Jack Grelle Steers His Conversion Van to the Honky-Tonk

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There’s no question Jack Grelle is a honky-tonk kind of guy. With a dry, lyrical wit and a penchant for steel guitar, Grelle (pronounced Grell-ee) is about to load up the van to promote his third album, Steering Me Away. But first he’ll play a hometown record release show on Friday night (Oct. 10) at Off Broadway in St. Louis.

Read about the unusual inspiration for the album’s lead track, “Four Doors,” then check out the tune below the Q&A.

CMT Edge: What was going through your mind when you wrote “Four Doors”?

Grelle: I had bought a ’95 GMC Vandura conversion van and had been telling people I was a homeowner due to the size and sleeping capabilities. My buddy Paul Weber [of the Hooten Hallers], who played harmonica on the record, came to me shortly after and says, “You should write a ‘Swinging Doors’-style tune about your van! Call it ‘Four Doors’!”

I thought that’d make a good honky-tonk tune, so I wrote the first half later that week. I called Paul to tell him the lyrics, and he immediately sends me a text back with a second verse as well as the closing line to the chorus. I wrote a third verse and brought it to the band that week. Probably one of the easiest songs I’ve written. I owe Paul Weber a thank you for that, and I guess modern technology.

The phrase “steering me away” is a big part of this song — and ended up being the title of the album. What is it about that term that seemed to fit this record as a whole?

I often tell people that I write three kinds of songs — road songs, love songs and heartache songs. “Four Doors” kinda turned out to be all three. I wanted the title of the record to be a lyric from one of the songs that was relevant to the rest of the album. Steering Me Away seemed appropriate. My van has become my second and sometimes first home. This record will pretty much be distributed out of the back of it, too … so I was set on keeping a van theme.

You gotta love the steel playing here. What does that instrument bring out in your style of music, do you think?

Tom Heath did an excellent job on this record. The pedal steel is a delicate instrument that is not only a distinctive sound in country and honky-tonk music but is able to convey a lot of emotion through the simplest melodies. I’m writing and singing songs where I pour my heart out. The steel guitar helps convey those feelings and can hit you right in the gut.

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