Studio Diary – The Welcome Home Project – Nashville Sessions (Sunday) After not getting to sleep until 3 a.m. you can bet that morning came WAY too early. I was always up before Jason, but then with his touring schedule, etc. he’s more used to sleeping in than I am. Once the light starts coming in around the curtains I’m awake and there’s no going back. So, I went down and got some coffee and little “continental” (i.e., free, cold and available) breakfast in the lobby. We stayed at a Comfort Inn not far from Missy & Ben’s for economy, a feature I’m more and more fond of in most things. Once sleeping beauty (NOT!!) arose, we headed on over to the studio to work with Rob Ickes on dobro and lap steel. Rob is one of those “child prodigy” types that has been high in the music scene all his life. He was one of the founding members of Blue Highway roughly 15 years ago and remains with them today. If that name doesn’t ring a bell with you then you need to go check out www.bluehighwayband.com. Rob has 10, count them TEN, IBMA dobro player of the year awards between 1994 and 2008. He has played with every major artist you can think of including Merle Haggard, Alison Krauss, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, David Lee Roth, Toby Keith, Reba McEntire, Ricky Skaggs, Patty Loveless, Earl Scruggs, Steve Wariner, Marty Stuart, David Grisman, Peter Rowan, Marty Raybon, Jeannie Kendall, The Oak Ridge Boys, Claire Lynch, Lynn Morris, John Cowan, Harley Allen, The Cox Family, and Mary Chapin Carpenter – and NOW, Doug Spears!! He is recognized as one of the most innovative dobro and lap steel players on the scene. I can tell you that he is a lightning quick study and the material he laid down to compliment the themes of the five songs we worked with him on is absolutely magnificent. Something I’ve learned and come to genuinely appreciate is that the truly great players come to a project like this to contribute to the song, not demonstrate what a hot player they are. They are interested in the story behind the song, the mood or feeling you are trying to convey and look for ways they can make that come through – even if it means that they need to lay back, lay out or just serve as a foundation for other instruments or the vocals. While all players of this stature have an ego, they tend to leave it in the gig bag. They take direction, criticism and correction EXCEPTIONALLY well and are committed to giving you the best they have. In fact, it is typical for them to play a part, have everyone in the control booth giving it the thumbs up and have the artist say “nope, I can do that better – let’s run it again.” In any event, Rob’s parts on the project cover some very bluesy, rockin’ HOT HOT HOT material as well as some very deft, delicate, melodic pieces – you are going to be blown away I promise!! After we finished Rob, we went back to working Missy. We kept her at it on another 4 songs until around 11 p.m. Man, this girl can play!! She epitomizes what I said above – she settles for nothing less than her best on any given piece no matter how many times she has to play it, how long it takes or what time it is. I genuinely don’t know how she maintains the energy that she does. I am just so thrilled and honored to have her on this project. And, not only that, but as we were working on the last song it occurred to someone that we’d never taken a supper break – OOPS!! Never fear, besides being a stellar musician Missy is also a magnificent cook. Rooting around in the fridge upstairs she whipped up some deviled eggs, hoppin’ john, cask iron skillet corn bread and green beans which we inhalled like air in a sinking submarine. Plus, Ben makes a mean martini which we garnished with some jalopeno stuffed olives. We sat, chatted, petted kittys, told jokes, told lies, laughed and relaxed until I suddenly realized that, again, it was nearly 2 a.m. Man, I’m getting too old for this --- well . . . maybe not!! It was another thrilling, fun, educational day. There is so much to learn about the interplay between instruments in arrangements and how to plan for the “space” for each without leaving gaps in the mix; about how to deal with issues that come up between what you originally envisioned and the realities of what you are hearing in the studio; about diplomacy in the relationship between artist, producer and engineer; about the capabilities of the equipment, when to use it and when not to; and on and on. It is a privilege to get to participate in the process and get the benefit of the experience these guys have. To get to do it on a project of my own material is just indescribeable. Tomorrow we get to work on harmonies with Grammy nominated Claire Lynch, one of the most coveted voices in the biz. So what that I’m only getting 5 hours of sleep a night, I can sleep when I’m dead --- just hope I’m not drawing closer to that than I think!! Studio Diary – The Welcome Home Project – Nashville Sessions (Monday) Well, roll out, shower, coffee and back at it. We grabbed some breakfast sandwiches on the way and actually got to the studio a little early – Ben hadn’t even come down to unlock yet. We’ve got Claire Lynch coming in this morning to do harmonies on 5 songs and I have meetings set up after lunch with my career consultant, Kari Estrin, and the graphics designer for the project, Nancy Terzian. So, a full schedule before we catch our flight home at 5:30. I always make the mistake in judging studio time to think that vocals take less time than the instruments. It’s actually the opposite. With the vocals you end up working line by line, sometimes phrase by phrase, getting the harmony just like you want it. A pro like Claire works faster than most, but its still a grueling process. In case you aren’t up on Claire Lynch you should check her out at www.clairelynch.com. She’s been in the biz since the mid 70’s and has really done it all. She has fronted bands from Hickory Wind to The Front Porch String Band to the current Claire Lynch Band. She is an accomplished songwriter with cuts by Patty Loveless, the Seldom Scene, Cherryholmes, Kathy Mattea, the Whites and Stephanie Davis. I was quite flattered that she complimented my songs and my “intelligent lyrics.” As a session vocalist. her exquisite harmonies have graced albums by as Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Patty Loveless, Pam Tillis, Kathy Mattea, Jesse Winchester, Sarah Watkins and Ralph Stanley. She is a Rounder Records artist and has two Grammy nominations to her credit. Claire hit the studio door right on time in a blur of wavy blonde hair and energy. Coffee was high on everyone’s agenda and Ben had us all set up shortly. We got lyric sheets ready and started running the songs. An hour and a half into the session we had only finished one song and it was immediately clear to me that I was not going to be able to keep the post lunch appointments I had made – calls and apologies were made in a break. Kari Estrin decided to come on by the studio to get a flavor for what we were doing, say hello to Ben, Missy and Claire, meet Jason, etc. And, we pressed on. Claire was the consummate pro insisting on perfection in her parts. We stayed lazer focused right up to the fail / safe time to leave for the airport and at that point we left Ben with Claire finishing up the harmonies on the last song. Hugs, pictures, goodbyes and out into the cold, wet Nashville air we went. It wasn’t until we were in the car rental return that I realized I was hungry – and for good reason since we’d managed to forget lunch and work straight through!! We got our bags checked and wedged into one of the airport eateries for what I was sure would be awful BBQ. Not so, quite good actually and the Sam Adams to wash it down didn’t hurt anything either. Nashville’s airport is unique in that the little restaurant and some of the gate lobbies sport live music, mostly guys in boots and big hats doing their Garth, Keith and Hank imitations. Not sure that’d be my idea of a great gig. With only a slight delay due to equipment issues we were wheels up by 5:45 and headed back to the State of Dreams. Tired doesn’t even start to describe it – nor does satisfied, excited or many other adjectives I can think of. I was still running the songs in my head and checking off what was left to do on which ones during the flight home. We really knocked a big hole in what remains of the studio work and actually got more done in Nashville than we thought we might. Soon we’ll be at the point where we are just doing minor “fixes” and fills. Then on to the mixing and mastering phase. Ron Litschauer just added some new mastering gear, spurred on by the promise of this project, that really is top of the line allowing the finest polish to the finished mix. He’s been breaking it in on mixes of Yellow Butter Moon which is complete and ready for that end of the process. I’ve heard the most recent and it is a fine piece of work. Jason’s wife Beth and 5 year old son Jacob met us as we left the secure area of the airport here in Orlando. Though I’m glad my child rearing years are over I do miss those exuberant home coming welcomes! Jason comes and goes a lot and will actually only be home for a couple of nights before flying out to New York to play dates there and in Philadelphia. Consequently, Jacob was fairly well glued in his arms soaking up the available Daddy time. We chatted while the bags were brought out and then I left them to go get my car, get home to Judy and get horizontal – SLEEP!! So, with Nashville behind us we move on to the next steps in the process. Stay tuned.