This month I dive back into my All the Fixin’s repertoire and play a song that I like to believe a real crooner such as Roy Orbison or Chris Isaak would sound just fine recording. I’m using the guitar that I wrote the song with, a sturdy, reliable Sigma SDR 35 circa 1988 that sounds every bit as nice as the Martin D35 that it is a copy of.
About the song
I’ve talked about Claude Pate’s evolution into a roots rockin/alt country/Americana manifestation, named All the Fixin’s here before, but because I’ve started playing open mic’s locally, there is a remote chance someone new from outside the usual family and friends might be tuning in for the first time and want a brief recap. So here goes…
Claude Pate was a power pop, guitar pop, indy rock band from Ames, Iowa that recorded for Pravda Records out of Chicago for a brief period around 1986. We were a power trio (lot of power being thrown around here), and I was lead singer, guitarist, songwriter, and drunk in chief. If you’ve read about Replacements shows from this time you will have an idea of what kind of act we were. Kinda loud. Kinda sloppy. We flamed out in 1987. I got a serious job, got married, and started a family. In 1991 I decided to go back to school. My old band mates were still on speaking terms with me, so we started playing together again, but this time we decided to quit worrying about creating something “new”, went acoustic, and tried to create a sound I described at the time as post punk prairie pop. Mostly because I like alliteration. We had a lot in common with other Midwest bands at the time that have since become famous, like Uncle Tupelo and the Jayhawks. We weren’t that good, but we weren’t that bad either. Anyway, it was a productive period for me as a songwriter, and I feel like almost all the songs from this period were keepers that I still like to play and sing. So there you are. Up to speed on the bio.
Best Dress is a very rootsy song to me, and I was trying very hard to adhere to classic pre-Beatles songwriting conventions. I did some time in a 50’s grill, supporting myself as a fry cook while playing in Claude Pate, and I was forced to listen to a lot of the more cliche music of the 50’s, and so I had a sense of how to put it together. Lyrically, this song includes some stock tropes, but what is a little less obvious is that I am again riffing on themes that I found very compelling in James Joyce’s amazing story The Dead, which John Huston made into a film in 1987, a film that made a strong impression on me. The whole idea of being, in effect, cuckold by the past. Angelica Huston is so lovely and devastating in the final climatic scene recalling the memory of a boy from her youth. I had not read the story at the time I wrote Best Dress, just saw the movie. I have since read the story, and I can’t recommend it enough. Particularly apropos to my age demographic. Amazing. He nails our frailties. Anyway, in my version the narrator is really competing for his wife’s attention with his own, younger self. I can be the man you can’t forget…Naomi often quips, “I thought I was marrying a rock star!“ whenever I get a little too staid in my behaviors. Oh, and I proposed to her while she was wearing a vintage, navy blue velvet dress we got at a second hand store in Iowa City. The back was similar to the dress pictured above. Nice.
About the guitar
I bought this in Indianola, Iowa circa 1988 from a shop that catered to Bluegrass pickers and was, of course, a Martin dealer. I had pocketed my first ever bonus ($600!) from my first ever real job and thought I’d buy a Martin guitar. HAH!!!! The owner of the shop took pity on me, and sold me this nice factory second Sigma. That’s right, my bonus wouldn’t even cover full freight on Martin’s low cost, budget line. Sigma’s were basically Martin’s built in Korea and offered at a reduced price because they didn’t say Martin on the headstock and they weren’t built in Nazareth. Even these were pricey though, and I was lucky that mine had some finish blemishes (a little lacquer is missing on the binding way up on the neck) so I could get guitar and case for the cash I had on hand. It is a great guitar. People have always remarked about how good it sounds, and I tend to agree. It has that classic dreadnought sound and was the guitar I used to perform and record all the songs we played in All the Fixin’s.