In December 2015 I released ‘Living with Fiction’ (LWF), my first new album of original songs in 22 years. The recording itself took more than 2 ½ years to complete. In my defense there was a bit of a learning curve involved, due to all of the new hardware and software I was using. And it definitely took a while before I started to like what I was hearing. Shaking off the rust indeed.
Fast forward to January 2016, and the shocking news of David Bowie’s passing. I must say it stunned and rattled me for a while. In late February, after a month of Blackstar floating around in my head and Lazarus dreams, I decided I would attempt to record a Bowie track. I ended up recording ‘Everyone Says Hi’ – one of my all-time favorite Bowie songs. I didn’t fret over it like I did with LWF, and had it mixed, mastered, licensed and available online 7 days later. (The money may be gone in music, but there is definitely a new swiftness to getting your work out there.)
After the Bowie track started to settle in, for some reason I thought I might want to do a Peter Gabriel song. My wife Sherry suggested I do ‘Solsbury Hill’. I said no, I’m only going to attempt my favorite songs (commercial or not); so I decided to tackle ‘San Jacinto’. This led to choosing the next artist and song, and the basic concept of an album of my favorite songs, by artists who have influenced me. Who I chose ‘not’ to cover became as important as who I did cover.
In March I laid down the additional 9 tracks that would comprise Wheelhouse (a remix of ‘Everyone Says Hi’ is the 10th track). The artists/songwriters I settled on were David Bowie, Joe Cocker, Bruce Cockburn, Peter Gabriel, Joni Mitchell, Lou Reed, Robbie Robertson, Leon Russell, Tony Joe White, and Neil Young. Joe Cocker is the odd man out here as far as songwriters go, but I had to include him because he’s at the top of my list of favorite singers (The Cocker track was written by Chris Botti and The Blue Nile). April and the first week of May were used for overdubs, mixing, mastering and artwork.
I also decided whatever I did, it couldn’t take years to complete. In fact, I wanted to do something in the time frame my recordings had been completed in 30 years prior. A month maybe, two months max. Granted, I only had 4 or 8 tracks to work with back then, compared to 60 tracks on ‘Everyone Says Hi’. I also knew I needed a due date, so I could actually finish the thing. I believe LWF only came out because of the decision to have it out on my birthday last year. Without that, I suspect I’d still be working on it. So we looked for a notable date. Thinking of the song ‘Under This Black Moon’ from LWF, I wondered when was the next Black Moon? Too far out. How about a Blue Moon? Bingo – May 21st. So I had a target and could only fret for a short while longer. This all contributed to ‘Wheelhouse’ taking a little less than 3 months to complete.
I know the album is a bit rough around the edges, but hopefully that’s for the better. As for the title, I have to credit my wife. After hearing the playback of ‘Unbound’ over and over the night I banged it into shape, she said “that song is right in your Wheelhouse”. I knew right then that was the title. I’ve since found out several other albums have the same title. Oh well… As a side note, I had no idea licensing 10 cover songs could be so costly, but it is. Tell your friends ‘Wheelhouse’ is a must have!
As with most of my recorded work, I played all of the instruments on ‘Wheelhouse’, handled the vocals, engineering etc. It’s something I’ve always aspired to do since I first heard Paul McCartney and Emitt Rhodes do it over 45 years ago, and definitely a homemade thing. I’m sure it would sound better if I was able to throw more money at it, but….it is what it is. I play the studio like I play the guitar – upside down. This being my 40th year of writing and recording music, I figure it’s OK to do my first covers album. Turns out I like this album a lot, with all of the songs having a special meaning for me. Here’s hoping you feel the same way. And thank you David Bowie – for the inspiration.
Compact Discs will be available in the next few days on Amazon.com and CD Baby.