Bonus Tracks, Vol. 1 - Liner Notes

Slaid Cleaves - Bonus Tracks, Vol. 1

I’ve built up a motley collection of stray recordings over the years – demos, early versions, out-takes, live tracks, obscure covers, etc. – and I thought it’s high time I start releasing the more interesting items.

OK, maybe I’m stalling for time here while trying to come up with enough new songs for a new album. But I do hope some of my fans might find these interesting. This will be the first of an expected handful of volumes.

The process of writing and recording Still Fighting the War took about three years, and it entailed a lot of trial and error, false starts, dead ends and ugly stepchildren. On earlier records, I would narrow down the 12 or so best new songs I had written and just record those, so there wasn’t much on the cutting room floor. But when it came time to start recording Still Fighting the War I had 17 songs to work with. I recorded 16, thinking I’d pick the 12 or so that fit together best on the album. So there was quite a bit left over when the record came out. Some of these out-takes were offered as exclusive bonus tracks on Amazon or iTunes for a while. Back when I was writing songs, some never make it past the demo stage. Some eventually evolved into something very different, leaving a failed, though interesting (maybe), early version behind. Some songs on this collection came via previous projects; I was trying to rework them to see if they’d fit on this one. Some recordings came out fine, but just didn’t fit thematically with the collection that coalesced into Still Fighting the War. Also in this release I wanted to focus people’s attention onto the production, the players. Pay no attention to the singer! Better yet, let’s strip him out of the mix and listen how each player contributes just the right part, and how the parts are so subtly woven together, by the musicians, producers, and engineers.

Here are some thoughts on the individual cuts, along with detailed credits.

1 Uncle Ted by Slaid Cleaves, based on a short story by Machelle Dunlop . . . Magic Rat Music, BMI

Machelle Dunlop was a friend and passionate supporter of Austin musicians for many years. In 2008 she sent me a folder of material intended to inspire as I headed out on a songwriting trip. Among the CDs to check out and articles to read was a story she wrote about her Uncle Ted. I was intrigued by the characters and the story and so I worked up a song. I actually recorded it back then, but Uncle Ted didn’t make it onto the record I was working on, Everything You Love Will be Taken Away. It was so close, with gorgeous fiddle courtesy of Gene Elders, but it wasn’t quite right. Years later, after a couple of lyric tweaks and some digital re-arranging, I’m happy to include it here. Tragically, Machelle suffered debilitating heath problems over the ensuing years and passed away in 2014.

produced and recorded by Gurf Morlix at Rootball
additional recording by Fred Remmert at Cedar Creek Recording
digital edit and re-mix by Fred Remmert
drums: Rick Richards
bass, field organ: Gurf Morlix
fiddle: Gene Elders
2 The War to End All Wars (demo) by Slaid Cleaves . . . Magic Rat Music, BMI

The first working title of this song was Unsinkable, as in “The Unsinkable Ship.” I was feeling, like much of the country in 2008, a sense of having been swindled. Retirement funds were shrinking while bankers got bonuses; foreign wars were draging on while their original rationales faded into thin air, soldiers were coming home, after having put their lives on the line, to a country that wasn’t doing enough to help them back into society. I worked on several versions of this song before I realized I was trying to fit too much into it. (New drinking song: take a shot every time you hear a swindler’s homily). I decided to focus in on the most poignant and topical angle – the soldiers coming home. Discussing the idea with my friend Ron Coy (see Wranglin’ Ron below) he told me about a Viet Nam vet friend of his named Brian Fuller who had recently passed away. Brian’s experience in Viet Nam was so searing that he never fully adjusted to ‘normal’ life. Ron said, “All these years, it’s like he was still fighting the war.” I knew instantly we had our tag line for the new song. I spent some more time on it, getting inspiration from Craig Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning series for the Denver Post. So The War to End All Wars went into the junkyard file. It’s an ungainly curiosity but it’s much better than most of the stuff in my junkyard, so I decided to share it here.

3 Small Town Downfall by Slaid Cleaves . . . Magic Rat Music, BMI

It’s a compilation of some of the gossip that drifted down from Maine, where my wife Karen and I grew up, to Texas, where we live now. The first verse came from Karen’s family: An uncle of hers was at one time the chief of police. Later in life he held a job that held considerably less prestige. I never found out how that actually happened, so I made up a goofy story. The second verse is well documented – just look up Kennebunk on Wikipedia for all the salacious deials. The third verse came from my mom, quoting a colorful young neighbor. (Maine people have a subtle way with words. See Bert & I). I had to fictionalize the story after the person I quoted was upset (understandably) at being identified. But she did allow me to continue using the quote. Why didn’t this song make it onto Still Fighting the War? Well, it’s fun to do in New England, where people get the references, but it felt a little too goofy to be on a record full of wounded warriors, dashed dreams, dementia and such.

produced and recorded by Lloyd Maines
additional recording by John Silva at Cedar Creek Recording
mixed by Fred Remmert
drums: John Silva
bass: Kevin Smith
guitar, mandolin and Dobro: Lloyd Maines
harmony vocals and harmonica: Terri Hendrix
4 The Pain of Love (demo) by Slaid Cleaves . . . Magic Rat Music, BMI

I worked hard on this song, over a long period of time, but I was never quite happy with it. I lifted the bridge from a tombstone of a seven-year-old girl buried on a ranch in south Texas, where a friend let me stay and write for a few days. Why am I putting it on this record? As a curiousity, I suppose; to show that for every song that makes into the studio and onto a record, and maybe even onto the airwaves, there’s many that just aren’t quite up to par. They’re almost there, but not quite. You never know: someone might think this is the best thing on the album. Probably not.
5 Another Man’s Wealth by Slaid Cleaves . . . Magic Rat Music, BMI

I wrote the first version of this song in 1993, sitting in a 1974 Dodge on the side of the road out in the Texas Hill Country. 20 years later I looked at it and thought I could improve it, being that I was now a much more seasoned songwriter. Is the new version any better? I don’t know, maybe. It sure was fun to play it in the studio with old friend Kevin Smith (he played bass on Life’s Other Side in 1992 – and now he plays in WIllie’s band) and the legendary Lloyd Maines.

produced by Lloyd Maines
recorded by John Silva
mixed by Fred Remmert
bass: Kevin Smith
Dobro: Lloyd Maines
6 Hometown USA (instrumental mix) by Slaid Cleaves, Jeff Elliott, Mike Morgan . . . Magic Rat Music, BMI / Sojourner Music, BMI

I get tired of hearing my own voice sometimes, but it’s always a thrill to hear what my musical colleagues contribute to these songs. Think of the years of practise and experience and sensitivity they have developed over the years to come up with the parts – bass, drums, guitar – that make this track so enjoyable. Oh, yeah – that’s me on the Hammond B-3 organ, trying my best to sound like Benmont Tench.

produced by Scrappy Jud Newcomb
recorded by John Silva at Cedar Creek Recording
instrumental mix by Fred Remmert
drums and percussion: John Chipman
bass: Harmoni Kelley McCarty
electric guitar, acoustic guitar: Scrappy Jud Newcomb
Hammond B-3: Slaid Cleaves
7 Wranglin’ Ron by Slaid Cleaves and Jeff Plankenhorn . . . Magic Rat Music, BMI / Spike Steel Music, SESAC

Ron Coy is the kinda guy who will leave his cozy home in an ice storm to come and pull you out of a ditch. When I met Ron he ran a bar/marina called Ski Shores. Later on he managed a small herd of cattle, hence the moniker. After that he worked for an oil company in Colorado, then on an oil exploration ship off the coast of Africa. Before Ski Shores he made jewelry in Mexico, and before that he was a bouncer at a topless joint in Corpus Christi. I want to make a movie about Ron someday, but I don’t know where to start.

produced by Scrappy Jud Newcomb
recorded by Fred Remmert at Cedar Creek Recording
drums and percussion: John Chipman
bass: Harmoni Kelley McCarty
electric guitar, lap steel guitar, percussion: Scrappy Jud Newcomb
8 Gone (demo) by Slaid Cleaves and Nicole St Pierre . . . Magic Rat Music, BMI / Fauxk Music, BMI

Nicole St Pierre is an old friend from high school. She taught language arts for a while, and comes up with great ideas for songs. If I don’t immediately pick up her suggestion and run with it, she’ll write some verses and send them to me. My role is to provide the melody, and massage the words into a meter, a rhythm, to make them more singable. Then we pass drafts back and forth via email, trying to make every line as compelling as possible until it’s ready to go out into the world. Here’s a glimpse at an early version.
9 Every Sunrise (demo) by Slaid Cleaves . . . Magic Rat Music, BMI

Maybe this will only appeal to fellow writers. I think we are all at times mystified by the creative process. This collage of audio scraps shows how it’s often just a matter of trial and error, of pluggng away and trying new ideas until things start to sound good.
10 I Bet She Does (instrumental mix) by Slaid Cleaves . . . Magic Rat Music, BMI

Another showcase of the skills of the musicians I’m so lucky to be able to work with. All I do is show up with the words and the chord changes. They come up with the rest. Scrappy Jud Newcomb produced most of the songs on Still Fighting, and came up with so many cool parts to this song. You almost don’t need lyrics.

produced by Scrappy Jud Newcomb
recorded by John Silva at Cedar Creek Recording
instrumental mix by Fred Remmert
drums and percussion: John Chipman
bass, background vocals: Harmoni Kelley McCarty
electric guitar, background vocals: Scrappy Jud Newcomb
11 Welding Burns (demo) by Slaid Cleaves and Rod Picott . . . Magic Rat Music, BMI / Welding Rod Music, BMI

Another glimpse at a work in progress here. Rod Picott sent me some verses several years ago. I sent a melody and some lyric ideas back to him. Pretty soon we had a song in the works. We batted it back and forth over email for a long time. Rod has an incisively critical ear; he can spot a line or a word or even an attitude that sounds ok on the surface but offends the soul of the song somehow – makes it internally inconsistent. He shot down dozens of lines I proposed, with a full explanation, and he was right each time. I was still working on the song when he recorded his version. I loved the core of the song but I needed to keep at it, if I was going to be able to sing it myself. This is a version somewhere in between Rod’s final and my final.
12 Welding Burns (instrumental mix) by Slaid Cleaves and Rod Picott . . . Magic Rat Music, BMI / Welding Rod Music, BMI

Again, I thought it might be interesting to some listeners to see the contrast between the bare-bones, working-out-the-lyrics demo to the finished, studio-quality instrumental track. Lyrics on their own can be hard-hitting. And music on it’s own can be, too.

produced by Scrappy Jud Newcomb
recorded by Fred Remmert at Cedar Creek Recording
instrumental mix by Fred Remmert
drums and percussion: John Chipman
bass: Harmoni Kelley McCarty
electric guitar, papoose, piano, background vocals: Scrappy Jud Newcomb
13 Rust Belt Fields (instrumental mix) by Slaid Cleaves and Rod Picott . . . Magic Rat Music, BMI / Welding Rod Music, BMI

One more instumental, I think my favorite sounding track. Hats of to Scrappy Jud Newcomb, who came up with so many subtle, evocative parts to add atmosphere to the track, and to Fred Remmert who so deftly mixed all the elements into something so rich and complex but not cluttered.

produced by Scrappy Jud Newcomb
recorded by John Silva at Cedar Creek Recording
instrumental mix by Fred Remmert
drums and percussion: John Chipman
bass: Harmoni Kelley McCarty
electric guitar, piano, synthesizer, background vocals: Scrappy Jud Newcomb
14 Texas Love Song (dance hall mix) by Slaid Cleaves . . . Magic Rat Music, BMI

I asked Lloyd Maines to produce this song. Can’t get more Texas than Lloyd, right? I just sent him a file of voice and guitar and he added all the rest while I was doing the Summer Tour. This is the first version. Though I loved it, I felt there was a little too much going on; it was too big – it was too Texas. I asked him to strip it down a bit to fit the album I was making. I like the stripped down version a lot, but some days I like this one better.

produced and recorded by Lloyd Maines
additional recording by John Silva at Cedar Creek Recording
mixed by Lloyd Maines and Fred Remmert
drums: John Silva
bass: Kevin Smith
fiddle: Richard Bowden
acoustic guitar, pedal steel guitar, and bajo sexto: Lloyd Maines
harmony vocals: Terri Hendrix

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