Skin and Bones
My latest album, Skin and Bones, to be released on October 16th, 2015, on the American Blues Artist Group label was written and recorded a bit differently than my last three records.
I wanted this album to sound a bit less like a studio album, and have more of a raw feel. Neil Young is a great inspiration of mine, and I like the way he works in the studio; get the song worked up, and use one of the first takes. You can do overdubs, but don’t fuss over the little blemishes. More of the real personality of the song will come through.
In the past I have worked out the arrangements well before I go into the studio and record. The reason for this is to make sure you can get in and out without spending a ton of money. Typically we would be going for really good drum tracks and do the rest of the overdubs at home. To do this the songs needed to be completely formed before going into the expensive studio.
Well, now I have a home studio where we can record drums anytime we want. Also, I think the songs take a different shape when you work out the arrangements on the fly with the rhythm section right there in the room with you. So I brought my boys in and we got to work.
The songs on Skin and Bones came from three sessions- December of 2013, February of 2014 and December of 2014. Jason Patterson played drums and John Kessler the bass. We would listen to some riffs I recorded with my iPhone, select a few and start jamming on them. Usually it would take us about an hour to work up an arrangement and develop other parts of the song – bridge, solos, endings, etc… We would then play the finished version a few times and get the take.
I did some editing of the arrangements afterwards, but not much. I wanted to keep things as close as possible to our initial inspiration. Keeping the drums and most of the live takes, we worked from there and did a few overdubs.
Skin and Bones came from our second session in February of 2014. I had the main riff but faked my way through the chorus. I knew I would have to change the chords to make the song work, but left that until later after we finished the drums. Luckily I found the right chords! While Jason was still here, I wanted to get some shakers on the track but realized I didn’t have any that would work (they break a lot). So I ran upstairs to the medicine cabinet and got a bottle of Advil and a bottle of Excedrin. The Advil tablets are small and gave a higher pitched ‘shake’ while the Excedrin tabs were bigger and had a deeper tone. Recording those pain relievers shaking in their bottles really helped the sonic landscape of the song and help set the mood. The lyrics were inspired by a trip I took to New Orleans to attend the French Quarter Festival with some good friends. We were all there to have fun and by the time noon arrived on our first day, the debauchery had begun. Some of my memories from those days and nights are a bit cloudy, but the French Quarter made a real impression on me. There’s a deep dark history that lies behind the patina of the old buildings. I had played gigs there before while touring in other bands, but never really got to take in the flavor of the town…
Lonesome Memphis Blues emerged from our final session. I had all of the parts together except the breakdown, which happened spontaneously- just what I was going for on this record! I had spent some time in Memphis with friends at the International Blues Challenge a couple years in a row, and they made sure I saw the Stax museum, Sun studios and the Blues Foundation HQ. (Chicken and Waffles not to be forgotten.) Like New Orleans, I had played there before but was in and out too fast to explore the town. The lyrics aren’t so much about Memphis, but a feeling I got there without my beautiful wife by my side. Blues, Funk, Elvis, R & B all had strong roots there, but “I grew up on rock ‘n’ roll!”
Ain’t Nothing Gonna Stop Us Now came from us taking a hard right turn; we started out with the idea of covering a certain song, but decided to only work with the feel of the drumbeat. That riff came out right as we were listening to Jason play the beat, and it felt like it had the kind of energy you want to start a show with. The lyrics are about inviting the crowd to just have a good time. Forget about all the things you have to do, about the problems in your life. Just let go and have fun HERE and NOW.
I have always loved Johnny Winter’s music and guitar playing. He MUST have influenced the Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarists (think the end of Freebird)! He could play a mile a minute and was really pushing the boundaries of blues. His country picking technique used in the blues rock setting made his sound unique. Not many players approached it the same way. Freddie King also used a thumb and index finger pick, but in a much different way. So I thought it was time to do one of his songs. Leland Mississippi Blues is right there at the edge of blues and rock. The descending riff is totally cool and fun to play. It is one of my favorite songs to play live.
One Of These Days came from a jazzy progression I had worked out. (My guitar teacher Rob Swaynie would be happy that I used a minor seven flat five chord, ha ha ha.) But I thought it would be cool if the drums had a tom-tom beat that you could hear over and over again, that could put you in a trance if you let it. The whole idea was to capture that feeling of longing coupled with stagnation and ennui. You know, when you were young and apprehensive and lacked the confidence to go for what you really wanted. “Yeah, some day I’ll get there…” “She would never give me the time of day now, but down the road when I get my act together, then we’ll see…” that kind of thing. Also, it was fun to bust out the slide and go for it!
Did you know that Fuzzy Dice originated in the cockpit of World War II aircraft like the B-17? I didn’t. This tune started from a riff using the VERY cool Buzzmaster fuzz pedal. So the working title Fuzzy Dice inspired the lyrics: I Googled fuzzy dice and read about fighter pilots from WWII who would hang them in the cockpit, showing a seven for good luck, and incorporated some of the slang that was popular at the time. This song is all about having fun with that concept. The end of the tune, or (as I call it) the epilogue, called for a Queens-of-the-Stoneage-vibe pounding beat. (Full disclosure- Songs for the Deaf is one of my favorite albums.)
When I was goofing around with the riff that started this next tune, I thought Jimmy Page might have liked it; it certainly has some Zeppelin influence. Riff rock was surely his forté and his riffing has been a huge influence on me as a guitarist. Without You builds on that riff, and incorporates some of the sing-the-melody-with-your-guitar that I like to do. When you are missing that little lady that makes the fire burn in your soul, give this one a listen!
Space Cake started out as a sweep-picking riff that I heard in my head. I had a really hard time playing it and had to re-track the guitars several times to get it just right. This song is a good example of how I am trying to execute something I heard in my mind that was not easily played. After touring Europe a handful of times, and visiting Amsterdam a lot, you hear about the space cake. You know, with marijuana in there. I must admit I have never eaten the space cake from Amsterdam, but it sounds better to sing than ‘bud’ or ‘weed’ or some such. Now legalization efforts abound in the states, and I think Americans are coming to terms with the fact that most people have used it. From Clinton to Bush to Obama, and even my dad’s friends, to the neighbors… it really is everywhere. I grew up in the ‘70s in the Midwest where you could get a bag of Mexican or Columbian weed for about $18. The kind that was brown with all the seeds and stems in there (break out the double vinyl album). It was a part of growing up, and to me is a lot better for us all than alcohol. It seemed like the right time to write about it.
I love watching films about robberies and gangsters- Ocean’s 11, the Guy Ritchie films Snatch and Lock Stock and Two Barrels. The films glamourize the lifestyle. But what if one of these dudes really just wants to get out of that life and be with the woman he loves? That might be tough. Ain’t About The Money is my take on that. So, Mr. Ritchie, if you are reading this, maybe you could put this tune in one of your next movies? Hahahahaha.
Coming Home was born from a simple riff I liked to play on the acoustic. It’s me channeling Lightning Hopkins or Hubert Sumlin. Keep it simple yet expressive. A note to a brother or a friend telling them to pull their head out of their ass and come back home where people care about you. Sometimes we go on adventures and lose sight of what can really make us happy. I went for that classic old 1950’s plucked sound- I have been playing a lot of guitar with just my fingers lately (put that pic down!). Most of the song worked like that, however I did grab one for the second half of the solo… oh well…
I am lucky to have a woman who helps me be more of what I am. She puts the wind in my sails, injects me with the love voodoo that transcends ordinary motivation. I didn’t meet her in an old honkey tonk, but maybe someone did? Ha ha. Mojo Woman is who you will want to meet to put some excitement in your life! So let’s go see what’s down at the end of that dirt road by the swamp…
Skin and Bones
Lonesome Memphis Blues
Ain't Nothing Gonna Stop Us Now
Leland Mississippi Blues
One Of These Days
Ain't About The Money