My phone was ringing. It hadn’t been ringing much lately. It seemed late. It could have been midnight or 8pm, December 1999. And, like I said, my phone was ringing...
By the end of 1998, most of the Fiddleworms had scattered across the south to focus on other musical projects. Matt Ross and Scott Kennedy had moved from Florence to Huntsville, Alabama and formed a three-piece band with guitarist Mike Roberts called 5ive o’Clock Charlie. Rob Malone had moved to Athens, Georgia where he joined The Drive By Truckers. Chalmers Davis relocated home to Mississippi to take care of his family as he continued to tour with Little Richard.
It was before I had caller ID. And my phone kept ringing.........
Chris Quillen, the founding guitarist of the Fiddleworms, had died in an auto accident in 1996. I still had not dealt with losing Chris. My mother, Polly Armstrong Mefford, had passed away after a long illness. Mom fought the whole way. I was divorced after a marriage that lasted just 6 months. And I was fat, weighing in at 210 because I sat around drinking beer and eating ice cream. (I have since cut back â€" mostly on the ice cream.)
This was the scenario when my phone started ringing that night: beer bottle in one hand and ice cream spoon in the other. So, since my phone hadn’t been ringing much at all, anyway, and since there was no caller ID......I answered it.
The caller was Mitch Mann. Mitch had stepped in to play guitar for the Fiddleworms in November 1997. He was also known and respected for his work in another band called LSD30. Mitch asked if I had been doing anything lately and I said “no.” This was not entirely true. I had played a few solo gigs. But when I opened my mouth to sing, it felt like someone was standing on my chest. Mitch said he had booked a gig at a biker bar called The Iron Horse. And he wanted me to come and sit in. As a result of that invitation, we formed Mann-Mefford with percussionist Tom Risher and played together sporadically over the next three years. During that time, we forged a great friendship.
While playing a gig at The Bayou Blue restaurant during the 2003 W.C. Handy Music Festival, 5ive o’clock Charlie walked in. They were scheduled to play after us at the Handy event. But, while Mann-Mefford was playing, first Matt, then Scott, and then Mike all joined in for an impromptu Fiddleworms reunion. We played maybe four songs together, all from the Fiddleworms “Yellowhammer” album. On the way home that night, my wife Allison (who I met at the biker bar) said “that’s what you need to be doing.” I knew she was right because every once in a while you find a chemistry between musicians and their audience. That chemistry creates a euphoria that’s better than any drug. Most young musicians take it for granted and every older musician covets it more than anything in the world. Within four months, we were getting really high together.
In January of 2004 Mitch asked if I would call Rodney Good. Rodney had produced the “Yellowhammer” album and is now married to recording artist Jamie O’Neal. Mitch had heard they were looking for a new guitar player and asked if I would call and see if that was true. When I talked to Rodney, he asked how the guys were doing and he mentioned that he had saved the songs we were working on back in September of 1996. Incredible! I knew that we could pick up where we left off with our second Fiddleworms album. But, there were still two people I needed to talk to.
The first contact I needed to make was with Rob Malone, a tormented genius, who stepped into the impossible role of playing guitar for the Fiddleworms right after Chris Quillen died. I will always love him for that. The second contact I needed to make was with Chalmers Davis. While the Fiddleworms have had a history of problems with keyboard players â€" he’s in the band; no wait, he’s out of the band; uh, no, he’s in again â€" Chalmers was always there for us. He is a true professional and an amazing B3 player. All our projects have featured Chalmers as our keyboard player. The problem for this project, however, was that I hadn’t talked to either of these guys in six years.
There are some people you can be separated from for a short period of time and when you reunite you seem to have nothing in common. Fortunately, there are also people you may not see for over half a decade and you never miss a beat. I was able to contact Rob and Chalmers and on Memorial Day Weekend 2004 we all went up to Rodney's Studio in Nashville. We recorded for four days and finished the album we started nearly eight years before. Matt still had a cassette tape I had made of Rob and Chris jamming on my porch, on the banks of Shoal Creek, during the early summer of 1996. It’s called “Bug Jazz” because of the cicadas you can hear in the background. Chris’s dad, Carol Quillen, played mandolin and sang background vocals with Mitch on “Take a Bow.”
There are things in this life that no words can describe.
Anything is possible through music.
“A pioneer of the spirit”
Year of the Cock 2005