Facebook won’t remind me, but it doesn’t need to.
A year ago this week, I was riding back to Nashville from Oshkosh, WI after playing a one-off show with some of the folks I’d just gone to Joshua Tree with the month before to play – and pay – our respects to the musical thread that tied us all together, Rusty Young. We were still watching and waiting for this blurry notion to materialize – the notion of what a band that included us all would look like without him.
We had a great weekend, truth be told – our hosts were wonderful, I’d never been to Oshkosh so I availed myself of the opportunity to walk around downtown where our hotel was located, took photos and enjoyed my “alone time” at the hotel as I typically do – watching movies from my laptop and scribbling in a notebook. The Gin Blossoms were playing in town that night, and I spotted a couple of the guys from the band in the lobby but I didn’t bother to introduce myself. I remembered having seen them in Reading, PA at the Bollman auditorium in 1995 with my buddy Todd and sneaking “backstage” to introduce ourselves and pretend we belonged there…pretty sure I still have pictures from that night.
Having remembered all that, I availed myself of the opportunity to NOT be that dude who comes up and recounts details of a show that the band couldn’t possibly remember…but I did wander back to my room that night and posted an IG video of Found Out About You, one of my favorite songs from their most notable album.
This post isn’t about any of that – but this, my friends, is how my brain works, and you likely know this by now.
This particular outing was the trip between Joshua Tree and the Wildwood memorial show for Rusty that would take place later that fall, and we were only a band in the theoretical sense – save for the fact that we’d been offered a record deal by the label that Rusty called home, and had committed to the notion of making an album of new music as the entity that survived the 53 year lineage of the band that essentially invented country-rock. Still, we’d really only just begun to wrap our collective heads around what that would look like.
We didn’t even have a name yet.
In fact, the thing I’ll likely remember most about that trip – over and above the Gin Blossoms or the fact that I showed up with a knife for a gun fight, in terms of the gear I brought for that show – was the drive home, with Jack riding shotgun, trying to think of a band name. We were taking in the scenery and grasping at every straw imaginable, trying to shoehorn the name of an exit or a phrase from a billboard into something tangible – but it became pretty obvious early on that it was more or less an exercise in absurdity. One of us would say a phrase out loud and the other would nod – “yeah, that could work” – and Jack would use his phone to Google the phrase, plus the word “band” or “music”…
…and almost every time, Jack would then ask: “what kind of band do you think (insert band name here) is?”
So I’d reply: “well, I think that ‘Desert Motel’ is a….western swing band from Billings, Montana.”
Jack would then reply with what he’d turned up in his search results:
“…actually, as it turns out, ‘Desert Motel’ is a self-described ‘high energy post-new wave synth pop’ band from Luchenbach, Texas.”
When I tell you that there’s literally no limit to how long you can play this game and still crack yourself up, that’s not an exaggeration. I told my 13 year old son about it, and he STILL comes up to me out of the blue on occasion and says: “Dad…what kind of band is Chezburger Cat?“
It might be the best road game EVER.
We did finally find a name. And at first, I was largely lukewarm and ambivalent about it.
But after it settled in, it was hard to deny that it was perfect.
Taken from one of the songs Rusty was proudest of (Rose of Cimarron) and combined with the Nashville area code, it felt more perfect as time went by and it started to sink in.
It’s still a little crazy to think that a year has gone by, but – here we are.
There were details of the contract to sort out, and a million little things in the aftermath – things like opening a bank account, like setting up an LLC, like reserving a URL for the band website and setting up social media, and a million other little things like that to take care of – before we really got to the good stuff: rehearsing, finding out what we sounded like as a band, selecting songs, starting to figure out who would occupy what roles within the band. The truth, if we’re willing to admit it to ourselves, is that on a few levels, we’re still working some of that out.
But – we’ve done it.
It’s taken a year, but we’ve done it.
Between surgeries and COVID and broken bones and budgets and indecision and everything that’s thrown itself in our path, we’ve actually fucking DONE it.
We’ve booked the studio, we’ve rehearsed and learned each other’s songs, we’ve recorded and overdubbed and sang together on the same microphone and argued about arrangements and who to hire for photo shoots…we’ve drank each other under the table at ML Rose and Brown’s Diner and hugged each other after mixes and talked on the phone and texted at all hours of the day and night and put songs under the microscope and we’ve bickered about the sequencing and had photos taken in the most outrageous pink-assed East Nashville hipster house on the planet and we’ve celebrated under a friendly sun in the pool as the record played, in its final form, while we all smiled and acknowledged – maybe without saying as much out loud – that we’ve actually fucking DONE it.
Today, we all submitted our lyrics and writer/publisher/PRO information for the liner notes – we’ve got a respected Nashville artist putting together the artwork and layout as we speak, and we’re preparing our bio/press information for what happens next, and – MOST importantly – we’ve approved the final master to submit to the label.
It’s taken a year, but it’s THIS CLOSE to being in the manufacturing pipeline…
…and it’s starting – after a year – to feel real. To feel tangible. To feel like something less conceptual and more concrete.
And yeah, I might be the greenhorn in this band, but I know how this process works. I know that the ACTUAL work is only just about to begin – but tonight, a year after that road trip back from Wisconsin, and a few days after taking an afternoon to celebrate with the band and our friends and families, it’s worth taking a minute to reflect on what we’ve managed to do over the course of this year…this weird year, bookended against a year of trauma and tragedy.
Maybe, for a minute or two, it’s ok to be proud of what we’ve created.
Maybe, for a minute or two, it’s ok to take stock of the work we’ve done in the aftermath of losing the person that represented the thread that connected us all in the first place – in the midst of a global pandemic – and to exhale and take stock of what we managed to accomplish.
While none of us were paying attention, we became – A BAND.
We’ve become aware of each other’s quirks and we’ve made (sometimes uneasy) peace with each other’s eccentricities.
Catchphrases have evolved:
“…they almost killed Jack!”
We’ve learned to play off each other’s strengths and to cover for each other’s (mostly MY) weaknesses.
This late in life, every one of us – to a man – knows what we’ve stumbled onto, and I don’t believe that any of us take it for granted.
In just a few days, we’ll be meeting again to discuss and approve artwork and talk about layout and singles and writing bios and press releases and jump back into the grind of the cycle…we’ve opted to put the record out this fall instead of next February, so that means we’re going to have to really bust our asses to make this pre-release cycle work.
But the decision to put it out this fall was near-unanimous among the members of the band, and we can’t wait for you to hear this record.
Stay tuned, friends.