The mix of wordplay and that haunting voice on Servant Of Love is breathtaking. Were you a gifted English student? I liked reading and loved writing songs; my mother was a teacher and I fell in love with poetry. I spent a lot of time in the library [laughs].
You got an early break in the coffee houses of Boston. Could that happen today?
I don’t know, the business has become so chaotic. But I will say that younger artists coming up are much more in tune with being able to entertain an audience. There’s some really good, good people out there, a big pool of young talent.
Rock stars such as Steven Tyler and Bret Michaels are moving to Nashville to make country albums. Is that good for country music or do you doubt their motives?
I can’t really judge other entertainers. I ended up in Nashville in 1994 because my manager thought I had a twang in my voice. He was right, it worked for me. It’s certainly become more of a hype-driven town than it was when I arrived.
In 2010 you were a backing singer for Robert Plant’s Band Of Joy. What did that year teach you about yourself?
That I really like to be behind the scenes. Leaping into such a steep learning curve also made me a much better guitar player.
Do you think there will be another Band Of Joy album?
I’ve no idea, that isn’t up to me. Do I hope there will be one? Oh, I don’t know.
Your songs have been covered by Joan Baez, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Jeff Beck with Kelly Clarkson. Who else would suit one of your compositions?
If Mavis Staples did a song of mine then I would no longer have a reason to live. DL
Dates begin in Gateshead on January 15.