Earlier this week I reviewed the new album by Singer-Songwriter, Marshall Chapman and a) The review has attracted a staggering amount of ‘hits/reads’ b) her fans have inundated me with ideas as to where I should go to ‘discover’ her previous work and c) a charming e-mail from Marshall herself thanking me for taking the time to actually listen to her music.
With that e-mail she attached this list of ‘The Stories Behind The Songs’ and has graciously allowed us to post it; for you to read (and shed a tear or two over!)
In the fall of 2014, I got divorced. The day after my divorce was final, my mother died. A week after that, I contracted something called c.diff colitis that damned near killed me. I spent my 66th birthday (January 7, 2015) quarantined at St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville. Distraught and depleted, I told myself and everybody I knew that I had retired from making music.
So I turned to movies, landing bit parts in Mississippi Grind, LoveSong, Where the Fast Lane Ends, and Novitiate. In Mississippi Grind, I played the blues-singing mother of a drifter-gambler played by Ryan Reynolds. Before filming began, the movie’s producer had me record “Rainbow Road”—the Dan Penn/Donnie Fritts classic—with an up-and-coming young producer in Nashville named Neilson Hubbard. Next thing I know, it’s late at night and I’m winding my way through the dark streets of East Nashville, trying to find this guy’s studio.
Finally I found it.
As I entered the control room, Neilson and I introduced ourselves. Then we started talking. An hour later, we were still talking. Finally, we recorded “Rainbow Road.” One take was all it took.
“We should record an album together some time,” Neilson said.
Little did I know, that five years later, we would do exactly that.
Here are the stories behind the songs:
“Tower of Song” (Leonard Cohen)
I sang this song for the first time as we were running it down. We did another take, but the run-down was the keeper. I first heard “Tower of Song” on Cohen’s 1988 album, I’m Your Man. But it wasn’t until 2009 when I heard him sing it live at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville, that it became embedded in my DNA. This song says everything there is to say about what it means to be a songwriter, the mortality of us human beings, the immortality of great art, and yes, regret.
“Turn the Page” (Bob Seger)
Art/rock critic Dave Hickey (my then-boyfriend) turned me onto this song in 1976. I was living on the road in those days, so when he played it for me, I knew I had to learn it. With Al Kooper producing, I recorded it on my Jaded Virgin album. But I didn’t like the way it came out. My vocals sounded like they were drowning in a sea of Syndrums. Just recently, I started singing it again. I don’t live the road life anymore, but whenever I sing this song, it takes me back to those days.
“Turn the Page” is the greatest song ever written about life on the road for a rock & roll musician.
“I Fall in Love Too Easily” (Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn)
I first heard this song on the album Chet Baker Sings. The album belonged to my aforementioned boyfriend, Dave Hickey. The year was 1976. We were on the floor of his apartment. What can I say, other than we were madly in love. Fast forward forty-three years. Spring of 2019. I spent three weeks trying to learn how to play this song on my guitar. And I’d still be trying to figure it out, had Will Kimbrough not turned me onto All-guitar-chords.com.
“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” (Carole King/Gerry Goffin)
I first heard the Shirelles singing this song on the radio in 1960. It was the first record by a black, all-girl group to reach #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. A few years later, when I was fourteen, I saw the Shirelles live at the National Guard Armory in Spartanburg. They blew me away to the point that I wanted to be a Shirelle.
I learned to sing this song in 1971 while listening to Carole King’s Tapestry. Decades later, my songwriter-friend Matraca Berg would insist I come to the Bluebird Café [in Nashville] for an in-the-round she was playing for Tin Pan South. She wouldn’t tell me why. Only that I had to be there. As it turned out, Carole King was one of the performers. When Matraca asked me join the circle, I sang a song she and I had just written called “All I Want is Everything.” After I finished, Carole King said, “Oh, the country Madonna!” I’ve always considered “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” one of the greatest songs ever written. I mean, it’s just a perfect song.
“I Still Miss Someone” (John R. Cash/Roy Cash Jr.)
This is my favorite Johnny Cash song. I used to sing it in lounges around Nashville before I started writing my own songs. Then I forgot about it for a while. But in 2013, as my marriage was disintegrating, I started singing to myself late at night, just to assuage myself of the grief that was making it difficult to breathe.
“Don’t Be Cruel” (Otis Blackwell/Elvis Presley)
Like everybody else in America, I first heard Elvis singing this on the radio in 1956. That January, my mother threw a big birthday party for me. I didn’t know half the kids who came, but they all arrived bearing gifts, which was kind of embarrassing, as the only gift I wanted was the one from my mother—a 78 rpm of Elvis singing “Hound Dog.” The B-side was “Don’t Be Cruel.” Naturally, I opened my mother’s gift first. Then I politely opened all the other gifts until there was a big pile of presents in our entrance hall. After the party was over, I dutifully began taking all the gifts up to my bedroom. But when I got to the 78, I discovered with horror that it had broken under the weight of all the other gifts. I was inconsolable. My poor mother rushed back to the store to get a replacement, but by the time she got there, they were out of 78s. So she got a 45 rpm. Same deal. “Hound Dog” backed by “Don’t Be Cruel.” But I wasn’t buying it. “It’s not the same!” I wailed. “The hole’s too big!”
Forty years later, I sang this at a Vin Scelsa songwriter showcase at the Bottom Line in NYC. At one point, Vin asked us each to sing a song we didn’t write. One we wished we had written. So when it came my turn, I sang “Don’t Be Cruel.” I don’t remember ever learning this song. It’s like I was born knowing it.
“Tennessee Blues” (Bobby Charles)
I first heard this song when Tompall Glaser recorded it at Glaser Sound Studios in Nashville in 1976. (I was there to sing background vocals.) I’ve always thought Tompall’s version was one of the greatest recordings ever to come out of Nashville, as far as raw emotion. Fast forward forty years. I’m on location for a film called LoveSong. We’re in a house on the banks of the Cumberland River just beyond where Opryland USA used to be. I’m sitting on a bed in an upstairs bedroom that served as my dressing room. It’s December 2014. I’m sick as a dog with the infection that two weeks later would have me quarantined at St. Thomas Hospital. I knew something wasn’t right, but I just thought I was tired because of my divorce and my mom’s death. To keep my soul alive, out of the blue, I started jotting down the lyrics to “Tennessee Blues” from Tompall’s version that was on my iPhone. Then I started singing it. Over and over I sang it, as it perfectly expressed how I felt. Beam me up, Scotty!
I first heard “After Midnight” while J.J. Cale was actually recording it. The year was 1972. I was at Hubert Long’s studio in Nashville with Audie Ashworth, who was Cale’s manager. The song ended up on Cale’s album, Naturally. I fell in love with that album and learned every song on it. But “After Midnight” is the only one that stuck with me over the years. Once you learn to play a song like this, you never forget it.
“He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands” (Traditional) is the first song I remember singing as a child. I was eight years old. It was a big hit on the radio by an English singer named Laurie London. It’s one of those songs you know the minute you hear it. Anyway, this was Spartanburg, South Carolina. TB and LeNoir Thackston lived next door.
LeNoir was my great aunt. Her oldest son, Barry, was in the Air Force stationed in Texas. Whenever Barry would be home on leave, all the kids in the neighborhood would go crazy. That’s because Barry loved children. (Children can always tell when adults love them.) He even had nicknames for us. His nickname for me was “Cookie.” Harriette Elmore who lived across the street was “Monkey.” Barry knew I loved to sing, so he would encourage me. “Hey Cookie!” he’d shout out. “Sing that song about ‘He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands’.” So I’d start singing it in my little eight-year-old voice. And Barry would get so happy, his happiness just pulled that song right out of me.
When we first tracked this album, another song was the closer. But it just didn’t seem quite right. So for days I thought about a replacement. Then it hit me that a gospel song might be the ticket. I considered “I Shall Not Be Moved.” But then I remembered “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” The day we recorded this was the day of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. I was driving to the studio in East Nashville, and when I saw all the flags at half mast, I had to pull over to the side of the road. There I jotted down notes for the recitation that you hear at the end of this recording.
I hope you enjoy this as much as we enjoyed recording it.
Thanks for listening and stay well.