He’s just released his 14th studio album, called “Thrum,” and he’s also produced records for a lot of amazing musicians, including Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, Ani DiFranco, and Allen Toussaint. He’s co-written songs with Roseanne Cash and with Madonna — who happens to be his sister-in-law. Joe and I spoke by phone — I was here in Louisville, and he was in Los Angeles.
On a guitar strap he inherited from a dear friend, Greg Peters:
“I didn’t understand at the time [in high school], as I do now, that he was already living his senior years. He died at 25 from a disease called scleroderma. And he turned out to be a wildly significant character in my life, and he remains one. I would say no one, other than my brother Dave, was as influential to my formation as Greg was, in the way that he continued to give me things to read, listen to, to study, that he somehow knew was important to my journey.”
On the Revere coffeepot that belonged to his wife’s beloved grandmother:
“I don’t use it a lot. I see it every day. I have a habit of on Easter Sunday morning, I will make a big percolator in this pot, mostly just for the activity. I stand there, watch it perk over the stove, just like I stand around a fire. It’s a gathering place more than anything else. I take it out with purpose whenever I take it out — it’s always a decision to go retrieve it, and decide to make a big pot of coffee with it, because it means people are coming over. “
On a book of William Carlos Williams poetry that his brother Dave gave him:
“I have a lot of books and records in my house that have my brother’s name written in blue ballpoint pen in the front of them. I’m almost embarrassed. I still will loan my son Levon a book, and he’ll take it back to Brooklyn and say, ‘Hey, you know, Uncle Dave’s name’s in the front of this one, too,’ and I go, ‘Yeah, I know.’
“Dave handing me William Carlos Williams at a point when I needed to be exposed to William Carlos Williams was important. It was the first time I had picked up a book, really, and felt like it wasn’t just something to read and compute and put away. It was something you kept close, that you would keep referring to. It was a book I would just carry around, even if I never opened it. It was just something for a while that I thought I was supposed to have on me.”