A couple of Claude Pate songs on a parlor guitar
Well here we are in November, and I didn’t post about October, so I have some catching up to do. Fortunately, I have a little time here during the Thanksgiving break to fill you in on the two songs I recorded back in October. Both are quiet acoustic versions of Claude Pate favorites that we recorded on Pravda Records back in the day. Both were done in one sitting using my lovely old Regal parlor guitar.
About the songs
These songs date back to the Pravda Records era version of Claude Pate, with Jon Hahn on the throne and Mike Kelly on the bass.
The first of the pair, the October video, is “I can’t hear you anymore”, a song that appears on our EP, Situation. This song was intended to be a loud anthem, with drums sounding like cannon fire. I think we were probably playing a version of this with Ronnie on the drums when I first wrote it, and he may have helped cook up the way the intro works on the recorded version. I can remember feeling that the whole song never worked quite right, and that we kept playing it because I wasn’t the most prolific songwriter, and we couldn’t waste any material. In my head, I wanted something that sounded like the Alarm, I guess. I’m no longer sure at this distance. I do know that I really, really wanted the boom, flap, boom, boom, drum accompaniment to the G chord, D chord with F# root, thing to sound like thunder. I was fixated on achieving sounds that would conjure the huge presence of recordings like Who’s Next. Which is ridiculous, given who we were and what we were working with, but young men are naïve, and delusional. I chalk it up to an abundance of testosterone. Poor Tom Tatman at Catamount Studios in Cedar Falls knew all about those types of recordings, but he had no real point of reference for what I was aiming for in applying that ethos to my simple little song, so the thing didn’t really come off with the sonic weight that I was hoping we might achieve. Which is probably just as well. I think if we had succeeded then, it would make me wince now.
As for the subject matter of the song, it is about me coming to terms with loss of innocence, or more accurately, striving to hold on to it in the face of growing up. The song stares me down in the mirror and calls hypocrite at the little lies I was telling myself. I think we all have a good bit of self-loathing in us, and that we all wish we could be more of our better selves on a consistent basis. I was a precocious, odd child, with deep convictions about right and wrong and what was fair, and I felt I was losing touch with that sensitive, very emotional kid, as I was sliding into binge drinking and self-loathing. Which is a nasty downward spiral. Not sure how anyone survives their twenties. And I worry for my kids, who share many of my sensibilities, and behaviors, but seem to be keeping it together. Probably better than I did. Which gives me some comfort.
An odd bit about this song. I remember being surprised when I met Rick Mosher at Andy’s in Dekalb for our first gig with the Service. The Service scared the shit out of me at that first meeting, to tell the truth. They were from Chicago, for crying out loud. Big city guys. And it was immediately obvious that they were a lot farther along the sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll path than we were, and I was pretty convinced they were popping pills, and that they sure as hell weren’t aspirin. What had I got us into???? But Rick caught my eye as they blasted through their soundcheck (amazing, by the way. Those guys could rock, which also intimidated me) and he played fragments of this song, and complimented me about it, as we switched over the set up so that we could get ready to fill the opening slot. In fact, I’ve always been surprised that other musicians like this song. When we started opening shows for the Hollowmen (we always were the opening act, no matter who from Pravda was on the bill, because, well, we were an opening act) Tom Armstrong told me as we took a piss in Cedar Falls that he found my EP kind of mediocre, but that the song that opened side 2 was OK, and that I should try and write more like that. I was kind of upset at the time, but looking back, he was probably right. And he was a helluva songwriter. For me, Neverending Ceiling by the Hollowmen, Sundowning by the Service, and My Turn by Claude Pate laid out the template for all the heavy bands that followed. OK. Husker Du certainly had A LOT more influence on that score. But I sometimes think the line from 80’s to 90’s rock that passes through the Pixies had a lot in common with what Pravda artists were up to. Yes. I know that is grossly overstating the truth. Just the way I feel. I know for a fact that when Nevermind came out, I automatically assumed it was the Hollowmen when I heard it playing in a record store. It sounded exactly like what I figured they would evolve into.
The second of the pair of songs, the November video, is our “hit song”, “If you will, I will”, which was released by Pravda just after we broke up, as a single. It is a point of great pride with me that the Service eventually recorded this song on their great album, In Nonsense is Strength. That album is amazing. Everyone should own it. That version of the song also gives me my sole mention in a mainstream media review. The Trouser Press Record guide, which was a fantastic resource back in the day, reviewed the Service album and referred to the Westerburgesque songwriting of If you Will, I will. It’s not much, but I WILL TAKE BEING COMPARED FAVORABLY TO PAUL WESTERBURG EVERY DAMN DAY I CAN GET IT!!!! As for the subject of the song, this is literally my version of the Husker Du song, I Apologize. Wish I were more creative, but I liked the topic of I Apologize, and decided to approach that subject in my own, inimitable way. What I got is not as clever or well written as the original gem, but it is solid. Playing this stripped-down version of the song was a challenge. Sonically, the whole point of this song was Mike and I singing harmony, which isn’t possible all by myself. I can remember when we came up with the “If you said sorry, I’m sorry now” line and harmony part. When we locked in on that, we just kept singing it over and over and over and over. It just felt great. We worked it out rehearsing over in the apartment of some guy who had been my foreman for detasseling. I was really struggling to make ends meet, and I was back to doing contract detasseling work in the summers to get a little extra money. We didn’t have a rehearsal space at the time, and this guy just sort of offered to help, out of the blue offering up his rented house out along North Grand. He even wanted to be our sound man. Mark Mackin, my highschool friend, had always run sound for us and had helped me afford the crappy little house we had rehearsed in. But he was moving on with life, so Mike and I moved out of the tiny prefab house we had shared with him behind the Wendy’s, and I was a bit at wits end trying to figure out where we would rehearse. So it was nice that this guy helped us out, and I think we wound up playing a party at his house to help compensate for using it as rehearsal space. We didn’t squat there long, we had our last gasps when we moved rehearsals to Al Dreg’s place just a little farther out on North Grand. But that’s another story.
About the guitar and the recording
This is my 1929 Regal Parlor guitar. These “catalog” guitars were cheaply made throughout the depression and are experiencing a bit of renaissance now. Collings guitars out of Austin, TX is making a boutique version of this type of guitar now that retails for over $2000. I paid $600 for this one, and will eventually pay a luthier another $1000 to bring it up to a more playable condition. It is not the most obvious choice for these songs, but I like the sound of this guitar, and I liked the juxtaposition of the band version being big and loud and my solo version being very quiet and introspective. I recorded both songs in one sitting. It was an easy recording session, I only needed two takes to capture each song, which is a bit miraculous, given how poorly the guitar stays in tune.