Drummer/producer Scott “Cactus” Moser, who anchors the Big Noise, the country band that’s currently on the road with his wife, country singer Wynonna Judd, has fond memories of watching Judd do soundcheck back in the 1990s.
At the time, Moser played in the country act Highway 101. The two would eventually date and then marry in 2012; they’re currently on a Songs and Stories tour that brings them to Hard Rock Live on Feb. 4.
Back in his Highway 101 days, Moser was struck by how great her voice sounded during rehearsals, when she would improvise and show off her vocal range.
“I thought that was one of the most amazing voices,” recalls Moser in a recent conference call with Judd on the line as well. “She would play with the songs a lot more during sound check. I would say, ‘That girl can sing amazing things we don’t even get to hear.’ She can sing anything. When you get to working together, it’s always fun. It’s a gift for me to produce a record and then work with the person.”
“I waited 30 years for this man,” says Judd, adding that they collaborate particularly well together. “I loved him since I was 20 when we toured together in the ’80s. He’s the head, and I’m the heart.”
Not that it’s all been peaches and cream. The two have experienced their share of hardships. Three months into their marriage, Moser crashed his motorcycle and had to have his leg amputated.
“We went from the marriage bed to a medical facility,” says Judd. “Our bedroom became cotton and alcohol swabs. It was standing in the shower while he needed me to hold him up. When you go through crap like that, it bonds you or breaks you. I watched him go from not being able to hold a drumstick in his left hand to playing like he does on stage. I have a respect for him and an appreciation for his life that you can’t get in any other way. Until you’ve had a near-death experience, you take so much for granted. You don’t get that kind of joy and celebration without going through this crap that we’ve been through. We’re Ricky [Ricardo] and Lucille [Ball]. We have the best time. We laugh and fight and argue but we resolve it, which is something I can say I haven’t done much in the past because I’m an Alpha.”
Particularly proud of their new album, Wynonna & the Big Noise
, Judd and Moser say they intended to make something that sounded modern yet vintage at the same time.
“When you’re working with an artist, you make all these great tracks and record the music and then you have to do vocals,” Moser explains. “We have done that in the past. With this record, we made this one basically live. That’s what we got. We wanted modern-day stuff that references Frank Sinatra and Hank Williams and those people who just played.”
The album certainly be classified country, but other musical styles are represented as well.
“When we [started to make the album], I feel like it’s a process,” Judd says. “I go through this process. It’s like opening the heavens and I say, ‘Ok, God. Let me know what you want to do. I want to your blessing.’ I get songs that come in the most unusual of ways.”
One day, before sessions for the album had started, she and Moser were riding in the car, and Moser put the Poco song “I Can See Everything” on the radio and blasted the tune at full volume.
“And he was singing and playing every part,” says Judd. “It was so obnoxious. I looked out the window for the a few minutes. He was singing every vocal part. He’s playing the drums and playing the guitar. I just looked at him like he was so full of himself. That song kept ringing in my head. Next thing we know, we’re playing that song [in the studio] and I love it. Next thing, we had [Poco's] Timothy [B Schmit] singing on it. I thought there was no way. Every song happened in a very unique way. It was very authentic. They’re all parts of my history from when I was 15, listening to Jimmie and Stevie Ray [Vaughan] in the kitchen to hanging out with Bonnie Raitt at 16. These songs are every bit honest and part of the background of my life story.”
Moser agrees there are “a lot of varied things” on the album.
“What we decided to do was literally make a great, honest heartfelt record of music we loved as opposed to pre-marketing and pre-thinking it,” he says. “We didn’t want to pre-think what the singles would be. It usually costs you. You out-think yourself. She and I would talk. We were conversing about where to go musically at this point in life.”
He says that instead of seeking out the hot Nashville songwriters, he and Judd tried to find songwriters who were “off the beaten path.” As a result, they ended up collaborating with guys like alt-country singer-songwriter Jason Isbell.
“Most publishers are pitching stuff you hear on the radio,” Moser explains. “I started calling my friends who were writers. I knew guys and girls who would resonate from the same place as where our stuff was coming from. I was panicking that I needed to get to all these publishers. They gave us the stuff we need. People will believe Wy, and she can emote these words because they come from a different place.”
Despite the many collaborators who contributed to the album, Judd says she and Moser sought to make it sound “cohesive.”
“When you get a Bonnie Raitt record, you listen from first song to last song and there is this flow,” she says. “We went for the whole. Nowadays, we’re so singles driven, it scares me and makes me uncomfortable as an artist. I love the idea of a movie with a beginning and middle and end. We did this live. There are so many tracked vocals on there that I could have changed very quickly. But Cactus said, ‘No. This is honesty.’ ‘Things I Lean On’ is so tender and from the heart. ‘Keeps Me Alive’ is like I’m 18 years old and back in Appalachia, and I member the smell of snow in the air. For Jason Isbell to come down to our shed and sit there in his ballcap and just sing like we’re neighbors was exactly what we went for. We wanted it to be as personal as it could be. And we wanted it to sound like it was outside the music business.”
A killer blues track co-written by up-and-coming country singer Chris Stapleton, “Ain’t No Thing” features some grunge-y guitar riffs. It pairs Judd’s soulful vocals with raspy-voiced Susan Tedeschi.
“Susan Tedeschi is such a perfect match for Wy to sing with,” says Moser when asked about the song. “And [guitarist] Derek [Trucks, who plays on ‘Keeps Me Alive,’] is the probably finest living soloists and the guys in the Big Noise are like a family band to us. I’ve known a lot of them, and Wy has known a lot of them. These were the only people that it made any sense to bring in.”
Judd has so many great songs in her back catalog, it’s gotta be difficult to find a way to play both the classics and the new tracks.
“This is what I’ve decided as a 37-year veteran of being on stage,” says Judd. “I should be up there doing ‘Only Love’ and some of that stuff. Here’s what I’ve done. I’ve gone in and picked a few of those. ‘She is His Only Need’ is important because it was a marking of my solo career. It was my first single that went to No. 1. I mark the show with those moments. Those are important to me as an artist and vocalist.”
But she says the new songs are “so full of life” that she has to give them their due.
“They’re like living waters, quenching the thirst of the fans,” she says. “There might be a guy who hasn’t seen me before. They don’t know any better. It’s great. Then, there’s the fan who’s been with me who’s bringing her daughter. She’s going to get to hear the classics and the present and the future because there are a couple of things that I do that very off the beaten path. There’s nothing missing in terms of that. People do want the hits, and I get that, but this music is so resonating with the people that I think it’s interesting. When I was on Twitter, [fans] weren’t saying they wanted to hear this song from 19whatever. They’re so loving the new music. It’s almost as if everything I’ve done has led me to the place where I am today.”
Wynonna & the Big Noise: Stories & Song, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 4, Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park, 10777 Northfield Rd., Northfield, 330-908-7625. Tickets: $29.50-$57.50, hrrocksinonorthfieldpark.com.