Charlie Sutton
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Charlie Sutton

Portland, Oregon, United States

Portland, Oregon, United States
Band Folk Singer/Songwriter


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"Little Performer on the Prairie"

December 6, 2006
Little Performer on the Prairie (Home Companion)
Singer-songwriter Charlie Sutton on writing and singing songs

Scores of singer-songwriters dream of performing live on Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion, and joining the likes of Greg Brown, Randy Newman and Mark Knopfler. Most never make it. This October, Moscow, Idaho, musician Charlie Sutton did.
How it happened sounds almost like something out of a farce. When Northwest Public Radio announced in late August that the wildly popular radio show would broadcast live from Washington State University's Beasley Coliseum on October 7, Sutton's fiancée sent his demo recording to PHC, and told him about it later.
"I had wanted to do it but she actually got it done," Sutton said. "They responded that they'd get back to me in a few months, so I figured I didn't have a chance."
Keillor and crew arrived in Pullman a week before the Saturday show for their rehearsals, after performing in Missoula, Montana, the previous week. On Wednesday, October 4, they called Sutton and asked him to be on.
"Only having three days' notice worked out fine in the end," Sutton said. "If they'd given me a couple of weeks, I would have been a lot more nervous."
As it was, Sutton performed two easy-tempo originals, accompanying himself with harmonica and guitar on "Old Friend Levi" and "Cattail Mornings," sounding oh-so-professional with backup from PHC musicians. He played smoothly and easily, his sweet and natural voice--reminiscent of James Taylor, Jackson Browne and Sting--never betraying his nerves. Both songs were requested by the PHC crew, probably because they reflected the rural Palouse theme of the show, or maybe because they highlight Charlie's lyricism so well. Sutton and his music provided a welcome contrast to the other musical guests--over-the-top yodeler Wylie Gustafson and Montana country crooner Stephanie Davis (both were wearing cowboy boots)--along with a refreshing dose of reality. Not everybody out West lives on a ranch and sings about livestock, thank you very much.
The packed house at Beasley listened to Sutton in rapt silence, and then erupted in applause for the previously unknown local boy done good. He'd already won the audience's heart with his response to Keillor's introductory inquiry about how Moscow compares with Pullman.
"It's the better half," Sutton deadpanned, drawing half a coliseum of cheers.
"They rehearse everything but it's also off the cuff," Sutton said. "Garrison was around me all morning the day of the show but didn't look at me at all, and then, on stage, during the show, he shakes my hand and looks me right in the eye for the first time. Whoa. I think he does that to get a spontaneous reaction."
The show was a "surreal" and welcome milestone for this 28-year-old artist, who's been playing gigs at open mics and bars since he was a teenager.
"With this audience, you could hear a pin drop," Sutton said. "It was a highlight for me, to be able to actually hear myself play."
Sutton grew up in Moscow but has lived in Coeur d'Alene, Sandpoint, Vermont, St. Louis and on the East Coast. He's been singing since choir in grade school, and started playing the trumpet in fourth grade. But he later gave up the trumpet and taught himself to play guitar.
"You can't sing along with a trumpet," Sutton said.
He got serious about singing and playing when at age 16 he moved to St. Louis, where his uncle had a guitar shop.
"I started a band there called Spud, with Andy Myers from Moscow, and we played around in St. Louis for a couple of years, mainly in bars. I played the same style I play now, only on an electric guitar, so it was called 'rock.'"
Sutton's first on-stage experience came at The Focal Point in St. Louis, when he was just 16.
"They had jugglers and comedians, a talent show kind of thing, and I went up and sang a couple of songs. I have a friend in St. Louis who has a recording of that, and I remember it well because I was so nervous."
Another thing Sutton remembers: how hard it was, even then, to figure out the best way to make a living as a musician, and how to keep a band together.
"I like playing solo but I like having a band, too, It's great to have people behind you. But back in St. Louis, I played everything really slow, I mean extremely slow, and it was hard to get bass players or drummers to not want to kill me when they played with me. I finally picked it up a bit, but still, it's hard to work out schedules when you're in a band. If we knew we could make good money at it, it'd be different," he said.
Sutton took guitar lessons in St. Louis from "a really good jazz guitarist," who helped Sutton with basic skills and scales. Sutton also listened to a lot of blues in St. Louis, especially John Hartford, who is one of his favorites.
"Like a lot of songwriters, I listen to a wide variety of music: jazz, folk, blues, some punk, all kinds of stuff," Sutton said. "I tend to lik - Boise Weekly


Charlie Sutton LP, 2006
Milk Man's Son LP, 2007



Singer-songwriter Charlie Sutton has spent years traveling the country working odd jobs and playing his original music. Working construction jobs, bussing tables, driving auction cars, working in a general store, and digging tree holes among other things all helped him pay rent (most of the time) , but music was always what he's lived for.
After moving to St. Louis at the age of 16, he hung around a guitar shop run by his Uncles and fronted a three piece band called Spud. There, he formed his own unique sound while immersed in the thick culture of a city full of music fanatics. His style borrowed from country blues, soul, and psychedelia. They parted ways eventually and Charlie moved on to Vermont, then to Boston where he performed in local songwriting contests and busked the subways. But New England wasn't home, and Charlie finally made his way back to the towering pines and open spaces of his native Northwest.

While Charlie's influences include artists such as John Hartford,Harry Nillson, Elizabeth Cotton, Sam Cooke,jimi hendrix,hot tuna,john fahey,lightning hopkins.mississippi john hurt and Neil Young, he has forged a style most definitely his own. He has played gigs on a local level everywhere he's lived, opening for several national acts as well. In October of 2006, he performed on A Prarie Home Companion when it traveled near his home town of Moscow, Idaho. He has one self titled release from 2006 and his latest cd ''milkmans son''was written and produced in his home studio in january of 2007.