LJ Booth the road that leads me home
music : the stories behind

Like most songwriters, I keep a fair amount of partial songs in my head. Sometimes that amount becomes a critical mass...and I know it's time to get down to the blue collar part of finishing. It's not that I don't like that part of the job. It's more often that I'm daunted by the work.

I tend to write the music...and often, a chorus...first. That chorus usually has a lot of reverb to it, that I may not have any understanding of, other than the fact that it rocks my socks in some subterranean way. Usually, over the next couple months, or years, a few experiences will shed some light on that chorus. But it is often daunting to try and mess with that shining chorus. What if someone dropped off the Venus de Milo at your front door and asked you to carve her some new arms?

I had the music and the chorus for HILLS for about a year.  I loved the rhythm of the Strumstck…and the simplicity of the chorus.  I hadn’t had any luck with writing verses that stuck…and decided to give myself a deadline for performing it at the first live, recorded concert in Amherst (self-imposed deadlines, and the pressure they create, are often the way… unfortunately…many of my songs get finished)

I got up early the morning on the day of that concert and went for a run down along my road.  I wrote the verses (and the Wild Grapevine section) along that run, stopping to jot them down on neighbor’s mailboxes.

Needless to say, we were all very new to the song that evening……….and gave it the best we had.  But it was very evident to my ears that that song had a ways to go…….with a few lyrical revisions, but mainly, the musical arrangement was going to grow.

Six months later, when we set everybody up in my house for the live take, HILLS had become the most challenging piece we recorded…from an engineer’s standpoint.  It was amazing to hear how far that song had traveled and how each player’s part had jelled into it’s own vital niche. 

My hat is off to all the players who had the patience to see this one through.

Thanks to my songwriting buddy, Dave Cox, who supplied the catalyst for this song.  I copied a line out of one of his letters…”some of us never learn to open the oyster shell until we see our mortality racing straight toward us, like a flaming sports car”.

And like any good catalyst---it was necessary to get it started---and it was (mostly) transparent when the work was done.

Thanks also to Glenn Runnels for his contribution to the arrangement.

When I first went out to Wyoming to work in the oilfield, my driller’s name was Roland Phillips.  In my short acquaintance with this wild, east Texas native, I accrued more stories than one album would hold.
He got hit in the head with the blocks, back when he was a derrick hand…hard enough to reset his eyes to unparallel tracks.  Like Roland, there were few “roughnecks” who made it through their time on rigs, unscathed.

This is a good place to insert the quote that I always had stapled to the notes for this song…

“Here’s what I think the truth is. We are all addicts of fossil fuels, in a state of denial.  And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we’re hooked on.”
Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

I was fortunate enough to see Richard Thompson perform this song at the Barrymore Theater in Madison, probably seven years ago.  I’ll never forget how the story unfolded that evening…and how he sang that last chorus.

I wrote this song, isolated at a friend’s cabin up north.  I was under the deadline of having to record it the next day in Madison, as the last entry on THE OX THAT PULLS THE CART.

It was fun to take another pass at this song, after having more time to understand her phrasing and cadence.

One of the Midwest’s most consistently under-rated geological formations.

Train 13 had stopped at the Ashland, OR train station on the morning of Oct. 11th, 1923, to change crew, before winding up the steep ascent to Siskiyou Summit…and Tunnel 13.

In honor of:

Sidney Bates---Engineer
Marvin Seng---Fireman
Elvyn Dougherty---Mail Clerk
Coyle Johnson---Brakeman

Whenever an interviewer  asks me what I consider to be my most challenging or
significant work, the answer is easy.  Parenting.

I woke up one morning, with this song all over me.  The rhythm was in my body, the melody was in my voicebox and the words were scrolling though my brain.   All I needed to do was find my some chords on my guitar, to staple it to.  The first, and only time a song has “shown up” this way.

One of the “skills” of songwriting is being ready.  There are as many different ways that songs show up…as there are songs.

People familiar with my live shows know that I’m fond of trying something brand new, every night.  By brand new, I mean song-now.  Every once in a while a line comes out of that ticker-tape that astounds me with how much it reverberates.

I’ll usually change the next couple show’s song-of-the-night, to be verses that lead up to that line with the reverb…to see what adds? what melds? what holds true?  

It was at a house concert in Charlottesville, where THE ROAD THAT LEADS ME HOME dropped off the ceiling, into my mouth, late in the evening.  It had been one of those great intimate gatherings, where the music had worked a little magic on us all.   I remember when that line dropped, being grateful, that the loving look on those people’s faces would stay with me on my drive home.

One of the first singing voices I heard, would sing me to sleep with old ballads like this one.  My favorite was TWO LITTLE CHILDREN.

Dad was 88 when he traveled up from Austin, to grace us with a song at the Jensen Center shows, both nights.

I wore a size eleven shoe during my junior year of high school.  To my surprise, dad was a ten.


© 2009 LJ BOOTH. All rights reserved.
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