Musician and Songwriter
by Barney Quick
Scott Freed is a perfect example of a professional musician who is in Indiana because he wants to be. He spent years in the mountains of central California, but yearned to get back to the land of his youth. He even wrote a song—the title cut of his first album—about it.
Freed has lived in Brown County for a little over three years and has quickly immersed himself in the local music scene. “I just started going to hear music, asking if I could sit in,” he says. His country-and-folk-flavored compositions ensured that he would quickly find friends among the string-band players and singer-songwriters in this area.
He was born in Danville, Illinois and lived in various towns close to the Illinois-Indiana state line as a boy. During a brief period in which his parents were divorced, he and his brother lived on a foster farm. “It was fully operational,” he recalls. “I fed the chickens before school, got the Daisy BB gun, the whole bit. It had everything we needed to be in touch with nature.”
His parents remarried and he continued to live close to the shores of the Wabash River until after high school. Some friends had enrolled in a California college and he gave them a ride. Once there, he found employment at Pacific Gas and Electric, where he stayed for over twenty years. He also firmly established himself as a first-rate songwriter, working steadily and winning the Napa Valley Folks Festival Emerging Songwriters’ Competition. Other such milestones followed, including the Northern California Songwriters’ Competition, and similar events in Texas and North Carolina. In 1988, he recorded his first CD, “Indiana Moon” and followed it up in 1994 with “Farther Down the Line.” His supporting players on those records include such notable California players as harmonica player Norton Buffalo, mandolinist Joe Weed, and dobro virtuoso Rob Ickes.
Some changes in his family situation rekindled his dream of returning to the Midwest. “During my California years, I vacationed here as much as possible,” says Freed. “That’s when I became aware of Brown County’s charms.”
He vividly recalls the evening he arrived in Nashville to stay: “It was December 2003. The Ordinary was hosting the annual auction for children and a gentle snow was falling.” Now he lives with his dog in a renovated farmhouse in the northern part of Brown County. His daughters occasionally visit, but “they’re city girls. They enjoy the view by looking out the window.”
His goals as a musician have changed in recent years. “I’m aware that a fifty-two year-old guy with graying hair isn’t going to fill arenas,” he says, “but songwriting doesn’t depend on age. Younger people can sing your songs.”
What is the first aspect of a song to come along for Freed? “The can opener that opens the can varies from one song to the next,” he explains. “Sometimes it’s a title. Sometimes it’s the melody or the chord progression, and sometimes you open the can and find the contents not to be particularly tasty. I start many more songs than I finish.”
He has no current plans for another CD. He regards recording as a big undertaking. “It think it’s akin to a vintner making wine. To make a really big wine takes a lot of subtle talent. To give it depth and substance takes more than fermenting grapes in the bathtub. The technology’s now available for anyone to make a record, but the results may not be worthwhile.”
One of his recent songs is about legendary Brown County figure Charley Alber. Freed got to know the man fairly well before Alber passed away, and he admired the colorful life he’d lived. Freed was among those who would check on him daily.
The sense of deep roots and bonds is a major part of Brown County’s appeal for Freed. “To live in a small community, you have to be willing to sacrifice your anonymity,” he says.
One local venue that keeps Freed busy is the Chateau Thomas Winery. He will be appearing there several times well into fall with various accompanists and guests, including Kenny Strong on electric guitar, Carolyn Dutton on fiddle, and banjoist Bird Snider.
It’s clear he’s been welcomed home.