Going Track by Track

GOING TRACK BY TRACK on Old Man Dreamin’ with John Batdorf

Written by Joe Viglione
Friday, 28 August 2009 22:18
John Batdorf’s Old Man Dreamin’ album gets the Track By Track treatment as Joe Viglione asks John about the creation of this music. Click onto the CD cover to find John Batdorf, Batdorf & Rodney, Batdorf & McLean CDs on http://www.gemm.com
Check out the video to “Will I Love You Forever” linked below.

1)Why did you decide to record the songs on Old Man Dreamin?
John Batdorf: Old Man Dreamin’ is kind of a tongue in cheek autobiography about my career which really sets up the CD. There are some very clever and funny lines in between the serious hook, “My dreams are bittersweet ‘cos I’m an Old Man Dreamin’ in a Young Mans’ World” which is how I feel at times as I plod ahead in the music business some forty years now. I love the verse, “Through the years I made some fans, Then I struck gold with the Silver band…Wham Bam”, which refers to the big hit Wham Bam Shang-A-Lang I had in 1976 with the band Silver.
The following line,”Four decades later and, that one big hit I still can’t stand” is true! Clive Davis made us do that song or we didn’t get to make an album!

2)Were all these songs recorded and mixed at the same studio?
John Batdorf: All of the songs on this CD were recorded in my studio. The great thing about recording today, other than not having a record company own and control your stuff, is the fact that you can record with guys all over the world exchanging files via the internet. Harry Stinson was the drummer and one of the singers in the band Silver. He lives in Nashville and has had a very successful career. I asked him if he would sing with me on a song or two and got him to sing on “I Fall To Pieces” which he did splendidly as I knew he would. Many of the players on this
CD recorded like this. It’s really great fun and sometimes quite surprising to hear what others are inspired to play or sing when not under the pressure of having to do it quickly like the old days!

3)Did the inspiration for this work come all at once, during a fixed period in time, or was it spread out over many years…or longer?

John Batdorf: The inspiration came suddenly for many of the songs like, “That Don’t Seem Right To Me” for instance. I set aside June and July of 2008 to just write songs. Right before I started my wife and I went on a fishing trip in Northern California unfortunately at the height of the gas price ordeal. Unfortunately we were low on gas and the little town of Lee Vining was our last hope. I pulled up to the gas pump and to my surprise, gas was a whopping 4.99 per gallon. All I could think of after all of the swearing was, That Don’t Seem Right To Me! This experience
inspired the first verse, “Work two jobs just to buy gas to get to one, Takes three cars just to guarantee that one will run”, and on and on it went. My song writing partner, Michael McLean and I had fun thinking of things that didn’t seem right and this song was born! 9 of the 11 songs were written in those two months and the last, “Ain’t No Way” was written in December as Bush was getting ready to leave office.

4)Are all the tracks by the same musicians and, if so, how long has this particular group been together?
John Batdorf: I usually use the same guys on my projects but this time I really wanted to reach out to some new people that I hadn’t ever worked with on a record before. On “What D’ Ya Got” for instance, I used Luke Halpin on mandolin and Kevin Dukes on the electric guitar and Gary Falcone on background vocals. I wanted to keep
the songs fresh sounding and only used each person excluding the drummer Tom Walsh on about three songs each. All the players brought something special to the project and I thank them all for their incredible contributions.

5)Who are all the songwriters on this album?
John Batdorf: Michael McLean and myself wrote all the songs from June to December. We have been writing songs together off and on for almost twenty years. This batch may be our best yet which is always what you strive for. The reviews have been phenomenal so far. We had eleven songs written by the end of July but two of the songs weren’t holding up to the other nine. I always hate giving up songs but clearly two better songs needed to be written. I started recording the album and one day started playing a riff in a new tuning and got inspired. I wrote, “Don’t Tell
Me Goodbye” and is clearly one of my favorite cuts on the CD wit some stellar BGs by George Merrill and pedal steel by Greg Leisz.

6)Any anecdotes about live performances of this song?
John Batdorf: Other than struggling in the beginning to learn all of the lyrics, all the songs but one translate beautifully live. I built the CD around acoustic guitar and voice and always made sure they led the train. “Sixteen” is one of those studio songs that I never planned or meant to do live for many reasons. The song was inspired by a
TV special about Fundamentalists that somehow have gotten themselves in a position to have multiple wives at his choosing. Many of the woman are young girls in their early teens and have no choice in the matter. If he wants them, he gets them using religion to hide behind. I got so upset by the segment I got up and wrote the chorus,”Sixteen’s all I wanna be, not a wife not a mother to be, How can he take me in the name of the lord. Says he knows what’s best for me, but all I see is misery, Dirty Secrets, Dirty Lies”. The chorus was written from the young
girls’ perspective and the verses had to set that up and they do just that. I won’t play it live because of the subject matter and it was all built on me tuning my guitar to an open chord and pounding and muting the strings to create a dark musical bed.

7)Was there anything out of the ordinary while recording a video of one or more songs from this album? And if not, how did the director of the video work with the original storyline? To your satisfaction?
John Batdorf: I had never shot a music video before. Most guys that are 57 years old don’t get that many calls for that! My co-songwriter, Michael McLean produced and directed commercials and films for years in the 80s and 90s and suggested we try and get some videos made for the CD. we got a really sweet deal and set out to shoot some music videos. The setting was in the mountains of Malibu and I loved doing the song, “Will I Love You Forever”. It’s the only song I recorded and wrote on the piano. We dragged a piano out on a deck which overlooked the beautiful
mountains with the sun hitting them as it was setting. The song is a melancholy look at a couple who are committed to each other for life but struggle at times to find the strength to continue on thus the chorus, “Will I Love You Forever? It’s a promise I made and will not be betrayed, though I’ll love you forever, It’s so hard today”. The videos were shot in Hi-Def by Miguel Siqueiros. The first line of the song is, ”We were the story and audience loves, Violins played when we kissed, we fit the casting of love everlasting so how has it come down to this”. The opening of the video looks like a count in to a movie with a projector sound and the video looks like an old movie. It was great fun! You can check it out on the link below.


8)Was this song effectively captured in the studio or would you change something in the future or on stage?

John Batdorf:
Because of having my own studio, I don’t release anything until it’s right. One of the songs, “I Thought I’d Try A Love Song” was written many times over a few months and almost got tossed out. It always felt like it was trying to hard until Michael McLean came up with this brilliantly hilarious song concept. This song is set up to be about a guy who is way more interested in the girl he met and dated for a while than she is of him but he just can’t take the hint. He figures he’d write her a love song and that would make everything just work out perfectly which really never happens. It actually is a song within a song. The verses are about his struggle to get the girl and the chorus is him singing her his hot love song. It has a very funny ending and I am so glad that we didn’t give up on this song!

9)How difficult was it getting this composition from your mind to the recording session and onto the disc?
John Batdorf: “Ain’t No Way” was the last song written for the CD and it wasn’t hard to write at all. This song was written around the time Bush was getting ready to leave office. The country was left in such a mess and The President didn’t seem compelled to say much about it. I know it’s a tough gig and I wouldn’t want it but I thought he
owed the country an apology that never came. The chorus goes, “That ain’t no way to say you’re sorry, Don’t blame the fools that you misled, At least pretend to see way I’m so angry, With my eyes wide open, I been buried left for dead”. This song really gets the crowd fired up at my shows.

10)Did you attend the mastering session and how important was the mastering to the overall sound of the album?

John Batdorf: I have to be at the mastering session. Every producer does. Mastering is the last thing to be done to the project that artists/producers spend months and sometimes years creating. Even a simply produced song like,”Love: All I Really Know About It” can be made better or ruined in mastering. A song as simple as this needs room to breathe and the wrong EQ or too much compression can make it sound harsh to the listener. I always master with Ron McMaster at Capitol Records studio in Hollywood. It’s worth the money!

11)Pick any one, two or three songs to essay about, giving the reader more perspective on what you wanted to say… lyrically, musically or both.
John Batdorf: “I Will Rise This song came to me in a dead sleep during an afternoon nap. I woke up in a
start and all the lyrics, melody, and chords were clearly formed in my mind. The subject matter was a reflection of my life and marriage to my wife, Melanie. It was so powerful that I was afraid to go back to sleep, so I jumped up and recorded it immediately in fear that this was maybe the last song I would ever write. I later asked Michael to help me with some of the problem areas that needed more clarity, and this is what we came up with. Most of the original lyrics that came to me in that moment are still in the song. It was truly one of the more powerful moments I have ever experienced as a songwriter.

Last Updated on Friday, 28 August 2009 22:33

Going Track by Track with John Batdorf



Q: Why did you start the album off with “I Can’t See” ?

Jack Phillips: Unlike my first album “Revival Time” which had a beginning, a middle and an end, this new album was simply a collection of songs with some similar themes, so I never really thought about what song should come first on the album. When it came time to debut the album at the release party, I played the entire album, but we started with “The Trip Will Make You Well” because so many of the songs had a theme about going somewhere. I think I put “I Can’t See” as the first song because, in my mind, it was the strongest song in terms of it’s hook and what sounded to me like a “hit song” whatever a “hit song” is now days. I loved how it started so simply and built and finished with all the guitars and how it laid the table so to speak for what was to come.

Jimmy Russell comments on the lyrics:
A young man’s lament. Seeking a course, a heading. But uncertainty is built into life in one’s twenties. Too many choices; a complex world. A secure youth’s wrong-headed belief that it’s a therapeutic world, where ‘bliss and perfection’ are down some road. Wrong. It’s a tragic world. One learns this down the years.________________________________________________________________
Q: How does Jimmy Russell contribute to your music…take “The Trip Will Make You Well” as an example?

Jack Phillips: Jimmy does not actually contribute to the music – he is the lyric writer. It’s his lyric that inspires me to write the music. In “The Trip Will Make You Well,” I heard the pistons and the clacking sound of a train coming down the track, much as the lyric suggested. That particular song involved finding a rhythm and then I added some broad brush strokes in terms of chord changes – and then the words simply fell into place.

in terms of chord changes – and then the words simply fell into place.
Jimmy Russell comments on the lyrics:
So, in my case, the traveling itself was therapeutic, and optimism rose again. Alone, young, physically formidable — hell, immortal! — I rode freight trains across the ‘high-line’ near the border with Canada, through Washington State, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota in the early 1970s, as well as other lines further south.
Exhilaration so great; freedom and liberty so acutely felt; natural beauty unimagined ‘in common hours.’ I guess those trips, with all their risks and troubles, did make me well in the doing, and set some bedrock values, confidence, and adaptability. I happen to love the ‘mechanicals’ and the sounds of trains. Still do.

Their acceleration out of a yard just before sun-up when you’re 20 or so, best on a flatcar when weather allowed: Sublime! Plus I happen to like the smell of creosote. It’s key.
Q: “Motherlode” is 4 minutes and 16 seconds…and 7 of the 10 tracks come in at over four minutes…is this so that you can “stretch” the music?

Jack Phillips: Oh definitely not. “Bright One” was exactly as long as it needed to be. We played it live and it’s obviously exactly no more and no less than the length required. I’ve never written a song with the idea that it had to be 3 minutes or 4 minutes. That’s never entered my mind.

Q:”The Next Thing We Knew’ is the exact same time, 4:16. Since Revival Time was released in 2000, are songs like “The Next Thing We Knew” ideas that you had before or after the launch of Revival Time? or did all the material on To Whom It May Concern appear in an artistic burst of inspiration?

Jack Phillips: I have been pretty sequential in what I do – I find it hard to put my soul into two projects at once, so I couldn’t write a note until “Revival Time” was completed. Then, once it was released, I began working on “To Whom It May Concern” within months. As for why two songs come in at exactly 4:16, who knows, purely coincidence. Keep in mind that the ideas for the songs are those of my lyricist Jimmy Russell – they are his ideas – I put the music to the words.
Q:To Whom It May Concern – four minutes and twenty-two seconds…at Track 6 is the title track the “centerpiece” ? And what is the idea behind the song?

Jack Phillips:I really should not speak to the idea behind the lyrics – that would be questions you should pose to Jimmy Russell, but I think the lyrics fairly well speak for themselves, about giving thanks to those who come before us who make our lives a little easier.
Jimmy Russell comments on the lyrics:
Mortality. Funerals. In my case it took a while, but what I owed the fine people who influenced, encouraged and loved me — parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, friends — took a front and center position in my thinking. They began to die; my need to speak of this was self-evident to me. I read and re-read many times a book first encountered and read at The University of Montana in 1969. It’s a great book, written by a great man. It’s form is journal really — “The Inward Morning — A Philosophical Exploration in Journal Form,” by Henry G. Bugbee, Jr. He was a mentor of vast influence. Fortune smiled, and he gave me countless hours of his time. “The Inward Morning” is now getting its due, recognized as precious and rare by the community of wilderness writers. Henry spoke as he wrote, too — you don’t hear that often among men. Henry, 36 years my senior, taught me what it is to be present, like trout “finning in the shadows.” From him I came to see the natural world, such as a chorus of aspen trees, for example: they ‘are as they are, limitlessly.’ Reading Bugbee takes a serious man to many new provinces of thought, manners of thinking, and…….other books. Gratitude is at the nodal center of ‘presence’ as Henry Bugbee transformed the word for me.

Q:”Where Do You Go” is the second song under four minutes. Where does this song fit in a live set – if you do perform it live – and how does it segue from the title track thematically?

Jack Phillips:
When we played the Metropolitan Room last September, “Where Do You Go” was the second song just after the show opening song, “The Trip Will Make You Well.” I had a show producer Miles Phillips (my fifth cousin) who took a very careful look at all of my material and made some excellent choices about how the songs should be organized live. And he was right. He was making these decisions well before the album had been finished, and even suggested to me that we change the order of the songs on the album, but, I’m sorry, I’m an artist and right or wrong, I stick steadfastly to my personal vision. For example, “Conversations in Styrofoam” was obviously the opening song of “Revival Time” and it was dark and harsh and some people might question starting an album that way – certainly my art director in London did (he wondered if he was even going to like the album at all). But putting that song first was part of the artistry behind the whole concept, so the art demanded that the edgy song come first. Now, in terms of “Where Do You Go” being second in the live set, that’s because we started the show informing the audience we were taking a trip and the second song was simply saying that we all are on a trip we have to take. “Where Do You Go” has gone on in recent days to become one of my most important songs – I had it re-recorded as an instrumental recently – because it was a favorite song of my dear friend Tom Russell (Jimmy’s brother), and as fate would have it, he took that ultimate trip in January “beyond the charted sea” and now we are left wondering where did he go?_______________________________________________________________

Q:Winter Keeps Us Warm – Janis Ian had a minor hit with “In The Winter” about a heater getting fixed to keep her warm when a lover vanished. How does Winter Keep the listener Warm in this title?

Jack Phillips:
I’d have to defer to Jimmy Russell, because I’m not sure I could speak eloquently about his words. I do like the flow of the words, “but the river took our future to the bottom of the lake.” What could that mean? As young people you make big plans but life gets in the way, and “the next thing we knew” …. we’re somewhere else… where “only faith can fix what’s torn.”
Jimmy Russell comments on the lyrics:
Here I wind back to the years of early parenthood. Emotions and torn dreams; losses and decisions one tries to forget, for the sake of the living; we loved winter, because it put us all physically adjacent to each other, like it or not. And now I see, in retrospect, how much I liked cold climate. A family bundled, in proximity, seeking heat, bodies, fireplaces — these artifacts and demands of winter ‘kept us warm.’ This was true with my gang of friends in Montana, too. From winter, we learned healing, improvising, learning. Winter was actually recuperative. It required faith in each other. It’s not a therapeutic world, but one can insulate oneself from the tragic elements from time to time._________________________________________________________________

Q:Alowishus – the title reminds me of the Canadian children’s song, “Alouette” – what’s behind this composition?

Jack Phillips:
Again, Jimmy Russell could speak to this, but I’m told that “Alowishus” was a nickname given to him by his father Newt, and it seems to me that the song is simply a look back at a happy childhood with his older brother Tom.
Jimmy Russell comments on the lyrics:
My late, magnificent father started calling me Alowishus as a little boy. I liked it; a term of endearment and all. Here, in these lyrics, I endeavor to summon the young Alowishus to some detail in memory. Dad was a man of the wilderness, growing up in Wyoming and Montana from coal mining stock, and he took my beloved older brother Tommy and me on seven and ten day trips into the most remote parts of the Sierra Nevada, starting when I was perhaps six and Tommy nine. We hopped rocks in rivers, we slept under the stars. He taught us to fly fish; gave us his boyhood kit. It’s an elegant activity, all in all — wilderness safety always came first, though. Trying to sleep, side by side in our WWII surplus sleeping bags, we’d ‘watch the stars appear between the leaves’ unless we were above the tree-line. There, up that far, utter wonder overcame us. So little atmosphere to diminish the numbers of stars one observes. Anyway, when in the trees, they weren’t leaves as we know them; high mountain evergreens, dead noble snags, needles, stars peaking through. Eating a trout did nearly seem to us a religious experience considering the way Dad honored the creature, prepared it, and savored it. But, ‘we were hungry and we were free’ so by the time the consuming began, Dad may have realized it would take some years for us to be ‘present’ the way he was. We got there, later in life. And we did have a treehouse at home. We built it with Dad’s guiding hand. Seeing how interested our dog Jasper was, one day we found Dad had built him a ramp to run up like a cartoon, to join us and gaze out over our fig orchard. Jasper would wait for us up there about the time we were due home from school.

Q:The album closes out with Bright One. Why did you choose this to conclude the album?

Jack Phillips:

For one simple reason: it sounded to me like it was the song to close the album – it had that feel of a big finish, and so when I had all the songs together, there was never any question in my mind that “Bright One” would be the last song. I might have played with the order of the other songs, but I couldn’t think of any other song that more properly sounded like the end of the album.

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