In the Summer of 2006, I was in my second year living in a sober house in Wareham, Massachusetts. After having my life implode as a result of alcohol, I had begun the process of rebuilding myself, my spiritual life, my physical health and my musical career.
One of the gifts I received early in my sobriety was the seed money for a new album. A rehab counselor from The Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission who knew my work was able to secure some funds for me to begin work on, as he put it “what I do best”. It turned out he had been a fan of my music since the 1988 release of “Blind To Reason”. His name was Dean Gilmore. We became good friends and would talk for hours about books, music and life over shared breakfasts and cups of coffee. I dedicated the album to him. But I wouldn’t release it until four years later.
The journey of what I would eventually call “An American Record” began slowly, with several rhythm tracks recorded at Wellspring Sound Studios in Acton, Massachusetts. I ended up keeping only three of these for the record: “Swamp Yankee”, “Zoe On The T Train” and “What It’s All About”. The creative process of selection, rethinking songs, adding new ones had begun and what I had imagined would take six months to a year at most, took on a life of its own. Since this was to be, essentially my “comeback record”, I didn’t want to rush it. My good old friends and former band mates from the early Connecticut days had signed on to do the album: Tom Majesky on guitar, David Stoltz on bass and Rob Gottfried on drums. My other good old friend and former backup singer, Polly Messer, after hearing about this project from Rob, had called and offered her services as harmony singer.
I remember recording “What It’s All About” in Acton, in December of 2006. I took the bus from Wareham to Boston, then the train to Acton, record, then made the return trip. It was an all day affair that I did on a Saturday. Ignoring the conventional production wisdom of recording the piano and lead vocal separately (to make mixing easier) I decided to record the vocal and the piano live together. I wanted the intimacy of the performance. This song, about the sacredness of love and nature, was too personal for me to record in stages.
After doing several takes, I had one I was happy with. I did some overdubs on a couple other songs, had the engineer make me a CD copy of what I done that day to listen to, then he dropped me at the Acton train station.
It was about 7pm, dark and cold, and as I walked onto the platform it began to snow. I looked at the snow falling down through the lights on the railroad tracks, and suddenly wanted to share this moment with someone. Grayson Hugh was back and I wanted to tell somebody.
Who did I think of? In the past it would have been my parents, my brothers. I would always share good news of my musical career with them; it was my immediate family I’d call after doing a t.v. show in London, a concert in Spain or Atlanta or from a phone booth in Wales.
But that snowy night in December 2006, my first thought was to call Polly. Even though we had not yet begun “a romantic relationship”, there was a deep connection between us, and it was her I wanted to share this moment with.
Thankfully she was home, and I can’t really remember what I told her, but I said I just wanted to tell her I had just recorded a song that was very important to me, and I couldn’t wait to have her hear it.
It turned out that “What It’s All About” was the second song I asked Polly to sing harmony on. After she had recorded her vocals for “Swamp Yankee” on January 21, 2007 (including the amazing high Indian chant at the end) I kept writing her into more songs. I wanted to keep seeing her at these overdub sessions. Since I had let my driver’s license expire and had not renewed it yet, it was Polly that was soon picking me up at the Hartford train station and transporting me to stay at my dad’s in Bloomfield or one of my two brothers in Wethersfield and West Hartford. Then she’d drive the hour back to Danbury, get a few hours sleep before getting up at 5 to go to work!
These first overdubs (there were several layers) were done at my guitar player friend Tom Majesky’s home studio on Whitney Street in Hartford, where I had also lived before moving to New York in 1987. After recording, we’d all sit down to eat big delicious meals prepared by our friend Suzy Langlois who was also living there at the time. It was, I realized in retrospect, a courtship conducted in cars, recording studios, and over these meals. I was also introducing Polly to my family in the process. In my clueless way, I was falling head first in love with her as we harmonized and ate delicious big meals.
Though it was becoming increasingly obvious to my family and those around us, I still had no idea that we’d end up married. Not until I proposed to her on I-84 one night, on the way home from one of these sessions. It was an uncharacteristically undramatic move for me, but there was never an instinct that had become so clear in my heart and mind. We had to be together. We were together. In many ways, we always were.
You just don’t know, you cannot know, ahead of time. You just have to be there and experience the journey. That’s what it’s all about.
To watch the video for “What It’s All About” from “An American Record” click HERE.