Dec 29, 2014

Big Red, Histroy The Way We Want It

big red history the way we want it
"How'd she feel about you doing that?"

"She knew what I was about... Hell that's the thing about border towns man, everyone knows you before they meet you besides... it was party... but that's not even... I mean the next day... the next day got crazy."

Our table's crammed with food and wrappers, mostly burgers and the five of us lounging back in chairs bolted to the floor. Good days. My brothers, my cousin, and Dan. All family. We'd already finished half our second record in three days.

Of course we were prepared, and that didn't hurt. We had our songs arranged and rehearsed before we ever got to Akron. After Abe gave the arrangements a once over, we'd track the music as a group, following Jaime's drum lead through each take, mostly two or three passes, then overdubs, vocals, and the whole song done in an afternoon. One song, soon to be one half of the two title tracks, Big Red, had us struggling and ready for a lunch break: An Everly's style rocker called Everything She Needs.

And while Dante's on a story about his party days in Laredo, I'm now taking down a basket of Cajun fries.

I checked out around the time the food came; I've heard this one before, plus I can't stop thinking of the problem with this song.

It started in the morning.

A big, beautiful golden bear of an alarm clock named Bella came ringing her collar into the den. I was hiding under a pile of blankets and pillows, when she managed to sniff my face out from all of it. I tried to ignore her and get back to a dream:

Back in Texas, warm sunlight, a lake like heaven, where I'm kissing her or the sky itself, and everything is weightless, lifting, the sun, the water, the two of us. The music of her voice clear as the lake and the day itself.

but it's Bella and her big drooping lips, and the cold Ohio morning pulling me back. I guess the alarm was set just for me because Bella didn't bother to wake anyone else up...
Bella's next hunt was for a cloth toy behind the couch and she took it over to the sliding glass door looking out to the backyard.
The slate-grey sky brushed at the horizon with strands of soft red, the light was fighting to get out. It was another cold day. I got a chill that ran deep under my skin. I think the sun rises differently in Ohio, or I see it that way. And though this is where I wanted to be, I was still dreaming about home.
I rolled over to my suitcase, stuffed in a corner of the room marked by the pile of clothes spilling onto the carpet, hunted down my jacket, I needed it even inside the house, stepped over my brothers and snuck out of the den with Bella in lead.

Dan's house was held in a perfect unbroken suspension of morning. Guitars on nearly every wall waiting to be plucked, waiting to break from their stillness. Guitars are never good at resting.

Bella went off to the kitchen in search of her breakfast and left me in the empty room.

I can't tell you how crazy it is to be so close to an amazing studio and having to wait for everyone else to wake up in order to get to work. If it was up to me, I'd have run yesterday's session all through the night, and we'd already be into another song. It helps to keep my head in one state.

And now that I was up and alone in the house, I had a feeling calling me over to the tracking room, that's where I've got to be. I turned on the lights. Walking quietly past the Hammond organ, past the drums. My hands and mind wanted to shake off the cold and distance with a little music and looked through a rack of guitars like I was in a music store.

I found a '64 Texan still in it's bed case ready for me. Dan and his engineer Bob had so much cool gear you wouldn't believe it. Large barely begins to describe it... and the Paul McCartney '64 Texan was only one tiny, amazing part.

I closed my eyes. The smell of the guitar, the wood, so pristine, almost transported straight out of the sixties. For a brief moment I remember my dream, it hadn't been that long but almost completely slipped my mind alreadyAnd a song I had written a while back came into my mind...

My girls got everything she needs,
big cars, house, his money and tv's,
he tries to buy her all life's big luxuries/
My girls got everything she needs
so her love just won't come to me
I tried my best, but Love's no security/
My girl’s as lonely as can be
but she ain’t got the heart to be free
She’s in his house
I wonder if she thinkin' about me...
"Is that what we're doing next?"

"Hey," Dan caught me by surprise, "morning..." a slight pulse of embarrassment ran through my veins as I put the Texan back in its case.

He was carrying his daughter and a cup of coffee, still in full family mode, they weren't even dressed for the day. She threw her head down against his shoulder to hide her face, "This one sounds good... when the dudes are ready, we'll hit it."

"You tell me man, I'm ready to go."

She pointed down at the guitar and whispered to Dan.

"Rene, Why don't you play us another..."

The table's laughing... I hit the bottom of the fry basket as Dante finishes his story...
The sounds of the restaurant digesting, the mouths, the talking, the eating, and I leave the table for a refill.

Whenever I hit a songwriting problem, I like to get out into the public, back into the world, and let my mind ramble... something like this.
Everyone else, and the real problems of life are so much more important than a song, but a song can be all the difference when you have a problem... It can lift you up, or throw you deeper... Any song at the right moment. How tragic it would be to hear the wrong one? Or do we only get what we need?

I know it's strange to think so much, but my mind has to do these flips, I can't turn it off, and it won't stop,

I make music for other people, maybe even these people, I wonder how many of them even listen to rock n' roll? How many have sat down with headphones, to a full album? How many hear what the writer is telling them?

The line for the coke machine is four deep, and I wished I had noticed that before I got here. That's one danger of a busy mind, always missing the obvious. But I've got a good way to pass the time, a game I invented when I was in high school: trying to guess what music strangers listen to.

There's a young couple, 30's, at a high table. He's in jeans, work boots and a trucker hat. Hands cut and dirty. Textbook blue collar. Her hair's stripped blond and black, skirt tight, not a lot of make up but she didn't forget her blood red lipstick. I would have'em as Springsteen fans but they've been ignoring the classic rock playing. They're straight modern country, Rascal Flatts, Miranda Lambert.

The guy in front of me at the coke machine, in his 40's, dress shirt and fuzzy vest, bald, well off and been rocking out to every thing from the eighties. I don't know why but he's putting off a Phil Collins vibe.

A curly headed kid, taps his foot against the metal legs of his chair, red chucks, and his unlaced strings flapping out of time.
He hits the heel so hard one shoe falls to the floor. He's a real mid-west rocker, even if he doesn't know it yet. A future Uncle Doug.
And that's when I hear it for the first time. Chuck Berry's Almost Grown starts playing overhead. And it comes to me.


The tape machine rolls back. It starts with drum clicks, Take 7 begins to play.

Dan flipped knobs like a mad man, several strings of jumper cables around his neck, his chair squeaked, as he swung around the mixing room.

His mind had been in another zone for the last half-hour of vocal takes. Quickly he moved his empty mug off the console and adjusted more knobs.

"It's just not sitting right," Dan said to no one in particular.

"Damn..." I wanted to say it, but I kept it back. It kills me when he we hit problems like this. I need more details, specifics: is it too much, not enough, too sharp, flat, what does he mean? But he's so focused I don't want to disturb Dan's process.
Finally his chair spun around towards us. "The vocals are good," he said while checking his phone, "I like it... I just don't know if it needs something else, or not, or what... but we're not there yet."

I can't help but take these things personally. Not because I think I'm great, but because I want what's best for the band. I want to nail my vocals. I want a definitive yes. I think I'd even take a definitive no, more than just a "not there yet."

The microphone hung in the tracking room like it had just beaten me, not eager to go through that again. "Should I go for it again?" I asked half not wanting an answer.
Jaime and Abe were sitting behind me, "meh," seems they weren't into that idea either.
Dan scratched his beard and finished up a text, "let's get lunch. I think I know a spot. You dudes want burgers?"

His idea got a much better response.

The table's quiet again.

"I think I know what we need to do," I said to Dante putting down my soda. "It's all about the rhythm, it's just off to me. Maybe the guitar, maybe if it had some more substance ya know? Just put some movement in it. Listen to what he's doing here." I pointed to the speaker, but Dante's looking away, the other side of the table, restaurant, maybe nowhere.
"Maybe," Dante's lips barely move, "I don't know." And the song finishes.
"We ready to hit it again?"

It didn't long for the guitar to find its place, and after a few takes, the song found a whole new position.

Bella ran through the playback room. Her tail hit against the legs of everyone on the couch as she got chased away by Dan's daughter.
Were listened to the playback, the speakers are loud enough for the sound to push into your chest. I can tell Dan's really into it. Like he's been hit by a jolt of adrenaline and every movement is sharp and inspired.

"This is sounding a lot better. This," I said getting closer to the center of the sound, where the stereo speaker's direction meet together in a beautiful sweet spot above Dan's chair, "is where we need to be. I can feel this."

Dan nodded his head, but he's lost in some thought far away.
The track reached to me, to some deep place of understanding and I haven't said it yet, but I start to get a feeling to cut all the vocals completely.
This song needs to be an instrumental.

Abe's standing next to me, studying quietly, his face is serious and I can't help but wonder if he's knowing it too.

Feeling the movement.

big red image from rene villanueva word is a bell blogThe song's better this way. And I'm over the pain of my failed vocal take, cause the song's feeling right. It's everything fifties. Chuck Berry, Everly's, sugar, burgers and car hops. And the taste of Big Red comes into my mind. The atomic red soda of my hometown. The fuel of my youth. And being a kid running at my grandparent's ranch, and summer, and the lake, and a lot of beautiful things, and I don't think my words could cover that. It's all a big landscape. A wordless vision.

I want to be in those moments. That dream. The sun. The lake. Home. Family. Me. And the curly haired kid I saw at the soda fountain. From his Ohio. And my Texas. Tastes that make a memory. The nostalgia. It's not always real. It's never as perfect. Colored in half-truth. Sweetening away any contradictions. But that's what all this was, Rock and Roll... History the way we want to remember it.