Remember that dirt-cheap classical guitar I picked up about a month ago? You wouldn’t think a $149 guitar —and not even a sixty-year-old-one at that, but a new $149 guitar — would have much going on. When it comes to modern guitars, from my experience you need to spend a fair bit of money before you start to get into the realm of instruments that are any good. This thing costs less than two tanks of gas and is a laminated, factory-assembled, poor man’s version of a poor man’s classical guitar.
I’ve also written at least a dozen new songs on it so far and recorded two of them, using that guitar instead of swapping it out for something better at the recording stage.
Two of these songs have toppled out over the past few days at about 6:00 in the morning while my sleep has been at its messiest. Usually when I’m in this state it means I’m at my least productive, musically and otherwise. Yesterday, in-between brushing my teeth and doing bedtime stuff (as you do when your bedtime is roughly when the sun comes up), I wrote something like a gospel blues song in about five minutes. It’s not much like anything I’ve ever written before. Today at about the same time, again in-between doing before-bed stuff, I wrote a different song, and again it came flying out pretty fast. Both of them were written on this cheaper-than-cheap classical guitar.
The gospel blues song features lyrics about Jesus and stuff. Don’t ask me where that came from. Though I was raised Roman Catholic, I’m not even remotely religious and haven’t been since the age of reason. I aim to have some fun with building up vocal harmonies and counterpoints when I record it.
It was probably inspired on some level by the Odetta record Travis let me borrow.
When Bob Dylan is inspired by your music to pawn his electric guitar and amplifier in favour of picking up an acoustic guitar, setting off his own personal musical sea change, you’re obviously doing something pretty impressive. And when you sort of subliminally inspire me to write a gospel blues song, my sleep is obviously a mess and it’s a little after 6:00 in the morning.
The other song is not even remotely gospel blues. I don’t know what it is. The music is pretty subdued, but the lyrics are acidic and fatalistic, and it feels like maybe one of the best things I’ve ever written. I’m not sure why. There’s nothing complicated going on, and if I’d stuck with my original vision for the next album it wouldn’t even make the cut, because there’s no messing with structure or dynamics going on there. It’s a pretty simple song. But — as is so often the case — it feels right somehow.
It’s now at the point where at least four of these new classical guitar songs are probably going to be on the album. Good thing I decided to throw out my original concept and just let the music go wherever it wants to go. In all, there are about thirty songs shortlisted for the album, but only about half of those are going to make the cut. Which ones will make it is something that’s still somewhat up in the air, since the whole thing keeps shifting and changing shape as I continue to write more songs. It all comes down to feel in the end. Feeeeeeeeel.
I wonder what it is about certain instruments that makes them set off such an outpouring of inspiration and ideas. It’s not limited to guitars — it’s happened to me with synthesizers, ukuleles, banjos, having a real piano for the first time…at least three or four of my albums wouldn’t even exist if certain synths hadn’t come into my life at specific times. Without the 1932 Regal and a six-string banjo, CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN as we know it wouldn’t exist either. Without the upright piano, the last few albums would be gutted, if not entirely different. It seems like just about any new sound will get my brain to perk up and say, “Hey…I’m not used to this! Let me see what I can do with it.”
Maybe it’s the creative imagination’s reward to you/me/itself for being fed new stimuli?
Only Huey Lewis can say for sure. And it’s clear he’s given it some serious thought. Just look at how furrowed his brow is with concentration.
Or maybe he’s about to pound on someone’s windshield with that golf club. Break some glass for me, Huey! I still have a soft spot for “Stuck with You”. It’s the organ’s fault.
In the meantime, the interview for Travis’s forthcoming album has been postponed until sometime later in the week. I guess that means I can go ahead and fix my sleep and then get down to business and finish this album already. Vampire Johnny, prepare to meet Farmhand Johnny. Of course, you’ve met before. But have you ever really sat down and talked to each other?