session log: michael tearson’s “stuff that works”, part two

so, we knew going into the studio tonight that it’d be the last night for cutting basic tracks, barring a total and complete meltdown…and based on the last couple of sessions, that seemed highly unlikely. we had two songs left to do: st. louis county fair by paul metsa (we’d done his song  jack ruby the previous session, two days ago)…and a quirky-assed song called wiley post, written by shannon wurst from arkansas.

honestly, i didn’t have any misgivings about the first song, but i knew the second one was gonna be a bit of a pain in the ass, just because the chord changes were a little scatterbrained…not that they were complex in structure or anything like that, but because they didn’t fall where you’d typically expect a chord change. to add insult to injury, MT decides to go directly against the grain of the instincts bred by my repeated listenings of the original by changing where a handful of the chord changes fell…so, as it turned out, i’d have been better off not having invested a lot of time into listening to the original version.

the ever-animated michael tearson
michael tearson, making his point...

for the first song, i dropped the key from F to E without saying anything to MT, just to see how he’d react to it vocally…and got the results i was expecting. i wasn’t sure how he’d feel about some of those high notes in there if we kept it in the original key, and sure enough – it sounded as though he felt a lot more comfortable with E than with F. for the basic track on this one, i cut the intial guitar part in something of a hybrid fingerstyle pattern, and then cut a “strummier” part after the initial track was done – the two parts worked pretty well together, but i think the strummy part may be the one that survives, ultimately.

then we moved on to tackling the second one. usually, we’ll run through a song in the cutting room – in place behind the mics – once, maybe twice. when we cut the guy clark song, old friends, we didn’t even go over it – when it was time to do it, i asked him if he did it in the original key. he nodded, andy hit record, and the version you’ll hear on the record is the very first time ever that MT and i ever played or sang the song together.

for this song, though, we sat in the control room and ran it a good four or five times before we felt like we were ready to step up to the plate. we went in and strapped into position, i put the headphones on so i could hear our reference click and we took off down the road…and predictably enough, had a pair of false starts before finally smoothing the chord changes out to the point that we got a run through without any mistakes. then we did a second pass, just to be sure we were solid, and the second one was the keeper.

i was telling andy and MT about this interview with billy gibbons of zz top that i’d read a long time ago where he talked about the band opening for – and then backing – the legendary bluesman lightnin’ hopkins. billy said that, at one point, he mentioned to hopkins that he wasn’t changing chords in the typical, traditional places…according to billy, he turned around and looked at him and said, “lightnin’ change when lightnin’ WANT to change.”


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