Tapes rolling. Cameras recording. Walls listening.
I was standing in the middle of Sun Studio.
Cameras staring with their giant black eyes.
"Still getting some sounds, Billy. Play just a bit more y'all."
Matt Ross-Spang still finessing.
It seemed to do the trick.
We got the thumbs up from Matt in the booth. Time to lay one down for real.
I was directed to say the name of the song and who starts it off into the camera.
"I Got Bit....I guess I start this one."
And we were off...
Reckless abandon! Let it go, my boy, let it go.
God damn did it feel good to have the full unit spitting out these tunes with hellfire and brimstone. I could only imagine the devil was in the back room smiling with approval. It is his music after all.
We smoked through our first take like a teenager sneaking their first cig.
It felt the right amount of good and the right amount of wrong. Visceral excitement.
We were just about to get serious with the next take when one of the production crew informed us that someone's car horn was going off in the parking lot.
Matt stepped out to investigate while we prepped for the next take.
Ended up to be Nathan's (Trombone) car alarm that was squealing for assistance.
He headed outside to find not only his, but also Randy's (Trumpet) car window had been smashed out.
Glass spilt onto the pavement into so many tiny pieces.
The would be thief off into the night.
Thankfully nothing was stolen from their cars.
I was sorry it happened.
Shoulders were shrugged, "Well, it's Memphis."
The devil was grinning harder than before, I was sure of it.
As they say, the show must go on.
So we hopped back inside to do the numbers we could without trumpet and trombone. To say the least the good time energy was sucked out of the room. Since the attitude was now quite somber we decided maybe "Backslider" was in order.
We'll kick this fucker off with a creepy country blues murder ballad.
"Backslider" came to me after listening to some old tracks from Leadbelly in which he described to Alan Lomax life working the fields.
At one point he explained that by turning his back on the church and playing secular music, the church-folk referred to him as a ‘backslider’, saying he done backslid.
Something about that rang true in my innards and acted as the firestarter for the tune. I feel it’s one of my more successful attempts at folklore imagery that worked perfectly in the overall tale I was spinning.
It's a spooky little song that pretty much wrote itself. That really is when you have to give yourself over to the unseen forces. Songs, or any art for that matter, that materialize out of thin air with you merely acting as the conduit.
Scott plotted with Art on how to pull off the unique percussion for the song. So Art set down his sax to help recreate the spike-driving sound in the breaks by smacking a metal stool with a drum stick.
Tom Waits would be proud.
Only took a few takes to get the 'one'.
This was happening.
Someone pinch me.
We moved back to "I Got Bit" while Randy and Nathan wrapped up their dealings outside.
Then things started to really cook.
We were back on the blues bus.
Kicking off the song, Adrienne's stunning voice floated over the top of everything in a way that lifted us all to meet it.
Art locked with Corey.
Austin tickled the blood out of the keys.
I thought about all the things that had ever gone wrong in my life while I sang.
I also thought about all the things that had ever gone right.
I decided to let them fight it out.
Just like Dewey Cox.
Looked like the roller coaster of energy was back on the ascent.
Soon time became a peculiar thing. It crept and accelerated all at once. I was outside my body and intensely in my own head simultaneously.
We got a solid take after a few short tries.
Randy and Nathan joined back in and we started knocking the songs down like ducks at a carney trap.
"Medicine" sounded incredibly heavy yet elated. It spun on it's heel into that smooth late 50's Jackie Wilson feel without missing a beat. Those delicious Memphis horns serving a perfect serving of R&B. Corey walking on the bass impeccably. Ah yes, this is the sound I yearned for. That swing. That God damned swing.
"Lying Thang" - Art filling in with bari sax for the tuba part. Austin hitting the ragtime piano paired with Rabino's circus beat over the refrain melted together. Mike and Randy joyfully traded licks back and forth on the solo. New Orleans. The French Quarters. Django Reinhardt three fingered chords. Bliss.
As a kid, I was a victim of vicious stage fright and it's been a long weathered road to get where I am. And at this point in the night I found was on a sort of autopilot with a strange mixture of war of the mind and a powerful refusal to be ravaged of my own internal demons. Sometimes old wounds still weep.
"The Beast In Me" - The horns. The band. The harmonized vocals. Corey's bass line paired with Mike's soul licks. Scott with the switch of the rim hits to the snare. I was hit like a ton of bricks with why I was drawn to creating music in the first place. Here was a 9 piece band playing together as if they'd been hardened by the road together. Everyone was on the same page. It's a communal experience. It's therapy. It's served as a friend and confidant when there was no one else. And here it was, living and breathing. Spitting fire.
"The Silver Lining" - Last song. Last chance to share this experience we were amazingly part of. I can't think of a more poignant ending for the evening.
This is another song that came out of nowhere and asked to be written. Most likely because I was in a very vulnerable place when I wrote it. Unsure of my purpose or path. Doubting where I was and who I was. Still wrapped in sadness over the passing of my Mother. It served as the great escape. "I'm headed home tonight..."
First time I played it for Austin, he perked up. He immediately played the trill on the break as if it had always been there. His approval gave me faith. He's one of the most talented individuals I've had the pleasure of collaborating with. So when I asked him to write a mournful, swelling, cinematic horn section for this song, he delivered on a capacity I wasn't expecting...
Matt gave a nod and we were off.
I sang about loss. The loss of innocence, the loss of friends, the loss of love, the loss of family.
The band played like they were filtering their own pain and suffering through it. Maybe the next chord would give release to the promised land. The rim of sunlight splitting over the horizon.
It was the first time playing that song live with a full horn section.
It was exactly what I had envisioned.
It was the best song of the night.
I couldn't believe it was over.
All the anticipation and planning. All the miles and hours. All the stress and worry.
I hovered around and gave a 20 minute interview while the band retired to the connected cafe to laugh and enjoy being on the other side.
I was beside myself.
Elated and proud.
The night was finished and we packed up shop. Smiles and hugs were exchanged before we headed back to the hotel.
As we pulled away from Sun I snagged a final look for the night.
Bricks and sticks, neon and sound panelling, resting on the corner of Union and Marshall. I had dreamt about stepping through it's door in younger days. A large dream for a simple boy from the Chesapeake Bay.
Austin and Adrienne had early departure times so we all said rushed goodbyes in the hotel hallway. It was bittersweet. Everything had happened so damned fast we hadn't even the chance for a proper catch up or hang.
I was still processing.
Corey, Mike, Scott, Rosie and I hit the corner for a nightcap. Last call had already been called but the barkeep poured for us anyway.
We nestled together in a booth and tried to piece together the night. Everyone wore tired smiles but kept their shoulders back in victory.
Sun had been good to us once before, it was surely nice to receive such a warm welcome for a second time. I wish I could better put into words how much this meant to me and everyone involved. To have something you adore and connect with on a level that resonates in your bones somehow work it's way into your path, it gives you faith.
Faith in music. Faith in love. Faith in friends.
This experience is something I'll cherish for the rest of my days and I'm thankful for it all. Thank you to the band, thank you to Sun, thank you to Matt Ross-Spang, thank you to the Rose, thank you to that Memphis soil, that grit, those tendrils of goosebumps that still work their way up your spine as the record spins.