Montana Rose: An Interview with Claudia Williams
Kathleen Johns | Monday May. 1st, 2017
Montana Rose has transformed and morphed over many years since the band was first founded with but one original element remaining a constant-Claudia Williams. Williams’ beautifully rich and honey-seasoned voice combined with her strong, folksy presence as lead singer/song writer made Montana Rose-sometimes a full band but more often a live duo-a beloved Montana tradition. Transformation and tenacity have afforded Montana Rose a strong live music career in the Gallatin Valley and beyond. Williams, along with bass player/vocalist Cathy Moberg and drummer Mike Gillan, plays regularly at intimate area venues like the Kountry Korner Café and Ted’s. You can catch them every Sunday at the Pony Bar, too. With the April 2017 release of their 9th studio album “Wild Oats,” Montana Rose is still going strong. I sat down for a chat with Claudia recently and she talked about the band’s new album, new direction and other exciting info. true Montana Rose fans will appreciate.
KJ (Kathleen Johns): What is new with Montana Rose these days?
CW (Claudia Williams): We have a new CD out called “Wild Oats.” It’s been ten years since the last CD, “My Time,” came out and during those years there have been changes. It took me awhile to figure out really which direction I wanted to go to from the old Montana Rose. I will always be Montana Rose because people see me and go “Hey Rose!” I can’t change my name or they won’t know who Claudia Williams is, you know? (laughs) But I did know that I was never really able to showcase my voice because I was singing over a band. I was hollerin’ over a band. Really trying to get that vocal out there. I really enjoy what we’re doing now. Showcasing the vocals. It’s more like the band plays around the vocals, supports the vocals. It used to be a “let’s get everyone dancing” juke-joint thing.
KJ: Do you think that the changes you have made by showcasing the vocals translates to a better listening experience for the audience?
CW: Yes! Showcasing the vocals allows me to tell a story.
KJ: And you do that so well in so many of your songs. I was talking to a huge fan of yours just this morning, and she made a comment about your music as she experiences it. She loves the fact that listening to you sing and play allows her to relax and escape and go off somewhere else in her mind. Why do you think that is? Will fans experience escape through storytelling on the new album?
CW: I have five originals on this album and they are about Montana. When Robbie (Engineer/Producer Rob Matson) was engineering it, he’s from Idaho and he said, “Oh Claudia, you make me wanna move back home. I can see the rivers, I can hear the meadowlarks.” He said, “I can smell the willows. I just want to go home listening to you sing.”
KJ: So is “Wild Oats” more of a singer/songwriter album?
CW: The instrumentation on this album is kick ass!
KJ: And you wouldn’t have it any other way, right?
CW: Well, I originally was going to go in the studio and do an acoustic album. And once I got down there with the guys and they started talking its like you show up with a coloring book and it starts out black and white. How do we add color? And the reason that I asked these guys is because I love them and I trust them. And they know me. They’ve known me for 40 years. It was magical.
KJ: So tell me a little bit about the musicians that were in the studio with you this time around.
CW: We recorded it at County Q Studios in Nashville. Rob Matson was the engineer and producer. He also did harmony vocals, acoustic guitar and lead guitar. Sergio Webb on Tic-tac bass, electric guitar and banjo. K.W. Turnbow from Chris Ledoux’s band “Western Underground” on drums. Pat McInerny, too. He is Don Williams’ drummer. Parker Hawkins on upright/electric bass. Teddy Ray Jones played fiddle and Steve Hinson on pedal steel guitar. And my daughter Tessy Lou (of Tessy Lou and the Shotgun Stars) sang harmonies. The album took 8 days to record.
KJ: Did you also play guitar on the album? Did you play your Gibson Montana Rose? (The guitar I am referring to is a rare edition J-200 Parlor Guitar dubbed the “Montana Rose.” The instrument was made for Claudia by Gibson Acoustic Guitars in Bozeman, MT in celebration of her artistry. )
CW: Oh yes. (smiles)
KJ: You have several cover songs on this album as well. How did you choose those?
CW: First song on the album is “Vincent” by Don McLean (aka “Starry, Starry Night”). My mother’s favorite song. She asked me to learn it and I thought I’m not just going to learn it. I am going to put it on the album for her. I put this song on the album for my mother. At first I thought it was a little corny. And then I started learning it and getting in to the lyrics and this song, it’s like a painting. You close your eyes and you see all of Vincent’ s paintings. Another favorite of mine on the album is “My Man,” a song written by Bernie Leadon from the Eagles and it was written for Graham Parsons. Bernie was a good friend of Graham’s. I dedicated it to Joe Dahl, drummer for Famous Motel Cowboys, who passed away. And then “Wild Oats” is another one that I love and it was written by Ben Bullington from White Sulphur Springs, MT who passed on not too long ago.
KJ: Wow. It sounds like a great album. I can’t wait to hear it. I have been such a fan of yours for a long time. We have spoken about your work before but I have never asked about how you got started. Claudia, take me back to the beginning of your evolution as an artist. How old were you when you started singing and playing and how did that all come about?
CW: I was 12 years old with my guitar at home, playing along to Joni Mitchell. My parents always had music at home. They had a friend who had a band and they would host the dances and I would sneak out and listen. My mom always had Patsy Cline playing. My first album was a Patsy Cline album. My great aunt Lolita could play any instrument and I just always wanted to be like her. She got me my first guitar after my father died when I was 12. I poured my grief out into that guitar. The emotion surrounding my father’s death. (pause). About the time I was twenty-one, I started doing the resort hopping, playing in towns all over the Rocky Mountain West.
KJ: Yeah. I recall the first time I saw you perform at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar in Jackson, Wyoming in the late 1980s. I was 19 years old and so mesmerized by your performance. Spellbound, actually. I was also in awe of the dancers that were dancing Western Swing at your show that night. I had never seen anything like it before, all that calico and boots and precision in their movements. Mesmerizing. Every time I have watched you perform since then the dancers are there; they follow you. Would you say they are typical of Montana Rose’s fan base?
CW: I have the Montana born and raised people who come out to hear me all the time. I have a surgeon who plays me when he is doing open-heart surgery (laughs). I have a fishing guide down in Louisiana who is Cajun and he plays Montana Rose for all his friends. I mean who would think that they would like the song “Cowgirls of Willow Creek?” But they love it. I have had people come up to me and say, “I don’t like country music, but I like what you’re doing.” But that’s Americana. That’s our roots.
KJ: Claudia, I’d like to close out this interview with some questions from your fans.
CW: Ahhhh….. (big smile).
KJ: Who are your top three musical influences?
CW: Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou. All female vocalists.
KJ: What kind of music are you listening to these days?
CW: Chris Stapleton! Love him. His charisma. I love his lyrics. I love his rawness, its real. The authentic rawness of his voice makes me believe him. I believe what he’s singing about… (pause). I believe he loves whiskey! (laughs). I do too!
KJ: What was the last live show you went to?
CW: OH! The last one I went to was The Time Jumpers in Nashville with Vince Gill!
You can order the new CD “Wild Oats” by Montana Rose via mail by sending a check for $18.00, which also covers postage, to: Montana Rose, P.O. Box 523, Pony, MT 59747.
CDs are also available for sale at Cactus Records in Downtown Bozeman.