Don’t label Todd Snider as a folk artist or a singer/songwriter. He’s got a specific title for his musical employment as a wandering troubadour.
“My job is Ramblin’ Jack Elliott,” Snider said. “He’s the godfather of it. Woody Guthrie didn’t tour. He (Elliott) was the first to go out with an acoustic guitar, harmonica rack and he’s still doing it. I toured with him last year and he’s still got it. He considers me his grandson.”
Inspired in the mid-80s by Jerry Jeff Walker, Guy Clark and John Prine – who qualify as Elliott’s sons – Snider has been on the road singing his songs since the early 1990s, when he had an actual hit with “Talkin’ Seattle Grunge Rock Blues,” bouncing on and off major labels to make records of the songs he writes about his life and observations of America from the road.
“I feel like I’ve been sent on an adventure to report back,” he said. “You have to really like travel. I prefer to be on the road. I feel like that is where I belong. … It’s a lifestyle. It isn’t a story that ends. I sleep in my clothes sometimes because I’m one of them.”
There are a few more troubadours today, Snider said, pointing to Hayes Carll and Aaron Lee Tasjan. But they’re a few years behind Snider, who released “Songs for the Daily Planet,” his major label debut, in 1994, joined Prine’s Oh Boy label in 2000 and launched his own label, Aimless Records, in 2008.
Snider’s now released 19 solo albums, the most recent of which, “First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder,” in 2021.
He’s also been in a pair of bands, the jam band supergroup Hard Working Americans and the garage rocking Elmo Buzz and the Eastside Buildings – “those were in preparation for my real job,’ he said. “Everything goes to that.”
With his songs covered by artists from Robert Earl Keen and Gary Allan, who had a country hit with “Alright Guy,” to Loretta Lynn and Tom Jones — yes, that Tom Jones — Snider’s got another income stream to go with the touring revenues that keep him alive, if not make him rich. “The music business has always provided for me,” Snider said. “Even when I was on major labels, the big beast always took care of me…One of my mentors told me I could make any art I wanted and still live like a very young dentist. A very young dentist, that’s not bad.”
There’s literally no telling what songs Snider will pull out when he gets on stage. They may be the familiar “hits,” obscurities, covers or whatever happens to pop into his mind.
“I usually make a set list, but I won’t follow it,” he said. “I’ll have a plan, and when the show starts, I’ll try to slip something in. Then it really starts going anywhere.
But that’s exactly what the troubadour wants – to be in front of a crowd of his faithful followers, doing what he loves the way he wants to do it.
“I get to go up on stage with a box with strings and yell my feelings,” Snider said. “All those years ago, I saw Jerry Jeff and John (Prine) and it looked like a really fun job and it has been.”
-L. Kent Wolgamott, Last Word Features