I’ve been waiting a long time for something to crack me open like an egg.
Watching the Stax Records documentary on PBS tonight did it.
Steve Dawson unlocked the door to Stax soul for me. I’m forever in debt to him. Listen to any of his music and you can hear how hard it hit him.
Seems like a good time to revisit my trip down to Memphis in 2003 while recording my first record, Come Around.
A few weeks before I started recording in March of 2003 with Jay Bennett, I finished writing a song called “Good News”. I had written the chord progression months earlier and given it a working title of “Otis Ripoff” after Steve had taught me Otis’ trick of forcing all the chords to be major when they should be minor.
I had it in my mind that I’d get some old school horns on it and make it sound like an Otis tune. I ran the idea past Jay and he mentioned some local guys he knew and I just sort of nodded and wondered if I could take it a bit further.
When it was time to cut “Good News”, I called my pal Gerald Dowd in to play the drums, knowing he’d have a great feel for it. He walked in, having never heard the song, and the two of us sat down to record it. I told him the groove I wanted, we started playing, and Jay sent Scott running out to tell us to quit playing so that he could record it before we ‘learned it too well’.
That next take is what’s on the record. We recorded the majority of the album’s basic tracks to a digital recorder but for this one Jay dusted off the analog tape deck and that’s how we captured it that night. Jay stayed up all night in his creative haze and did the Duck walk on bass and Booked some time on the B3 organ. When it was time to transfer the analog tracks to digital, we almost lost everything when the machine went out of whack. In fact, my guitar doesn’t show up until the first chorus, thanks to some aberrant azimuth.
Gerald mentioned some of his horn playin’ buddies to do the parts I was talking about and I just sort of nodded and wondered if I could take it a bit further.
After the bulk of the tracks were recorded, I started pokin’ around the intertubes and found some management contact info for the Memphis Horns. After some intermediary communication, I found Wayne Jackson and made arrangements to meet him and Andrew Love in Memphis at the legendary Ardent Studios. Dolly Varden fan and soul brother Jeff Powell offered his engineering services for the session and pulled it all together.
I asked Wayne if they wanted to hear a demo in advance. I told them I wanted a similar feel to Otis’ version of “It’s Growing”. The classic stabs and long-held notes. I told him it was probably a song he’d heard a thousand times before. He just chuckled, “Nah!”
I loaded the tracks for “Good News” on a little portable hard drive. I rented a car. I took the train out to Westmont to save some dough and walked and walked to the rental office. Drove all day to Nashville to stay with my brother. Went to the late, lamented Slow Bar for some live music. Woke early and drove to Memphis. Straight to Ardent where the assistant that day, Adam, welcomed me and led me in to the classic Studio A.
Wow. Sam & Dave. The Staples Singers. Led Zeppelin. Big Star. Leon Russell. Cheap Trick. Replacements. ZZ Top.
Wayne and Andrew arrived on time. We made small talk, cracked some nervous jokes, then Jeff, who had done several sessions with them, eased them into their favorite spot with their favorite mics and setup.
Remember, they’d not heard the song yet, so Jeff gets the recording levels set, tells them the song’s about to start and they listen to it, whisper to each other some ideas, chat a little bit about going to the gym, and just kind of crack each other up the way old friends do.
One listen and they say they’re ready to give it a try. Fine with me!
Jeff hits the Record button …
There it is … THAT SOUND!
Maybe an hour later they’d finished two songs and Wayne had added a small part to a third. But it was “Good News” that I was after.
Boy, did I GET it!
More precisely, boy, did they give it to me.
We wrapped up the session, Andrew’s wife picked him up, and I went with Wayne to a live Memphis radio interview he was scheduled to do. And instead of having me sit in the corner, he invited me in and onto the air to sit and talk with him during the interview with Joe Terry and Bob Holden. What a thrill.
We finished up and Wayne suggested we stop by his family’s place then get some Memphis BBQ.
Well, twist my arm.
Wayne, along with his wonderful wife, Amy, and her mother welcomed me into their home that day and during dinner he shared his stories and I feel forever grateful to have spent time with them and say that I worked with music legends.
I don’t usually toot my own horn but I’m damn proud of this one.
I kept it honest, I kept it simple, I kept it soulful.
Have a listen …