Ashley Raines is stopping in Savannah during his first solo tour since 2004.
"I've done almost two decades of 150 to 200 shows a year," he says. "I started as a solo street musician playing on corners and paying my dues.
"I started this tour in September and I've been having a lot of fun," Raines says. "Being solo allows me to do some more subtle numbers."
Raines' Savannah concert is Dec. 20 at The Sentient Bean. A songwriter, lyricist, composer and multi-instrumentalist, Raines grew up in Kansas, but by the time he was 14, was hitchhiking his way out of town and hopping boxcars.
Along the way, Raines taught himself to play all the instruments he could get his hands on. He recorded his original songs on four-track, reel-to-reel tape recorders and sold them on the streets.
Since the late 1990s, Raines has toured and performed with his signature Weissenborn, a custom hollow-neck, lap-steel guitar.
"It took me some years to find what it was I was made to do," Raines says. "I was in and out of trouble as a youngster, delinquent because I was not in school and not where I was supposed to be.
"It took me a while to catch my stride. Once I did, when I was from about 18 to 21, I hopped in boxcars and was playing on street corners.
"I've always been a poet, a writer, and that's always my main focus," he says. "But nobody wants to listen to some dude yelling poetry on a park bench, so I found myself into instruments."
Musical instruments were readily available when Raines was young.
"But I always played at them," he says, "I had to work at it. There's people who do things because they want to and people who do things because they have to.
"Once I figured out what I had to do, I never thought of myself as a musician, but wanted to be a lyrical kind of guy. I had a natural talent for music and could play any instrument.
"When I started, it came very easy," Raines says. "It didn't take work to learn how to play music; it took work to allow me to be what I was becoming."
Today, Raines plays piano, cello, viola, mandolin and banjo, as well as pedal steel guitar, He is completely self-taught.
"It was never really hard, just time-consuming, since I was already pre-disposed to handle an instrument," Raines says. "There were instruments around the house when I was growing up, but I was never pushed in that direction."
It was desperation that led Raines to become a professional musician.
"I'm almost 40 now," he says. "I was almost unconsciously putting myself into a situation where I was forced to react, where I would have to make a decision.
"If I was going to make it through the night, I was going to have to build a fire," Raines says. "I didn't really make a collected kind of decision on it, it was what I was becoming."
Ideas for songs are available everywhere.
"Sometimes, it's not because of something I remember, but because something is so beautiful," Raines says. "When I listen to Patsy Cline sing 'I Fall to Pieces,' I want to be the guy who wrote that song because of the way it makes me feel.
"It's just like putting on your pants in the morning," he says, "The sky doesn't open and reveal some great truth to me."
Raines has two new records: "Blush," which was recorded live in Kansas City, and "After the Bruising," which was recorded with his band, the New West Revue, in a Los Angeles recording studio.
"Since my first album, 'One Trick Mule,' I've got 13 total since 1999," he says. "In Savannah, I'll do a handful of tracks from my past records, plus all-new songs.
"I'm excited about the new records. As an independent artist since the late '90s, I've put records out by booking tours and throwing them out of my van at people.
"I'm getting older and things have changed and I know you need to secure the station where you're at," Raines says. "With two records, I took a bigger step that would allow me to breathe a little more easily."
Raines is looking forward to returning to Savannah, where he performed several years ago.
"I'm excited to get back to Savannah," he says. "There's a magic there.
"It's been a few years since I've been there. The last time I was there, I had gotten sun poisoning in Jacksonville. I had put on some SPF sunblock, but I guess it was old and basically no good any more.
"The concert was rough on me because of that," Raines says. "I spent a couple of days bathing myself in aloe. Now I wear long sleeves. No more short pants!"