By Peter Vankevich
To listen to the song, Southland , plus a discussion on how it was recorded, scroll to the bottom of article.
Invited by Ocracoke Alive President Dave Tweedie, to perform at the Ocrafolk Opry at the Deepwater Theater in the summer of 2014, Todd Hoke showed up on the island with “Mrs. Hoke” and his wingman, harmonica player, Rich Brock.
“We really came for rest and relaxation and enjoy the island and have a good time, and we’ve nailed it,” he said.
Originally from Conroe, just north of Houston, Texas, he described his youth as growing up in the swampy heat and humidity. He got a guitar when he was a senior in high school in 1988.
“I learned three chords C, F and G, which got me through most songs–at least enough to fake my way,” he said with a grin. His songwriting inspiration came from watching Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard perform the song Pancho and Lefty when he was a teenager. A couple years later he got to see the composer of that song, Townes Van Zandt, who was touring as the opening act for the Cowboy Junkies, perform it solo.
Hoke was blown away watching just a guy and a guitar.
“He was so powerful and present, and I was young enough and dumb enough to think, ‘Hell, I could do that,’” he said with a laugh. “I don’t know if I ever cozied up to Townes Van Zandt territory, but it’s been a lot of fun trying.”
Those who have listened to his albums might argue that he certainly has. Hoke’s songs cover a variety of life’s joys, trials and tribulations with clever lyrics that can often stand alone as poetry.
When he first started songwriting, he said words came first.
“I had done more writing than playing,” he said. “I’ve got a fertile imagination and some things I come up with can turn into a song.”
But these days, more and more, he starts with a melody.
“I think it was Duke Ellington who said the mark of a really good song is that after you hear it, you can hum a piece of it,” he said.
After living in Austin for a dozen years or so, he moved with Mrs. Hoke (this is how he refers to his wife, Meg Harris Hoke) to Hendersonville, just south of Asheville where he has lived for the last 10 years.
Hoke is a funny person, and it was easy to start laughing with him in a very short time.
Describing a concert he had recently performed in New Bern, he put it this way: “It was intimate. I was on a tiny little stage which felt like I was doing a concert from the backseat of a Mini Cooper,” he said.
On his website, he has lots of off-beat observations including this one: He has never been in a bar fight, but he has provided music for one.
In addition to Townes Van Zandt, other artists who have inspired him include Leon Redbone, Guy Clark, Tom Waits and Louis Armstrong.
His recorded albums are:
Heading West on Ten, described as songs about West Texas, late-night conversations with border town prophets, and idyllic summer evenings
The Turning of the Wheel is described as: A batch of songs that stretch across a wide range of moods, sounds and topics. There’s a toe-tapping grin for spring’s arrival and a slump-shouldered sigh as autumn fades into winter. There’s a leisurely stroll down Main Street in Mayberry (attention Andy Griffith Show fans) and a brassy sashay down bar-lined Sixth Street in Austin, Texas. There’s a piano lounge jumper for love of a “genuine” woman, and a back alley howl for a gambler on his way
Southland: Acoustical. Bluesyfied. Folksyish. Whimsytinged. Countryfried. Songs laid down in the South, but–like kudzu and Wal-Mart–creeping beyond the land of sweet tea and collards.
All of the royalties from his albums support a charity called Feeding America, which works across the US with hunger issues. They work with food banks and try to get food for the hungry rather than in a landfill.
You can learn more about their work to end hunger in the United States at www.feedingamerica.org.
Todd is looking forward to his next performance on Ocracoke. To contact him, go to his website: http://www.toddhoke.com/.
To listen to Southland:
About the recording of Southland: