From Dancin’ Moon Studio in his Spearfish Canyon home, Scott Simpson has released 27 albums spanning more than 10 different genres. But before shifting focus to songwriting, Simpson was an educator, having taught both high school and college-level English, and was also a published poet. Simpson’s compositions have made appearances in many educational documentaries and projects, like “Deadeye’s Wild West Show,” A Black Hills Musical. For the the last 12 years, Simpson has also partnered with Technology & Innovation in Education (TIE) an organization that strives to bring the latest technology to South Dakota schools.
Simpson says he most commonly plays an acoustic guitar, and he now has two albums played on an old guitar acquired from his wife, Sheryl’s, grandfather, Ozzie. For Sheryl, the guitar brings back many memories, and it lives on in Simpson’s album, Ozzie’s Guitar. After the heirloom guitar was damaged in a flood, Simpson repaired it. Now he’s releasing his newest album, Ozzie’s Guitar 20 Years Later, on August 1.
I STARTED SONGWRITING… as early as I can remember. The first song I wrote that I remember the words to is included in the middle of [a track titled] My First Song from my 2017 album, Refuge. It’s about being an aspiring songwriter in first grade, but I had a teacher who cared more about my penmanship than my new song.
MY LOVE OF MUSIC STARTED… in church and maybe at camp. I grew up in a tradition that sang acapella in worship—no instruments. The great thing about that is you have to sing. You also have to learn how to hear and match pitch and find harmonies. My parents worked on a college campus, so I was really drawn to all those young college students sitting around with guitars, singing folk and singer-songwriter stuff back in the ‘70s: John Denver, James Taylor, Carly Simon, etc.
FANS OF MY MUSIC ARE LOOKING FOR… stories. Or at least hints at stories, if not every detail. I think people who like my music also have to like acoustic instrumentation. People who like my music also have to have a taste for shifting genres. I have often thought that, depending on your taste, on almost any of my albums you’ll find something you like, and probably something you hate.
MY OTHER ACCOMPLISHMENTS INCLUDE… documentaries and educational films. TIE has a great media team, and I’ve gotten to work on a number of film projects doing music, filming, and editing. One educational film, Teaching From Within, I wrote the script for. We went on the road and had teacher-actors (some, friends of mine) play different roles. It was tons of fun and has been used now for many years.
Here are some instruments Simpson can play:
+ Baritone and Tenor Ukulele
+ Penny Whistle
+ Tenor Banjo
+ Various Percussion
+ Wooden Flute
THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF SONGWRITING FOR ME IS… turning it off. When I’m working on a song or an album, whether it’s during the writing stage, recording, mixing, or mastering/ finalizing, I’m obsessive. You can ask my wife or my daughters. I listen to what I’m working on—rough mixes—over and over in the car. My daughters remember that from their earliest years on. My wife knows that in spite of the fact that I’m normally an early-to-bed kind of guy, when I’m working obsessively on music, I can’t sleep.
THE ALBUM I’M MOST PROUD OF IS… the one I’m finishing up—Ozzie’s Guitar 20 Years Later. It’s a little strange to have a brand-new album with not a single brand-new song on it… But that was the challenge of this album.
SOMETHING I’M DOING RIGHT NOW THAT I’M EXCITED ABOUT IS… getting ready for my first grandchild. My oldest daughter, Maegan, and her husband, Stephen, are having a little boy, Fox David Detlefs, in September. He’ll be our first grandchild, and we couldn’t be more excited. I’ve seen ultrasound pictures, but I’m ready to really meet this little guy!
MY FAVORITE PART OF MY JOB IS… making a difference in the way people see the world and themselves. That’s what education is about. That’s also what music is about. When you experience something that’s moving, it shouldn’t be just interesting, it should be transformative. You should come away from any learning, art, or music experience changed.
Listen to Simpson’s new album on Amazon, Spotify, iHeartRadio, and Apple Music.
I LOVE TO GRAB A BITE OR DRINK AT… Common Grounds coffeehouse. Their coffee’s the best, along with their tea, paninis, and sandwiches. I’ve spent hours there with my Mac, some coffee, and a scone, mixing songs, uploading files to CD Baby, and fine-tuning an album. I probably should give them a cut from album proceeds, if I have any.
WHEN I WALK AROUND SPEARFISH CANYON… I love the places people know about: Roughlock Falls Trail, Bridal Veil Falls, Devil’s Bathtub, 11th Hour Gulch, and Community Caves, but I have private places I like to go. Near where I live, there’s an old cabin site. I love to hike there with my wife and my three doggies, Abbey, Oscar, and Ellie. I imagine when it was new. I listen for the sounds of the hills: birds, wind, the creek not far off. No tourists. No trinket shops. No sales pitch. That’s the Black Hills.
“NO TOURISTS. NO TRINKET SHOPS. NO SALES PITCH. THAT’s THE BLACK HILLS.”
SOMEONE LOCAL WHO I ADMIRE IS… Heath Johnson, a fine singer, songwriter, and podcaster who is a friend and does an amazing job organizing and holding together the South Dakota Songwriters group. He’s a big supporter of original, local songs and songwriters.
ONE THING I LOVE ABOUT SOUTH DAKOTA IS… its combination of environments. I grew up in Nebraska on the Great Plains, and I love the Great Plains of South Dakota. My wife and I lived briefly in the Colorado Rockies, and I love the peaks and valleys of the Black Hills. I spent time working in New Mexico where the indigenous nations of the southwestern tribes live and pray and fill the air with music. And I love the indigenous elders across the Dakotas, among whom I do much of my work. I’ve learned so much from so many wise elders and been fed by many uncis (grandmothers), and I deeply appreciate the fact that they are as indigenous to this place as are the eagles, the prairie grass, the waters, the Badlands, and the bison. If you want to know who you are in this place, spend some time listening to them.
MY FAVORITE PLACE TO GO FOR INSPIRATION IS… right at home. I’m a homebody. I love a quiet evening and some time to just strum a guitar for a bit. If I let myself toy with it, some words will come, and they’ll reshape the rhythm or the chord. It’ll suck me in.