For Emmylou Harris, it's all about making music


LENOX — Singer-songwriter Emmylou Harris has been great almost since the day she picked up a guitar.

No these are not the overhyped musings of a folkie fanboy. Let us, as they say, check the record.

Harris, who will performing at Tanglewood Saturday evening with John Cougar Mellencamp, will be observing her 50th year as a professional musician, having begun her career as a singer in coffeehouses in Greenwich Village in 1967. In that span, she has been nominated for 48 Grammys, winning 12. Those nominations, by the way, were in country, folk, pop and Americana. She has been nominated for 24 Country Music Awards, winning three; and 12 Academy of Country Music Awards, winning two.

Harris is a perfect five-for-five when she is nominated for an International Bluegrass Award, with wins in 2001, 2002 and 2003 and two awards in 2004. She has been nominates for five Americana Music Awards, winning four.

That's 94 nominations, 27 awards.

"The thing is, when you're making these records, you don't really worry too much about the genre," she said in a phone interview. "You make the record you want to make and hope people like it.

"Lately, 'they,' you know, whoever 'they' are, are putting what I do in this 'Americana' category.

"But I think it all comes from the well of country music," she said. "The irony is that when I started out, I didn't want to have anything to do with country music. Except for Johnny Cash, who I loved, I didn't listen to country. I was a folksinger to start out."

Her epiphany, said Harris, was the first time she heard folk icon Joan Baez when she was a young woman in the 1960s.

"I had never heard a voice like that in my life," she said. "I had never heard anything so beautiful. And from there, I started listening to Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary, and of course Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger."

But for a long while, said Harris, it was mostly a hobby.

"I didn't see [playing music] as a way of making my career," she said. "I wanted to be an actress.

"But [playing music] just started to happen.

"I remember once someone saying that if you know three chords, you can be a folk musician," said Harris. "And I thought, 'That's probably true.' Hell, I'm still doing that!"

The Tanglewood show this weekend will feature Harris playing a solo set, a set with old friend Carlene Carter and several songs with Mellencamp.

"Yeah, we'll be doing the show in a bunch of different combinations," she said. "I think it's more fun that way. It becomes a more organic show. We'll be popping in and out."

And, of course, Harris has been a visitor to the Berkshires several times.

"Well, you join a band, and if you're any good, you go all over the country, and all over the world," said Harris. "Join a band and see the world. I guess it's kind of like joining the Navy."

Reach staff writer Derek Gentile at 413-629-4621.


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