Session Files: Forgive me for I have sinned.

Another Studio Adventure...

Let me state right off the top that I'm not fond of Country Music. Please understand: No offense is intended. I don't think ill of those who play and enjoy it but it's just not my cup of tea. Now, I did grow up in Knoxville, Tennessee, which was the first home of country music in the 'twenties before the city elders told those country music folks to shove off, and they moved on to Nashville. In Knoxville I was surrounded by Country Music, Bluegrass, and Olde Tyme. Daily. I watched Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner on their local show early on Saturday mornings while I was waiting for the cartoons to come on. I listened to some of the music of Southern Rockers, The Outlaws. I did try manfully, but I simply never developed a taste for it. I AM sorry. Anyway, let me say it again: I don't particularly like Country Music.* To quote Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol, "This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate."

With that understanding between us we can proceed with our story: I was recently asked to arrange and produce a couple of sing-along songs for a kid's DVD. The basic tunes were specified by the client and I was asked to suggest a vocalist for the job whose range would set the keys. From there it was up to me to arrange the songs and perform and produce the tracks. I worked on the arrangements in the week leading up to the recording and tried various approaches. As usual, I woke up the night before the sessions and mulled the possibilities as well. My body seems to think that good things happen when you should be sleeping. However, through the week leading up a funky feeling about these songs began to creep up on me. I felt like I was being inexorably shoved down a road and that I wasn't sure I was much going to like where it took me. First off, the songs were both basically two-step rhythms, no getting away from that. Anyone who heard the tunes would know it. I tried monkeying around with them and couldn't find another rhythm to use that would compel the kids to sing along. There it was.

So on session day I dug into the first song. I built it up as usual, slapping out the beat into a microphone and replacing the slaps with Drumagog samples. Next came Fender bass, classically alternating first and fifth. Then I played the acoustic guitar part. Now, I am not a committed, licensed "boom-chucker" but the song screamed out for boom-chuck rhythm guitar and with my background I can indeed pull that off. Next I outfitted the intro, turn-arounds, and outro with a portion of the melody played with a slide on resonator guitar. And now, how to flesh it out? Well, the song had a sort of Zydeco gestalt to it. What could be more apropos than some nice squeezebox? I dialed up the accordion preset on the Roland GR-20 guitar synthesizer and put down two tracks of squeeze box chords on the chorus with an idiomatic feel. Voile'! Bring on the jambalya 'cause Bob's doing Zydeco. There's a first time for everything, no?

And then it came time to develop the second song. This one was a faster-tempo thingie that just begged to be a line dance song. Alrighty then, I'm in. I took a deep breath and built up the rhythm section as before but this time I recorded two acoustic guitar tracks, one with the walk-up passing tones from the bass line using a thicker pick for control and the other with only the brushy strums of the next inversions of the chords using a thinner pick to thin them out. Then came a track of single-string Telecaster electric, exactly doubling the bass, and another track with chordal fills during the turnarounds featuring pedal-steel-like hammer-ons. Of course, the intro needed and received a twangy Tele lead stating part of the melody. By the way, over the years I've been told quite confidently and authoritatively on forums that my neck-through Carvin TL-60T with splittable humbuckers could never, ever sound like a Tele. Since I've picked up a real Tele I've found that assertion to be absolutely untrue. With the coils split and a little compression it can do a remarkable imitation, good enough to fool just about anyone, and this was a perfect example.

Carvin TL60T with Roland GK-3 pickup

Once the Teles were laid down then the schtick really hit the fan: On a complete lark I pulled out the lap steel for the last two notes of the finale. I did a little one-octave slide up onto the final tonic at the highest possible octave and committed the ultimate country cliche'. By George, we have a country song in the studio today! I took home a rough mix and played it for my wife. Knowing me and my rock proclivities she absolutely cracked up.

So there you go. Another session call requiring a stylistic jump. Another arranging, playing, and recording challenge. Another opportunity to grow and stretch my boundaries. So forgive me, as cliche' as it was, I have committed Country, and actually had a blast doing it. And to quote Tiny Tim from Dickens, "God bless Us, every one!"


* Okay, I'll admit there is some really GREAT guitar-oriented Country and I do like some of that. And in fact, after this experience I pulled out the albums of some artists I've worked with over the years and enjoyed them again.