It all began with “Into the Wild.”
The 1996 Jon Krakauer book about Chris McCandless, the man who left life as he knew it and ended up in Alaska, where he ultimately died, was turned into a movie of the same title. This film is what led Jonathan Clay of the band Jamestown Revival to the writings of Louis L’Amour.
“I actually discovered Louis through going down a Chris McCandless deep dive. When Jon Krakauer’s ‘Into the Wild,’ based on a real-life story, real-life events of Chris McCandless – that movie became one of my favorite movies, and I just got really interested in what inspired Chris McCandless,” Clay said. “On the Magic Bus as they call it, where he died, on his bedside table in there was a copy of Louis L’Amour’s memoir, ‘Education of a Wandering Man.’ So I got the book and I read it and was really moved by it. It was a really interesting memoir, just Louis talking firsthand about all the jobs he’d worked and what was going through his head and his views on things.”
Clay was so moved by L’Amour’s memoir he shared it with longtime friend and bandmate Zach Chance. The two became pretty serious fans of L’Amour.
“I read it at a very influential time in my life and then I shared it with Zach. We were actually on tour, just really starting to tour with Jamestown when I discovered it. I think Zach’s grandfather was into Louis L’Amour, so maybe he’d been exposed to some of the stories earlier, but that was when we really got into him, when we both read that memoir and were very moved by it,” he said. “We ended up naming one of our songs on our first record after that memoir, ‘Wandering Man,’ eventually naming our second album completely after the title of the memoir ‘Education of a Wandering Man.’ And now we thought, ‘Let’s really do it right and let people know in no uncertain terms where we’ve been pulling a lot of this information and inspiration from.”
Clay and Chance have been making music together since they met at age 15 in their hometown of Magnolia, Texas. When they both discovered the other could sing, they began working on – and recording – a song.
“We wrote this song and recorded it – this was way before Garage Band – we recorded it on some music software that we went and bought from Best Buy for like 20 bucks. It was awful,” Clay said. “We recorded it and got a CD burner and burned it onto CDs and started selling it around high school. And that was the beginning of our burgeoning music career.”
Jamestown Revival spans genres from folk to Americana, to rock to country, and all can be seen in “Fireside with Louis L’Amour,” the six-track album that features songs based on stories in L’Amour’s “The Collected Short Stories, Volume I.” Each song corresponds chronologically with the stories in the book, so, Clay said, the first song, “Bound for El Paso,” is based on the story “Gift of Cochise,” and the rest follow. And they may not just leave it at six songs, he said.
“Our hope is to maybe do another volume and take stories seven through 15 next time, and who knows? Eventually maybe we’ll work our way through the entire first volume,” Clay said. “We wanted people to be able to easily make the connection of what story we were writing which song about.”
Clay said one of the highlights of the album – which he and Chance did on their own, without their band – was getting to visit L’Amour’s ranch near Durango. In fact, the video for “Prospector’s Blues” (based on the story “Trap of Gold”) was filmed in L’Amour’s barn and features a quick cameo of L’Amour’s son, Beau.
“You felt like you were in the shadow of a giant. Just knowing that’s where he hung out and worked on some of his stories,” Clay said. We got to know his son, Beau, pretty well. Beau has given his blessing for us to do this work and has worked with us on this. We interviewed Beau and talked to him for a long time. He talked about his dad – it was really cool to get a firsthand account of a lot of Louis’ process.”
On his end, Beau L’Amour said Jamestown Revival’s project was easy to get behind.
“I was aware of the guys for some time. I thought it was really good and so we went ahead,” he said, adding that the unique nature of the album is something his father would have appreciated because he wanted people to enjoy his work.
“I’d particularly like to see it sort of reinterpreted and see new people look at it with new eyes. I think that’s the most wonderful thing about it,” Beau L’Amour said. “I think that Dad was an entertainer, and he’d love the idea that somehow, 30 years on, people are still being entertained and still being given a chance to escape the everyday world by reading his stuff or experiencing it in any form, including Jonathan and Zach’s music.”
And for Clay, he said he and Chance felt the responsibility of carrying on L’Amour’s storytelling tradition when they recorded “Fireside.” He also hopes the album will not only entertain fans, but also transport listeners to another time and place.
“It’s carrying on the torch of tradition. So much music is so beat-heavy and it’s just all about a catchy hook, and I think it’s actually very traditional to write a song that is not about a hook but it’s about a story. And so carrying on that traditional torch I think was something that we kind of looked at it like a bit of a responsibility,” he said. “It’s that and it would be to enable people to time-travel a little bit. And maybe feel like they’re listening to an album that brings them back to a time before we had social media and email and computers everywhere. It’s also a reminder of just a time when things weren’t as easy as they are now. People had to be tough, really tough.”