Six years of writing, 10 albums of original music. Six of those albums have debuted in the last two years. It's a dizzying pace that makes the Energizer Bunny look like a three-toed sloth after a Tylenol P.M. It's also the sort of songwriting speed that makes claims like this possible: Joe Purdy is the most prolific songwriter you have never heard of.
Inspiration has never been a problem for Purdy because no detail is lost on him. He makes you think he's walking around with a pair of 8mm cameras behind his eyes because he has a story about everything. He launches into one about the Scottish castle that served as his recording studio for his upcoming 10th release, Last Clock on the Wall. Roughly 15 minutes later he's laid out a narrative that includes a brief history of the grounds that would fit in a Scottish historical society brochure, as well the tale of his adventuresome search for new rooms that uncovered a lounge area with a dart board and, below that, a full-on saloon. “Complete with overturned glasses hanging upside down over the bar, an upright piano, tables all set up and photos from 150 years ago,” Purdy recalls.
“I was like a kid on a treasure hunt,” he adds. “Over here, 50 years ago we consider history. Overseas, you could treasure hunt for a while.”
His favorite discovery in the castle: A wood-working room with dusty, idle tools and an unfinished armoire.
“There was sawdust still on the floor,” Purdy says. “It was like they'd just picked up and left. I half expected to see a still-burning cigar.”
Purdy loves searching for those sort of vignettes that set his mind spinning, whether in a Scottish castle or along America's highways, heading from his Hollywood house to his family's home back in Arkansas.
“I would be just as taken by the Colliseum or the Eiffel Tower just like everyone else. It's beautiful. You stand under it and it's just massive,” Purdy says. “But then there are these old roads, like Highway 66, and you see a shack in the middle of nowhere, but it's got a recliner out in front. Or there's a stretch of old railroad cars that someone just left on the track. Or there's a half-finished well that someone was trying to dig. I could sit and watch the sunset there and be just as stoked as if I was sitting on top of the pyramids.”
It's the observation of those little things that really set Purdy thinking, and in turn writing. And once he starts, he's hard to stop.
Purdy entered the Last Clock on the Wall sessions with “three or four” songs in hand — he wrote nearly 10 more in the six days he spent at the castle. It's not the first time, he's written and recorded that quickly. Julie Blue — his fourth album — took him just four days.
“I don't know why it comes so quick, but it does and I like it,” says Purdy, who doesn't write down any of his lyrics, he just records them. “As long as I don't have to force it, then I'll do it again. I don't want to put s— out there or have to look for something to care about, but right now I can't see a time when that desire would go away.”
Most recently, that desire spawned album No. 9. The 10-song Take My Blanket and Go spans his songwriting spectrum from the regretful-yet-rowdy “San Jose” to the downtrodden ballad “Good Days.” The latter is best served with a fifth of scotch behind drawn blinds.
To this point, Purdy's rapid and recurrent recording method has worked wonderfully, even if it has cost him the support of record companies who would prefer him to slow his torrid pace and sign up with them. Not a fan of the industry to begin with, Purdy has been able to pass on the “helping hand” of the music industry because he's been able to achieve plenty of success independently.
He's placed a number of songs on hit TV shows “Lost,” “Grey's Anatomy” and “House, M.D.,” which has subsequently paid for Purdy's ceaseless string of studio time. Most recently, his tune “Can't Get It Right Today,” was featured in a Kia commerical. The ensuing exposure pushed his albums You Can Tell Georgia, Paris in the Morning, Last Clock on the Wall, Canyon Joe and Julie Blue onto the iTunes charts the Monday after the Super Bowl. The recent boost is starting to lift him out of the aforementioned anonymity and into the spotlight.
“Truth is, I'd do it for free, just to get the exposure,” Purdy says about his prime-time song placements. It's doubtful he'll be turning away those paychecks — roughly $20,000 a song for a show like “Grey's” — any time soon though. After all, how else is he supposed to pay for album No. 11, tentatively titled Burn Down Alaska, which he has already written.
First thing's first though, Last Clock on the Wall will be available this spring, and also on the horizon is a DVD and live album from his December two-night stint in London. Those two releases will have to tide over fans until Purdy starts work on his next 10 albums … even if the wait is only about six months.
• For more on Joe Purdy, visit www.joepurdy.com.