Track by track comments from songwriter Phil Gammage about the songs on The American Dream album.
1. ONE KIND FAVOR
“This is the Blind Lemon Jefferson song from the 1930s. Also known as ‘Please See That My Grave is Kept Clean”. Don Fiorino (lap steel guitar) introduced it to me a couple of years ago. The lyrics are a little frightening in that early 20th century blues kind of way that I love. No one writes lyrics like that anymore, they’re about a world from the past that no longer exists.
Our version takes the song to a different place. It brings out the drama in the song. Minor key blues. I think that it’s one of the most intriguing music forms ever and I could record an entire album of them if I could. This is one of my favorites from the last century.”
2. CREEPY IN THE WOODS
“Built around an old-school Chicago blues style three string guitar riff. It almost sounds like a horn riff and it swings hard. I wrote the lyrics from the viewpoint of someone who is deeply religious and is involved in such things as hearing spirits talk to him/her, drinking poison as a form of worship, speaking in tongues, and handling snakes at church (also as a form of worship). Not the kind of person I normally spend time with! But I’m intrigued by anyone who chooses that path both as a religion and as a lifestyle.
This person is confessing. There is an element of deep regret, like horribly wrong choices were made in the past and now those opportunities are long lost.”
3. FLOAT AND STING
“Two ex-lovers run into each other and one doesn’t want to acknowledge their past. So the other is hurt and tries to figure it all out. As if anyone ever can figure all that out.
A minor key shuffle. Maybe the closest thing to a pop song on this album. The chorus lyrics are from a chant the great boxer Muhammed Ali and his side kick Bundini Brown used to say that to each other all the time. “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, rumble young man rumble.
This was the young Ali of the 1960s before he got drafted.”
4. I’M DRIFTING
“A smooth laid back groove that just drifts by in no particular hurry. Robert Aaron’s sax adds so much to this song and gives it a hint of the New Orleans feel.
I wrote about someone who is down and out who is obsessed with comparing himself to someone who is more successful and more together
‘…it must feel good to be back on top. I wouldn’t know that feeling, my good luck stopped.’
Admiring the other person while at the same time putting themselves down.”
5. BOOZE, BLUES, AND NEW TATOOS
“Based on the boogie riff that first became popular with Detroit’s John Lee Hooker and has been used by blues and rock groups through the years such as The Rolling Stones, Canned Heat, and ZZ Top. I love that riff. Everyone and anyone who likes to boogie loves it.
Like all my songs it’s fiction that is sometimes very loosely based on a personal experience. In this case it’s a Greyhound bus ride I took as a teenager from Beaumont, Texas to Houston.”
6. WATCHING THE TRAFFIC FLOW
“’Noir blues’. Moody and dramatic. It’s dripping in vibe with a lot of 9th and 11th chords. When we recorded the basic track I asked Kevin (drums) and Johnny (bass) to “not play much, if at all” and “let’s see what happens.” The result is this song with lot of space in it, but it feels far from empty. The drums, guitars, and bass are so minimal. It’s Johnny Cement’s bass that keeps this one rolling down the tracks.
I approached the harp part in the same manner and kept it simple but soulful. I played harp through my ’83 Fender Super Champ with a 10” speaker. All the harmonica on this album was played through that amp. It’s real sweet for getting a great harp sound in the studio. “
7. OUR LUCKY DAY
“I wanted to write a song that repeated the same chord progression over and over with no variation. I came close with this one… the only change in the chord progression is during the refrain at the end.
Our Lucky Day is the album’s optimistic song. You’ve got to have at least one of those. Making your dreams of a better day become your reality. Having faith that it will happen.”
8. FEEL THE MUSIC
“The lyrics are all about losing yourself in music. Really letting music take you to another place emotionally — a good place that is an escape from your everyday life. If you’ve never done that then maybe this song will motivate you to try. Some people already do, so perhaps I’m just preaching to the converted with this song. However I feel it’s a strong message that never gets old.
It’s starts out as a mean edged shuffle. The end of the song… well, the band ‘let ourselves go’ musically. It’s a one chord jam. We recorded two takes of this song and chose the second. I had written the song a few weeks before our session and recorded a demo at home but this was the first time the band had ever played it. It was magic and was one of those nights that you can never prescript. You just let it go the way it will and if you’re fortunate it will come out great like this did.”
9. LAST KIND WORD BLUES
“While mixing the album producer Kevin Tooley suggested I consider recording an acoustic song to include on the album. This is the result.
A few years ago I did a computer search for ‘spooky old blues song’ and a song I’d never heard before called Last Kind Word Blues written and recorded by Geeshie Wiley came up. Like so many others since then I’ve been entranced by it’s strange beauty and mystery. My interest in the song was piqued when I found out Ms. Wiley was from my hometown of Houston, Texas.
There are many great 78 records from the 1920s and 1930s have that other worldly quality but this one is special. It is has gotten much publicity in the past few years thanks to a great article in The New York Times Magazine about it’s history and the story of Wiley.
I recorded this track at home. I had never played it before but got lucky when I tried a drop D tuning and came up with a great way of playing it that works for my style. Somewhat different from the original recording which is two guitars. The vocals are one take. The entire recording process from learning the song to recording my guitar and vocal tracks took me a half hour. Normally recording music never falls in place so quickly for me. I take that as a sign I was meant to sing and record Last Kind Word Blues.”
10. WALK ON THE BEACH
“When there’s snow on the ground I love to sing this one. It’s about the beach and the state of mine one can have while there. Not giving a damn about much at all and unwinding and all that…
There’s something about being at the beach at night that’s inspiring.”
11. COME TO ME
“Call it ‘mambo blues’ or call it ‘latin blues’. It’s the blues tonality or a blues form played over a latin rhythm. Come to Me is an extension of that musical idea.
Robert Aaron plays Fender Rhodes piano on it and it fits beautifully. Don’s lap steel guitar adds some nice touches.”