(The Broken Prayers)
People like to think of musicians as these creative heroes that lay about all day drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and tapping away on the old Smith & Corona writing wonderful songs surrounded by poets and models and cigar smoking agents. You know, like those pictures you see of Dylan in the sixties. I want to be that guy but unfortunately that’s not me. I’m a working stiff. I’m up in the morning at 3:00am and off to work. I’m a camera man for a local news station here in Philadelphia, PA and have been for a few years now. I can only assume that that has been a great contributor to the bleak subject matter in my music. I’m generally a pretty happy guy but I suppose that your brain takes a bit of a beating when your job requires you to run towards something that everyone else is running away from.
I’m proud of this new album Crow that my band and I have put out and hope that when you listen to it, it will stir something in you. All of the musicians on this album are in the same boat with me. Up in the morning and off to work. We play because at that critical moment during our childhood someone handed us an instrument rather than say, a bowling ball, a deck of cards or a plunger.
Crow was recorded entirely in our rehearsal space down in South Philadelphia by Scot Dantzer. It was recorded digitally and then Scot would take it home and mix it. My only instruction to Scot was to “do whatever he wanted.” Carte Blanche. He took that advice and ran with it. I hope that you will agree. Scot is a good friend and an incredibly talented individual. I am glad that he said yes.
I was asked to write a little bit about where the songs on Crow came from. I’ll do my best but realize that, like I said, I’m not that guy who sits down to write and magic just happens. I’ll be in the shower or riding my bicycle or taking the elevator to see the podiatrist and inspiration will strike just long enough for me to forget everything by the time I get to a pen and paper. It may be that any writer would say the same thing.
Little Black Heart, the first song on Crow is a great example of that nearly forgotten song. I was driving my car (a 1972 Cadillac Coup De Ville, by the way. love that car) to work one morning when a song came on the radio that was so sickeningly sweet that I almost shoved my Pop-Tart into the eight-track tape player. I don’t remember the tune but the words were something like “Big, big heart filled with love…” or some crap. I turned off the radio and Little Black Heart, the entire song just flew in and landed on my skull. It was written before I had arrived at my job. The problem was that I had already begun to forget the whole thing. What to do? Paper wouldn’t work. I’d forget the melody. I couldn’t record it in a camera. What if someone saw me? What if someone got hold of the tape!? I called my wife and said, “I’m going to call you right back. Don’t pick up the phone”. I hid in a closet and recorded the whole song into her voicemail.
Act Naturally is a song made popular by Buck Owens; naturally. I’m a big fan and spent many evenings on my fathers lap watching Hee-Haw. Buck was always A-Grinnin’ to Roy Clarks’ A-Pickin’. I had no intentions of recording this song but I had been fooling around with it while Jim Callen was getting set up to record some pedal steel guitar and Scot just put a few microphones around the room and off we went.
Long Life Stomp was sort of a similar circumstance in that nobody in the band showed up to record that day except Tony Bello, Scot and me. We scratched our heads for a while and then laid the song down with nothing but an acoustic guitar and drums. Scot took it home, lit a firecracker under it and BANG, there it was. I think of the song as a tall tale. Like maybe Paul Bunyan or Stacka Lee should be singing as he wanders the country building monuments or destroying cities.
Drunk in a Dry Town was just a twinkle in my eye until we spent a weekend at Fred’s little family hunting shack in the New Jersey wetlands. This song, liquor fueled was born there.
Most of my songs are just stories that I’ve made up. You start with two words that rhyme and off you go. In my case the story usually lands in some awful dark or tragic place. This song is about a real event and begins in the most tragic place imaginable. Adrift on the Sea is a song that I had been trying to write for a long time. For some reason I have a very difficult time writing about true events. It’s not that I don’t want to; I just don’t think that my brain works that way. Even now I am having trouble writing this paragraph. The first line of the song, “She was only fourteen when Ms. Woods found her swinging from the light fixture in the center of the ceiling” is exactly what happened. There was no way to be poetic about that. So I just kept it simple. In my early twenties I went to work for an institution for delinquent girls. It was a catholic institution run by nuns. I was hired solely based on my 6 foot, 4 inch frame and my job was to keep the peace among thirty teenage female hoodlums. What a hoot. There are a hundred songs that I can’t write just from working at that place alone but the worst night of my life was that last night that I spent working for the Sisters.
She lived, by the way, the young girl, but I can’t tell you what ever became of her. A week later I was leaving for Andros Island where for the next year I would spend my time “adrift”.
A few years ago a great friends’ heart suddenly stopped one evening a few days before Christmas. It stopped beating just long enough to deprive his brain of the oxygen it needed to stay plumb. Convalescent Man was written with the hopes that he’d get better. He hasn’t yet and it breaks my heart.
The last song on this album is one of my favorites. As anyone who knows me will attest, I’m a big Dolly Parton fan. Huge, in fact. Dolly used to have her own show on TV when I was a kid and I was all too willing to go fist-to-cuffs with any or all of my three older brothers to insure my TV time with Dolly. Hands down, best set of pipes between here and heaven. 1,000 Angels is about that voice. I hope she likes it.
Thank you for taking the time to read a little about Crow and The Broken Prayers. This is certainly the first time that I have been asked to write about what we do and I hope that I haven’t bored you to weeping. Thanks also to Johanna J. Bodde at Insurgent Country for inviting me to do this. The Broken Prayers are perpetually recording with our pal Scot and hope to have another album out some time next year.
While you are busy living your life try and remember to do a little bit of good along the way.