who became a breakout songwriter at age 19 with her first country chart-topper. Her most famous songs are “Strawberry Wine,” “Hey Cinderella” and “You And Tequila.” You won’t have to listen very long to learn how they met and fell in love, because that’s right at the beginning of this warm conversation at the couple’s kitchen table.

Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn

As I summarized at the time (Nov. 2017), “It’s a love story, with an all banjo soundtrack. Hollywood would never buy the pitch. But it’s better that it’s real life. Béla Fleck is the most famous banjo player of his time, a searcher who’s played and preserved traditional bluegrass while innovating on his instrument in jazz fusion and classical concert music, among many other things. Abigail Washburn, with great suddenness, embraced Appalachian old time banjo and folk singing, becoming one of the most acclaimed traditional artists of her generation. These two esteemed but very different artists found one another fascinating and then captivating.” When I caught up with them at the home they share in Nashville, they’d merged musical visions into two albums and numerous tours that gave the world glimpses of the scope of the banjo and of two hugely intelligent and compelling people.

Doug and Telisha Williams

In the last 15 minutes of the Oct. 10, 2017 episode of the String, we aired a feature interview with the East Nashville couple Doug and Telisha Williams, who branded their roots country duo act the Wild Ponies in 2013. These are two angelic and talented people who seem born to be creative together. They were high school sweethearts in Galax, VA. Today, in a move inspired by the pandemic shutdown, they operate Dreamer’s Food Truck and do a ton of outreach and food prep for Nashville’s homeless community. You can scroll to 43:45 of the episode above or visit the feature story, which includes the full audio interview, plus photos by Neilson Hubbard from the home turf sessions that produced the stellar old-time album Galax, which Hubbard produced.

Find the full archives of WMOT's The String here. And watch in coming weeks for a new couple interview, featuring Rachael and Dominic Davis.

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of The String, a weekly interview show airing Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. He also co-hosts The Old Fashioned on Saturdays at 9 am and Tuesdays at 8 pm. Threads and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org