The Making of Nine Lives – Filling in the Story: Gloria On The Phone

Gloria On The Phone

This song follows Bring The Mountain To Him and takes us back to the story of Dr. Frank Minyard.  Frank has now become Coroner and keeps his finger on the pulse of the city through his trusty secretary, Gloria Boutté.

Colman and I has some material from the book on some of the messes Gloria helped clean up but we wanted a bit broader scope of Frank’s career so we could show how much he had grown into the job.  We asked John Boutté to help us write this song as he had done on a few other songs for Nine Lives.  He happily told stories of the old days and in no time I had more choices then I could use to fill out the story of  Gloria On The Phone.

Like most of the songs in the final fifteen, we kept things simple for budget’s sake.

I asked Matt Perrine to arrange it as a small jazz combo in keeping with the tone of the other Frank songs and Frank’s own love of jazz.

On this track Matt plays bass, Larry Sieberth plays piano, Alex McMurray plays guitar and Eric Bolivar plays drums.

The arrangement was to be sparse as it is a phone call between Gloria and Frank as she calls him at his beach house so she can troubleshoot problems for him back at the office in New Orleans.  The band was great to work with on this second round of Nine Lives sessions because they knew each other and, by this time, were familiar with the concepts behind this project.  We got a breezy feeling backing track in no time.

Arséne DeLay plays the voice of Gloria and it was a wonderful casting choice because she is the real life granddaughter of Gloria Boutté.  My affection for the Boutté family is well known if you have read any of The Making Of Nine Lives stories I have been writing or any of the interviews I have done in the last few years.  They are a beautiful Creole family with a strong sense of the city’s history and an even stronger sense of their place in that history.

Gloria Boutté worked for Frank for years as did many of the Boutté siblings including John Boutté.  Those of you who are John’s fans and think of him as “The Soulful Voice of New Orleans” and one of it’s treasures, take note: He paid many dues in finding and becoming that voice and working in the Coroner’s office was certainly paying dues.

Arséne stopped by to visit her grandmother and asked about working for Frank.  Gloria just laughed and said that it was true they had dealt with some crazy situations over the years.  As Gloria told Arséne more stories about working for Dr. Minyard to add to the stories John had told us, Arséne absorbed her grandmother’s accent and speech patterns so she could bring as much of Gloria to the studio as she could.

I had performed Frank songs in Nine Lives shows all over the country by this time and was very comfortable slipping back into Frank mode.  I have been complimented on my performance on the record and in live shows by people that knew Frank or covered him for the local news who have told me I “have him down.”  They are close… but it is the wrong Frank.  The truth is when I sing Frank Minyard songs I am trying to sing and act like Frank Sinatra.  Perhaps Frank Minyard was channeling Sinatra at times as well.

The track did not take long to cut.  Arséne and I have become great friends.  She is like a little sister I never had.  We cut it in two takes pausing only long enough for me to collect myself when she pronounced the name “Pete Fountain”, the great jazz clarinetist, with the accent on the back end using the French pronunciation “Foun-TANE.”  It was something she picked up that morning talking to her grandmother and it makes the track for me.  It is a small thing but so very distinctly Creole New Orleans that Gloria would use the proper French pronunciation because that’s how it should be said.  The rest of the world, other New Orleanians included, could call him Pete Fountain when they saw him on The Lawrence Welk Show but to Gloria he was and remains “Pete Foun-TANE.”

There are so many personal treasures and touchstones on Nine Lives and this moment is one for me. To have Arséne voicing her grandmother who happens to be someone I know and love and who’s kindnesses I have enjoyed for many years is special.  Gloria’s sons and daughters have been my friends, my supporters and my refuge from pain and fear in the years since the flood.  The Boutté family has a way of making people they meet feel like they are family, protected and loved.  Frank Minyard enjoyed that protective love for all of his career and, because the Boutté family is for real, it is a love and support he enjoys to this day.  If his name comes up in the Boutté household Dr. Minyard is talked about with fondness.  On his 80th birthday members of the Boutté family, (some who do not like leaving the Treme even to cross Canal Street and go Uptown), went across Lake Ponchatrain to take Gloria to the party and were honored to have a chance to thank him one more time.

It is special to me that John Boutté has a co-writing credit on a song that bears his mother’s name and that John himself had worked for Dr. Minyard.  It is also special that Arséne, who has sung and acted so many voices on Nine Lives, should be the voice of her own grandmother for this track, Gloria On The Phone.

~ Paul Sanchez – January 16, 2012

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The Making of Nine Lives – Filling in the Story: Disrespect

Disrespect

This one follows I Wish It Was Tomorrow.

Wilbert Rawlins Jr. is 8 years old and his father, Da, is a giant to him in every way.

In this scene in Dan Baum’s book, Da is trying to teach his son lessons about responsibility by meeting his own.  He is rushing from his day job as a dockworker to his night gig of playing drums for Irma Thomas, The Soul Queen Of New Orleans.

In the song Disrespect Da leaves to go play with Irma and in the bridge Irma takes over the song until the next verse when Da comes back in as singer.

I looked up some New Orleans R&B from the 60′s and dialed up the musical muses of a thousand nights of falling asleep to WTIX playing the best regional hits of my lifetime.  I can still see the labels of the 45s spinning on my sisters turn table and I still remember my sister Margaret teaching me to dance to Art Neville’s All These Things so I would know how to dance when I went to my first boy/girl party.

Matt’s arrangement was straight-forward New Orleans R&B.  He knew well enough what kind of song Colman and I had written and  had played plenty of New Orleans R&B gigs in the years he has lived here.

On Volume One we were learning the songs and each other as players as we went along.  This time it was different because we had played a few Nine Lives shows and had a core band that we knew and that understood the project.  It made it easier to move quickly and created a smaller more intimate vibe for completing the project.

Matt plays bass, Eric Bolivar drums, Alex McMurray on guitar, Larry Siebert plays piano, Kevin Clark on trumpet and two very special guest vocalists.  This band could play R&B in it’s sleep and they wasted no time coming up with a smoking track for this song.

Vance Vaucresson was singing the role of Da and he brought his own 8 year old son, Vance Vaucresson III, to the studio to play the role of 8 year old Wilbert Rawlins Jr.  A young friend named Chad Robert is the other voice.  It was a quietly magical moment for me as producer to watch Vance lead his son through this scene of a man teaching his son about responsibility.  I could hear the anxiousness behind Vance’s “stern” voice as he tried to get the boys to calm down about being in a recording studio long enough to actually record.  It was just lovely, one of countless magical moments which occurred during the making of Nine Lives that don’t matter to the story or the songs but which give Nine Lives a sweetness and a place in my life far beyond music or any business success the project may achieve.  Nine Lives is chock full of musical postcards I have sent myself from different periods of my life.  Family members, my oldest musical pals and the new friends I have made on this confusing, song filled, learning adventure called life.

Vance Vaucresson has a beautiful baritone singing voice which I knew would light up this track.  He also has an inner strength and a stoic acceptance of what a man has to do in life that I knew would be perfect for this song.  Vance is third generation in a family of Creole sausage makers in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans.  Before the flood Vance proudly and successfully operated the business he had taken over from his father.  The image of his dad “Red” painted on a large mural on the side of the building is a testament to the love and respect Vance has for his father.  That building was completely flooded after Katrina.  Vance lost all of his equipment, kitchen materials, the building, his father’s business and his own home.  He took his family to live in another city, out in the country, safe from the madness that had become New Orleans.  He and his wife had a new baby and Vance did not know how but he knew he would make it back and get Vaucresson Sausage up and running again.

Like most chefs, musicians and business owners in New Orleans, Vance knew that being up and running in time for Jazz Fest and festival season was the difference between surviving as a business or going under.  He bought a huge portable smoker, more money than he had to spend but he needed it for Fest.  But then his smoker was stolen just before the season began and it looked like he was ruined. Friends came through and Vance pulled off purchasing another cooker.  He made it through that first season by dragging himself back and forth to his family in the country and his work in the city, never giving up on himself, his business or his father’s legacy.  This is the man I asked to sing a song in the voice of Da, a man teaching his sons about respect and responsibility.

Irma Thomas was affordable and available when we were making Volume One but money and time constraints were against her participation when we were finishing these songs.  Arséne Delay had been singing the Irma Thomas role for a year so it made sense for her to play Irma on this song.  Mark Bingham used production styles from 1960′s female pop records with double tracked vocals and heavy reverb and Arséne makes a fantastic Irma.

Arséne comes on in the bridge sounding like a star arriving on stage as Irma Thomas.  Arséne has a voice that can stop a room and turn every head in her direction.  She makes the star entrance work because that girl is a star in the making.  She works hard at being a performer, every day of her life and makes the most every chance she is given at work.  Arséne moved herself across country from Los Angeles to be a part of Nine Lives. S he learned every female song in the show for cross country acoustic performances and gave up lead vocals for bigger shows when more singers became involved.  She does whatever is asked of her to make the project move forward and what most folks don’t realize is that all of the hard work you do off stage is what really makes you a star on stage.

Arséne and Vance are cousins, both members of the Boutté family who have adopted me as one of their own though I believe they have the gift of making every friend feel as if they are a member of the family.  They have that much love in them.

Arséne and Vance have sung together countless times at family gatherings since they were children.  Their chemistry in the studio and on the song was instant and palpable along with the kind of back and forth joking that family members or old friends like Irma and Da have when they address each other.

Nine Lives is packed with music, songs arrangements, musicians and singers enough to take your breath away.  It is every thing I dreamed it could be musically and more but the hidden emotional treasures and the effects of the emotional healing that I was allowed to experience through the songs and the voices that bring them to life are far beyond anything I could have anticipated.  I was allowed to piece back together lost bits of my life through Nine Lives.  Not just the parts that I lost in the flood but parts that the rock business had taken from me, joy, friends, memories from high school, grade school.

The hopelessness of post flood life and the boundless hope for what tomorrow may bring that Dan Baum suggests in his book and that I continue to try to live and search for with my wife and in my life.

This song, a simple enough R&B song, reminds me of all of that because Disrespect is about loyalty, responsibility, respect and love.

I think that is what Da was trying to teach young Wilbert.

It is what I have learned from this experience.

~ Paul Sanchez – January 9, 2012

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The Making of Nine Lives – Filling in the Story: School Song/Fight Song

School Song/Fight Song

This song follows Betsy’s Coming.

Dan had written of a young Catholic school boy named John Guidos. In the days after the hurricane John would overhear the nuns and priests at his high school saying how Hurricane Betsy’s damage might have been divine retribution for the sin and squalor of New Orleans. In his own mind he wondered if this were true, why God spared the French Quarter and it’s drunks while flooding the poor people in the 9th Ward.

I had grown up attending Catholic schools in New Orleans about ten years behind John. A lot of what Dan wrote rang true right down to my very core. Not to mention that after the flooding of Katrina forty years later, televangelists and Christians around the country were saying that New Orleans shouldn’t be rebuilt because the destruction was divine retribution for… you get the point.

Dan had left Colman and me extremely fertile ground. A book of words and a scene set for me to get a few things off my chest. If comedy is healing then this song helped me heal immensely. As for Colman, he had tried persistently to inject sex, dirty jokes and cursing into every single song we have ever written together, (I think it may be a rule in the Screenwriters Union), and this song gave him carte blanche to work blue.

I had grown up singing in choir and had marched in drum and bugle corps when I was a boy so I had plenty of musical references to draw on for the melody. I also had countless after school spankings, detentions, extra schoolwork and public and private humiliations stored in my memory banks to come out of the gates guns blazing. I think Colman was a little surprised just how quickly things turned racy, his favorite direction. He was used to me shutting him down in his attempts to add sex jokes and with each one we came up with we inspired the other guy to be more over the top with the next joke. Two guys, in a room, making each other laugh.

It was a timelessly wonderful, belly-achingly juvenile way to spend an afternoon.

Michael Cerveris is featured vocalist as 16 year old John Guidos. He does a wonderful job of altering the timber of his voice to sound young. His halting phrasing and slightly nasally delivery intentionally sounding like the voice of a boy not yet a man, or a woman. Michael is such an amazing singer that you think of him and relate to him as a singer and just when you are comfortable with that he makes you remember he is an equally amazing actor.

Matt Perrine had written a completely legitimate vocal arrangement for the song with as much relish as Colman and I had written the words and music. A solemn rendering of lyrics that are bitingly ironic as the choir, nun and priest sing about the “coloreds in the Lower Nine” or the “drunks and queens” of the French Quarter.

The first section of the song is sung by a boys’ choir as an alma mater with Larry Sieberth on Hammond B3. The “choir” Matt assembled for this was Vatican Lokey, Debbie Davis, Joe Cabral and Ford Dieth. I’m a big fan of The Iguanas and had always wanted to work with Joe Cabral.  Although I didn’t realize it would be asking him to sing the filthiest set of lyrics I had ever had a hand in penning, he was a good sport and sang like an angel.  In fact, they all did. Well, maybe, angels with flasks in their pockets. Everyone laughed at times and, I think, winced at times and they sure did a fine job of making the point.

The song pulls no punches.

Especially when it breaks into the Fight Song section.

This was a scene in Nine Lives where the other boys in the locker room are horsing around after football practice but John is uncomfortable with the dialogue of girls and dirty talk. He has already begun to feel the stirrings within that will lead him to one day become a woman. It was a chance to have some fun with the concept of man vs man… in a few different ways.

The lyrics are past racy and well into raunchy territory as John grapples with his sexuality in the absolute worst company he could be in – teenage boys on a football team. One of the most unfortunately macho and notoriously unforgiving places one could find oneself questioning his own sexuality in 1965.

Matt had arranged this section as a marching band song and, as with all of his arrangements for the record, the arrangement is perfectly suited to the moment.

The seriousness of his arrangements accentuates the comedy and satire in the lyrics. Matt played tuba and trombone with Jana Saslaw on flute and piccolo flute, Ray Moore on clarinet and Kevin Clark on trumpet. They played it straight forward, unaware of the lyrical content, and it sounded like a crisp, sharp marching band.

When Matt was leading a band through one of his arrangements I generally stayed in the control room and let him work. He knows exactly what he wants from a band and an arrangement. He only likes to hire players he knows he can depend on so, consequently, he works with a lot of the same players. The end result is not quite shorthand, but a very direct method of communicating with his band that did not require much more from me as producer than letting him know I had what I wanted. It had worked on so many tracks and it worked on School Song/Fight Song, (I wanted to use the alternate title of Let’s Fuck The Other Team but it didn’t get a lot of support from my family and friends). It doesn’t sound like a fight song, it is a fight song with trombones, flutes and a cause. John Guidos was the only one aware of the cause at that time but we brought to life a fight song with a rousing chorus to rally around in School Song/Fight Song. It was big fun for us all.

John Guidos had to live the actual fight.

~ Paul Sanchez – January 8, 2012

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The Making of Nine Lives – Filling in the Story: Betsy’s Coming

Betsy’s Coming

Volume One of Nine Lives contained 24 songs but it was just a sampler of the stories.

There were 15 more songs needed to turn it from a sketch into a picture. The songs didn’t go at the beginning or end, they fit like missing pieces between the songs that were already released.

Thanks to a generous donation from Whole Foods and the donations from Chris Joseph and many others who helped repeatedly throughout the making of Nine Lives with financing and friendship.

We began with Betsy’s Coming.  It is the song after Fine In The Lower Nine and takes place in September of 1965 as Hurricane Betsy approaches New Orleans.

When Colman and I first started writing songs for Nine Lives we decided that Betsy and Katrina would have to be instrumentals.  I didn’t feel I could do them justice as pop songs.  I didn’t think words would adequately embrace the moment or the story of either storm.  Colman trusted me on the music, always waiting for me to form melody and structure before jumping in with words on every song.  In this case, he trusted that I would write the instrumentals and I did, for demo’s sake, sketch out a few bits but even three years ago when we began I knew someone else would have to write the instrumentals.

I settled on Matt Perrine for Betsy and Shamarr Allen for Katrina.  The results were equally stunning for reason unique to each man.

In order to write Betsy’s Coming, Matt researched jazz in 1965, specifically New Orleans jazz.  He built the song around a series of chord cycles and drum solos.

He asked Jason Marsalis to be the drummer for this and I was thrilled.

The Marsalis family is a symbol of the standard of excellence in jazz here and around the world.  I have watched them play for years and have watched Jason grow up on stage.  He attacked this song with the kind of hunger and ferocity that one only has in youth.  I had never met Jason but when he arrived at the studio Mark Bingham greeted him with a couple of dirty jokes and from Jason’s reaction I could tell it was a familiar routine.  Them laughing made it easy for me to relax and let Matt take over the session for the song he had written.  I would get to be observer and fan for this one.

It was a workout as Matt put the band through it’s paces.

Jason Marsalis didn’t just play drums, he made a statement with his drums.  It was stunning to watch unfold.

Matt played tuba, bass and trombone but it was perhaps his finest hour as band leader on Nine Lives.  Unlike most of the record, this wasn’t just his arrangement.  It was his arrangement, his composition, his vision from start to finish and it is a great addition to Nine Lives.

Jack Craft played cello and Matt Rhody violin and it was an intense bit of playing for each.  Tom Fischer on saxophone, Alex McMurray on guitar and Eric Lucero on trumpet and each player brought his A game; Matt wouldn’t have accepted less.

Bety’s Coming is a reflection of it’s composer as much as the moment in the story of Nine Lives.  It is a well researched, precisely executed adventure in the conflicts of structure and chaos.  Frenzied, feeling nearly out of control and not for one moment being anything other than what Matt had planned it would be.  A swirl of sound that sounds almost like confusion until you realize you are surrounded by organized fury.

It begins with a sustained note on cello and violin while Jason does a crush roll underneath as Perrine takes us on a brief musical tour of New Orleans going about it’s business as the storm approaches.  A dixieland band finishes a song to an enthusiastic uptown crowd while downtown a blues band slinks to the finish of a song for an equally appreciative crowd.  Throughout both the sustained note plays the insistent buzz of the approaching storm.

The crush roll of the drums begins to jerk to life and a series of rolls becomes a groove the band hints at picking up and then leaps on.  From there the songs intensity builds, swirling around your senses to intentionally confuse until the explosive drum solo toward the end of the song feels something like relief.  The band jumps back in as they pummel each other and the city of New Orleans, the sounds of Betsy’s Coming.

Most of the record I heard in my head for the last three years before bringing it to life.  On this one I trusted that a guy who’s work I respect and admire would deliver something stunning and Matt did just that.

If you want to know more about this song, ask Matt Perrine next time you see him.

~ Paul Sanchez – January 5, 2012

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The Making of Nine Lives: Finishing Up

Nine Lives is 39 songs in all.  We released Volume One last spring because it’s what we could afford but I never considered it complete until we could get all of the songs recorded and slid into place between the others.

There are so many stories half told on Volume One.  Wilbert and Belinda are two of the main characters and on Volume One there is only one Wilbert song,.  He has six in all.  Same for Billy Grace and Joann.

I did not realize how long this particular musical journey would be.

Colman deKay, the crazy, sweet dreamer, had the idea that we should write songs for a musical from Dan Baum’s book about New Orleans, Nine Lives.  Colman and I had written a couple of songs together so I knew he was a wonderful lyricist.  I knew I could assemble melodies and song structures quickly but I didn’t realize how many songs we would need, how many different styles the decades and cultures of Nine Lives would require.  I could hear it in my head but never having done this kind of project I could only chase the vision, not articulate the chase.

Colman, to his credit, trusted me throughout.

For two years, in four different writing sessions in New Orleans and Los Angeles, we worked.  We would start in the morning.  Well, actually a “Colman morning” which begins around 11 a.m. with a breakfast that absolutely had to include bacon because the man is a creature of habits.   After breakfast Colman would have a smoke while I read pages and waited for a melody to sing to me from the pages of the book.  Dan Baum likes to say that he types so fast he feels like a pianist capturing the different rhythms in the speech of the folks he interviews.  I believe I heard those rhythms and that melodies were there within and I heard them as well.  The pages of Dan’s book would begin to sing to me.  When they had sung a verse and chorus I would sing it to Colman who was usually lying on the couch with his arm across his eyes.  He would literally leap into action.  Springing up from the couch to grab his copy of the book, a pack of cigarettes and a cup of coffee.  I found out rather quickly that he wasn’t hearing the melodies, he was grabbing onto the words.  This sped up the process immensely because once I had a catchy melody for the verse and chorus that satisfied me, we could work.  I didn’t have to bother taking time to teach him the melody, just give him the meter and we could shoot lyrics at each other at a rapid pace.  I would just say, “Colman I need a line here that goes, ‘da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da – da-da-da-da-da-da-da”.

Colman is what we in the Irish Channel would have called “a gentleman”.  He grew up on NYC’s Upper Eastside, sat at the dinner table with the likes of James Baldwin, attended the finest East Coast schools.  He is educated, cultured and well mannered.  In short, everything I am not.  I gave him access to the street characters i had known all of my life and that he knew mostly from films.  He gave me entry into the Uptown world of culture and elegance I certainly would not have been able to capture without him.  For instance, the lyric  “the foie-est of gras” I could not have come up with on my own because I usually eat real food.  He is fast with words.  Funny, sharp and occasionally too dirty because he is a screenwriter from Los Angeles after all, always willing to have some give and take.  As he said from the beginning of this three year journey, “The best stuff always starts with two guys in a room trying to make each other laugh.”  And we laughed plenty.

When it came time to record, I knew long before we finished writing that I wanted Matt Perrine to arrange it.  I had even approached him about it when we were only half way through the writing.  I think he might have found it amusing at first that I had the brass to say Colman and I were writing songs for a musical but he said “yes” all the same.  Once it was a reality, Matt was as driven, focused and obsessed about writing the arrangements as Colman and I had been about writing the songs.  So much so that a few of his arrangements turned into songwriting credits because they impacted the song structure to the extent that I felt we had to share credit with him and Colman was happy to do so.  This happened on a few songs where things got changed in the studio by the singers to the point where we shared songwriting credits with them.  Michael Cerveris co-wrote three of the six Joann songs by making changes, both lyrical and melodic, at the mic in between takes

As the songs began to be recorded it became increasingly obvious to me as the producer of the record that we as songwriters had done a pretty comprehensive job of capturing the varying musical styles of New Orleans between 1965 and 2007 but there were gaps that Colman and I could not address lyrically and that I could not address musically.

Ronald Lewis and Wilbert were from the 9th Ward and part of a culture that I had not grown up in, with musical styles that were not as familiar to me.  I wanted the songs to ring true for the fans of the genre in which they were written and to really capture more of the New Orleans musical spectrum in an authentic way so I turned the writing, arranging and producing of several tracks over to Shamarr Allen.  Shamarr and I met just after the flood and despite the twenty year difference in our ages became friends.  We have worked on stage, in the studio and have written songs together for the last six years.  There is no one else I have ever known that I could possibly imagine trusting to the extent I did Shamarr on this project.  I would describe the scenes in the book that I wanted him to write for and give a musical reference, whether I felt it should be a rap song, brass band song, instrumental.

Colman and I had already written a song called These Pies but after hearing the songs Shamarr was turning in and how well he was capturing the music and characters of the 9th Ward – he grew up there after all – I simply told him to throw our song away and come up with what he thought appropriate.  He wrote some of the strongest songs for the record, five in all, and Nine Lives is a far better record than it would have been without his contributions.

The other thing I knew we would need were a couple of strong instrumentals.  It wouldn’t be a New Orleans record without letting the instruments speak for themselves.  I had sketched out two places for instrumentals, little snippets that Colman very sweetly clung to though they were far too brief to have been songs.

One was to be called Betsy’s Coming.  I wanted it to be a jazz instrumental and I wanted Matt Perrine to write the piece.  I had lived through Hurricane Betsy and it was not something I felt could be expressed in words.  Matt researched jazz in 1965, New Orleans jazz in particular.  His composition is a breathtakingly intense jazz piece built around the drumming of Jason Marsalis.

The other instrumental was to be Katrina and The Flood which I also felt could not be expressed in a words.  As with Matt, I told Shamarr Allen the time and the place.  Shamarr is a man of few words but he lived through this storm in very personal ways at a very young age.  He turned in a hip-hop requiem to the New Orleans that was chilling, modern, dripping with sorrow and anger.

Matt Perrine and Shamarr Allen did everything I asked of them and more to make this story of community banding together to survive and celebrate life.   A real life story of the musical community of New Orleans coming together to tell the story of survival and celebration.  Their contributions are as important to this record as all of the writing that Colman and I had done going in.

Now the recording is finished. 15 more songs to insert into the story.  Mark Bingham at Piety Studio is nearly finished with the mixes.  I go by when he has a few for me to listen to but it is mostly to have a chat and a cup of tea with Mark.  I almost NEVER ask him to change a mix. In fact one of the reasons I work with the people I do is because I trust that their standards for how they represent their work in the world is as high or higher than my own for the project.  Matt, Shamarr, Mark and finally, John Fishbach who will again be mastering.  Mark and John are artists and I mostly give them the music I have recorded, space, respect and they generally give me back records I am proud of and love.

It is a wonderfully nurturing, relaxing way to go about making a record, trust.

I wanted to start writing the “Making Of” the rest of Nine Lives but also to pause to remember for me, and for anyone who might still be following this journey I have been sharing for so long now, where it has taken me and us.

The great thing about writing notes or blogging is at least I will know where to read about the experience when I want.  It was the most special recording project of my life.  The energy, love, community were palpable and real.

Wherever Nine Lives goes from here, we got the songs recorded and the story told. A story of community told by community.

So if you are still out there reading, here we go, on to the finish.

~ Paul Sanchez – December 1, 2011

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The Making of Nine Lives, Vol. One – Disc Two, Track Twelve

 Rebuild Renew

 Rebuild Renew, the final track on Volume One, is meant to sum up the moment of rebirth, acceptance and survival.  Dan Baum, the author of the book Nine Lives, wrote to me recently that this song could be summed up in the opening line, “Storm’s over!”

The song was meant to be the voice of Ronald Lewis closing out the musical since it was his voice that began the musical.

Honestly, at this point I don’t know how much of the lyrics came out of the book and how much came out of the moment.  Writing Nine Lives had taken a year and a half.  It was a year and a half of thrilling word play with my pal Colman deKay.  Three months in the studio with musicians I trust the most in the world to bring my songs to life and adding to that the most wonderful array of talent from the famous to the street musician, knowing it would all be mixed by yet another artist I have complete confidence in, Mark Bingham.

This track was to feature a lead vocal by another member of the Boutté family, Lillian Boutté.  I was thrilled to have her.  I have dug Lillian’s voice for a long time as well as her commanding stage presence and it was great to have her spirit and beautiful vocal on Nine Lives.

The track also features the legendary Allen Toussaint on piano.  Mr. Toussaint is, in my opinion, the yardstick by which all New Orleans songwriters will be measured and I was and remain truly honored to have him on Nine Lives.

Matt Perrine was so excited at the thought of arranging a track that Mr. Toussaint would be playing on that he was a little beside himself for the first time in the sessions.  He arranged everything about the track with the idea of leaving space for an “Allen Toussaint” piano part, even going as far as recording a piano part that he thought sounded like something Mr. Toussaint would play (which he made me promise never to let Mr. Toussaint hear).  He wrote the horn parts especially with this in mind.  Upon first hearing the track Mr. Toussaint said in that gentle way of his, “Well, I’m going to keep the piano part very simple because whoever arranged this horn part did a wonderful job and I’m a horn man. I like to stay out of the way of a good arrangement.”  I thought Matt would faint.  He just slid out of the room with the biggest smile ever.

And the band JUST KEPT GROWING!

After three months in the studio, word had gotten out that there was an unusual project going on at Piety with a very cool vibe and musicians had started stopping by the sessions.  Sometimes I would be looking for something on a track and ask them to participate.  Sometimes folks just dug the scene and would ask if there was anything they could do.  On this song, we took idea of “community” literally and if someone showed up, they were on the track.

Here is how it unfolded.

Herman Roscoe Ernest III played drums.  The track required a groove and Roscoe sure could groove.  Herman was a producer and arranger and he understood how important playing very little can be to a track.  He laid down a groove that hits you in the heart and in the hips.

Matt Perrine played acoustic stand up bass and the groove is really written around his bass part.  Funky, subtle and very New Orleans, it is a riff with space.

Jason Mingledorff played saxophone and Kevin Clark played trumpet.  I had simply started referring to them as Matt’s Horn Line because they had been on so much of the record.  Total pros.

Later in the track the Bonerama Horns joined in.  Mark Mullins, Craig Klein and Greg Hicks came in toward the end with a fanfare Matt wrote to make the horn arrangement more modern and give the song a lift in the middle.  I like this part so much that when I remix the song for the new release I want to re-edit it as well so this fanfare actually kicks the song off.

Shane Theriot was the guitarist on the basic track. Shane is such a professional in the studio, ready to give you any style, sound or groove.  Matt really just wanted everyone to leave space for Mr. Toussaint to play whatever he felt so Shane played a version of Matt’s bass riff and laid low.

I am a fan of great guitar players and a few stopped by during the making of this track so I asked them to add to it.  Detroit Brooks was recording in the other studio at Piety and he finished early one day.  After listening to him play and sing during his sessions, which were going on as we were wrapping up, I was digging everything about Detroit Brooks so I asked him to sing and play on the track.  He laid down a simple but exactly correct groove, just chords but hitting them in the right spots, leaving that space Matt had intended without being told to do so. Great natural instincts.

Mem Shannon was hanging out one night as we were having dinner.  Mark Bingham is a wonderful cook and once in a while he would make a big meal, invite friends and tell us to take a break and enjoy a meal and a little life.  Mem said he heard this was a cool project and to let him know of there was anything he could do.  I asked if he could come in the next day to sing and play and he agreed.  In listening to the record the last few months I have come to love what Mem sang so much that I want to edit the song there as well and move Mem to the very last line of the song.  He sings, “I’m gonna rebuild it for you-hoo.”  It’s a bit lost amidst all of the celebration going on in the track and it’s so beautifully sums up the track, the project and the last few years of life in New Orleans that I want that line and his voice to be the last thing you hear on the completed Nine Lives.

Anders Osborne stopped by one day to talk to Mark about a record he is doing is doing at Piety.  I have been a fan of Anders as an artist for years.  I have found his struggle to overcome life obstacles since the flood, to rebuild and renew his own life, awe inspiring.  I asked if he had time to play and sing a bit and he agreed.  Again, just as the rebuilding continues in New Orleans as we discover new ways to do so, this song kept (and keeps) evolving.  Anders played a gorgeous slide guitar part on the chorus lines, sounding very much like a George Harrison slide guitar part. He hit me right where I live, The Beatles.  I wanted this part on every chorus but there were just a few things we ran out of time and money for and this idea was one.  When the new version comes out, I will have edited Anders beautiful slide part into the chorus throughout.  Anders also sings on the chorus but improved a bit on the lines by adding “When you got nothing left to lose… you rebuild and you renew. You rebuild, babe, and you renew-o-o-, that’s what I did, that’s what I did.,”  Knowing how much Anders has overcome, it was an humbling and awesome display of artistry.  He did not ask or think about it, he opened his mouth and his life poured out in the space of a few words.  I was moved to tears by the honesty and artistry.

Background singers were plentiful.  Tara Brewer, Arséne DeLay and Debbie Davis who had become our cast chorus at this point, sang the parts Matt had written that go through most of the track.  The Bonerama guys, Craig, Mark and Greg, sang in the middle where their horn part began.  Keng Harvey and Vance Vaucresson stopped by Piety when Teedy Boutté was recording on an earlier session and I invited them to sing a part that comes in toward the end.

Shamarr Allen does a lot of work teaching young kids how to play music.  He mentors a young band called Upset and Shamarr asked if I could find a place for them on the record.  Since this track was becoming more and more about community I decided they should play on Rebuild Renew.  Shamarr was working on other stuff for the record at his POME studio and asked if he could work on this as well.  Each of the guys – Hunter Burgamy, Axel Rice, Khalid Allen, John Michael Bradford and Elijah Scarlett – takes a solo.  Shamarr made sure they each got to play a little something on this track full of New Orleans greats.  He sent it back and said he hoped it was cool but he had his son Jarell add a rap part.  Jarrell is 9 years old and the part is inspiring, heart warming and perfect.  Shamarr had also added the fellows in Upset chanting with him the lines, “Rebuild, renew ’cause that’s what people do”.

By this time in the project, Michael Cerveris, who sang the part of Joann and had actual stage work waiting for him back in NYC, had stuck around to watch the project wrap.  Since he was playing a major character I asked if he would sing on Rebuild Renew.  He agreed and I wrote a couple of lines.  Michael, who has lived a few different places, added the lines, “212, 213, it’s all about 504 for me, yeah you right, dahlin’”. He is becoming more of a local with each visit and will live here one day, I know it.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu had been kind enough to stop by Piety to talk to the documentary film crew that Pepsi had sent to film the sessions about his efforts to revitalize the New Orleans music scene.  He sat at the piano during the interview playing and singing a bit and I was struck by what a good voice he had.  As Mayor Landrieu was leaving he looked out into the studio with a big smile and I could tell he really liked being there, around music, so I asked if he would come back to sing on Rebuild Renew.  He smiled and said yes but I thought perhaps he was being polite.  I got an email the next day asking if I would send lyrics and a demo of the melody he was to sing.  I thought it would be wonderful to have the actual mayor of New Orleans on Nine Lives.  After all, how many other mayors can sing well enough to be on a track with Allen Toussaint? And I also remembered how happy he looked being in the studio.  When somebody loves music that much and can sing that well it makes you feel good to invite them to be a part of your music.  He came in and knocked it out of the park in two takes.

John Boutté stopped by to congratulate me on wrapping up the record and I asked him to sing a few lines toward the end of the song.  He smiled and kidded me saying, “Baby, I knew if I came here you would put me to work, ” but he sang his part beautifully all the same.

It was a lot of stuff but I wanted Frank Minyard’s voice, my voice, on the finale so I simply added the the words, “That’s what we do” after the kids sang their line.

On the day that Allen Toussaint came to record at Piety the buzz was palpable.  Colman and I wore suits because we knew that Mr. Toussaint would be in a suit.  Every musician who could squeeze into the control booth was there.  Mayor Landrieu had just finished recording his vocal and stayed to watch a legend as just another music fan like me.  Jacques Morial had come to record the voice of his father, Mayor Morial, that day and stuck around because he is a big music fan as well.  I had invited Jacque’s sister, Judge Monique Morial, to watch her brother record and she was happy to have a chance to see Mr. Toussaint in the studio, too.  My wife Shelly, who has seen way too may studios in our 18 years together and almost never stops by “the office” was there, excitedly waiting for Mr. Toussaint like everyone else.

The place was packed and more folks kept “showing up.”  It looked a bit like the scene from the Marx Brothers movie, A Night At The Opera, where a bunch of people pile into Groucho’s room.  Mr. Toussaint was totally cool and non-plussed by the people and the press of faces near the window of the room he recorded in.  On the first take he played a brilliant, elegant and flawless part that not only went with but fleshed out Matt Perrine’s arrangement.  We were knocked out and told him so but, in that very gentle voice of his, he thanked us politely and said there was just one thing he would like to change because he so liked the horn arrangement that he wanted to lay back just a bit more in this one part.  The second take, as heavenly as the first, did indeed allow for the space in that one part and he was absolutely right about the part enhancing the arrangement. Of course.

In truth, I could have used a couple of more days of editing to refine the song a bit and I have already begun to do that for the final version.  Mark Bingham said it was like mixing in the Grand Canyon.  Detroit has added the voice of Ronald Lewis to Lillian’s harmony part so the original melody is back as well as the spirit of Ronald.  I am moving parts around and editing the length of the song a bit.  The rebuilding effort in New Orleans is ongoing.  The making of Nine Lives as a record is nearly complete but ongoing.  The wonderful journey that Nine Lives has become for me, I have a feeling, is just beginning.

This track features 35 performers which says everything about the spirit of this project.  Nine Lives, the book, and the musical are ultimately about community and how that sense of community makes the good times sweeter and sustains us in the worst of times.  I have been asked many times if I thought folks outside of New Orleans would could relate to a musical about a hurricane.  I have always answered that it isn’t about a hurricane at all, it is about community.  I think folks in the northeast found that out with Tropical Storm Lee.  As we have recovered in the last six years, folks around the country and around the world have faced their own moment of collapse from natural disasters.  From earthquakes, tornadoes, wild fires to man-made disasters on Wall Street, Fannie, Freddie and Federal Reserves being held in reserve amidst threats of government shutdowns.  And in that moment of collapse, when the system has failed you, it is your own strength and the willingness of people to come together to help each other when help is most needed that sees us through.

Not everyone is good with a hammer.  I’m not.  For my whole life, what I have had to offer folks when they feel down is my songs.

Colman deKay had this crazy idea to write a musical and we wrote and wrote and wrote.

It is Dan Baum’s story.  It is the story of New Orleans.  It is our story, your story and, I know now, it is my story.

Nine Lives.

I hope you dig it.

~ Paul Sanchez, September 29, 2011

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The Making of Nine Lives, Vol. One – Disc Two, Track Eleven

To Be Continued

“I’m in the right now trying to get to the not yet.”

A young man named Brandon Franklin said these words in a documentary film made in 2005 after the flood.  Brandon, like the other children in his high school marching band, was simply trying to survive life in New Orleans post-Katrina.  There were some without mothers, some without fathers, there were even children living on their own in FEMA trailers just trying to make it through high school, make it out.  Brandon excelled in band, he more than survived the flood and he began to grow into manhood. He became Wilbert Rawlins’ assistant band director.  The brass band, To Be Continued, he started with his other friends in high school began to make a name for themselves in New Orleans.

In 2010, Brandon Franklin was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting he had nothing to do with.  Another violent act in a city that has seen too much death.

I told Colman that this song should begin with the words Brandon spoke in the documentary film, a scene which Dan Baum captured poignantly in his book Nine Lives.  In fact most of the lyrics to the song are straight out of Dan’s book and the lives of the TBC.

Colman and I agreed that since the scene is about the band To Be Continued at the premier of the documentary film in which the band appears, we ought to make this song a song a brass band would play.

I had been quite enjoying researching the different decades and styles of New Orleans music.  It was a wonderful way to retrace the steps of my own life and reclaim some things I had lost to the flood and time.  I just couldn’t get the swing of the melody like I heard it in my head. Try as I might, and Colman gave me a couple of hours to try, I couldn’t get my mind around the way the melody should roll.  I called John Boutté and explained where we were with the song.  He said we could come over and he would help.  John told me I had the song pretty close but that the melody needed more space so the music could dance.  He started singing a melody with the words we had written and it was instantly a better song.  Then again John Boutté could sing the phone book and it would sound like the angels in heaven.  He started talking about brass band music, how it was music you dance to but also how it is related to gospel music as well.  He smiled and said ” Baby, on the chorus, it’s good but you got to leave space for the ‘hallelujah.’” I asked, smiling back, what he meant.  He sang the chorus we had written but paused between the first line of the chorus, “…but the music, was always there to help, (pause), I said the music, was always, there to help”. It sounded perfect and I told him so.  He smiled even bigger and said, “Baby, that’s because you have to leave a space for the ‘hallelujah’.  You don’t have to sing it but you got to leave a space for it or the groove just don’t, you know, feel right.”  One of the things that makes John Boutté a great singer is he understands the importance of song structure and knows how to highlight that song structure with his singing.  John helped write three songs on Nine Lives and they would not have been near as good without his help.  Listen for that space on this song and you will see he is right.

Someone else I work with and have complete trust in artistically is Shamarr Allen.  Shamarr is a great songwriter, arranger, musician and producer.  There is a very short list of people that I would call and say, “I need two songs for a record, they have to be about this, send them to me when you are done.”  I never ask to hear his work or songs up front because I know he delivers.  Same with Matt Perrine and his arrangements. I never need to hear them before I go into the studio, though Matt always insists that I do, which is nice, but it’s not like I would change anything.

I called Shamarr and asked him to arrange the song for To Be Continued to play and to come to Piety that day to co-produce the session.  I knew TBC would be more comfortable with Shamarr and I consider that one of the primary responsibilities of a producer:  Make the performer comfortable so they relax and play well.  I also knew that Shamarr, as producer, would have far better instincts about how to make this a brass band track than I would.  As it happens, Mark Bingham has recorded countless brass band records so he and Shamarr traded stories.  Mark’s stories had Shamarr falling down laughing and they talked about how this should be recorded, mic placement and doing the vocals separately.

The band came in. Shamarr played along and lead them through the song a few times in the big room at Piety. When Shamarr thought they were ready he called to the engineer, Wes Fontenot, to get it rolling. They got it in a couple of passes and set up to sing.  I had let Shamarr do most of the talking all day, just letting them have their space since they are young and I didn’t want to make them nervous or mess with their band chemistry.  But before they recorded the vocal, I went out to talk to the singers.  I wanted to tell them how special this song was to me, that the lyrics to the song began with the words of their friend who had been killed earlier that year.

I asked, “Y’all knew Brandon Franklin?”  They looked at each other, then me with a shrug like they couldn’t believe I had just asked such an obvious question and one of the band, I think it was Juicy, spoke up saying, “Of course we knew Brandon.  He was our band mate.”

I started to speak, “Well, the lyrics to this song, they were…”, he cut me off, ” They were his words, we know.”

There are moments when art crosses over into life in heartbreakingly beautiful ways and I had just lived one. There was nothing left to do but go in and listen to the song spring to life exactly as we had imagined it.

The band had learned the song from a demo I made with me singing and playing it on acoustic guitar.  On the first take, as they started singing, Shamarr stopped them and called out over the studio mic, “No-o-o! Stop singing it like Uncle Paul on the demo. Y’all making it sound like a country song!”  He looked right at me, smiled and, still talking to the band, sang in a perfect imitation of me but in a slow exaggerated country style, “Ah’m in the raht no-ow try-een’ to get to ‘da note yet”  He laughed.  I laughed.  The whole band laughed.  That is the vibe that went on the next take and remains on Nine Lives for this track: Laugher, next to pain. next to joy.

As Shamarr lead them on, the To Be Continued Brass Band  (Bernard Adams – tuba, Christopher Davis – trumpet, Darren Towns – bass drum, Devin Vance – trombone, Edward Jackson – trombone, Joseph Maize Jr. – trombone, Samuel Cyrus – snare drum, Sean Roberts – trumpet) swing and groove on this song Colman and I wrote just for them called, appropriately enough,

To Be Continued.

~ Paul Sanchez – September 15, 2011

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