July 26, 2015
Ah, the day of rest at the end of another one of our “slow” weeks this summer. The last six days have been pretty easy-going, you know, just two rehearsals, a recording session, and three gigs that culminated in last night’s Neil Young tribute featuring a baker’s dozen players and a megaton of fun.
So much for my notion that July would be not so busy.
On Monday, I got home in time for a low-key rehearsal for the Neil Young deal. The core band consisted of the TL3 along with our long-time cohort Greg Horne. Adam and Serrenna McNulty from Guy Marshall were a big part of the first of two sets, while GM guitarist Eric Griffin joined in on several tunes as well. The perpetually cheerful Chris Durman (aka “Smiley”) played acoustic guitar and harmonica too.
We’ve just recently gotten to know the McNulties and Eric, and it has been a treat. I’ve pointed out before that I’m a big fan of their band (go check out their debut full-length Depression Blues), and is often the case the folks are as cool as their music.
It was a good run-through of the songs and an excellent hang.
Recording was on the docket for Tuesday evening. My friend from all the way back to grade school, Beth McKee and her husband Juan Perez were in town for a couple shows and we planned to get them to add some overdubs to the five songs the TL3 recently recorded at John Baker’s Arbor Studio.
Beth and I have talked about doing some kind of collaboration for a while, so it was fun to have the stars align somewhat and make that happen. I did add guitar tracks to two songs on her latest album via long distance, but it was great to be together for this session.
For her additions, we moved to John Harvey and Mary Podio’s house just over the ridge from Baker’s. John and Mary are living in a rental house while their new house/studio is being built, but they have most of their gear set up in the basement, including a nice upright piano, a Wurlitzer electric piano, and a Hammond B3 organ with a Leslie rotating speaker. Those are the items (along with John and Mary’s considerable skills) that brought us to their underground lair.
Beth and Juan had listened to the rough mixes of the songs, and they were familiar with the material. So it took little time to get up and running.
Beth laid down some rocking piano on Superstition, taking just a couple run-throughs to get warmed up, allow John to get good microphone placement, and knock it out of the park. She is such a good player, very instinctive (my favorite trait in a musician). She’d absorbed the songs and added her own distinctive touch.
She’d asked me what I had in mind for her part, to which I could only respond, “Play what comes naturally to you.” To me, that’s the thing. Why bring in a guest whose talents you respect only to tell them what to play? Most players have the ability to find their place in a song without much guidance. That’s one of the things that make it fun.
In addition to being a certified electronics genius (I’m pretty sure she has a certificate verifying this claim, although she insists it doesn’t exist), Mary is a gracious host and excellent cook. It is not unusual for her to whip up a meal for sessions, so we took advantage of her hospitality and gathered at the table for a kickass chicken casserole and salad.
Due to a couple looming deadlines, Susan was unable to attend the session (don’t worry, I took her some leftovers). The dinner conversation was lively, as John and Mary got acquainted with Beth and Juan. The four quickly discovered that they had mutual friends, which led to a barrage of funny stories and remembrances.
As good as the food and the company were, however, we did have work to do. So it was back to the basement, where Beth played a piano track on “Fall From Grace.”
From there, she moved to the Wurly, which she played on “Kryptonite” and “See the Light.” Her performances were all great. The only problem was making a decision on which takes to use.
For the fifth and final song, “No Rest,” Beth sat down at the hulking B3 and immediately started to work some serious voodoo. I knew her New Orleans roots had instilled some righteous funky in her soul, but this was something else. Truly great stuff that really transformed the song and sent it into the stratosphere.
Finished with the keyboards, we moved on to tracking Juan’s percussion. The man is a rhythm machine with a long résumé, and one of the kindest people you’ll meet. He added various tambourines and shakers to all of the tracks, offering ideas on how to edit them at a later date. It was all pretty effortless and took little time.
The session wrapped up around 11, and we went our separate ways. Beth and Juan had to be up early on Wednesday to perform on WDVX’s live noon concert hour, the Blue Plate Special. I had my own full day ahead of me, so we made our goodbyes.
For me, Wednesday consisted of running errands and Susan and I sneaking in an early afternoon Bark rehearsal. Plus we had to figure out a few songs to play that night when we hosted the monthly Songwriters in the Soul House series at Sweet P’s Barbecue and Soul House.
This month’s Soul House show featured the duo of Robinella Bailey and Daniel Kimbro, as well as a solo set from Beth, and a brief kickoff set from Susan and me.
Robinella’s a popular singer and songwriter from around these parts. Our only previous experience with her was an event that celebrated the historic Bijou Theater downtown a few years ago. For that, the TL3 (along with Greg) was tapped to back three local singer/songwriters, which included Robinella, RB Morris, and Todd Steed. It was a good time, so it was a pleasure to see her again. She has one of those sunny dispositions that lights up a room upon her arrival.
Daniel is a fixture on the local scene, playing with several artists and fronting his own family-based band, Mountain Soul. He also tours the world with the likes of Jerry Douglas. He’s a good guy, funny and acerbic. We give each other a lot of grief (okay, I do most of the grief-giving), and he’s good to have around for a backyard barbecue (that’s my litmus test for hangability).
Dude gets extra props for powering through this show with strep throat. He texted me earlier in the day to tell me he was sick. I asked if he was contagious. His response? “Not if we don’t make out (this time).” Smartass. My response? “Bring your own vocal mic.”
Susan and I drafted Daniel to play upright bass on a trio of our older songs which featured tremelo guitar and Susan’s outstanding vocals. It was quiet, slow, and moody, and the bass added just the right touch. Ever the trooper, Daniel followed along and added a couple cool solos as well. I’d like to explore that trio thing a bit more sometime.
After a quick changeover, Beth sat down at the keyboard and delivered a rollicking set of badass songs, mostly from her latest release Sugarcane Revival (yep, you should check it out). In addition to her ivory-pounding skills, she has a powerful voice that commands your attention through ballads and stompers alike. She was well-received by the good turnout and left with many new fans.
Daniel and Robinella closed things out with a cool set in which they swapped songs. Daniel mostly played upright on Robin’s songs and acoustic guitar on his own. They have a good vocal chemistry and added harmonies to each other’s songs. Great stuff and a nice ending to another evening of fun and music.
We got another Bark rehearsal in on Thursday afternoon and a final run-through of the Neil Young songs that evening with the core band and most of the guests.
For me, one of the primary reasons to put a tribute like this together is the people. I like seeing different folks, who maybe don’t always cross paths, come together to hang out and make noise. The shows are always fun, but I usually enjoy the rehearsals and the hangouts almost as much.
I heard someone say recently that it’s more important to have a community than a music scene, and I couldn’t agree more.
For Friday, Susan and I had agreed to play a Bark set for our friends Christina Horn and Jeff Taylor’s housewarming party. Christina is the singer and songwriter in the Knoxville band Hudson K and a good friend. Her boyfriend Jeff is a writer, poet, and all-around mischief organizer … you know, our kind of people.
Both Susan and I have sat in with Hudson K on stage, and Christina added some keyboards and vocals to the 33-1/3 album. She and Jeff both are kindred spirits.
The two of them recently bought a cool house in the Old North Knox neighborhood, so the time came to celebrate with live music, hot dogs, and a keg of local brew. Who could ask for more?
Our day started with errand-running, including dropping off some gear for the Knoxville Girl’s Rock Camp. Elizabeth Wright, Emily Robinson, and Heather Robinson (along with Elizabeth’s boyfriend Harold Heffner of the amazing Mutations, Psychic Baos, and Dude Fucking Whatever) were busy setting up equipment for the coming week’s camp, which Susan will be part of. They do a great job, and I’m really looking forward to this Saturday’s showcase. Hat’s off to these good people.
We went over to Jeff and Christina’s house in the afternoon and got set up on a stone platform next to the garage overlooking their spacious side yard. There, we met the members of Hiding Scarlet, a band from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who had come down at Christina and Jeff’s invitation to play as well. Super nice folks who even helped us load in.
After a quick trip home to clean up, we returned around 7 for the hot dogs and fancy toppings, which fortified us for our set. A lot of folks showed up, many we knew (including Hudson K drummer Nate Barrett), many we didn’t. It was warm out, but not unbearable, and Christina and Jeff were perfectly charming in their roles as hostess and host, stage manager and grill master.
The Bark set kicked off at 8, and we played about 30 to 35 minutes. I’ve written at length in these scribblings about how much Bark means to me. So I won’t bore you, except to say it was great fun and the people who gathered were quite receptive.
When we finished and moved off, Hiding Scarlet moved on and took over with a set of mesmerizing spacey folk rock, mixing electric and acoustic guitars, bass, and violin with sweet vocal harmonies. It was kind of perfect music for dusk.
While they played, we listened and sampled the side dishes that had magically appeared during our set (and I had another dog, this one topped with Thai peanut sauce, asian slaw, and cilantro … yum).
All in all, a fun evening and a fitting house warming for two cool folks.
Saturday, day six of gunning on all cylinders and going full speed. No rest for the weary, you know?
More errands to run, as well as Bark gear unloaded from the van and replaced with the necessary equipment for Saturday night at the Shed. A much-needed respite (almost a nap) preceded a stop for iced coffee and the 30-minute drive out to Maryville.
I’ve told you about the Shed, so I’m repeating myself when I say this, but it is as good a live music venue as you will find. And the people who work there are the most helpful folks ever. As I told some of the players who were joining us for this night, “It ain’t like the other places we all play.”
Susan and I got there about 5 and started setting up. One by one, the others started trickling in. Chris brought his drums in, Greg showed up with his various instruments, and Smiley walked up with a grin and a guitar case.
Kenny the soundman worked with us to organize what would eventually involve 13 different players and singers, while the rest of the staff assisted. Once set up, we ran through parts of various songs, giving Kenny an idea of what he was up against. He handled it all with grace and patience.
Adam, Serrenna, and Eric arrived and we went through a couple more pieces of songs.
The onstage sound was good, and everybody was happy with it when we convened to the backstage “green room,” where a buffet of smoked pork, chicken, slaw, and baked beans awaited us.
There’s a ‘cue joint on the premises called Stinkers, and they’ve always had good food. Lately, however, they’ve stepped up their game with the addition of manager Sean Blair, formerly of the late and lamented Back Room BBQ and Manhattan’s, the two best downtown hangouts in my 15-year Knoxville history.
I showed Sean a picture on my phone of the old Back Room neon sign that now resides in our backyard. There’s a funny story behind that. When the building, which sits at the corner of Jackson and Central in the Old City, was sold for renovation, they tore down part of what had been the Back Room. Our friend Elizabeth (of Girls Rock Camp fame, as well as cool bands such as the Dirty Knees, Fistful of Crows, Dye Job, Psychic Baos, etc.) happened to be walking by and asked the crew what they planned to do with the sign. When they told her they were going to throw it in the dumpster, she asked if she could pay them to put it in her car instead, which they agreed to. The transaction was made, and Elizabeth took the sign home, only to discover it was somewhat larger than she thought.
Long story short, she and I worked something out, and its red glow now presides over the backyard gatherings at our house. It was in a state of disrepair when I got it, but with the help of our friend Mitchell Greene, who once worked at a neon shop, the sign that consists of a large four-foot clock that reads, “It’s BBQ Time!” surrounded by a neon halo has been restored to its previous glory.
Back at the Shed, as we sat around a table and ate barbecue and sipped beers, Adam turned to me and said, “Do they treat everybody like this?”
Yep, the famous Shed hospitality extends to everyone who plays there.
The rest of our guest performers eventually arrived, including Justin Nix and Jason Hanna from the band Dixie Ghost, who were fresh off their record release party the previous evening, and singer Will Horton of the Black Cadillacs, who is spending a portion of his summer off the road. Stephen Osborne and Andrew Sayne from the band Madre showed up as well.
Show time came, and the Shed’s ubiquitous emcee, the Smokin’ Monkey, introduced us. Adam and Smiley took the stage to open with the acoustic “My, My, Hey, Hey,” before Greg, Sarrenna, and I joined them for “Comes a Time,” “Journey Through the Past,” and “I Believe in You.” Eric came onboard and Adam led us through a raucous version of “Vampire Blues.” I yielded the bass to Susan and grabbed my guitar as we tore into “Powderfinger” with Eric on the lead vocals. Greg, Eric, and I traded off solos during a pretty ferocious version of that song. Will came out to close the first set with a rocking version of “For the Turnstiles” and a rousing “Are You Ready for the Country.”
After a quick break, we turned up the wick, opening the second set with the electric “Hey, Hey, My, My” with Stephen and Andrew joining Susan, Greg, Chris, and I on vocals and guitar, respectively. Those two stayed on stage for a lengthy version of “Like A Hurricane.”
The Madre dudes left the stage, and Susan and I led the band through a version of “Cinnamon Girl” that was likely too fast, but way fun. Greg took the microphone for “Don’t Cry No Tears Around Me,” and Eric returned for “Rockin’ in the Free World.”
We slowed it down for an extended version of “Cortez the Killer” and picked it back up again for a storming rendition of “Mr. Soul.”
Justin and Jason ran on to take the vocals on the closers “Mansion on the Hill” and “Fuckin’ Up,” the latter of which also featured Shed/Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson owner Scott Maddux on guitar and SMHD employee Jimmie Warwick on backing vocals.
During the last three songs, the energy level continued to rise, and the vibe was just short of bedlam by the end of “Fuckin’ Up.”
We left the stage sweaty and exhausted, but hyped up. Not expecting to be asked for an encore, we didn’t have any prepared as they crowd chanted, “Just one more!”
We decided to play “Rockin'” again, and by the time we got going good, Justin, Jason, Stephen, Andrew, Adam, and Jimmie were all on stage, bouncing around like pinballs and adding backing vocals. It was a raucous good time, such a positive energy.
Once the final note of feedback faded, we reconvened in the green room to high-fives, back slaps, and hugs all around. Such a good feeling, this community thing.
In time, Susan and I packed up to go, but Scott encouraged us to hang out for a bit, which we did.
They were showing the video of the show we’d just played, so it was interesting to see how it came off. Pretty damn good, I have to say. Not too shabby.
Eventually, Susan drove us home, where it didn’t take long for us both to crash, exhausted after a busy, busy week.
Today’s largely been a day of rest. Susan’s been in her workshop, catching up on her leather work. She’s making very cool bracelets she’s calling “Wrist Rock•Its.” You’ll hear more about those soon. I’ve worked on my scribblings, and we took a break for brunch at Senor Taco with Christina, Jeff, Nate, and two of the Hiding Scarlet folks. Hmm… margaritas and Huevos Divorciados!
We are lucky to have so many good friends.
Right now, I have very little on my calendar for the coming week (famous last words), which is kinda nice since we’ll be gigging a good bit in August, hosting another Songwriters in the Soul House (with Malcolm Holcombe!), and helping stage two music festivals. Hopefully, we’ll get to mix those five new tracks as well. Guess we’ll see.
This week promises the return of the old proboscis to the real-world grindstone for me, and a week of working with aspiring bass players and 10-year-old rockers for Susan.
Y’all do us a favor: appreciate your people and keep it between the ditches.
Until next time …