STORIES, STORIES, STORIES... For folks who like to read stories...
I made the mini CD "Three Songs for Sally" for a friend of mine who passed away in the year 2007. She knew she was ill for only a short period of time, and this made me realize, if I want to do something in my life, I need to get about doing it. You know, none of us has all day!
"Three Songs" has two bluegrass songs on it. I'm playing rhythm guitar, and Dave Dearnley's playing lead (he's a fine picker, check him out at DAVE & DYNO). The third song is an Italian song called "Vento di passione." I'm playing piano, and Pete Szkolka's playing Jerome Wheeler's black Martin acoustic guitar. A lot of folks like this song the best.
Recording that CD (the "yellow" one) was a lot of fun! So, then it was time to try for a full-length recording. I asked some friends (among the finest bluegrass pickers in the state) if they'd help. They said yes. We spent one day in Pete Szkolka's studio (Pete's) and recorded fifteen songs on the fly (as Kevin put it, "all in one pile like that"), and thirteen of them made it to the final CD.
The original title was "Barefoot Nellie: Songs from the Bluegrass Colonies." The concept was to center a group of songs around the old convict songs from the Georgia and Australia colonies--and show the folk process in action. I wanted to record two songs from opposite ends of the world that have exactly the same verse (though the words in fact are a little bit different, see the liner notes). But the concept and the title just would not fly.
One song refused to get recorded. This was the Australian song, "Botany Bay," and with it went the whole concept of the album. Two more songs insisted on getting on the disk. These were the ones with the McKowns, and one of them was "River Cowboy," written by the River Cowboy himself, Jerome Wheeler. Then I was working with the recordings we had, and there were glitches we just couldn't fix, so it's ROUGH, and I was wondering, "What the blank am I doing? I can't sing!" and then the second title "Diamond in the Rough Bluegrass" took hold. And that one flew. This is the "blue" CD, being as it is a blue diamond, and it is recorded live and somewhat rough.
Now for some of the songs...
Sweet Heaven when I Die. I've searched the Web for the authoring info. on this song, and somewhere it says it's Norman Blake wrote it, but elsewhere Doc Watson recorded it on a Smithsonian Institution recording, and there it is labeled as traditional (that is, public domain). For some reason, this is the song that jumps up when I'm starting up a show, when sometimes all the lyrics fly out the window and I cannot remember one dang thing! This song just comes up in the fingers on the guitar, and in my mind it says, "You can catch the words of this one, OK? Let's go!" So it's only natural this is the first song on the CD as well. It starts abrupt, but the music catches on pretty quick. And I hope you enjoy.
Columbus Stockade Blues. This is a regular old Public Domain song of woe, imprisonment, and unrequited love, totally fitting the bluegrass genre. Folks who aren't so keen on bluegrass ask me, "Why do you like to sing such miserable songs all the time? How depressing!" but you know, if you sing about someone in much worse circumstances than yourself, then you can get to feeling a whole lot better about your own situation. It's called catharsis, and I've had folks tell me it works... also this song is just great, that true old high lonesome sound!
River Cowboy. This was one of the songs that insisted on getting recorded. It's by Jerome Wheeler, and the name of his last band was the River Cowboy Tour. I had the honor to play doghouse bass in that band for the last eighteen months of Jerome's life, and it's through Jerome that I made friends with Mike at Cooper's Landing, who provides a great place for local musicians to perform. "River Cowboy" is the title song of Jerome's last CD, which is made up of live and studio recordings of Jerome from the final years of his life. Twelve songs on there feature the band, and I get to sing lead on two songs. Jerome and Mike also developed the idea of the Missouri River Cultural Conservancy (MoRivCC) in the attempt to document, record, and archive the local singer-songwriters of the mid-Missouri River region. There are lots of MoRivCC recordings up on YouTube, even some of Jerome from 1983. So the title song of his CD just plain insisted to be on this CD, and how could I refuse? I get to play this song sometimes with Naked Dave and the Crazy Fish, old friends of Jerome.