Track by Track

Listen to our Tennessean Music Podcast by Kevin Walters

It’s Alright- I’d just gotten the Harmony Rocket from Sergio and it had been quite some time since I’d written a song. We have a bombshelter in our house that I retreat to occasionally. It’s equipped with all the essentials- a light bulb, beer fridge and ventilation portals. It also has really thick cinderblock walls and a metal door, so I can crank the music up loud without complaints from the rest of the family. I had decided before going down there, that I was getting my smile on and not leaving the shelter until I’d written a song. To my great surprise, a song was given to me in about half an hour. I was ecstatic! I ran upstairs to play my new masterpiece for my wife, Kimberly. When I was done I asked her what she thought, and she kinda gave me the look that said, “That’s a bunch of crap.” She suggested several edits and I slithered back down to the bombshelter to tinker. The eventual result was “It’s Alright,” a song I’m proud of. Come to think about it,
I guess Kimmy deserves a writers’ credit!

Stay With Me- I wrote this song because sometimes I’m a dumbass and need to apologize to my wife. But the song has taken on a different meaning in recent months.  Late last year Kimberly was diagnosed with cancer. She went through chemo and radiation and is currently in remission. She was strong through all of this. I always knew she was tough, because I’d been sparring with her for nearly 25 years, but I had no idea she was a heavy weight contender for champion of the world! …stay with me.

Beefboy Jack & Mississippi John- A professor friend of mine told me this story about himself and his best buddy when they were grad students in Memphis back in the late 60’s. The Professor was going through a divorce, his buddy wanted to cheer him up, so they drove down to Clarksdale, Mississippi to find Mississippi John Hurt and see if he would be willing to come perform at a house party back in Memphis. They located John Hurt’s home, knocked on his door, he answered and agreed to go with them. The only payment he wanted was a bottle of Gilbey’s gin. Mississippi John played all night, and in the morning the buddy took him back home to Clarksdale. Before leaving, however, he told the Professor that he was welcome to sleep with his wife if he so desired. Now that’s a true friend! “Sleeping with an angel can kill your grief…”

After I wrote this song, I called the Professor and played it for him over the phone. It must have jarred something in his memory bank, because I got a letter from him a couple of days later that said he had made a mistake in his story telling. It wasn’t Mississippi John Hurt that played for their house party, but Mississippi Fred McDowell. I thought this even better, but I didn’t like the sound of “Beefboy Jack & Mississippi Fred,” so I kept the song as it was originally written.

Barfly-  In the mid-nineties I was a street vendor down on Second Ave. in Nashville. I used to sell silver jewelry we’d bought in Southeast Asia. We’d set up outside the Hardrock Café, right next to the entrance of the old bar, Windows on the Cumberland.  One week day I was sitting at my booth when I noticed Skip Litz, the legendary barfly, walk out of Windows and stick a handwritten notice on a lightpole: “Tonight Only- Townes Van Zandt.” I immediately packed up my silver, went home, washed up and drove back to the bar. I sat in the balcony right above the stage and watched Townes perform the perfect set. He was on- charming, tortured, lucid and beautiful.

Then he took a long break. When he returned to the stage a couple hours later, he was gone. His bass player, Jimmy Gray, ended up singing most of the songs, while Townes turned his guitar over and beat on it like a drum.  I wrote the nuts and bolts of “Barfly” that night while Townes was on break. I gave it to my buddy, Drew Thomas, and he added a bridge. Then the song sat around for 15 years or so. I revived it for this record, and once we recorded it, it seemed to be the obvious choice for the title track.

Decatur Street-  This was one of the first songs I wrote after years of not writing anything. My family was down in New Orleans, visiting friends and hanging out. We stopped for dinner at MaMa Fiorella’s, on Decatur Street. My wife and girls were there, and my good friend Matt stopped in. They are all in the song, as well as is the ghost of a dear friend lost, Melissa Duke. All told, this is my favorite track on the record. I wrote it in about an hour, with no edits. When we recorded it, it took one take. I know some might find this song to be a little loose. I love it.

Once Again-  As I mentioned before, sometimes I’m a dumbass.

Decent Shoulder- I used to be in a band called Felix Wiley. One of my bandmates was the silver-haired Dutchman, Maarten Muller. He’s a great musician and songwriter. Back in the day, lyrics came easy to me, but tunes were confounding. Maarten was rich in melody. I’d had this chorus about getting older running through my head for sometime. One day Maarten and I were talking about idioms, and I asked him to translate some Dutch expressions into English. They translated into poetry. We put the translations with the chorus, and then found one of Maarten’s melodies looking for a home. Thus “Decent Shoulder” got its legs. Shortly thereafter, Maarten’s father passed away, and he received his Papa’s wristwatch in the mail. He wrote the last verse of the song in honor of his dad.

She Had a Laugh-  When I was young , I worked for the consumer rights group Citizen Action in Baton Rouge. We worked on environmental issues as well as Single-Payer National Health Care. While working there I met Paula Henderson. She was a beautiful redhead with a wonderful laugh and balls of steel. Long after I left Citizen Action to pursue more selfish endeavors, Paula continued to fight the fight. She dedicated her life to standing up for the disenfranchised. When she passed away a couple of years ago, we played the Jackson Browne song “All Good Things” at her wake. I wrote “She Had a Laugh” with her in mind. I took some liberties, but I imagine she’s laughing at them right now.

Thought You’d Fly Away-  I guess I have to be honest and say that I got the idea for this song after getting on Facebook and seeing glimpses into the lives of former girlfriends. When I wrote the song, however, I was just thinking about past loves, past experiences, and molding them into one relationship. “Decades misplaced, but memories are clear…”

Go Back-  Years ago Felix Wiley was courting Ray Kennedy to record our next album. He seemed genuinely interested, bringing us into the Room & Board to play, sifting through the plethora of tunes, and even picking out the dozen or so songs he wanted to record. But as often happens, that record never got made. We ended up recording a sub-par CD in a friend’s living room and blah, blah, blah….

I wrote “Go Back” while licking my wounds a few months after this experience, trying to reconnect with why I originally wanted to write songs. The song was dead until recording the album “BarFly.” We had finished all the songs I wanted to get to when Paul Burch, co-producer, noticed that we had enough tape to record a short ditty. He inquired, with a bit of amusement, if I had ever written a short song? I brought this tune out as an afterthought. Thomm Jutz ‘s slide and Paul’s jungle-beat drums made this song a keeper.

It All Comes Round-  My father gave me a poem years ago about the poet’s place in the circle of life. I think it’s simple but it’s true- It all does come ‘round.

My Way Back Home- I’ve got a landscaping business in Nashville called Terra Firma. One good thing about have a landscaping business in Nashville is that there are a lot of hungry musicians out there in need of some daytime work. One of my long time musician/landscapers once said,”The motto of Terra Firma should be ‘Helping artists just get by since 1996’.”

A couple of years ago, another musician/landscaper suggested, after realizing the whole crew was made up of songwriters, that we should write and record a “Terra Firma Gospel Album.” Everyone laughed and agreed, but of course never got around to it.

I wrote this song in a sincere effort to reconnect with my religious upbringing. Also, I had just lost a close friend, and her voice is what I was hearing in the wind. I always loved how Prine ended “Diamonds in the Rough” with the trad gospel number. “My Way Back Home” was the ending to this album before it was ever recorded.