Will T. Massey
Will T. Massey
distributed 150 cassette tapes of Pickin’, Poker and Pickup Trucks) while still in high school and followed it up with Kickin’ up Dust and Slow Study, with Lloyd Maines, Ponty Bone and Tish Hinojosa. Seemingly, overnight, he was catapulted from living in a barn and working as a janitor between gigs at Austin’s late, lamented Chicago House (Peg Miller, Glynda Cox) and similar venues in Dallas and Houston. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t last. The 1991 major-label release would be the only Will T. recording MCA would put out. Not because the company didn’t want to, but because Massey had stopped taking meetings with producer Peter Philbin (Bangles, Furs, Lone Justice). “I remember Peter called me up and said we’re ready to release the second record, and I wouldn’t see him,” Massey says.
“Then I turned around and asked them to release me from my contract because they were sitting on me.” Whatever happened to Will T? It’s a question Massey gets a lot from longtime fans and friends alike, and one he’s decided to answer fully for the first time. Though he didn’t know it, Will T. had been gripped by a devastating illness. By then living in Seattle, Massey began to distrust everyone around him. Suffering from paranoia and delusions of grandeur (he was pretty good, he now acknowledges with a smile, but not that good), he was hospitalized against his will. After returning to Texas, he was hospitalized again.
Those two involuntary admissions turned the young singer-songwriter away from the medical profession, he says, and it would be 13 years before he had a diagnosis: schizophrenia. “You know, it’s interesting; the video that was playing on CMT was called I Ain’t Here,” Massey recalls. “The chorus goes like this: ‘Reality is nowhere near/If you’re looking for me/I don’t know where I’ll be/I ain’t here …’ That was my big song while I actually was going crazy.” In 1995, MCA released the singer-songwriter from his contract. Will T. was free and clear.
Massey continued to make music for a while, but couldn’t get it together enough to put out another album. He drifted around the country, writing furiously, following bus routes and living in cheap hotels or on the street as his illness continued to further estrange him from friends and family. He even pawned his guitars. By 2000, back in Seattle, Massey made a bargain with God: if an expected check arrived general delivery at the post office, he’d use part of it to buy a guitar and get on a bus back to Texas. The check was there, and Massey headed home, six-string in hand. A friend – probably the last person in the world, Massey says, he hadn’t driven away – paid his rent and gave him enough money to scrape by.
Her only requirement: he had to send songs to her every now and then. In 2005, the songwriter who had toured with Townes van Zandt, Chris Isaak, Joe Ely, Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen and others, teetered on the verge of being evicted from his Austin apartment. That last friend, his “patron saint,” convinced him to seek medical help. This time, with some hand-holding from a cousin, Will T. found a doctor he felt he could trust.
Massey walked out with a name for his illness and the medicine to treat it. “My friend loved my music from the get-go and always helped me out because of the music. I don’t think I would have stayed alive without her help,” Massey says. “In a strange way, it’s because of the music and the fact that one person appreciated it that I’m alive. That’s the truth.” Comeback kid Within a year of naming and treating his illness, Massey released two solo, acoustic albums, Acoustic Session in April 2005, and Alone, in November 2005. Since then, Massey says, his reintegration into the larger world and his music career has been challenging but steady.
In 2006 he released Letters in the Wind (produced by Stephen Doster, Will and Charlie Sexton, Tish Hinojosa, Bukka Allen, Kacy Crowley and Lloyd Maines contributed), as well as digitally re-mastering and re-releasing Slow Study, his effort with Maines from 1989. In the 13 years his illness went untreated, Will T. missed a lot; not just relationships and business opportunities, but things the rest of us take for granted. Things like e-mail, the Internet and world news. “People had to tell me: ‘You know, you can get the newspaper online now,’” Massey says with a laugh. “Online? What’s that?” He quickly became a voracious reader and discovered that a lot of what had happened in the world during his absence wasn’t very wonderful.
That realization was the seed of a new album, Wayward Lady, set for release Sept. 9, 2008. A new album “It’s like I woke up from a long, bad dream, only to find out that the country I grew up believing in was gone,” Massey says. “So, this album is really a reflection of that – my sadness, and my astonishment, about what’s happened during the last decade or so. It’s also a way for me to reconnect to a shared reality, to participate in this big conversation we should all be having about who we are as a nation and where we’re going.” To make Wayward Lady, Massey called on some notable Austin talent, including Mike Meadows (porterdavis) on percussion and cajon.
Will Sexton plays bass and provides backing vocals, while longtime Tish Hinojosa sideman Marvin Dykhuis contributes slide and electric guitar, mandolin and backing vocals. Lubbock, Texas, legend Richard Bowden (Terry Allen, Billy Joe Shaver, Jimmy Dale Gilmore) plays fiddle, and Texas Music Hall-of-Famer Rosie Flores adds her voice to Peace Train and American Séance. “’American Séance’ is definitely the most atmospheric song on the album, and it’s about trying to communicate with America from beyond this life,” Massey says. “There is a sense there that the Bush Administration was the final nail in America’s coffin. The challenge now is to bring America back from the dead; not to keep her from dying, but to bring her back from the dead.” “Peace Train,” a last-minute addition to the line-up, comes from Will T.’s personal experience.
This year his step-sister was deployed to Iraq, leaving her young daughter in her mother’s and his father’s care. “It’s basically written from real-life experience and I took poetic license and ended the song in a happy way with the war coming to an end,” Massey says. “It’s kind of a fantasy about the war being over and my step-sister being okay.” With Wayward Lady, Will T. Massey has indeed rejoined a conversation rooted in a shared reality, one that is too often tragic and heartbreaking. In doing so, he has joined the likes of Carolyn Wonderland and James McMurtry in speaking truth to power, hearkening back to the heyday of folk music. “It was a tough decision, something I had to think pretty hard about,” says Massey.
“I have about an equal number of new political songs and more traditional songs that are more about people and places. It’s certainly more challenging to take the political route; I’ve already heard from longtime fans that I should keep politics out of my music.” He sings about the decision he finally came to in American Prayer: “I’m advised to reign my words in tight/to take my tunes and go quietly in the night/I hope you’ll help us all to speak our minds/because the voices of the people are being left behind/tell them that we’re tragic when you get up there/and that we need some magic, my American prayer.” Massey’s is an authentic voice in troubled times. Though the subject matter may be new, there’s no mistaking the talent of a songwriter the New York Daily News called: “one of the greatest storytellers since Dylan and Van Morrison."Today, Massey lives in South Austin with his girlfriend, photographer Valerie Fremin, and their dogs Inka and Pace (the Italian word for Peace). Will T. Massey Discography: Wayward Lady (2008) Slow Study (2007) Letters in the Wind (2006) Alone (2005) Acoustic Session (2005) Will T.
Massey (1991) Slow Study (1989) Kickin’ up Dust (1988) Pickin’, Poker and Pickup Trucks (1987) Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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