By Chris M. Junior
Aging gracefully in rock ’n’ roll isn’t easy. But Nick Lowe has found a way, and that wasn’t lost on the veteran musicians who were part of the South by Southwest panel “Lowe Common Denominator” on March 13 at the Austin Convention Center.
“He’s done this beautiful thing, you know – created this almost whole new image,” singer/songwriter Ron Sexsmith said.
“He’s definitely figured out a way to age gracefully a lot more than I have,” added longtime R.E.M. sideman Scott McCaughey, prompting laughs from the audience. “He’s doing these really classy [albums]. They're fantastically produced records, even though they seem fairly live. They sound like guys in the back room of a pub recording, which I think they actually have done. But there’s still the sense of self-deprecation and humor that Nick has always had in his music.” To illustrate his point, McCaughey, armed with an acoustic guitar, performed Lowe’s “Lately I’ve Let Things Slide,” which can be found on the 2001 album “The Convincer.”
McCaughey wasn’t the only panelist who performed. The acoustic was passed around to the other musicians, too: Sexsmith sang a song from “The Impossible Bird,” his favorite Lowe album; Chris Stamey (who admitted that in the early days of The dB’s, “we just stole everything we could from Nick Lowe”) tackled “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass”; and Kathy Valentine of the Go-Go’s did “Heart of the City.”
“I feel like I owe Nick my entire career,” Valentine said. “When I started playing music in Austin, I wanted to be a guitar player. In Austin, Texas, you don’t even touch a guitar unless you have a certain understanding about a standard of tone and soul. That was kind of what I took to L.A. with me. … When I was approached to be a bass player in The Go-Go’s, that was not my vision of what I was gonna [do] with my life. I was going to be one of those Texas guitar greats. I really owe it to Nick, because if it wasn’t for Nick Lowe, I don’t think I would have ever had a context for how you could be a really f---ing cool bass player [and] songwriter, and just be such a personality.”