turned 64 earlier this year, but the South Carolina-born rocker shows no sign of slowing down. She’s just released her 13th album, “Blaze of Glory” and reviewers are calling it one of the finest of her more-than-40-year career.
“Blaze of Glory” isn’t just the title track to Chapman’s latest CD, it’s a premonition she once had. Living the hard life of a rock-and-roller, Chapman never figured she’d live past 40. But at 39, after years of a stereotypical rock-and-roll lifestyle, she checked herself into rehab. And now, at an age when many performers start thinking about slowing down, Chapman is doing just the opposite.
Since graduating from Vanderbilt University in 1971, she he has supported herself not only as a performer, but as a songwriter. Many other acts have recorded her songs, including John Hiatt, Wynonna Judd, Jimmy Buffett and the band Sawyer Brown…yet she’s never had a huge hit of her own.
That doesn’t mean, however, that Chapman’s not successful. In the past few years, the 1.8-meter-tall Nashville resident has released two albums to glowing reviews from critics around the world, while also acting and writing prose. You may have seen her playing Gwyneth Paltrow’s road manager in the hit movie “Country Strong.” Or on the current TV show “Nashville.” Chapman co-wrote the songs for an off-Broadway musical called “Good Ol’ Girls” and has published two books, including an autobiography. In it, she tells how she grew up in a wealthy family in Spartanburg, South Carolina and then defied her family’s expectations by becoming a rock-and-roll musician.
Chapman dates the roots of her rebellion to 1956, when the family maid took her downtown to see Elvis Presley perform.
“My parents were out of town and we just took the city bus down there. They had matinee shows back then. He was on a Country package tour with The Louvin Brothers and The Carter Sisters and Justin Tubb," she said. "I think when that deal was signed, he wasn’t quite 'Elvis' yet, but by the time he got to Spartanburg he was Elvis and he was definitely closing the show. This was, of course, during segregation and I was in the balcony with the blacks. This little tow-headed [blonde] seven-year-old child. So that started it. They measure time BC and AD. I measure time BE and AE.”
The opening track on "Blaze of Glory" harkens back to those early days of rock. “Love In The Wind” is a duet with Todd Snider that almost didn’t happen.
Chapman’s original vision for “Love In The Wind” had alternative-Country singer-songwriter Todd Snider singing harmony with her. But that idea blew up the minute Snider walked into the studio.
“Todd walks in and the first thing he says is ‘I don’t sing harmony.’ So, I had to rethink this and get loose," Chapman said. "And we went on the ‘Todd plan.’ It sort of became more of a call and response, which actually is probably better than what I had in mind. And that often happens in the studio. And now it sounds really cool the way it is, because you don’t know when he’s coming in. And I love it.”
When we spoke, Chapman was on her way back to Nashville after a show at Spartanburg’s Chapman Cultural Center, named for her arts-supporting family. The show was a fundraiser for arts education and took place just a few days after the singer was inducted into the Spartanburg Music Trail
- an open-air hall of fame for musicians in her hometown.
There are nine original songs on “Blaze of Glory” along with two interesting covers: Hoagy Carmichael’s standard “The Nearness of You,” and this jazzy update of the Delmore Brothers’ Country classic “Blues Stay Away From Me.”