In Birmingham, John Paul White Shares Songs And Stories

Jun 10, 2017
Originally published on June 10, 2017 12:51 pm

If you caught Weekend Edition's live show from Birmingham, Ala., on Saturday, you might have heard John Paul White's guitar between stories. The Alabama singer-songwriter, known for his work as one-half of The Civil Wars, released his solo album Beulah in 2016.

White spoke with NPR's Scott Simon about how he got his 1957 Martin guitar and his father's love for the country yodeler Slim Whitman. He also performed two songs from Beulah -- including "Black Leaf," whose title hints at its dark overtones.

"'Black Leaf' is actually a reference to Black Leaf 40," White says, naming a chemical insecticide. "My dad used it on our poultry farm, on the chickens, and he always warned us, 'Don't ever put this in your mouth or the worst could happen.' "

Listen to "Black Leaf" and "The Once And Future Queen" in the player above, and hear more of the music White played for Saturday's live broadcast below.

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Throughout the show in Birmingham, we've really been honored to have a special guest who's played his guitar and sing for us. We're going to hear more now from the great John Paul White. Thanks so much for being with us.

John, of course, was formerly with the Grammy-winning duo The Civil Wars. He's based in the very musical town of Muscle Shoals. His latest album is called "Beulah." He'll play a song or two in a moment. That's such a beautiful guitar.

JOHN PAUL WHITE: Well, thank you very much.

SIMON: You don't get that at Costco, do you?

WHITE: No, I actually was given this when I was a little kid. There was a friend of my dad's who had no heirs and said, surely, one of the four will end up playing guitar. So it sat in my closet until I was probably 15 or 16, and I started getting the bug.

SIMON: You're going to play a song now from your solo album "Beulah." It's called "Black Leaf." What can you tell us about the song?

WHITE: Well, I'll give a little snippet. "Black Leaf" is actually a reference to Black Leaf 40. I don't know if anybody knows that term. But it's strychnine. And my dad used it on a poultry farm on the chickens. And he always warned us don't ever put this in your mouth or, you know, the worst could happen. So that's a little clue as to what the song's about.

WHITE: (Singing) Ice, water drink it down till it's gone. I saw her drink it down till it's gone. Oh, well, there's always a second time around. So bitter in my heart and in my mouth. She's a quitter. But I guess we're both quitters now. Oh well, there's always a second time around. It was hard to breathe when she was holding. And now she's gone and I can get no air. Those old butterflies, I guess they haven't died because they're eating me alive in there. Please, black leaf, show me where you took my love. Please, hurry. This whole world, it ain't enough. Oh, well, there's always a second time around.


SIMON: That's a beautiful (unintelligible). John Paul White live here at the Lyric Theatre in Birmingham. I've been told your father loved Slim Whitman and taught you how to yodel.

WHITE: He did. My dad would never sing in front of anyone else on Earth but us. And he always was kind of comical. But it was always Slim Whitman or Eddy Arnold, "Cattle Call," things like that. So I picked it up from my dad.

SIMON: Oh, come on, just a little.

WHITE: Little?

SIMON: Yeah, please.

WHITE: All right. (Singing) I remember you.

SIMON: That's beautiful.


WHITE: Oh, God.

SIMON: I'd love to hear another song.

WHITE: I'd love to play for you another song - a beautiful place like this.


WHITE: (Singing) Someone's going to hold your hand and everything will click. He'll touch you in some in unknown way that finally does the trick, pull you in a fairytale where you meant to be. Someone, but someone won't be me. Someone's out there praying for the day that you walk in. Your happy ever after can finally begin. Someone who will stop at nothing to give you all you need. Someone, someone won't be me. And that's OK. I never really loved you anyway, at least not unconditionally like subjects love the once and future queen. If I thought I was good for you, if I thought there this could work good, I'd reach a little higher and pull you back to earth. But the man you're really looking for, want in all your dreams, someone, that someone won't be me. And that's OK. You never really loved me anyway not enough to meet me half the way. Oh, love is something you could only take.


SIMON: John Paul White, thanks to you my friend and all our guests here in Birmingham, Ala., the Lyric Theatre, our great crew, our colleagues at WBHM. And remember, there is no great show without a great audience. Thank you so much for being with us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.