It all began in San Francisco at the Hotel Utah. I was fresh out of college and looking to play my songs around town wherever I could. After hearing my demo, Patrick, the venue manager, booked me to play. Little did I know at the time that it would set me on my life’s musical path.
After meeting Patrick and playing the show, a friendship was quickly born. He was a staple in San Francisco’s thriving music scene, playing around town with many of the local SF greats such as Chuck Prophet and Jeff Trott (of Sheryl Crow fame). At that point in time, I was next in line to take on guitar duties on the songs that would end up on the Tender Mercies disc. Also in the lineup was the quiet bass player Kurt Stevenson, who wrote songs with the timeless quality of chestnuts like “Circle Be Unbroken.” On keyboard was Charlie Gillingham, who played with many bands at the time (including my own when I played solo). Meeting Charlie changed my life. A year or two later he quit all the bands he was in and hooked up with a new band on the scene. The band was Counting Crows.
Patrick, Kurt, Charlie and myself played many gigs under many names with many drummers – at one point calling ourselves the Bakery Boys (named after the bakery we rehearsed above). Our drummer’s mom owned the bakery and let us use the space. Not the greatest drummer we ever had, but the perfect place for starving musicians to rehearse!!
The thing that always attracted me (and Charlie as well) to playing with Patrick and Kurt was the quality and depth of the songs they wrote. Playing together allowed us to explore as musicians and prepared us for our later adventures with the Crows.
On days we didn’t play shows, Patrick and I would sit around playing the guitar and listening to records (yes, the vinyl kind) at his apartment before he would head back to work at The Utah. On those afternoons, he introduced me in full to the likes of Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, the Replacements, the Band and many others. At night I would pop by The Utah for free pints – a perk of having him as a band mate!
It all ended in 1993 when while I was working at Village Music, the local record store. I got the call from Charlie that the Crows needed another guitar player and wanted me to come down for an audition. Apparently Adam had seen a few of my shows and liked my guitar playing and background vocals. On the Crows’ first tour we covered a few of my old band’s songs such as “Wiseblood”, “Four White Stallions”, and “Mercy” to round out the set which, at the time, consisted only of the songs on August. Adam connected with the songs just as Charlie and I had, and they still find their way into the sets today.
Over a decade later I moved back to SF and as the Crows began taking more off time I hooked back up with Patrick and Kurt and started playing shows every now and again. This time we had the benefit of having Jim Bogios sit in on drums. The songs still resonated with me and reminded me of those early days, but better, as we were all a little more, eh… sober than in times past. I had played my own tunes for Jim over the years and it was his suggestion that we added them into the repertoire at our gigs. He liked the songs and thought it would mix things up a bit. I had not visited these songs in years and it ended up getting me back in touch with them. They had been sitting on a dusty shelf all this time!
Last year, more time off led to the realization that we had never really recorded these songs in a meaningful way so I bought a Pro Tools rig, hired an engineer and set up shop in the music room of my house to record what I thought would be a demo to give to Rick Rubin (who had just recorded the new Avett Bros record). I heard that record and thought that our songs were just as good and in a similar vein. Looking at it as a demo, we recorded quickly (eight sessions over a two month period). We recorded the basic tracks live in the room and gave the recordings to Dave Bryson, who cleaned them up a bit and mixed them… and damn if it didn’t start to sound good! All those years of playing the songs live had paid off, and I feel that we captured the essence of each every one of those tunes.
The whole experience was very satisfying and I would have been happy just to know that these versions existed. I gave the recordings to Grover at The Collective and their reaction to the strength and sheer vibe of the recordings was frankly better than I expected. In many ways this was an old school approach harkening back to records we loved – like Beggars Banquet, Big Pink and Hank Williams’ recordings. What you’ll hear is the complete history of Tender Mercies all on one disc. The songs may be older than you are, but we stuck with them because of their timelessness.
I hope they stick in your head at least as long as they have stuck in mine!