Hard-Lived Mountain Folk

By Derek Halsey (reporter@mountaintimes.com)

Article Published: Jan. 10, 2014 | Modified: Jan. 17, 2014
Hard-Lived Mountain Folk

Malcolm Holcombe is a singer and songwriter who has lived through a trial and tribulation or two.

Raised in Western North Carolina, he went the Nashville music business route only to sign with a big record label, record an album and watch it sit on a shelf, never released.

Eventually, Holcombe, who performs at Boone Saloon on Thursday, Jan. 16, returned to the Swannanoa area and began to make music his own way. His albums have been hailed by top writers, such as David Fricke of Rolling Stone and Nashville’s Craig Havighurst.

His latest recording is called “Down the River,” and it features more true life music from Holcombe backed by special guests, such as Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Ken Coomer and Darrell Scott.

“It ain’t Florida here in Swannanoa, that’s for sure, and we count our blessings, man,” Holcombe said, as The Mountain Times interviewed him on the coldest day of the year this past week. “Lord, all of these First World problems, as a buddy of mine said the other day. We just fill the bathtubs up with water, let the spigots drip, get another can of beans, and hunker down — and get you an old hound dog.”

Bringing in Harris to sing some sweet harmony on the song, “In Your Mercy,” on the “Down the River” album was a true highlight for Holcombe.

“That scares the (heck) out of me, man,” Holcombe said. “When I would listen to the tune, I’d say, ‘Boy, I can sure hear Ms. Harris singing on this one.’ But I always have to check (one’s own) motives, though, because it is an egotistical plastic pipe full of showbiz (bull) and arrogance and ego.

“So, I had to be real careful thinking that stuff (asking Harris to sing on the cut). But I thought she’d really bring some compassion and some heart into that tune, so I just mentioned it to the producer, Ray Kennedy. He worked with her a long time ago. I said, ‘Man, you know, I don’t want to bite off more than we can chew or anything like that.’ He said, ‘I’ll just give her a call, man.’ I had already split town, and she came over and put that part on there. She’s really special and a blessing to have in this old world.”

Holcombe enjoys and appreciates being a Western North Carolina native.

“Spring,” Holcombe said, when asked what he likes about his home turf as the cold winds blow. “And summer. No, I dig all four seasons, man. I like the separation of church and state, and I like the four seasons. So, that is a part of the design of the planet, in my opinion. This is where I am from. I’m home. Home is when you’re with your family, and you can live in your own skin. You try and get by wherever you’re at. But where you’re born and raised, there’s the old feed store, the old drug store, and you know the name of a couple of mountains here that you stomped around in. You like to capture memories and hang on to the good memories and learn from the not-so-good ones. Having a place to call home is also a dream, and a lot of folks don’t have that.”

Holcombe has visited Boone quite a bit over the years and is looking forward to returning.

“I’ve been coming up in there, man, since the 1970s, since that old 1961 Volkswagen bus got stuck in fourth gear coming back from Blowing Rock,” Holcombe said. “I parked it right there at the sub shop right next to the campus and put a ‘For Sale’ sign on it. It had a 1967 motor, and I sold that thing for 350 bucks and hitchhiked back home. I did some shows up there with Sally Spring back in the ’70s. Man, what a voice. She was always nice and inspiring and real soulful. And that is a cool place up there, with some really nice people at the Boone Saloon. I’ve got some old friends still around in Boone, and it is one of my favorite spots in the world through there, and I’m looking forward to it very much.”

Holcombe will perform at 9 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16, at Boone Saloon, located at 489 W. King St. in downtown Boone. Tickets cost $7.

For more information, visit http://www.malcolmholcombe.com.

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