Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Meet Me at the Station, Don't Be Late

(No pictures yet, but I'll try to add them if any surface.)

Part of our trip to New Orleans was the aforementioned birthday for the Sweet Sixteener. Another was to perform a show at my old haunt, Carrollton Station, where the Continental Drifters had reconvened several months before.

I assume I don't have to tell my readers that I was a bandmate of the illustrious Susan Cowsill for ten years. We made some great music together, and despite our parting of the ways, we've remained friends. A couple years ago, I wanted to come back to New Orleans to perform Richard and Linda Thompson's Shoot Out the Lights album as part of Susan's Covered in Vinyl series, in which she and the band learn an entire album end to end. Unfortunately, my schedule got crazy, and I had to bail on the show and Susan's band.

Fortunately, we were able to snag a Saturday at the Station that had been the property of the talented Kinky Tuscaderos, whose bassist Mary LaSang also plays with Susan in her band as well as the Cowsills.

We had a little confab beforehand so that everyone's minds were put at ease; I had worried that we'd need to learn all the words without cheat sheets (not one of my high suits these days), and Susan was afraid she wasn't going to be "Linda" enough for me. She said, "It's like my brother Bob with the Beatles songs," and I knew what she meant. My reputation for, ahem, authenticity precedes me, I'm afraid. "Persnickety" is what her brother Barry had called me. In the C. Drifters, I was referred to as 'the professor' sometimes (and countless other terms as well), but I let her know that it was about her singing the songs in her style and not trying to replicate what was already there. Heaven knows, I'm not RT on guitar, so anyone expecting that would be better served buying the record instead! And she told me that lyric sheets and chord charts were completely acceptable. You could probably hear our respective sighs of relief as far away as Baton Rouge...

Susan, her husband and former Drifter drummer Russ Broussard, and Mary were already running through some of the songs when we arrived on Friday. Susan and band had just finished learning and performing The Jackson 5's Greatest Hits, which took a lot of work. So for them to jump back in and start up on a new record right afterward showed their tenacity and respect for their craft. I was, to say the least, humbled and impressed.

We got through six of the songs together, me with my borrowed Stratocaster, trying to remember what life with a vibrato bar was like. Mary had to leave and wouldn't be available for a Saturday day-of-show rehearsal, but she'd obviously done her homework so thoroughly I was not sweating it. At least where the bass was concerned....

It's a weird experience, learning a whole album. SOtL has only eight songs (the CD release had "Living in Luxury" on it, but Russ and I had agreed that we should stick with the vinyl release specifically). Some of the gigs Susan and Russ have done with the CIV series have featured albums with a lot more material, so it was like a vacation for them to do this (so they said). Plus with me handling the Richard lead vocals, Susan was off the hook for a bunch of it. We could have had her sing all the songs, I suppose, but it was more fun to split it up; in the Drifters days, we'd done a lot of RT and Fairport and Sandy Denny songs, some of which appeared on our Listen, Listen EP from 2001.

Saturday arrived, and Russ, Susan and I ran through the rest of the album without Mary. We talked about what else to play, and some of the other Drifter/RT choices were suggested. (Mary'd already charted them, naturally.)

We got to Carrollton Station around 9, loaded in, and listened to and enjoyed the Kinky Tuscaderos. Great energy, wonderful harmonies and topnotch songs, including some intriguing covers of Pretenders, Pixies and Paul Revere and the Raiders. I'd worked on guitarist Ruby Rendrag's solo album a few years ago, but I had no idea how superb a performer she was live.

My pedal board decided to die on me, after having worked splendidly at rehearsal that afternoon. Having dumped into a bag all the alternate power sources I could've used, I ended up with my tuner and a Danelectro delay pedal going into my Hot Rod Deluxe. None of that fancy Rotovibe pedal and tremolo I'd practiced with.

Susan gave a short introduction, turned the mic over to me. I asked the assembled to enjoy themselves, and we started up the chug of "Don't Renege on Our Love". I could barely stop smiling, even with the dreadfully aggravated lyrics. Apart from a reaming of the little riff that went into the ending by yours truly, it seemed like the evening was going to be just fine.

Once again, I'll make the broad assumption that most of my readers are familiar with the Shoot Out the Lights album, and if you're not, you definitely want to remedy that situation.

Song by song:

"Don't Renege"
"Walking on a Wire" handled beautifully by band and Susan, as I'd expected. The vibrato bar note going into the second line of the second verse was really springy, but the solo was good. The very ending was long and elegant.
"A Man in Need" I had a lot of fun singing. Two days later, I'm still singing it. Even without a Watersons to provide background vocal support, Susan and I covered what we could and it was more Delaney & Bonnie than Richard and Linda.
"Just the Motion" was the one I'd always hoped to hear Susan sing, and she did not disappoint. I think the crowd was completely bowled over by it. I know the band was.
"Shoot Out the Lights" was where the string broke on the Strat. Oops. Celebrity guitar tech Bill Davis (founder and guitarist of the legendary Dash Rip Rock) fixed it, but I did the song on my Telecaster/Esquire. It was very powerful, and I tried to evoke some of RT's stuff, but ended up ripping through on my own merits. I think I done purty good. (One person came up at the end of the night and said he didn't know I even played guitar. That's what happens when you don an accordion too long, I guess.)
"Back Street Slide" riotous fun, ala "Matty Groves". Russ is a grad from the UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, so the slippery time signatures that come along with music from the Fairport school is no problem for him. Mary and I were counting away alongside him. Once again, Susan and I tried to hit the highlights of the background vocals, and I think we did admirably.
"Did She Jump or Was She Pushed" required my repeated dexterity on a Dm7sus4 chord. I'm not going to make the leap of faith that I have earlier that my readers are intimate with this chord, but I'll tell you it's a stretch to get all your fingers to cooperate and fret it over and over again, and it's a stone drag when you can't get all the notes to sound. Mostly, my digits obeyed me, although I discovered I hadn't retuned my low string to E--I got it there before the first chorus, albeit clumsily. Susan's lead vocal was suitably spooky. We got to do that nice modal (I think it's modal) harmony on the second verse ("she used to live life, she used to live life/with a vengeance".) My solos, again, were attempting to channel RT's originals, but it cross-faded with my own notes as well. Hopefully, the cross-polination worked.
I jumped right into "Wall of Death" as the applause for "Did She Jump" was still going. That one was valedictory as it is ending the record. We had a lot of fun playing it and singing together.

And just like that, eight songs later, it was done. We did some more cool stuff after that, including more tips o' the collective tam-o-shanter to Richard and Linda:
"I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight"
"The Poor Ditching Boy"
"The Rain, the Park and Other Things" (The Cowsills) joined by our friend Paul Sanchez on vocals
"Sit Down, I Think I Love You" (Buffalo Springfield) also with Paul on guitar and vocals
"Nowhere Man" (Beatles) with Bill Davis on guitar and vocals--funny how we all knew what harmony to take
"The Rain Song"
"Someday" which I don't think I'd ever played on guitar before!
"1952 Vincent Black Lightning"/"Matty Groves" with me and Russ
"River of Love" by Susan's late brother Barry, my first contact with their talented musical family

It was a splendid night, with a lot of old friends in attendance. Even the little flubs didn't matter in the long run; we made a game showing and did right by an album that has always meant a lot to us.


Thanks to Russ and Mary for holding down the bottom so proficiently. Thanks to the Kinky Tuscaderos for their fine set and allowing us to invade their night. Thanks to Eric at Carrollton Station for agreeing to it as
well. Thanks to Sarah and my kids for being so cool and bearing with me learning and stressing over it. Thanks to Richard and Linda for putting the thing out in the first place, and most of all, thanks to Susan for wanting to do this and making it happen the way it did.


Pam said...

Oh, Peter, I wish I'd been there, and I hope y'all do it again sometime, though I'm sure the first time will always be special.

"Don't Renege on Our Love" is the song that got me started on Richard and Linda, thus changing my life in all sorts of wonderful ways.

Thanks for the detailed report. I'll forward it to the RT discussion list.

steve scariano said...

Sounds like the show was absolutely fantastic. I'd now like to submit a request to you, Susan, Russ & the gang for a possible working up of the Delaney & Bonnie & Friends On Tour With Eric Clapton album.

Tom L said...

Good idea, Steve!
Sounds like they won't need to work too hard on the vocals for that one.

gk said...

ah, peter, sounds wonderful. first album you ever sold me at musical maze.....