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Halfway to Memphis

I thought I'd start including a blog where I comment on the guitar or song or both each month when I post my video to You Tube.

This month's song is from the All the Fixins period, and showed up on a lost recording that resurfaced as part of the last Claude Pate reunion show a couple years ago.

About the song:

I wrote this back in the very early 1990s as an attempt at a story song/ballad I guess. Ballads are not my forte (do I have a forte?), but I think I did OK with this song. All the Fixins as a band and idea was about craftsmanship, and we were very conciously trying to create things that were accessible, but that had a sense of depth and solidity, and I guess permanence. Like the songs had always existed. I also very much wanted to explore what it meant to sound like we were from Iowa. I felt very strongly that our post punk prairie pop should offer a sense of place. I take pride in the fact that we were Americana before there was Americana, and that at the time we were favorably compared to a little band called Uncle Tupelo (OK, it was just the opinion of the sound guys at the M Shop who had mixed Tweedy and Farrar the week before we played, but I think we really were pretty good).

Getting back to the song, there is a great fullness of life to be found in the sparseness of the midwestern landscape, and I wanted All the Fixins music to reflect that. I have a series of songs that work the Mississippi river into them, this actually being among the first where I gave that a try. My hope is to post all of these "river songs" as I go along with this project. We will see. For now, we have this example, which tells the story of a hapless small town guy. He struggles with alcohol, employment, etc. familiar problems of the hard luck cases in small town Iowa. His wife has left him, taking his small child, headed south, going home. The song is basically this guy meditating on whether he should persue them or not. He loves them both, and recognizes they may be better off without him, but is wrestling with all that that means. When I was in Claude Pate I supported myself (hah!) as a fry cook at a fifites restaurant. One of the songs I got to listen to over and over and over again was Chuck Berry's Memphis Tennessee. I love this song, and I riff on it with the title and subject matter in Halfway to Memphis. Guys do love their kids. Even fuck ups. That's right: in this song, like in Chuck Berry's, the her he is asking whether he should follow is his daughter. I have three of them. Trust me, this song comes from a deep, dark spot in me.

About this performance:

March has been nuts for me with travel and health issues, so I am afraid I am not in great voice or even healthy enough to be very good about keeping the beat here. But I'm committed to getting these posted each month, so...focus on the words and enjoy the way that little old parlor guitar sounds.

How the song resurfaced:

I forgot I wrote this song! Mike Kelly, Claude Pate/All the Fixins bassist, producer, arranger, glue that holds the thing together, savant, etc. was sifting through all of our recorded material to share with family, friends, and fans and found the DAT masters to our last "official" recording project, a collection of All the Fixins music we were going to call "Fact or Fixin". This was an interesting project that came together at the end of my time in Ames, IA working on a Masters degree in Engineering Mechanics.

The session:

A group of younger Ames musicians who had been Claude Pate fans (underagers who snuck in to the M Shop back in the day) offered up their house and their ADAT and PA etc to let us record. Most of the songs were only half finished, but we had a sense that this was probably our last chance to capture at least the basic tracks of what had been a very beautiful incarnation of our band, so we plowed through. I think we recorded everything in one day, maybe two. I think I was sick, and things were pretty rough, but when I hear it again after all these years, I'm pleased that the songwriting and arrangements hold up, and that the performances are better than I remembered. I'll see about posting the recorded version at some point

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