Sunday, January 4, 2009
Jesse Ed Davis is a Native American genius. He was Kiowa on his mother's side, and Kiowa and Cherokee on his father's side. In an autobiographical song, "Washita Love Child," Jesse sang that he was born in a Kiowa-Comanche tepee, (reference wikipedia).
In 1970-71, after I got out of the nut house, a friend of mine, Gavin Murrell, was working as the music director on a movie called "Clay Pigeon," for MGM. Gavin knew that I had written songs like "Junkie Jesus" and "Jesus Was An Outlaw Too," and believed they were important enough works to be captured for all time as recordings.
I had no record deal or anything else going at the time, so he came up with a way to get those songs recorded. He needed background music for a couple of club scenes in the film, and he asked me to record my songs for that purpose.
He told me that they would be barely noticeable in the film, but that it was a way to get them recorded. I agreed to do it, because I wanted to take the songs into the studio, with some good musicians and see how they'd turn out. All I had at the time were the lyrics and a vague idea of how they ought to sound.
Gavin and Kirby Johnson, who also worked on the music with Murrell for the film, discussed with me the possibility of getting certain players to play on the session. We came up with Jesse Ed Davis on guitar and Randy Newman on piano.
The bass player, Bob Glaub, and drummer, Jimmy Karstein, were brought to the session by Jesse. I had little knowledge, personally, about Jesse, other than I knew his name and reputation to some degree. It was Gavin Murrell who convinced me that the combination of Jesse Ed Davis, Randy Newman, and myself would be a "something to behold," as he put it.
Because Gavin had to account for every penny he spent to MGM, we had one chance, and no more, to get these songs recorded. We had no opportunity to rehearse, arrange, or anything else until the day of the session. Kirby Johnson had written basic lead sheets for the players to use, but really there were no arrangements whatsoever.
Gavin had surmised that coupling Jesse and Randy's musical ability with my lyrics and vocals was a sure thing, as far as recordings go. He was convinced that if the session came off well we'd have a recording that was as special as it would be timeless.
Whether it would ever be regarded as commercially viable was not an issue, but the concept and construction was central to getting the songs recorded. He knew that Jesse and I would either love or hate each other within five minutes of our meeting for the first time in the studio.
Jesse's reputation for being outspoken, as well as completely competent musically, and being loaded most of the time, was matched by my own reputation as a crazy man who wouldn't settle for second best in the studio, and who was also loaded most of the time.
Because I had been on the news a lot, as a result of the Hyatt House drama, Jesse knew who I was and seemed a bit amused by me and my crazy shit. When he heard the lyrics to "Junkie Jesus," and "Jesus Was An Outlaw Too," we became immediate friends, period.
I played him the songs in the rough, and he seemed to get the idea right off and began arranging the music on the spot. He told me, for instance, not to make the change from the basic E chord to the A 7th, like a white guy would, but to extend the use of the E chord vocal all the way to the B 7th turn around.
At first this was difficult for me, because I naturally wanted to go into the A 7th like a white guy, but I soon figured out what he was getting at, and began to hear exactly what he was getting me to do with my song "Jesus Was An Outlaw Too." If you hear the song you will understand what I just described.
The bass player and drummer were used to working with Jesse, and had no difficulty following his lead as to what they should play, or how and when they should play it. He'd tell them what to do and they'd do it. It was like a well oiled machine from the beginning and stayed that way until we were done.
I myself stood by in amazement, as Jesse, Glaub, and Karstein constructed the basic tracks for the songs. Every now and then Jesse would say to me, "Come over here and sing the vocal, so I can hear what you're doing." I'd jump in and start singing and he'd stop me and say, "Try it this way," which I'd do.
As I said, at first it was difficult to sing the song the way it is on the recording, but once I got the hang of it, it was totally natural. It went from white to soulful, because Jesse Ed Davis taught me how to sing my own song.
Once Jesse knew I could, and would, do what he asked of me, and that I was there to make the songs as good as they could be, he began smiling broadly at me as I hammered out his vision of my song.
We connected at that point on some other level, that I find hard to describe in average terms. We were like two arrows shot from different places that crashed into each other at the tip and burned together in mid air.
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I received information for this post from Jason Odd in Australia, regarding the names of the bass player and drummer that Jesse regularly used on the road during the time period of 1970 to 1974. Those names are Bob Glaub on bass, and Jimmy Karstein on drums. I would like to thank my friend Jason Odd for his knowledge and time regarding this information.