One hour of sleep, a one-lane road, and coffee – my co-pilot

I remember when I wrote that lyric. It’s emblazoned on my brain.

It was in the fall of 1996, and Native had been steeped in a period of heavy creativity. But, I had not contributed anything more than the three-year old Barefoot Girls, and I was bound and determined to rectify that situation.

Now, a cursory look back over the sheer number of new songs we’d recorded demos of in the previous year, is daunting. We had more first-class material with which to make an album than we needed. Rover, Digging Holes, Restless, 155 — pretty daunting competition, especially in light of the fact that I’d not brought a new song in during all the tumultuous period stretching back to John Epstein’s reign of benign terror.

Actually, my most recent composition was from ’94 — Missionary Man. A beautiful song, but preachy, and there turned out to be a big hit song with the same name by The Eurythmics. Native dutifully learned it, played it one or two times, and it was quietly dropped. In my embarrassment at that failure, I had foresworn to do better.

All through the next year, I regaled the band with a series of tunes that showed great development in the songwriting department, but they missed the mark in terms of being right for the band. Some were very pop-oriented, some hearkened back to the hard-rock Native of the Anthony Ballsley era, and some were just plain strange.

No wonder that my newest creation was met with a bit of skepticism and poorly-masked dread. I’ve often joked that a band’s worst fear is a drummer who writes, and that joke stems from this period. Nevertheless, I soldiered on in earnest effort. I had a lot of music in head, and it needed to come out or I was going to go crazy. Or, maybe I was crazy and was trying to work my way back to sanity, and music was my medium. I became fixed on the idea of coming up with a song that would put my yearnings into a palatable package.

Suddenly, I did just that. So, surprised was I at my breaking through the ice-field of my creative impasse, that I prematurely presented the new opus to our lead singer.

Mat Hutt was sat in the living room at Marmfington Farm, our loft on W. 26th Street, enjoying a bit of telly with his girlfriend, Rebecca Lyons. His initial reaction, upon being assaulted with this half-formed ditty, was non-committal and rightfully so — there had been a fair few clunkers already from my pen, and my scratchy guitar stylings coupled with a singing technique that could be likened to the sound of a chalkboard being massaged with barbed wire, didn’t help.

In desperation, keyboard-tickler John Watts suggested I demo the song on the trusty Tascam 8-track and try to hone the performance into something that doesn’t make people want to throw themselves off the nearest tall building.

This is precisely what I did. In the process, the song went from being called One Track Mind, to the more metaphorical-sounding One Lane Road. But, that didn’t work very well in the chorus, which required a repetitive rhythmic string of word-things. Suddenly, in a moment of clarity (or super-stonedness) I hit upon a unique combination of adjective and noun, and the chorus was in place. Matt Lyons did a session, laying down a bass track. And that was it. I mixed it with a ton of reverb, and that was that.

Hearing it again, after all this time, I’m struck by the things that are exactly the same – the guitar chords & its rhythmic pattern, the vocal melody & most of the harmonies; and, I’m equally struck by the things that went through a transformation into something better.

When John Watts heard the demo, he laughed heartily and said, “Here’s what I think you’re trying to do,” whereupon he played it on his piano with exactly the feel that I was shooting for. Mike Jaimes later added the distinctive roto-vibe guitar part that I can’t get out of my head to this day, such is its brilliance. Matt Lyons had a chance to build upon the structures of his bassline, adding the bomp-bomp, bomp-bomp that sends a shiver to the spine, and the mysterious driver of the song down that barren stretch of lonely highway.

When Mat & John Wood’s voices aligned with my lyrics, the rehearsal room erupted in smiles all around as they miraculously recreated the good parts of my vocal performance, and improved the less-than-good parts.

I had achieved my goal. The iceberg impasse was broken. And the demo I’d made was quickly set aside without benefit of Messers. Watts, Hutt, or Jaimes’ contribution. It lay dormant and forgotton, until today.

What you are about to hear is the very-rough demo that sparked Mr. Watts to leap into the fray and help it become a Native standard that graced every single gig we played in the aftermath of that hallowed, feverish period of late 1996.

I’ve made a lot of demos since then, but none more momentous for me personally than the one where I learned a bit of performance craft, and found that if you take two words that don’t go together, you might come up with a title that has some magic in it. Something like —

Sweet Intensity

Cornbread Wednesday

Thank You Lou Levy

‘WOODY, you just topped off six vodka on the rocks, at our VIP table, with water!” These were the first words uttered to me by my snarling, coked-up manager.

It was the summer of 1990 and I had landed a job as a busboy at a supper club in New York City! I was young, wide-eyed and innocent.  My only restaurant experience had been working the salad bar at Bonanza back home in Texas, and a famous restaurateur had taken me under his wing.

This supper club had marvelous jazz bands and served dinner into the wee hours. It played host to the likes of Frank Sinatra, too many famous actors to mention, and many wise guys including, every Thursday, John Gotti himself.

I was a complete failure as a busboy and the manager feared what my next blunder might be, so the owner promoted me to service bartender and hid me in the kitchen.

It wasn’t long before I was moved to the front bar when it got very busy. I would take over for the head bartender when he went home at 2 a.m.

This was a crazy shift! One evening I would find myself playing liars poker with Leslie Nielsen, the next I would be decanting ’77 Wares Port while Mr Gotti’s boys watched me VERY CLOSELY.

The owner would introduce me to every celebrity he could. I think he got a kick out of watching them squirm while I chatted them up with naive exuberance.

I would often come to work toting my guitar. I had only been playing for about a month and a music career had not ever crossed my mind.

One evening I was called away from the service bar. The owner wanted me to meet his good friend, a music publisher by the name of Lou Levy! I was introduced as an aspiring musician. Mr. Levy shook my hand and said; “Kid, if you write a song with the lyrics, ‘Tell me the truth and I’ll help you lie,’ you’ll have a million dollar tune on your hands.” I thanked him for the sage advice and went back to serving drinks.

When I would arrive home after work, usually when the sun was coming up, I would often find that my neighbor Dave Thomas was still awake watching The Prisoner or some old B-Western. He would hit the pause button on the VCR and I would regale him with the night’s adventures at the supper club. The night I told him I met Lou Levy his jaw dropped. He told me that Lou Levy was a music publisher during the Tin Pan Alley era of American popular music. That he was credited with the discoveries of Bob Dylan, Charles Strouse, Richard Adler, and Henry Mancini. How he had discovered, managed or developed the careers of numerous artists including Buddy Rich, The Andrews Sisters, Connie Francis, Steve Lawrence, The Ames Brothers and Les Paul. He had supplied numerous other singers with hit material: Frank Sinatra with “Strangers in the Night”; Petula Clark with “Downtown” and “Call Me”; Tom Jones with “It’s Not Unusual.” And he published the Beatles’ first American hit “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”

Dave’s history lesson made me appreciate the gravity of having received advice from such a legend and although I was only dabbling in writing music at the time, I vowed to myself that I would, one day, write this tune.

Years later, during a rehearsal break I started humming a melody to an inspiring bass line Matt Lyons was working on. The feel of the thing just screamed espionage, and those lyrics Lou had suggested to me, so many years before, came flooding back. Tell Me the Truth was born. I love the melody interplay with that bass line. It’s plain to see how that song just wrote itself.

Lou Levy passed away in 2001. I wish he could have heard the song. I would love to think he would have liked it. I didn’t make a million dollars but the memories are worth more than a million to me. Thank you Lou.

Tell Me the Truth

Cornbread Wednesday