Alibi V.28 No.36 • Sept 5-11, 2019 

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The Tenacious Tree

On Dave Payne and Salt Cedar

Dave Payne & Salt Cedar
Dave Payne & Salt Cedar
courtesy of the artist

It’s the perfect name for a crew of genre-busting honky-tonk experimentalists.

Think about it: The name Dave Payne and Salt Cedar could be about the intrinsically painful nature of the artistic process mixed up with the tenacious efficiency of a tree that’s pretty much taken over the Rio Grande Basin.

The salt cedar, a woody plant of the genus Tamarix, has been super successful in New Mexico since its introduction about 100 years ago. The species has evolved to be more fire-adaptive than native plants and trees in the bosque. It’s able to use the salt in the soil to limit growth by other species in the vicinity and each salt cedar bush can produce up to 500,000 seeds each season, particularly potent bits of genetic material that can germinate within 24 hours of hitting the soil.

That’s the tree. You already know about the pain. And now here’s the band. Dave Payne and Salt Cedar is comprised of a couple members of storied Americana act The Saltine Ramblers. Payne is the heart of the band, handling the songwriting and guitar-playing duties; longtime Pherkad beat genius Cheese plays drums and bassist Cory Van Minefee, late of The Saltine Ramblers like Payne, completes the rhythm section. Dave Devlin, a for-real and notable member of the state’s bluegrass community contributes pedal steel guitar and electric guitar too.

As a unit they’ve created a singular American sound that comes out crystal clear on the band’s new eponymous recording. They’ll be hosting a hootenanny to celebrate the record’s release on Saturday, Sept. 7, up at The Mine Shaft Tavern in Madrid. Payne dropped by Weekly Alibi last Friday to tell us all about it. Here’s what he said.

Weekly Alibi: I recall that one of our music correspondents covered the release of your first album, about three years ago. How have things changed since then?

Dave Payne: Well, I didn’t really have a band back then. I was playing in The Saltine Ramblers and one of the guys moved away.

I remember you all had been playing together for some time and had developed a healthy fan base, too.

Yeah, one of us moved away; that was the only reason we would ever have broken up. With the first album, I was offered a gig and put together a band. And with new album, the difference is that this is the band I’ve been playing with for two and half years. It’s a solid line-up at this point.

Tell our readers about the new work, the CD and your upcoming performances.

These are mostly songs that I wrote. The band really brought them to life. They helped arrange the songs—they put goofy little things in there. The arrangement was very much a collaborative effort.

How does that work?

Well, whoever has ideas for little quirks within the song structure, things like that, we pay attention to to those things. It’s a bit different, the way I wrote these songs. I wrote the songs for this band. The first recording was like this: I had written all these songs on my guitar, made them in my shed. Then, I put together a studio band and we recorded them, fleshed out the songs.

So you did a lot of overdubbing?

No, it was all live. But these new songs that I’ve written for the band are a bit more honky tonk. These last couple of years, I’ve dived very deep into old country music. That has been a big influence, lately. I tell people, when they ask what kind of music we play, that it’s honky tonk and rock and roll. All together like that.

Does the music have that Texas swing? Mixing those two flavors is a traditional trajectory in parts of the West and into New Mexico.

Right, those genres are tough. It’s hard to determine how specific influence can be—and you know people have their own ideas about what they’re playing and the fact that it might sound totally different to the people who are listening.

What’s your new show like?

So we play about half songs that I’ve written and half covers that we kinda dig.

Cool.

We do a couple of old Saltine Ramblers songs. There’s one on the new album, a song by Kevin Strange called “True Story.” We kept that song because I think Kevin’s a great songwriter and I’m happy to have such an excellent tune on the album. The other covers we do, some are familiar, some are exotic. They’re just out there.

The Mine Shaft, where you’re celebrating, is out in Madrid, about 40 miles northeast of here. Has that been a good venue for you guys?

It’s fantastic. I love it.

We wanna send people up into the hills to enjoy the cool music and mountains.

I think the Mine Shaft continues to have bunch of great shows. The low watt FM station up there plays our albums for the folks to hear up there. It’s called KMRD-FM [96.9]. Kinda like Madrid, you know.

Oh, I get it now.

It’s an all-volunteer station up there. You can stream it and they’ve been very supportive of mine and the band’s work. People in Madrid have really been listening to the two albums, apparently. I’ve met a bunch of people up there, and they are very cool.

If one of those folks came up to you—but it turned out they were from another dimension or maybe even the future—and after studying you, decided to ask what exactly it is that you do, what would you tell them?

You know I would be honest and remind them that we do honky tonk and rock and roll. That we’re out to entertain ourselves—like all artists that are true to themselves. And if we’re making ourselves happy, then hopefully everyone else that hears what we’re playing and saying is happy, too, as a result of our pain and joy.

Dave Payne and Salt Cedar • CD Release Party
The Mine Shaft Tavern • 2846 NM-14, Madrid
Saturday, Sept. 7 • 8pm • $5 • 21+.