Hotline to the Underground April 20, 2020
By Joe Viglione

5056BBE3-81A7-4B7A-AE5A-12647A0E8C4FVideo of the week goes to the legendary Peter Calo, former Somerville resident these days up on Croton-on-the-Hudson. It’s from his Time Machine albums and features lyrics by wife Marianne Calo with video directed and edited by Gordon Bahary go to tiny url dot com / every ordinary day

K Britz with Mystic Bowie have an uptempo positive mantra in their new release, “Kind.” The two minutes and thirty-four seconds have a sort of magical set of vibrations blending simple sounds into a swirling group of threads. It starts like a cool spring stream that flows downhill building as the instruments make their entry with an emphasis on the appealing vocals. Mystic Bowie complements K. Britz’s voice perfectly – Delaney and Bonnie-esque, Marianne Faithful meets Peter or Gordon.

We talked to K Britz about the creation and production of the music.

JV: Hello K – what’s the evolution of the songwriting phase of “Kind?”

KB: As you know I live with Rob Fraboni (producer Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards.) He got an email from an ad agency looking doing a call for submissions for the U.N./WHO Covid-19 campaign and suggested I write something. There were several topics that the work could reference- “Wash your hands” “Social Distancing..” and a couple other cheesy things that would not really work for me but there was one subject I saw- “Kindness Contagion” and I thought, I could probably do that. There was only about a day or two until the deadline so I worked on the song maybe an hour and then recorded it on my phone with my guitar. Around the same time Mystic (Bowie, of Tom Tom Club) had sent us a dub track without lyrics that we liked and Rob thought, maybe these songs could go together. We know Mystic works on songs at his house so we assumed he made the track himself. I sent Mystic the song and he loved it and sent it back with his harmonies on it. However, someone else had made the track that Mystic sent us so having a full on dub mix in quarantine wasn’t going to happen.

JV: The great Greg Shaw said back in the day, 1975, that he likes singles that zip in and zip out – both in length of song and time on the charts – this was in a review of Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” That song is actually four and a half minutes it just feels as if it moves quickly. “Kind” is two minutes shorter and gets the point across more efficiently, like The Box Tops “The Letter” – a one minute fifty three second nugget. Was that the intent or did it just come together organically?

KB: It’s funny you mentioned “The Letter” because it is number 1 on my list of songs I want to cover if I ever get a band like Mad Dogs and Englishmen and I can try it like Joe Cocker’s version. I knew I wanted to have the melody for “Kind” be contagious, and it was my intention that the chorus resolves into itself. That said, there’s a fine line between contagious and irritating and we decided to cut it shorter when we mixed it.

JV:How do you know Mystic Bowie?

KB: Last year Rob and I were going Vegas for the Electric Daisy Carnival with friends. I called an Uber and Mystic showed up as our driver. He has a charitable foundation for young people in Jamaica and he drives when he’s not in the studio to raise money for the foundation. We’ve spent a lot of time in Jamaica and we’re musicians so we knew all the same people. It was a fun ride to airport.

JV: What was the production process in this Twilight Zone of COVID-19 – rather than work together on the spot was it like suspended animation, waiting for tracks to come back over the internet to assess and add parts to? Or was it more “internet spontaneous?”

KB: Mystic actually came over when recorded my guitar and our vocals but we stayed at least six feet apart. That was kind of ridiculous. Rob was at the house and he made some final calls on what was working and what wasn’t and what takes we should use. Then we sent the track to the production team I work with in Texas, Mass Crush, and they mixed it and put on the other instruments. Rob mastered it and added his “RealFeel” technology. This all happened in less than 24 hours.

JV: Instant Karma! (John Lennon’s song in an instant!) By the way, The Letter is a nice segue after “Kind” for those thinking of spinning some tunes together. How many instruments are in the production and how many different files went back and forth?

KB: I played guitar and Mass Crush did keyboards, drums and the synth extras. We sent the files back and forth about 5 times during the mixing process as Rob and I had a few notes.

JV: Is this a special project or part of an upcoming album?

KB: I have an EP that I did with Mass Crush that we are holding for release until the time is appropriate. “Kind” just appeared for us organically, but it feels like the right song at the right time and will be a good lead into the release of the EP when it happens.

JV: What do you have planned for “Kind?”

KB: We’re releasing it as a single and I hope that people find it uplifting in a difficult time. If it doesn’t get picked up for the UN/WHO project I hope it can be of use somewhere, like, say a PSA ad dedicated to the first responders. I’m happy to give it away in as many ways possible if I can.

Listen to “Kind” here:

In last week’s April 13th column we discussed the passing of Eddy Davis and other notables.
This week we’d like to follow up by asking Jack Phillips about his friend, Mr. Davis
JV: Jack, how did you meet Eddy Davis?
JP: I had seen Eddy before at Michael’s Pub when he was playing with Woody and I’d seen the documentary “Wild Man Blues” – so I knew of him but I met him after a gig at the Café Carlyle in 2006. He was a very affable man with a big smile and so when he was with Woody in Barcelona the following summer while Woody was filming “Vicky Christina Barcelona,” he invited me to come over. Eddy was performing regularly that summer with Conal Fowkes at the Hotel Casa Fuster and sometimes Woody would sit in with them. I would have liked to have gone over but I was busy. I eventually went to see the hotel a few years ago and saw the plaque on the wall to memorialize their summer there.

JV: What was it like working with Eddy as producer for your album?
JP: Well it was great. I started the project by writing some songs with Conal with the intent of creating a “jazz and blues” album – I had already recorded the blues tracks and flew out to Burbank to have Caleb Quaye add guitars. I had only about five tracks so I was thinking I’d add another five tracks of jazz originals to that collection. By that point I’d spent a few evenings at Eddy’s apartment listening to his music and at some point Eddy got wind of the writing I was doing with Conal. To his credit, it was Eddy who suggested that perhaps the idea of one album should be separated into two projects. With that, Eddy and I started writing as well until I had 10 jazz songs. I had definite ideas of the themes for the ten songs, and I even wrote sketch lyrics for all of them. While I wrote the lyrics for all of the music that I co-wrote with Conal, Eddy often re-wrote my lyrics to match the melodies that he came up with. The result was “Café Nights In New York” that was recorded at Nola with Jim Czak at the chair and Eddy producing. The blues material came out five years later as “Down In The Jungle Room” and the rest of that album was filled with live and unreleased original blues material recorded at The Duplex in Greenwich Village.
Eddy always had a big smile but he knew composition and he knew what he was doing. So he didn’t like to waste time and I did witness a time when he became visibly impatient. It was something I hoped to avoid in the future. We had four or five musicians playing live in the studio and if a song was being played too fast or something else wasn’t right, Eddy figured that it was just quicker to re-record it than to spend another five minutes discussing it. He was a consummate professional and even recently I left a message on his machine saying “Hey Eddy we need to get together to write some new material!” I really, really regret that we can’t do that.

JV: What was it like co–songwriting with Eddy?

JP: I wrote the first two chords for “Someone” in Eddy’s living room in about two seconds and as soon as I did, he added an answer (eg the next two chords) which together formed the beginning of a little motif – that song just came along really quickly. I added the lyrical word “someone” to the first two chords and from there, Eddy invented the much of the rest of the lyrics based on some ideas I had. That song came together very quickly. I didn’t help him write the melodies for the other songs he wrote – he took my lyrics and changed them to fit the music he came up with. This was a musical first for me, letting someone else write the music, but then again, I had never written the lyrics before to my music so it was just a big new adventure. I knew that I could make it all my own just in my vocal phrasing.
JV: Give us some thoughts on your working relationship and thoughts about Eddy himself.
JP: I just have the best memories of that whole recording session. It was all done so very quickly and it taught me a lesson. I had previously spent ages putting together albums using technology and although the sounds we were creating at the time were exciting, it was so very slow and changes took forever. Eddy taught me that when you work with real professionals and you put professionals in a room together you can get something great done very quickly. I’m proud to say that the next album I made “Down In The Jungle Room” was completely one take. The basic studio tracks were played live and of course the live recordings were all played live – there was no second take. By that point I had been performing live myself for a while and I had become more professional. I learned that from Eddy.
I had seen him working on the music for Woody’s film “Midnight in Paris” at the Nola studio in 2010 which I think was my first time there. Eddy produced music for that film and arranged the strings that played in the scenes at Maxim’s. So I had seen Errol Garner’s piano in the studio being played by Conal for scenes in the film…. It’s the same piano Conal played on “Café Nights IN New York” and that I played on “Down in the Jungle Room.” I wonder where that piano is today?
It goes without saying that Eddy and Woody have been friends since around the time I was born. Woody was doing standup in Chicago at some club and across the street Eddy was playing in a jazz band. One night Woody walked over between sets and Eddy invited Woody to sit in during their sets. That was the start of a great friendship that lasted until just recently. I met Eddy because he played with Woody, but Eddy became my friend and he will be missed. I am so very grateful for the songs that he and I created in 2012. I’ve performed them many times and quite unfortunately Eddy never saw them performed live. He came to see me play original pop music at The Metropolitan Room but he never came to one of my Café Nights gigs. That’s one of my big regrets. I had wanted to invite him to sit in with the band but our arrangements are all charted and very tight.
I feel very sorry for Woody. He’s not only lost a friend but he’s lost his right hand at all of his gigs at the Carlyle. Take a look at any photo of Eddy playing with Woody and you’ll see that he’s wearing his watch on his right hand – and he’s right handed. That’s so that Woody can look to his left and see what time it is. There might be a basketball game on. But aside from being a great time keeper, he was an extraordinary banjo player. He could make that banjo sound like an orchestra. I don’t think Woody will find anyone who can replace that Eddy Davis sound. Or that fantastic, bigger-than-life smile and love for what he was doing. I have no doubt that Woody will continue performing but it will be impossible to replace Eddy. If anyone wishes to see what I mean, check out the documentary “Wild Man Blues” recorded during a 1990s European tour. Eddy’s personality shines in that documentary filmed around the time I had first seen him play at Michael’s Pub. If you watch, you might just enjoy what you hear and form a new love for New Orleans Jazz.
JV: )What was the Nate Butler drawing for and was it ever used, did it have anything to do with Keith Brown’s work for the Down in the Jungle room album… was it a prototype and then you went with Keith
JP: I asked Nate Butler to create a cartoon image of me in a tuxedo looking into the mirror and seeing a bluesy version of myself. This goes back to the days when I was thinking of creating one album of both jazz and blues. It was Eddy who suggested that I separate the projects and create one jazz album and one blues album – he suggested that by combining the two I’d leave the jazz lovers frustrated by the rest of the album and vice versa. So it was Eddy’s suggestion that led to a jazz-only album and hence Nate’s clever drawing wasn’t used. However, Nate did contribute some sketches that did make it into the “Down In the Jungle Room” album artwork, e.g., a drawing on the wall on the front cover and elements that went into the booklet.
I did not know the reference to the Monk’s album cover. Keith showed me several album cover ideas and it was one of them – when I said I liked it he certainly didn’t mention Monk. For me, the cover was a tribute to the Jungle Room Studios in Burbank where Caleb recorded his guitars and of course Elvis had a “jungle room” which I had seen at Graceland. The colors of the album cover are similar to the colors of Elvis’ room….
As for my facial expression, Keith had been using straight-forward photos of me for reference but they didn’t convey the energy of the album, so while I was in a hotel room in Hawaii one day, I went into the bathroom and using my iPhone, I shot a photo in the bathroom mirror of myself being expressive and sent it to him. He used that photo for the face and it worked! I really love both of those albums and their covers. What was intended to be one album became two thanks to input from Eddy.
JV: Thanks, Jack!

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