OK. I normally don't feel comfortable bragging and talking up our music. But that goes out the window for this post. Because we're talking about a song I wrote for the most recent album I made, "Like A Maggie’s Positively Leopard-Skin Homesick Blues".
The pertinent information is embedded in this box below, followed by some thoughts of mine.
Listen, Lyrics, Personnel
As you can guess from the title even without listening, it's a tribute to Bob Dylan. The name of the song itself is a mashup of 1960's, early electric Bob Dylan tunes - "Like A Rolling Stone", "Maggie's Farm", "Positively 4th Street", "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" and "Subterranean Homesick Blues."
Even though the lyrics tell a version of Bob Dylan's career through a lot of stages from 60s icon to recluse to collaborating with The Band to Nashville experiment to mid-70s fertile period to his ponderous Christianity spell to 80s falling record sales to critically successful 90s albums to constant touring to Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame status to Nobel laureate - despite all that, the song musically stays in the beautiful sloppy 1960s mode of Highway 61 Revisited.
Lifelong Dylan Fan
My mom was a folkie and loved those balladeer classics of his. I think she was one of the fans that Bob Dylan lost when he went electric. I don't think she was a fan again until I brought it all back home for her in her golden years post 2000 while turning her on to late era Dylan.
I think I've seen Dylan in concert about 10 times. This includes once with the worst sound I've ever paid for at the San Diego Sports Arena, once while tripping at a Dylan & The Dead show in Anaheim where seeing him on the jumbotron singing "You Gotta Serve Somebody" under the halo at the Big A kinda freaked me out, and a magical night circa 1997 at the Greek Theater in L.A.
Dylan has released 39 studio albums, as of this writing. He's still doing great work. I can rattle off a jumbo tribute article to his career here sometime soon. But I will say that while I love his seminal albums as much as the next guy, some of my favorites for repeat listening are the usually-ignored Desire (1976), Street Legal (1978), Infidels (1983) and even Tempest (2012).
Another strange one I love is his nutball double live album Bob Dylan at Budokan. That album confounded people with each song being a complete reworking of his best known songs. He dismantled them all and put them together with different rhythms and vocal phrasings (and a little too much flute). I read an awful lot into this album. He seemed to be trying to escape the trappings of a touring band where he had to play his songs the same way all the time. He didn't want to be a jukebox, he wanted to always be an artist. Those are the qualities that I tried to salute in "Like A Maggie’s Positively Leopard-Skin Homesick Blues". I pictured an artist tired of his audience putting him in a box for 50+ years.
The song goes through 11 verses. And it clocks in at a little over 8 minutes. In a way, that song had no business being written or recorded or released on my part. I mean, there's very little constituency or demand for 8-minute lyrical puzzles.
All where B rhymes with "blues" in the same spot for all eleven verses. To put it another way, there are 11 different verses, each with 9 different rhymes for the same work - plus another 11 lines that rhyme with "blues." It's so ridiculously ambitious, that I never would have tried writing that in the first place if I wasn't high. Score a small victory there for marijuana.
I started writing that song in the 90s. I carried that 14-inch legal pad with me through a lot of cities and apartments. At that point, Dylan hadn't even had his alleged artistic comeback of the late 90s - around Time Out Of Mind and beyond, so the last few verses in the song I wrote a few years ago, while actually recording the album. Although my song's thesis is there really never was a period Dylan needed to "come back" from. He was doing the same level of work pretty much the whole time, it's the audience that came and went.
Anyway, all of this subtext masks the main purpose of this song. I always wanted to play and record a romp like "Maggie's Farm" or "Tombstone Blues" where there's a bunch of organ, a bunch of mistakes, maybe a slide whistle and a million words. And that's why I'm so proud of this song: I had something specific I wanted to make and in the studio we did it exactly.
Even though this was on a solo record, I'd been playing a lot of shows at the time with friends Kevin Walker, Jeff Johnson and Mike Mannion in a jam band. We really had a good feel for each other, they're all great guys on top of being great players. So several of the songs on the Hiya record we recorded more or less live in the studio.
This is only the 4th or 5th record I'd made (depends if you count a soundtrack) and really the first time we've tracked everything live with everybody playing all at once. You've got to rehearse to be able to do this but Jesus Christ is it fun - and has 3x more energy than traditional one-track-at-a-time studio work.
Scratch that - you don't have to rehearse or be that tight if the song is "Like A Maggie’s Positively Leopard-Skin Homesick Blues" and can be loose as fuck. Everybody is bulletproof in the studio on that one; any organic mistakes just fit right in. I was singing live in a booth while playing piano. We just overdubbed my crummy harmonica afterwards. Everyone playing in this song is basically just riding a wave. At different point, different people bubble up to grab a bit of attention.
To those of you who've ever recorded a record, I'd like you to listen to this and picture what a nightmare it would be to engineer and mix this chaos. I've got to give props to Andy Machin at Big Rock Studios who I always love working with. The mixing he did on this is nothing short of amazing, Particularly bad mistakes get shrunken down in the mix, while anytime anybody is doing something good, he brings their sound out of the woodwork. Seriously musicians, if you hear and admire this then you should consider working with Andy.
We put out great press releases and tried to push this song to Dylan-loving people in the industry when this came out. Crickets.
But I don't really care. We all pulled it off and I can go to my grave being happy every single time I've heard this song on playback or on occasions I feel narcissistic enough to listen.
This really is the silver lining of being a barely professional music artist with limited appeal. There's no record company telling me that I can't release a 677-word song that runs over 8 minutes. As Dylan sang, "When you got nothing you got nothing to lose." I don't really have a music career to lose, I can do what I want and try to be an artist. Which is what Bob Dylan always was, even with more external pressure and adulation than almost any other musician to have ever lived. That's the point.