Country Tales and Hobo Trails Track Companion   Leave a comment

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I thought it’d be nice to write about the inspirations and stories behind the songs on Country Tales.

COUNTRY TALES AND HOBO TRAILS

  • Vocals
  • Dobro
  • Guitars
  • Piano
  • Bass
  • Drums
  • Accordion
  • Percussion

I had the title for sometime and then one night sitting outside our home in Tennessee, which we love to do, drinking wine, watching lightning bugs/fireflies, the lyrics just came, the chorus first.  I’d been playing around with tuning on the guitar, tuned down the top string, and the ‘riff’ played itself!  Having been fascinated with the lifestyle of a hobo for years, this was the hobo’s song.  The theme of trails runs through the album. 

TELEGRAPH ROAD

  • Vocals
  • Guitars
  • Piano
  • Organ
  • Dobro
  • Violin
  • Bass
  • Drums
  • Percussion

I had a dream, famous words, not mine of course, but I actually did, and I remember it vividly, (it certainly though wasn’t as world changing as Dr. King’s dream!).  I was deeply influenced by Rod McKuen as a teenager, his poetry, and in his books would be little illustrations, roads with telegraph poles.  Also, one of my favourite songs, as it is with many people, is Jimmy Webb’s classic Wichita Lineman, and all the pieces just seem to fall into place.  The first line “There’s a road on the outskirts of my mind” set the tone of the song really.  That image also inspired the drama series we’ve created, based on the song really in some ways.  The song is more about life, and where we are in our own life, whereas the series is about a small town called Waterville and a prodigal son.

HEART OF THE SOUTH

  • Vocals
  • Guitars
  • Piano
  • Organ
  • Bass
  • Drum programming
  • Percussion
  • Tim – electric solo fade

Having crossed the might Mississippi many times I couldn’t fail but to be in awe of the great river and it seemed to me to be a symbol of the heart of the southern states.  I remember driving out of New Orleans some years ago, parallel to the river and seeing just how important it is to the South.  I have also been to the all the states I mention in the song and find the people so, so friendly.  I started writing this one day in the theatre I used to have.  I wasn’t sure of it but played part of it that night on the piano to Julianne Regan from All About Eve, she sharing the piano stool with me, and she loved it, so I worked on it some more the next day and finished it.  The only line I changed for recording was “I bought a farm in Tennessee”.            

BLUE MOON OVER NASHVILLE

  • Vocals
  • Guitars
  • Piano
  • Bass
  • Drums
  • Keyboards
  • Percussion

Last year there was indeed a blue moon over Nashville, (there’s a picture of it I took I think in the Country Tales lyrics and pictures book).  I wrote the song that night.  When we came to record it Tim and I tried to recapture the Sun recordings feel, this time though with the Jondonaires on backing vocals!  The effect on the voice is replicating the old microphone used. 

HARTSVILLE

  • Vocals
  • Guitars
  • Piano
  • Bass
  • Drums
  • Keyboards
  • Percussion

I’ve told this story on numerous occasions, but it never fails to surprise people, so here it goes once more.  I wrote the song some years ago.  I saw in my mind a small town, the stores, people, Main Street, even down to the sign welcoming you to Hartsville.  Two years later through eBay I bought our land and when we went to visit it a few months later I was amazed to see that the nearest town was called Hartsville.  The town sign is almost exactly the same as I imagined it.  Spooky eh?

MIDNIGHT IN MEMPHIS

  • Vocals
  • Guitars
  • Piano
  • Bass
  • Drums
  • Keyboards
  • Percussion

Think of Memphis you think of Elvis, quite rightly, but there is so much more to the city.  The mighty river, separating it from Arkansas, with the barges travelling north or south.  Also of course Beale Street and the blues!  I’ve been to Beale Street when it was packed, and also when Tim and I were the only ones walking down the street.  In this song though you could be in any motel room in any city, it just happened to be Memphis and so of course the spirit of Elvis has to make an appearance, riding shotgun in my car! 

GOOD TIME ANNIE

  • Vocals
  • Guitars
  • Piano
  • Bass
  • Drums
  • Keyboards
  • Percussion

I’ve known a few Annie’s in my life but this was inspired by a singer who felt it necessary, one morning, to call me to tell me that she had been up all night, doing line after line.  She was still buzzing at nine in the morning!  Her story though is quite sad in that she so much wanted to be a singer, and was good, but her demons and her desire, or need, to party, and to be loved, simply controlled her and she blew it.  She was also on the verge of losing her ‘day job’, due to her coming in late and general appearance and lost her chance to sing.  Every bar in every country nearly has an Annie. 

THE GHOSTS OF TENNESSEE

  • Vocals
  • Guitars
  • Piano
  • Bass
  • Drums
  • Keyboards
  • Percussion

One afternoon a couple of years ago we went for a walk along a trail called Holston Trail, between Hartsville and Gallatin in mid-Tennessee.  There’s an old house there, a coach stop I think, and also a small cemetery from the frontier days I guess.  It was all quite moving really.  Walking down the tree-covered trail, I just imagined the ghosts of those travellers from a century or more ago still there in those trees along the trail.  The area of course is also known for many battles of the Civil War and the deaths of many young men.  I wrote this in one night, and it was more a question of editing the lyrics as the visions were blinding me almost, if that makes sense, making my head spin, they were so vivid.  

JAILHOUSE JESUS AND THE PREACHER

  • Vocals
  • Guitars
  • Piano
  • Bass
  • Drums
  • Keyboards
  • Percussion

I have to admit that when writing these notes I skipped this track, as I’m not too sure how much to say.  It was inspired by a certain preacher and his life, and also Nashville’s weekly newspaper.  His story intrigued the hell out of me; can someone really change that much?  I’m not so sure, neither is the paper.  I’ve just deleted a sentence about two of my family meeting him and their personal impression of him, and his church.  Not good.  People do ‘find’ Jesus in jail, in prison.  Being skeptical, it helps with their parole appeal.  Some are sincere, they do repent, they show remorse, (to the best of my knowledge he never has for the murder of a totally innocent woman, for which he was tried and convicted); some though will say whatever they need to.  I found the recording of the preacher I use on the track, not the one in question here I hasten to add, and the cell door Tim found for me – it sets the mood I hope.  With the arrangement I wanted to show the contrast, the starkness of a cell, the freedom of true faith.  Many people need to believe, believe in something or someone, and many people take advantage of that.

COUNTING MISSISSIPPI BLUES

  • Vocals
  • Dobro
  • Cigar Box Guitar
  • Harmonica
  • Cajon
  • Stomp box

The Delta Blues.  The blues are of course as American as apple pie.  There was a wonderful programme on television recently with the cook Rick Stein where he visited the home town of BB King and also looked in to the history of the blues.  He told me he loves the blues, and so do I.  I bought a dobro last year (still trying to learn to play it properly) and a cigar box guitar, that was made especially for me.  I’m still trying to really play them.  Put them together though with a cajon, a stomp box and a harmonica and you’ve got Wolfman Jay and the Smokin’ Catfish Blues Band!  We put on another effect on the voice and also Tim found the scratch effect.  Do not adjust your set! 

GHOST DANCE

  • Vocals
  • Piano
  • Keyboard
  • Percussion 

I originally wrote this as an up-tempo song, on guitar.  I’m a huge fan of Robbie Robertson, and I’m also fascinated by the Native American culture, having had someone called Pretend Eagle III work for me in California, his grandfather had been a Sioux chief.  I worked on the song though, changed the tempo to mid-tempo and then changed it yet again, slower, when I was working with the female singer Olivia Sparnenn, (now the vocalist with Mostly Autumn, and who has easily one of the best voices in the business).  I had also changed it to piano, made it more haunting.  I don’t class myself really as a singer, Olivia’s version is wonderful, but hopefully the feeling still gets through.

DIARY OF A SMALL TOWN

  • Vocal
  • Guitars
  • Piano
  • Bass
  • Drums
  • Keyboards
  • Percussion

It will not come as a surprise to anyone who knows me but I love America and especially small town America.  That’s it.  As I kid I used to dream that my bed could fly, just like in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and I would inevitably end up in America in my dreams, in LA usually, with a basketball hoop over a garage!  When I first went when I was seventeen or so I thought it could never live up to my expectations, but it did, and more so.  My father had instilled pictures in me, he had been in the U.S.A.F. based in San Antonio and had spent quite some time in New York.  I am sure I will end my time on earth living in a small town in Tennessee.  I love the drama of Friday Night Lights or To Kill a Mockingbird, or the community feel, Sweet Home Alabama (I know, a guilty pleasure!).  Keller’s Bar exists, on the town limits of Hartsville.  My favourite town though is Watertown, about twenty minutes east of Nashville on the i-40, although I may change that soon to Lafayette, which is just north of Hartsville.  Hartsville and Watertown make up the fictitious town Waterville, used in my drama series, Telegraph Road.  All three, Hartsville, Watertown and Lafayette, are complete with town squares, grocery stores, a grill/bar, small town high school and again that community spirit.  I also used Michael J. Fox’s movie Doc Hollywood, and imagined him forth years later, still living in that small town his car breaks down in.  “Where all the days can seem the same ……..”.

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Posted March 26, 2013 by Jon Johanson in Uncategorized

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