Photo: Kay Allen
|Genesis of the Tribute:|
I was getting a haircut late in the summer of 2002 at a local place I have patronized for years when I heard a familiar voice from the next chair. It was Rena Ruth, Lee Ruth's wife. We started talking about KOPN's upcoming 30th anniversary and ideas that would be fun and make money for the station. I mused that we could sell tickets to watch Lee Ruth have his beard cut off and--for an enhanced price--people could trim a bit of the beard themselves. We laughed and agreed it would be a good way to raise money for the station--if only we could convince Lee. That idea stuck in my head like a good hook in a song, and a few months later, "Everybody's Got Love: The Songs of Lee Ruth" snipped its way into my mind.
In late November 2002 my wife, Beth, and I went to the Columbia Public Library for a Mary McCaslin concert. When I first visited Columbia in the spring of 1972, my friends were in love with McCaslin's music, which they'd heard from folks creating a new community radio station called KOPN. I was sitting next to Win Grace. Lee and Rena Ruth were behind me. Bartholomew Bean, another longtime musical friend, was there as well. I brought up this idea that it would be fun and appropriate for local musicians to record a Lee Ruth tribute album. Win volunteered on the spot, so I asked Lee about it. He said something like, "I'm not sure there would be much interest." Bartholomew Bean said he'd love to record a song, and before we left the library "Everybody's Got Love" had stepped Athena like out of my forehead.
|More Interest than Imagined:|
|The concept percolated through the local music community,
and by January 2003, the interest was overwhelming. A few artists wanted
to record specific songs. I've always loved Cathy
Barton and Dave Para's version of "Golden
Years," a song they've played for years. Rocket
Kirchner was already locked on to "Thief"
like a guard dog. Lee also had some songs targeted at specific artists.
For the most part, if an artist wanted to record a particular tune, the
song was theirs if it wasn't taken. It became clear early on that there
were more interested musicians than we could fit on one CD. This caught
Lee a bit off guard, and it meant he'd have to dig deeper into his song
bag. It also meant adding songs to the project that I'd never heard Lee
play--and some that he rarely ever played anymore.
Trust is an important component of this project. I trusted that Lee's songs would find new voices with artists who cherish him as an iconic musical figure. Lee trusted those musicians--and the rest of us--to produce those songs as best we could, in order to honor Lee and help support KOPN. This project never would have happened without Lee's songs, his commitment to the local musical community and KOPN. It was a great honor to work with Lee on the process of getting his songs into these artists' ears, hearts, and minds.
|Manifesting an Idea:|
Szkolka was still finishing some of the acoustical treatments on the
walls of his new production studio
when we started to record in February 2003. Jack
Williams was coming through town for a gig across the river in Lupus
when we recorded "Sneakin'
Up On the Blues" at our first session. We recorded a song almost
weekly from February through September 2003, logging more than 230 studio
hours. Artists in California, Texas, Colorado, and Illinois made their own
recordings and sent us their finished tracks.
Ken Shepherd and Crazy Music donated a large amount of DAT and ADAT tape for the recordings. In some instances, we recorded direct to two-track 24-bit DAT or multi-tracked to ADAT or an MDR-90 digital hard dive. The recording setups ranged from acoustical groups around a single microphone, recording in mono, to 24-track recordings for mix down. One of the most interesting challenges was that every song brought a different artist with different instrumentation and a different approach to working in the studio.
In many instances the studio session was the first time Pete and I heard the song or an artist's arrangement. Our job was to capture and tweak the tune in order to get the very best out of the musician and the song. I can honestly say I think we got it right, and I think everyone had fun in the recording of "Everybody's Got Love."
|Getting It Right:|
|From September 2003 through February 2004,
Pete and I worked on mixing down the multi-tracked songs, mixing to
Pro Tools. Audio wave files were created and saved as 24-bit wave and 16-bit
wave files after each mixing session. On some instances, alternate mixes
were created for comparison purposes. Neal Miller,
Jerome Wheeler, and Lee were on hand at many of the sessions, and their
ears and suggestions were tremendously helpful. When I gave Lee the two
discs of rough mixes for his feedback on the initial song sequencing, he
seemed fairly happy with the way the two discs flowed. Lee suggested a few
changes, and they all made sense to me. Here is how the two discs stack
|The CD Production Group:|
|In September 2003, a small meeting of the CD production
group was held. David Cavins is the graphic artist responsible for CD layout.
Mike Robertson took on the digital edits of final mixes into MP3 samples
for the Web site. Pippa Letsky agreed to work as copy editor. Nathan Pauley,
who'd helped with Web page development, took on the creation of the data
CD, which is the companion CD that contains lyrics, photos, and commentary
by Lee Ruth and the artists. Neal Miller, besides being trusty transportation
to and from the studio over the last year, has also taken a large number
of the digital photos used on the Web site and also worked on layout for
the data CD. We discussed the status of the project. At that point, there
were still 22 songs to mix, we talked about the components of the Web site
and looked at some packaging options for the CD. The working title for the
disc was the "Lee Ruth Project," and we decided to put out a call
for title submissions. Here are a few of the submitted titles we did not
Friends & Family (the songs of Lee Ruth)
|The Project, how it happened to me|
When the Radio Ranger first told me of his idea to produce a CD of other people recording songs that I had written I doubted that there would be enough interest to do such a project. My skepticism was based on many years of experience in both song-writing and performing, during which time only two of my songs had been recorded by other people, and only a handful of songs had ever even been learned by anyone else. "So why," I thought, "would a bunch of people, at this time in my musical life during which I've almost given up public performance, suddenly be interested in singing my songs?" I couldn't think of more than a few people who had even heard more than a few of the songs, and there were less than ten original songs that I had recorded and released for public distribution, so there was no archive or library or collection of my songs in existence except for my own totally-in-a-shambles collection of old cassette and reel-to-reel tapes of mostly live performances dating back to the mid-1960s.
Some six or seven weeks passed, and I had almost forgotten about the prospective project, when I received an email from the Ranger, surprising me with a list of people who were interested in participating (some of them had already chosen songs to do) and telling me that I had work to do. Some people needed recordings and lyrics of songs so they could learn them. Other people needed demo recordings of unselected songs so they could determine if there was indeed a song they might want to learn and record. So, it was really happening! My mind-set changed in an instant, and I set to work.
The master list of songs buried in my guitar case needed updating; easily done. Looking it over, I counted about eighty songs; not much to show for forty years of song-writing, but still a passel of songs. There were about twenty that I was sure I knew well enough to perform on the spot, so I started with those songs, recording scratch versions at home. Then there were another ten or fifteen songs that I needed only to play through a few times to reclaim from the echo chamber of my mind, which I did, and then I recorded those songs. Another dozen songs were in fragmentary form in my mind's eye, but salvageable I figured, so I sat down with my guitar and started messing around with them and was able to reconstruct lyrics, melodies, chords, and guitar parts for quite a number of them. The rest of the songs were too far gone to reconstruct without finding either the notebooks I originally wrote them down in or old recordings of them, all uncatalogued and unindexed. (There were even several song titles that I could recall nothing of; not a word of the lyrics, not a note of the melody, not a chord, not a single guitar riff.)
Over a period of about half a year I made cassettes and burned CDs of various groupings of these songs, trying to accommodate all who were interested in doing songs. All the while the production team was chipping away at getting it all down in the studio, and it came to pass that two CDs were filled almost to capacity with thirty-seven songs. "Who'd-a thunk it?" Surprise me, again.
|The Project, and my life|
This project has pulled me--if not actually kicking and screaming, then at least pickin' and singin'--out of the musical doldrums I had been in for years. I played more gigs last year than I had in the previous three or four years put together, and while there were other factors at play, the Project is what really got me going again. I reconstructed and relearned a goodly part of my repertoire of original songs as a result, and it feels good to be doing so many more of my own songs along with all the other songs that I love to play and sing. I got to spend a lot of time in the studio, listening in on a number of the recording sessions. For several months I've had unmastered recordings of most of the album to listen to. It sounds so good to me--the singing, the playing, the arrangements, yes, and even the songs. It's almost like I've never had a chance to listen to my songs--to actually hear them--before. Some of them are much as I play and sing them, and some of them are radically altered. Whichever way, near or far from my own take on them, the creativity, talent, and imagination, the heart and soul that have made these recordings what they are is impressive, and I thank each of the artists, the producers, and engineer for giving me this gift of my own songs. Pleased I am to have my songs back--some of them were long gone from my life.
In 1973 I had the pleasure of hearing John D. Loudermilk play at the first and last Ozark Mountain Folk Fair, outside of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. He rarely played in public, but he was a favorite of mine. At some point during his set he said, "I'm going to play you a medley of some songs I wrote that you've probably heard before. Some of them may be a little silly, but they're all my babies, and I love them every one." Me, sitting in the front row, I was thinking, in capital letters, "RIGHT!" Over time I let that notion slip away, but I have it back, the songs are back with me, and though they may be less real and less beloved to me than my human children are, they are, as Mr. Loudermilk said, "all my babies, and I love them every one." I invite you to give them a good listen--you may grow to love some of them too.