This album is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’ve kept these songs, some of them for eight years, waiting for the chance to record them exactly as I heard them in my head. If I had known what a chore it would turn out to be, playing each part myself, this album might have come out a bit differently. But that’s what I did. Everything you hear - the guitars, the steel, the bass, the piano, the snare drum - is me. This isn’t so much an opportunity to show off what I can do as it is a chance to get to do more than just sing and play a guitar.
Here’s what you’re hearing:
Pedal Steel Guitar - my favorite instrument to play, probably because you can never learn it all. There’s always something new to discover. I started out with a lap steel, and have been playing pedal steel for about four years now. I have my heroes like Don Helms, Jerry Byrd, Little Roy Wiggins, Lloyd Green, Jimmy Day, and Ralph Mooney. I’ve been stealing their licks, making up my own, and combining it all since I started playing. This album gave me a chance to play around with different ideas and finally hear back all I’ve been learning. Appearing on this album is my 1967 single-neck Sho-Bud Fingertip.
Lead guitar - something I’ve always been a bit afraid of. That’s why there’s very little of it on this album; I only featured lead guitar on three songs here. I don’t listen to a lot of guitar players, so most of what you’ll hear on my leads comes from off the top of my head. While it’s easy to guess who my steel influences are, my guitar heroes are limited to guys whose styles are too complex for me to try to emulate.
Bass guitar - I’ve messed around with basses over the years but only bought one and really started concentrating on it about three months before this album was recorded. I have a new respect for the bass players out there. Bass is the foundation of any song, and not nearly as easy as I always thought.
Percussion - My lack of rhythm is not the reason I only used a snare on this album. If you’ll go back and listen to some old honky-tonk stuff, you’ll hear something that sounds too percussive to be harsh strumming, but too soft to be drums. I had to have that sound on this record. That sound is actually a snare-like attachment on the body of an upright bass, played with a wire snare brush that’s held between the fingers of the right hand. Sound difficult? It is. That’s why I smacked a snare drum with a brush instead. The “tic-tac” guitar is the only other “percussion instrument” I used here. For anyone who isn’t familiar with that, it’s just an electric guitar, played with muted strings. In this case, it’s a Fender Telecaster with a chunk of foam stuffed under the strings, near the bridge.
Piano- I only used it on one song, but I definitely let it shine. “Just A Kiss” features one of my favorite sounds in honky-tonk music, and the shiny black grand piano in the studio was perfect for it.
Acoustic guitar- “Anna Marie” is my Martin D-16RGT. It has a few dings here and there, but rings like a bell. Acoustic guitars often get buried in more heavily-produced mixes, but back in the old days, everything was out in the open. As you can probably tell, I recorded this album with the old school in mind.
I hope this album is as enjoyable to listen to as it was to create.
1. THE GIRLS NEXT DOOR IN AUSTIN (2:59)
For Molly, Jayne, and Melanie. This is a somewhat exaggerated account of an evening I spent in Austin, TX a couple of years ago. After writing it I thought it was too silly to record, and it was actually the last song I picked to go on this album. I made a demo, and decided it sounded better than I thought it would. So, here it is. I went for a sort-of “1960’s-truck-driving-song” feel on this song, heavy on the steel guitar, mixing my favorite Lloyd Green and Ralph Mooney licks into what sounds to me like a hybrid Warner Mack/Del Reeves record. This song is also for my best friend Marc, who was there that night, but somehow got left out of the song.
2. CLOSER TO ME (3:47)
One of those "if I only..." songs. Conway Twitty came to mind as I was writing this, and there's a hint of a George Jones influence in here somewhere that I didn't hear until I played back the first demo. This is one of my better attempts at songwriting.
3. A BRIGHT-RED INDIAN PAINTBRUSH (2:17)
One of my biggest heroes is Hank Thompson. I was always fascinated with his styling and set out a long time ago to try to write something that he might have sung. I offer this as my tribute to the King of Honky-Tonk Swing. This is the first of only three songs on this album which feature electric guitar leads, the reason being I just don’t play that much guitar.
4. SO I WOULDN'T WANT TO CRY* (2:38)
I wrote this song in college. Literally. I was sitting at my desk in a classroom writing this. I never was interested in algebra, and no amount of chalk dust was going to change that. The song sat in my notebook for several months and when I found it again, I had pretty much forgotten about it. I heard a chord progression (3-6m-4m) somewhere and couldn't get it out of my head. I wanted to use it in a song, but couldn't seem to write one around it. Then when this song resurfaced, it just seemed to fit like a missing puzzle piece.
5. BIG YELLOW MOON (3:42)
This is about one of those nights that just isn't long enough. I wrote this with Marty Robbins in mind. It's reminiscent of his early records like "I Couldn't Keep From Cryin’". I thought lazy tempo of this song painted a nice picture of some poor guy who's dragging his feet as he has to leave his girl to go home for the night.
6. TOMORROW NIGHT (2:08)
This is probably the honky-tonkiest song on the whole album. This song isn't a testimonial by any means. I wrote it when I was 20 years old and I'm not sure if I had ever even tasted wine at the time, but I thought it would make for a good song. This song is heavily (and obviously) influenced by my love for Hank Williams' music, hence all the Don Helms licks on the steel guitar. I can't argue the strong Lefty Frizzell influence here as well.
7. LEAVE THE DOOR OPEN (2:50)
This, to me, sounds like a song George Morgan might have done in the late 40's. I wrote it after buying a big box of 78rpm records, which included several by Morgan as well as Eddy Arnold. If I could go back in time and pitch this one, I think Jimmie Davis or Slim Whitman could have done a nice job with it. This is the last song in which you’ll hear any lead guitar. It sounds incredibly simple, but it was the hardest lead to play.
8. JUST A KISS (3:02)
I don't know what I had in mind when I wrote this. Obviously some girl, but musically I wasn't really thinking of anything. I recorded myself singing it and after a couple of lines I started doing this quasi-Lefty Frizzell imitation. I played it for a few people, really just messing around with it, but they liked it. So from that came this tribute to the great Lefty Frizzell. This is the only song that features a piano. Aside from the Curly Chalker’s famous steel guitar sweep, I knew I had to have that insanely-high-pitched piano that epitomized Lefty’s music as unarguably, and unapologetically honky-tonk.
9. THANKS TO YOU (2:58)
This is kind of a strange song. The chords don't change where you want them to, and it’s a little bit mean. Why on Earth would anybody write this to someone? That’s what I like about Country Music; you can be as honest as you want, and sing the things you would never say. Some of my musician friends get a kick out of the delayed four-chord in this song, and the girl I wrote it for thinks it’s hilariously blunt.
10. CAN'T YOU HEAR MY HEART A-BREAKIN* (3:28)
Of all the songs I’ve written, this is probably my favorite. I just feel like it’s one of those songs that says it all. It was the most fun to record, too. The steel part was an adventure all on its own, but recording this song is what taught me how to navigate a bass guitar.
11. WHAT WE HAVE (4:42)
I wrote this song with Vern Gosdin in mind. When I played it I couldn't quite get Vern's phrasing down, and it came out sounding like a Don Williams song. I think it's one of my better-written songs, and I knew I had to record it if I ever got the chance.
12. WHEN I WAS DREAMIN* (3:44)
This is the “morning-after-it's-over” song. Everybody's been there. You wake up, not quite remembering what you went through the night before, and then it sinks in. Here's my manifesto in A-minor.
*Dedicated to the critics who won’t listen to country music because three-chord songs are “boring."
To Mom and Dad, thanks for everything you’ve done to get me this far. I don’t know which of you did more to help me along the way. Mom, you encouraged me since early childhood to sing and play. You gave me my first keyboard, took me to piano lessons, band concerts, came to everything you could make it to, and drove me halfway across the country so I could play gigs from Dallas to Ohio. Dad, you bought me my first guitar(s), taught me how to play, took me to jam sessions, and for all I know, passed the music genes on to me. I love both of y’all and I’m proud to be your son.
To Clarence and Corene Schwab, thank you so much for all you’ve done to make this album possible. It’s a pleasure to know you both and I’m grateful for the opportunity you’ve given me to share my music with the world.
To David Stallings, I don’t know where to start. You saw something special in me at the beginning and gave me a chance to do what I love. In the time it’s been since I started working with you, I’ve met so many people and done so many things I never thought I’d get the chance to do. I’ve performed alongside my heroes, appeared on national television, and gotten to know some amazing people, all thanks to you. You’re a true friend to me and I thank you for all you’ve done.
To Mr. Tony Douglas, I’m proud to belong to the handful of entertainers who have worked with “Mr. Nice Guy”. You’re a true legend and I’m honored to know you as a friend and fellow entertainer.
To Mr. Tom Perryman, anybody worth his salt in this business has to tip his hat to you in one respect or another. I’ve enjoyed visiting your program, and working with you on various shows over the past few years. I want to thank you for playing my music on the air, all your help in promoting shows that I’ve played, and for giving me credibility as an artist, especially at home in East Texas.
To Jim and Dixie, I’ve known y’all since almost the very beginning. Thank you so much for all you’ve done to help me.
To Jim and Nancy and the Gladewater Opry, thank you for giving me a place to grow as an entertainer. When I first came there, I was a shy, skinny 18-year-old who did a mean Hank Williams impersonation. I’m honored to have received the Gladewater Opry’s “Newcomer of the Year” award, as well as three consecutive “Male Vocalist of the Year” awards. Performing there almost every month, year after year prepared me for some big projects, and I’m thankful to have had such a friendly place to call “home base”.
To LeGrant Gable and the Wylie Opry, there’s always been something special about performing on your stage. It’s always a pleasure to work with the Texas Legends band (some of the finest musicians I’ve ever worked with), and I can’t think of a time when the show has ever lacked energy. You’re my home away from home. I love y’all.
A big tongue-in-cheek thank you to all the sweethearts in my past. Whether our times were good or bad, you’ve all helped me write a song or two.
Special thanks to anyone who has ever given me a chance, given me advice, or given me an extra guitar pick. I’m truly grateful for everything anyone has done for me, no matter how big or small it was. There’s so many to name, and if I start a list, I’m sure to leave someone out.
To the fans, without you there would be no album. These songs would exist only to me and the handful of people I occasionally share new songs with. Without all of you, the past eight years of my life would have been entirely different. You all are the reason I do what I do, and I thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart just for being there to listen to the songs I have to sing.