Recording commenced in early January of 2005.
My wife was in her 9th month of pregnancy (our beautiful daughter Ava Ruth was born on Feb. 7th 2005).
Chase Park Transduction is only about 5 minutes from my house and since David Barbe is an incredible beacon of fatherly skills (having helped raise his three incredible younguns while still being the consummate artist himself) I was easily able to combine the sessions with “Daddy Lessons” which I did partake in and have benefitted greatly from.
The core band for many of the sessions was myself, Barbe on bass and Brad Morgan on drums.
We cut many of the basic tracks in 2-3 days with that lineup.
We saved out the title cut to record with Shonna on bass and saved 3 songs to record with my Dad.
Basic tracks were recorded live in the studio, as we almost always do, then we built and tweaked as we saw fit.
The timing was especially great, as Drive-By Truckers were coming to play our annual Nuci’s Space Benefit that month which would afford me access to them, and we were playing with our dear friends Centro-matic, who in addition to being my favorite band, were instrumental in inspiring some of the arrangements of these songs.
Before I go any further, I want to address The John Neff Factor.
As most know, John Neff was a founding member of Drive-By Truckers but in those days was also a founding member of Star Room Boys, which was his priority band at the time and our love for spending hundreds of days on the road in smelly vans and sleeping on people’s floors would have meant him leaving said band (and half a dozen other bands he was playing with at the time) so in the fall of 98 we parted ways, albeit very cordially, remaining great friends and sometimes collaborators. Star Room Boys made 2 very great albums. John also played pedal steel on nearly half of Pizza Deliverance andDecoration Day and played a prominent role in the song “A World of Hurt” (from Blessing and a Curse). John was also a frequent guest on my solo shows of that era and the intervening years. I always loved hanging out with him and as a music collaborator, it just doesn’t get any better.
By the time I started MURDERING OSCAR (and other love songs), he was already an integral part of many of those songs and I really looked forward to working with him. His playing on “Screwtopia” alone was worth more than the cost of admission and played a great part in my push to have him added to Drive-By Truckers touring show (which happened in time for the fall tour of 05, culminating with him re-joining full time sometime later). By this time, Star Room Boys had ceased operations and our lives and goals had become much more in synch for such things to occur.
Centro-matic came to town and were hanging out at my house. Matt Pence, who in addition to being one of my favorite drummers in the world is also a world-class photographer, was walking around my house shooting pictures of all the craziness (2 weeks pre-baby with strollers and cribs and various baby shit strewn all over our already oddity strewn house).
That’s when he took the photo that later served as partial inspiration for Wes’ album cover art.
Will Johnson and Scott Danbom came over to the studio and spent a couple of afternoons adding guitars, keyboards and harmonies to songs. (I later flew them back in for another day or two of recording later, but that’s a later part of the story).
DBT came over. We cut “Murdering Oscar” with Shonna plying bass and Cooley played guitar on that song and “Pollyanna”, which had originally been the last song ever worked up by Adam’s House Cat back in 1991.
Jason Isbell also put a great guitar part on a song called “As It Turns Out” which ended up not making the album, although his slide work on it was totally stellar.
The next week, my Dad came to town and we recorded “I Understand Now”, “Back Of A Bible”, and “Uncle Phil and Aunt Phyllis in the Month After the Election”. I had earmarked those songs to be our first-ever recording project together* and he certainly didn’t disappoint. I had initially envisioned IUN as a classic Muscle Shoals Sound influenced song, but Dad took it in a much more Motown influenced direction that was quite unusual for him and surprising to me. As someone who has been listening to my Dad’s bass playing for all of my life, it was bizarre hearing him play a part that sounded to my ears more James Jamerson than David Hood, but I loved it nonetheless and am thrilled to have it on my album. His part on BOAB was much more typical for his style of playing but honestly the high point of those sessions was the last song we cut.
“Uncle Phil” was (and is) a spoken narrative inspired by the then recent Kerry / Bush election of 2004. Some of my favorite work my Dad ever did was his late 70’s playing on several Millie Jackson records (especially “Caught Up” from 1975).
Most of those albums would feature at least one song that she would refer to as “a rap” (several years before the term Rap became a part of the cultural lexicon) and on those songs, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section would vamp for 6 – 10 minutes while she would tell a story or a narrative, usually involving adultery and inter-relationship strife. These “raps” would be moving and often hilarious and were a huge influence on my own development as a writer. My goal for “Uncle Phil…” was to have Dad come up with a similar type of groove and I would read my story over it while the band played live in the studio.
We set up Dad and Brad along with Barbe, who played keyboards and John Neff who had just dropped by and was recruited to play some sleazy sounding guitar. After a little warming up it was recorded in one great take.
I flubbed a line or two, which resulted in me re-doing my part and if you listen carefully you can hear traces of my original in the background lending an eerie affect that I like.
By the end of January, we had wrapped up the recording and my daughter was born a few days later.
We mixed the record over the next month or so and planned for a late spring release so I could go out and play a few shows to promote it while DBT worked on our next album. Here the story gets a little complicated, as music biz complications reared their head and the album was shelved for what became four years. Due to the fact that it has all been worked out now and the fact that the album is a better album for some of the intervening work we did to it, I will just chalk it up to being one of those things that happens and move forward without too many tawdry details. It IS a better album now and has all worked out for the better so THANKS!
In the intervening years, I mostly resisted the temptation to mess too much with what we had done, but in the summer of 2006, while on tour with DBT (opening for The Black Crowes) I wrote what has become my favorite song on the album.
“Pride Of The Yankees” started out as a little song called “King Kong 76” that I wrote a couple of months after Ava was born. I knew it wasn’t a finished song, but was really drawn to the basic piano part (one of the first and only songs I have so-far written on piano) and the basic premise. When I later re-wrote it as POTY, I was thrilled and made arrangements for Will and Scott to fly in from Texas to play on it with us.
Around that same time I also wrote a song for a movie called Randy and the Mob. The song “She’s A Little Randy” ended up making a scene in the film but also fit like a glove in the song sequence here so I was pleased to be able to include it.
Other tweaks included a couple of banjo parts from my dear friend Don Chambers and a stellar guitar addition to Frank McDonnell, who is one of the finest musicians in our musical little town and whose part takes the song to a new level.
As a singer, I have always considered my voice to be at best a work in progress, but I felt I made some serious headway during the completion of DBT’sBrighter Than Creation’s Dark album and took advantage of my improved abilities by re-singing much of the album shortly before remixing it for this release.
I ended up only putting “Uncle Phil…” on the vinyl version of the album as a bonus track even though it was one of my favorite moments in the production. The intervening years and subsequent Obama election had thankfully rendered it obsolete lyrically except for as a slice of life in a time capsule. I still really like the track and it is yet another reason to get that old turntable out of your attic and crank up some 180gm vinyl. It truly sounds better that way.
Around this time, I asked Wes Freed to paint me a cover. I had originally planned on using a photo (most likely Matt Pence’s photo of me in my hallway with all the baby stuff around me), partly to differentiate this from DBT’s album’s, but in the intervening years I had begun to look at this album as part of the continuum of records we made. In that time the band itself had shifted much closer to the sound this album makes and somehow it just seemed fittin’ to have Cowboy Wes (as Ava calls him) draw me up some pictures.
His art, put together with some old family photos and a couple of new ones by our friend Jason Thrasher made for the package I was looking for. (Kudos to my Art Director / sister Lilla Hood for the hundreds of hours spent putting it all together).
Finally, with permission granted to finally release it, and everything exactly like we wanted it, David Barbe and I went to Glenn Schick Mastering in Atlanta to master the album in early march of this year. I was still recovering from my bout of pneumonia and feeling very weak, but nonetheless left there with my album exactly like I had always wanted it to be and am proud to finally be presenting it to y’all for inspection.
As I finish this, I am drawn to thoughts of my friend and old former roommate Brandon Haynie, just having moved to Athens in April of 1994, sitting around our rented house in the hood on Ruth St. (now all shiny and gentrified) playing guitars and talking about this new town we had just moved to. I wrote “Murdering Oscar”, “Heavy and Hanging”, “Walking Around Sense”, a several other songs at that time and had a sound in my head that I hoped to someday get to record and hopefully one day press into vinyl (even then I was a fanatic) so sitting here with it finally coming out is a high point of my life.
I sure hope you enjoy it.
PLAY IT LOUD!
(Office in Athens GA with Ava playing outside – May 16, 2009)
* My Dad and I did once record a charity Xmas single for a local charity in Birmingham called “When I Get Home For Xmas” a few years ago.