Tom Russell & Thad Beckman play to standing ovation in Kenai.

Legendary balladeer and songwriter Tom Russell and guitarist Thad Beckman wrapped up their latest tour of the Northwest in Kenai last week with an intimate concert at the Kenai Visitors & Cultural Center. “We’re honored to be here at the Kenai Visitor Center,” said Russell in his opening set, “Last time I played here it was in JoeRay’s living room so this is like the Carnegie Hall of Kenai and we truly love coming to Alaska.” Russell, who lives in El Paso, Texas, became famous in the sixties for songs such as “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and others that were recorded by greats such as the late Johnny Cash. Now with more than 500 songs to his credit he remains strongly identified with the Texas Country music tradition, his music also incorporates elements of folk, Tex-Mex, and the cowboy music of the American West.

Russell’s music was well received by a group of about one hundred fans, some who have traveled with him on the fabled music train across America with other greats such as Jimmy Webb and could lip sync the words to each of his songs by heart. Accompanied by famed guitarist Thad Beckman the Kenai audience was treated to blues styling’s that you could have sworn were coming from the fingers of Lightin’ Sam Hopkins himself.

In an interview between sets with the Dispatch Russell said he still loves the live performances the best, “The songs seem to take on their own shape before a live audience and wrap themselves around the stories that I truly love to tell. After all these years I feel my last two records Mesabi and Blood and Candle Smoke are my strongest. I consider myself a late bloomer and as the audiences keep getting larger it’s an incentive for me to keep writing and I like being on the road with my wife who is my road manager. I have a great guitar player with me Thad Beckman and we’ve made it work all over the world and right here in Kenai, Alaska. Times have changed but today I don’t hear a lot of strong writing now like there was back in the 60’s & 70’s today its more about ambient sounds and recording methods, but the great lyrics like those of the songs that will last forever don’t seem to be around, but I think it goes in waves like in any art and there are certain periods and artists that produce art such as the Mona Lisa that become eternal. A song like a painting has a life of its own and like a child a song once it’s written goes out on its own and may become a bank robber or President but it has a life of its own and it’s nothing the parent or the writer can really control. I’ve had hit songs that I never would have thought would have gone in that direction and I’ve written songs that I though were great that totally nothing happened with, so like a parent you never know for each one has a life of their own,” said Russell. After his recent tour will he be writing an Alaskan song? “Could be, I’ve written a song called Blue Wing that was done by Johnny Cash that was really about an Alaskan Native American. I find Alaska a very special place, I like the people. Obviously it’s a place where nature is overwhelming so there probably will be a song coming out of me one of these days about Alaska. Tom Russell’s latest book of songs and recording are available on his website at or at For information on taking a train tour across America with Tom Russell contact JoeRay Skrah.