I'm in East Nashville on a Monday night listening to Steely Dan "Countdown To Ecstasy" and just got back from meeting with my good friend Price and handing off to him the new 7" 45RPM vinyl with Lilly Winwood, which he shot photography and did art direction on. I've been working with Price since 2012 when I first moved to Nashville. He put my 2012 "Six Weeks In A Motel" album out on his garage-rock label Ferelette Media.
Price shot that record cover photo of me sitting at a table in Johnny's Tavern before it was torn down, and he shot the "Boots Blue Jeans" video there also. Shoot man, we did the record release at Johnny's too. That's why we had to quit playing there though, 'cause somebody got shot and it was just too dangerous of a joint.
I've been trying to figure out album art since early 2000's when i put out a terrible looking album cover with a bad photograph of me and a pistol sticking outta the top of my pants. I got on the right path when i started to learn about photography and which photographers are good from a girlfriend.
The cover on my 1st americana album "Bad News Travels Fast" in 2010 is a Michael Traister photo shot in Asheville North Carolina when Michael had a cool studio in Chicken Alley.Michael's shot some heavy characters including Ralph Stanley. Anyway, Price did photography/ art direction on the 2012 "Six Weeks In A Motel" album and has done art direction and shot photography for my albums since then. That back cover on 2016 "Sea Of Lights" album, of the ominous red digital american flag billboard, and the insert photo are Price Harrison photographs. The "Sea Of Lights" cover is a Geoff Moore photo. Geoff's an LA photographer buddy of mine who's rock roll as hell and broke into the mainstream with the big T-Mobile black white photo campaign.
I'm immersed in some details here that I had no idea I'd ever contend with and I've gained some valuable knowledge about nearly every moving piece of the entertainment business in the same way; out of necessity. Some people strike gold or luck out and a record label has good A & R, a good producer, good mixer, good mastering engineer, a good art director, and a good record pressing plant, and they put out a righteous record on an artist.
Let's set aside the entire writing/recording process for another yarn and get into the greasy guts of the business part of it; branding, marketing and promo. Like I said, I'd gotten hip about photographers from a girlfriend in LA and had a decent looking CD with a Michael Traister cover shot and simple text on my 2010 "Bad News Travels Fast" album, which I released out of a halfway-house in Athens Georgia, half a block behind New West Records. I learned a lot in LA; what a one-sheet is, what the different areas of promotion are and how they're related, and I sent out a mailing of 130 CD's to various addresses on a contact list I got from a friend in Nashville.
An Americana DJ got a package, liked the record, started playing it on his radio show, and said "I can tell you don't have any damned money, so I'll show ya how to send out a radio mailing and promote the album to Americana Radio." "We're going to send 'em lumpy packages," he said, "so they won't sit at the bottom of a stack of mail". He told me to get something like a giant tootsie roll to put in t he package. I went to Kroger, bought 85 miniature Moon Pies, stuffed envelops with CD's, one sheets, Moon Pies and sent them to all of the AMA reporting stations. My americana radio pal said "Give 'em a couple weeks and start calling. Just ask if they got the Moon Pie, don't say a darn word about the record, and follow their call times, as best you can." Two weeks later I started making calls from the halfway-house phone.
I got around to "Dawn Dale" at KFAN in Dallas, Hello, this is Boo Ray and I wanted to make sure you got the Moon Pie." "I sure did honey, made my day. Thank ya so much." Dawn said and hung up. The next week I called back and said "howdy Dawn it's Boo Ray calling to see if you had a chance to hear the album yet?" "Oh honey, I just got a 1-sheet and a Moon Pie." Dawn informed. I was so embarrassed and said I'd get a CD right to her. I scraped up $35 bucks to over night a CD to Dawn that day. When I called the next day I asked if she got the CD and she said "Honey I got the CD but where's my Moon Pie?!?"... I sent Dawn a box of Moon Pies, a T-Shirt, an 8x10 and a poster signed "I get a rise outta Dawn Dale on KFAN FM 'Preciate ya! Boo Ray". Dawn played the hell out of that record we stayed in her Top-40 for a year. And so it went for the 90 days I was a full-time radio promoter and "Bad News Travels Fast" reached the top 50 on the AMA Chart...
Working that Americana radio promotion myself was real big education on the way the business works, how those people communicate with each other, how radio is related to press and how those 2 things indicate the venues and markets you should play... I don't have it figured out by any means, but I'm growing and learning from my mistakes. "Sea Of Lights" was a thousand piece radio mailing in 2016 and still plays on the radio today.
But yeah, album art... I'm into sketch artists, pen ink, graffiti artists, oil canvas painters, graphic artists and illustrators. I've always wanted to have artwork, a painting or graphic image as a record cover, but have thus far conceded to the discipline of portrait photography and simple text.
I think my buddy James Willis has an ace up his sleeve for the upcoming "Tennessee Alabama Fireworks" album art. James has roots as a graphic illustrator, studied under Charles Schultz and has developed a character kind of based on me. We've continued the tradition of sending out Moon Pies on the 2016 "Sea Of Lights" thousand piece radio mailing. In the spring of '05 I moved lock, stock barrel out to Los Angeles on a hunch with almost no plan at all other than going to rehab and getting sober. I was strung out on liquor real bad. Lock, stock barrel actually consisted of a carry on bag, a dopp kit and my Gibson flat-top. After getting out of rehab and a few months of living in LA, I got a gig working the Magic Fashion Show in Las Vegas. At the end of a long 5 days on the floor of the show picking guitar a full 8 hours a day, I got a pretty decent pay check. I went straight to the Hard Rock Hotel Casino, got a comp card and cashed my check. After sitting at the $20 blackjack tables for about 10 hours I was up about $75 bucks and decided to hit the craps table. That night i hit that craps table for 14 thousand bucks, while unknowingly standing next to a couple of Texas/Nashville music publishers. I make a pretty good commotion when I throw dice and yell "Hot Sauuuuuuce!!!" every time I roll. My carrying on and winning gathered a pretty good crowd. In all the excitement during the course of those 3 hours at the craps table, I made fast friends with the music publishers that night and we're still friends today.
They're the one's who started bringing me to Nashville on songwriting appointments. I was back in LA a couple of weeks later and got a call from one of the Texas guys and they sent me a plane ticket to come to Nashville on songwriting appointments. I took 'em up on it. I flew into Nashville they picked me up in a king cab dually truck and we went to their office on music row which had a couple of different rooms and a full bath with shower. We slept on couches in the office and went to songwriting appointments around the clock for three days and nights. That year they flew me to Nashville a few different times to write. I spent all my time on the row and some time on Lower Broadway. I went out to Franklin a couple of times to meet some big country singers and saw the rolling hills and pastures out there but I really didn't quite understand the scene in Nashville and how it worked, or where my kinda people were.
I was enjoying being immersed in the craft of songwriting and working with some real high quality successful writers, but I just knew there was more to Nashville than The Row and Lower Broadway... finally, on one of my working trips I met and wrote with Steve Pasch. After we were done writing he was going to catch a live act at Exit/In and I tagged along. Late that night we wound up in East Nashville and went to 3 Crow, The 5 Spot and I realized I'd found the Nashville I was looking for.
I continued coming to Nashville on songwriting appointments every couple of months during the couple of years I moved back to Georgia and began dating the girl who I'd write "Sra Of Lights" about. One morning she woke up and said "hey babe, I want to move to Nashville and join the roller derby team. I said cool and we did it. I hustled up a little publishing deal so I could tag along. After becoming a star skater thus wonderful girl fell-out with the team's bad leadership, broke my heart and moved back to Georgia. I wrote a good record over it, got a good publishing deal and I've been living in East Nashville for goin' on four years now.
I'm writing, recording, touring, and releasing records with my company BRRB Music. "Sea Of Lights" is out on 12" vinyl LP, the "All Strung Out Like Christmas Lights" single
and beer and making mistakes and learning from 'em. I've known for a long time that an API console and Ampex Tape machine are meant for each other, and that it ain't about the gear, it's about the relationship the engineer has with the gear. I've known for a long time that none of it matters a damned bit if you don't have some sure enough songs though. I'd done a couple of other interesting things before the "Bad News Travels Fast" album and thankfully I knew that i had to show all the way up as a songwriter on that album. I wrote that record like it was the last thing I was ever going to do.
A couple of songs recorded at Noah Shain's LA studio, a couple songs recorded with Zander Schloss from The Circle Jerks at a downtown LA fashion studio with a cat who was anything but an engineer, couple songs recorded in a rap studio in Atlanta, and one song recorded on a microphone when I was behind a locked door in a psych ward. The string parts of that first recording of 'Six Weeks" were played on a computer keyboard. I've written in more detail about that session in the story "Constantina" here on this blog. Anyway, by the time I got stranded in Georgia after chasing a publishing down there for 6 months and given up my place in LA, got drunk again, arrested again and then did the 10 months for running off on a warrant, I had a few of these recordings and a couple of good new songs written, including "Bad News Travels Fast" which I wrote with Colin Linden.
Freshly sober and in a halfway house, I needed a $10 dollar CD to hustle real bad. It took me a few months to pull it all together with some help from Monica Ewing John "Q" Kegler in Atlanta but we got that record out and on the radio, and I've been rerecording songs off of that record ever since then. I'm grateful to Monica and "Q" for betting on me right then. That was a pivotal time and I'm glad I'm the guy who wrote those songs. This group of people I'm working with now is humbling if anything. Time tells it all you know. I've been in some damned terrible situations with some horrible sons-a-bitches, but in the course of my recording career there've been a few individuals who've stuck with me through it all and that's grown a little bit to a few more individuals and we're all sticking it out together, writing songs, making records, playing live show and touring.
Stylistically as best I can figure, the type of songwriter I am, pairs me off with guitar players the way Eddie Perez and Dwight Yoakam, Jody and Payne Waylon, Mike Campbell and Tom Petty, David Lindley and Jackson Brown, Aaron Lee Tasjan and Brian Wright, Stephen Bruton and Kristofferson or Redd Volkart and Merle Haggard paired off. Look, I'm not saying I'm great like those guys but it's an approach and type of collaboration that I feel a kinship to and has been a real big influence on me and my approach. I think for me it's a phrasing and tone thing, not just hot soloists but ensemble players who're always playing the song, and going for it.
opened a beer, lit a smoke and asked "Whatcha got mate?". We listened to the tracks and he said "whatcha want it to sound like?"... I thought about the drum tracks we'd just listened to and said "Like Audley Freed Mark Knopfler in a country rock band that Lowell George is writing songs for." "Boots Blue Jeans", "Like A Cigarette" and "Six Weeks In A Motel" are the sonic thumbprint of that record I think. I dig "Black Chrome" and I like the way
"Partners In Crime" with Jodi James sounds a bunch. On that duet, Sol had a kinda Mike Stern approach which I totally dig. He's incredible at interpreting my guitar parts and developing them further so that it's all built around my original guitar-parts. Sol's not even officially "in my band" but he's on all of my records since I got to Nashville and jumps up with us anytime he's around. So I have to start any dialog about Nashville pickers by mentioning him.
Matt Workman and I have been pickin' together for a few years now; toured coasts to coast, toured the eastern seaboard, played a bunch of radio shows honky tonks, recorded a new live to tape full-length record together, recorded the Boocoo Amigos collaboration series with some other great singer songwriters and we're currently
hammer-down playing shows with the band, expanding the music, writing more twin-guitar solos, doing more of The Band/Little Feat/Eagles style everybody singin' all the time, and continuing to write and record. Matt's Sol's favorite player in town too and said "Matt never runs out of ideas." Matt's a real country picker at heart but he's from California and just has the coolest take on low-gain
"cleanish" guitar pickin'. Matt's truly a great guitar player, a daredevil picker and an exciting talent in the world of guitar right now I think. Matt's real quick to get right to the heart of the figure I'm playing and support it and build around and off of it, so it's a bunch of ensemble guitar pickin'. Everybody's always playing the song. And then he's got pretty extensive choral group singing knowledge and experience too. Matt's a reluctant band leader but he always happy to breakdown a section for any of us and put us right on the note. We've definitely built the band around strong guitar figures melodies to make the room bounce. Mike Campbell said to me one time while he was moving his hand up down to the tempo "Breakdown", "It's gotta bounce. If it doesn't bounce it's gotta go." Matt plays real cool and back a little and he's all the time catching snare shots with guitar chops and off-beat pickups between guitar riffs, always playing the bounce... And then Matt's high-gear, drive it like you stole it and drop it off in the next town, guitar hero antics and athletics are a total damed blast. He's already playin' daredevil about half the time just bringin' it, and then you find out he's got this whole other higher gear still.
People are falling in love with the band a little bit now. We're getting carloads of people driving a few hours to see us even when we're a few hours away from Nashville. Young musicians come talk to each of us about our instruments and all. I'm proud that we're that kind of band of musical characters. That's what I want us to be. We're all there for the songs and to be in the space of that the musical narrative because it's real, good natured and empowering.