10 tracks: Jeb Loy Nichols

The troubadour picks the cuts that inspired his upcoming album

Schooled on both the Muscle Shoals sound and Sex Pistols as a teenager in Missouri, Jeb Loy Nichols arrived in London having gotten into hip-hop at art school in New York in the 1970s.

Your record has got to sound like all the mistakes that only you can make

He received another musical education living in a squat with Adrian Sherwood in the early 1980s, inspiring him to form country dub band Fellow Travellers with On-U Sound’s Martin Harrison. “It’s all a road,” he says of his musical border-jumping, “One connecting to the other, all of them intersecting and crossing over.”

He has released 11 LPs, mixing soul, country and reggae, and opened ears to white southern-soul singers like Larry Jon Wilson and Travis Wammack with the Country Got Soul compilations. He has published a book of his artwork, a novel and a paperback of poetry about his friendship with Larry Jon Wilson. He lives deep in the Welsh hills and “continues to write, produce art, make music, and plant trees”. The latest results will be released this March on the LP Country Hustle.


Ali Farka Toure and Ry Cooder - Bonde

I wrote ‘Come See Me’ [off Country Hustle] after listening to the Stanley Brothers sing ‘Tis Sweet To Be Remembered’. That’s the way I sang it for a while, like an old country song, until one day, while driving through the hills where I live, listening to ‘Bonde’, I started to sing it in a different way. Songs have a life of their own and you never know where they’re going to end up.

James Brown - Take Some, Leave Some

I listened to ‘The Payback’ a lot while making Country Hustle. I knew the kind of record I didn’t want to make: a sing/songwriter record, a country record, a dry-ass retro Americana record. I wanted to do what James Brown had done. Make a record that was dirty, that was funky, that was southern, that was about the way we live now.

Donnie Fritts - Sumpin’ Funky Going On

Donnie Fritts told me, when I was making Country Hustle, you got to make the record that only you can make. That only you can sing. That only you can write. It has got to sound like all the mistakes that only you can make.

Larry Jon Wilson – The Life of a Good Man

I wrote ‘Till the Teardrops Stop’ [Country Hustle] for Larry Jon. Larry Jon was, and is, a huge inspiration to me. Southern funkster, poet, myth-maker, story teller, shape shifter; the most maddening, gentle, exasperating and fascinating man I ever met.

William Bell - Man in the Street

I once had a friend that, when something strange or sad or unexplainable happened, would shake his head and say, ‘that’s how we’re living’. It’s a sentence I’ve always loved, and it was the first song I wrote for Country Hustle. I’m sure that in the back of my mind I was remembering the chorus of ‘Man in the Street’.

Cornell Campbell – Give the Little Man a Great Big Hand

Always one of my favourite singers, this is one of my favourite of his singles. A take on a William DeVaughn song, it was very much in my mind when I wrote ‘Long Live the Loser’. I was also thinking of Archie Shepp’s For Losers and Bobby Bare’s The Winner And Other Losers.

Erykah Badu - The Healer

I was 17 when I arrived in New York in 1979. The first thing I ever recorded was a mercifully unreleased rap song called ‘I’m A Country Boy’. For most of my life hip hop has been the soundtrack, both good and bad.

Sweet Charles – Hang Out And Hustle

I wanted Country Hustle to feel like ‘Hang Out and Hustle’. A party, a blues dance, an all-night disco, a country gathering. I wanted it loud and not always perfect, sometimes out of line, sometimes raucous, sometimes beautiful, sometimes familiar, sometimes strange. I wanted the neighbours to tell us to shut up. I wanted to wake the town.

Kendrick Lamar – King Kunta

How exciting is this track. I played this constantly for weeks. I feel about it like I feel about rain or wind or snow – this is elemental music. This is music that has always existed, it’s like Hank Williams or Curtis Mayfield, it’s always been here. It’s bubbling up from the centre of the world. It’s moss, it’s rust, it’s a mountain. That’s the challenge, to make that kind of music.

Shafiq Husayn – UN Plan

I wanted Country Hustle to be everything you didn’t expect it to be. I wanted people to say, what the hell is this? I wanted it to live outside genres, outside country, outside soul, outside funk. I wanted it to be everything and nothing. Shafiq Husayn’s record Safiq’s En’ A-Free-Ka is like that. A masterpiece of the unexpected.