Nashville songwriter, author and educator Jerry Vandiver recently released True And Deep – Songs for the Heart of the Paddler, an album of canoe country inspired songs. After getting a copy of the album, I was instantly hooked. The songs capture the spirit of a canoe trip in the northwoods and the arrangement takes you on a journey that includes the excitement of canoeing a whitewater river on More Than A River to connecting with the ancient history in The Spirit Of Fishdance Lake. Catchy and humorous songs like Rock And Roots, Too Tired To Start A Fire and Camp Coffee will have you humming the day away while dreaming about your next trip. The last three songs on the album, Wabakimi, The Morning Fog Has Lifted and True and Deep are exactly the songs you want someone to play while you sit around a fire watching the seas of stars drift by.
Jerry has lots of songwriting credits to his name; his songs have been recorded by artists such as Tim McGraw, Phil Vassar, Lonestar, Barbara Mandrell, Lee Greenwood and The Oak Ridge Boys to name a few. His songs appear on over 15 million records, and two of those albums are included in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
We recently caught up with Jerry and asked him a few questions about his music and canoeing.
PaddlingLight: How would you categorize your music? I hear a little country and folk.
Jerry: It is a mixture of a little bit of country, folk — the hip term these days is “Americana.” On True And Deep it is all acoustic with even a touch of bluegrass here and there.
PaddlingLight: What was the main inspiration for this album?
Jerry: They say “write what you know” in songwriting circles and over the years a paddle song would come to me, and I’d answer that call and then just pocket it away somewhere — I never thought Reba McEntire would be interested in a song about paddling. I eventually found myself with five of them and thought it would be fun to put a project together that combined my two passions, songwriting and paddling. It has been exceedingly rewarding to my creative side.
PaddlingLight: Oatmeal, pancakes or fry bread for the perfect canoe camp breakfast?
Jerry: Oh, great question, but you left out fresh eggs! I take in half a dozen eggs, a package of pre-cooked bacon and there’s nothing better in the morning. Then pancakes definitely take over later in the trip with as close to real maple syrup that I can find in a plastic container. And don’t forget the camp coffee.
PaddlingLight: What was your second most favorite canoe trip?
Jerry: Okay, second favorite was a solo trip to Fishdance Lake at the Lake One entry point. On my day trip to the pictographs at Fishdance I started to face a stiff headwind, but it immediately died down and I almost drifted to the rocks there. I had an eerie feeling I was being watched there. Even turned around to look several times. That experience turned into the song The Spirit of Fishdance Lake. The reason why this is my second favorite is that my first favorite trip was when I got married at the Mudro entry point off the Echo Trail. We had a reception at the Chainsaw Sisters Saloon, put a just married sign on the canoe and paddled off for a Boundary Waters honeymoon.
PaddlingLight: How many times have you swam when running rapids?
Jerry: More times than I can count. Especially in the streams here in Tennessee. I’ve finally learned that scouting rapids is a good thing
PaddlingLight: The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness or Wabakimi Provincial Park? Why?
Jerry: Actually, I’d have to throw Quetico and Woodland Caribou into the mix as well. I love Wabakimi and Woodland Caribou because they are so remote. But even in the midst of the busiest part of the paddling season, I truly believe there isn’t a place more beautiful than the birches and lakes of the Boundary Waters.
PaddlingLight: It really seems to me that you captured the spirit of a wilderness canoetrip. The songs have that humor that only comes after a long and brutal day, the peace of a mirror smooth lake and a connection to the past and the area’s culture. How do you pull that off — especially living in Nashville?
Jerry: I’m glad you heard the humor. I have to laugh at myself often in the middle of a rough portage or a wet night in the tent. I’ve been an avid canoeist here in Tennessee for years. There are a lot of beautiful streams here and nearby in the Ozarks, but they are only good for a couple of nights camping and paddling. About 20 years ago a hiking buddy of mine decided to take me to the Boundary Waters. I was hooked. I came home, bought a Mad River Explorer, packs and haven’t stopped since. Since I’m 19 hours away from Grand Marais or Ely, I try to do multiple trips on one drive. I’ll meet a friend and paddle somewhere off the Echo Trail, then head up the Gunflint for a solo. Maybe play a little show somewhere, then go in again. Those 19 hours don’t seem so bad then.
PaddlingLight: We want more. When is the next canoe inspired album coming out?
Jerry: Hah! Funny you should ask. Even though this one is fresh off the press, I do have some lingering ideas for some more songs. We’ll have to see. If I get lucky and break even on this project, you never know when a Volume II might show up on your paddle someday! I’ll definitely keep you posted.