Tom Russell sings of life from Hollywood to Mexico

Thu Jan 19, 2012 9:02am EST
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By Angus MacSwan

LONDON (Reuters) - Texas-based singer Tom Russell has led a picaresque life, from teaching criminology in war-torn Nigeria to playing strip joints in Vancouver's red-light district.

He's lived in Spain and Norway, written songs for Johnny Cash, driven a cab and followed bullfighters in Mexico.

Such experiences have given him plenty to write about in his wry, witty songs that reference figures from British writer Graham Greene to Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa.

"My career has gone backwards to most people. I didn't come out of a box with my best-selling records and live off that for the rest of my life," Russell told Reuters in an interview in London. "I feel I'm in great shape to write a lot more."

With his rangy frame, sonorous voice and Stetson, he looks like he would be right at home in a cowboy saloon.

But despite his genial demeanor, death often lurks in his songs. He's lived for the past 15 years in the Texan border town of El Paso.

"From near my house we can see Juarez. The most dangerous city in the world. Right across the border is the frontline of the Mexican drugs war."

The border violence is one theme of Russell's latest recording, "Mesabi," which he is showcasing on a string of dates across Europe this spring. It also deals with Hollywood, fame and falls from grace.   Continued...