Janis' Diary - Part 2

By now, "Billie's Bones" is finally finished to my satisfaction, and I'm hoping it won't be as hard to record as it was to write! I sent Skip Ewing, my co-writer on "When I Lay Down", a set of the second draft lyrics I'd worked on, and we booked a writing appointment to go over them and finish the song, since neither of us was thrilled with where it wound up in either draft. Jeff seems really enthusiastic about that song, and about the Jimmy Collins co-write "Save Somebody" as well. I'm having trouble hearing what that song will sound like in my head, but I defer to Jeff and Philip's opinion and keep it on the "must-cut" list.

The rotating list of song choices has narrowed from 30 to 20, with eight labeled "must-cut", and the rest sorted in order of preference. Everyone has an opinion on everything, and I hate working in groups, so it's kind of fun to watch the process. I've slowly learned that if I'm going to hire people I think this highly of, I should shut up and let them talk.

The band is booked, after much thought on my part. I knew I wanted an upright bass for this album, and I knew I wanted a jazz player - that meant either Richard Davis or Ron Carter, both of whom know how to play with a singer who takes her vocal lead off the bass. I'm comfortable with Richard; we did Stars, Between the Lines, and Aftertones together, so he'll be coming in to hold down that chair. Plus, he's classically trained, so I'm going to be able to write a short ending for "Paris In Your Eyes" that will feature his arco bass. And he tells the best stories about his years with Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, all the greats! I think the band will enjoy him.

To avoid it swinging too hard toward jazz, I've booked Harry Stinson. I've watched Harry play around Nashville since I came here in 1986, and on top of being a great all-around drummer, he's a fabulous singer. He comes straight out of the pop/country book, which will make a nice contrast with Richard, and give me the best of both worlds. And having a drummer who can also think like a singer will provide the subtlety I need. Also, I trust him completely, which is important when someone's holding down the fort with an instrument that can drive you out of your mind if it's badly played.

Jim Brock, who played with me live for years, and has been on pretty much every album I've done since 1992, is my bridge between Harry and Jeff and Richard. I mentioned to Jeff the other day that "Richard comes from a whole other book", meaning he has no pop or rock & roll sensibility, but I don't think Jeff took me seriously. Brock really lives in both worlds, and he's such an expert on tribal music and percussion that I really want him in this mix. He's going to bring his trick kit, which is a bizarre drum kit made of hand-made and tribal instruments. He plays it like a drum kit, but it sounds totally different.

My wild card (and I think every album should have one) is Dan Dugmore. I heard his work on a few albums last year and was blown away; when I looked up his credits I realized why. I'm a little nervous, having never met him, but he seemed pleased enough when I booked him. I think he's a little nervous, too, because I had to use Harry's name when it came time to talk money… Dan just wanted to make sure everyone was being paid the same thing, which of course they are. Anyway, he's bringing all his instruments, but Jeff is saying we should have him concentrate on dobro and pedal steel. I can't imagine the pedal steel working with my songs, but Jeff told me to take it on faith. Hah!

That's where we are at this point - faith. Faith that the band will work as a unit, and bring to each song what's necessary. Faith that the second engineer, Chad Carlson, is as competent and easy as everyone says. Faith that the entire album can be cut in three short days. I don't know what more I can do to hedge my bets. The charts are written, we've decided how the studio will be set up, and at our final pre-production dinner we're going to narrow the song choices down to 16. We'll never get that many cut, so I'll spend Pat's birthday figuring out the order we'll cut in, putting the most important ones first. I'm thinking to start with "Billie's Bones", and just wing it from there, trying to fit the easy ones in-between to give everyone a break.

I spoke with Lisa Powers and told her I didn't have much money; but I could also promise her free rein. Her response was a simple Great! Let's make art! and to ask for a copy of "Billie's Bones". I'm excited to see what she comes up with, and I hope Maude will like it. Seems weird, doing the cover before you've begun the album, but the record company and art director needs three months to assemble it right, so who am I to argue?

That's the scariest thing about this entire project, at this point - who am I to argue with anyone? Why should I think I know better about what musicians will work, what songs will work, what studios will work? And on the other hand, why not?




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