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

Full Time Joann

This is a scene in Nine Lives where John Guidos, who has been cross dressing for years has decided that he is done with pretending and “switch hitting”, as he call it.  He is now going to be a woman, full time Joann.

Colman and I decided we wanted this to be a disco song and set about researching the most popular disco songs ever.  In doing so we made a slight nod to a couple of them.  It was a fun bit of writing and we wanted the song to jump to life in the studio as if you were on the dance floor.

At this point the sessions had spiraled into off shoot sessions out of Piety and to other studios.  Shamarr Allen was doing some tracks at his studio, POME.  I was crazy busy at Piety and so to keep the sessions moving I got my friend Mike Mayeux, guitarist, singer, producer and sound engineer, to lay down the basic track for this song.

Mike got together with Rick Nelson on synth, accordion and bowed bass with Sam Craft on violin, Mike on guitar and my pal, Billy Gaudin, helping to arrange the track.

When they sent me the track it sounded very familiar and I soon found out why.  Mikey and the fellows had been so respectful about my demo that they didn’t just cut a new demo, they tracked around my original acoustic demo.  I could still hear bits of my playing and singing underneath.  It was very sweet of them, made me smile.  They would have done a great job without staying as true to the demo but they were giving me plenty of respect and I loved them for it.

What they gave me was wonderful and straight up disco but I decided I wanted to heighten that sense of funk by putting on a smoking hot band funking it up over the disco basic track.  I called The Underdawgs, Shamarr Allen’s band, and they most certainly brought the funk.

Grammy Award winning bassist Will Terry laid down a grooving, jumping bass line that instantly electrified the moment and the groove of the song.  Will is a giant of a man who makes a bass guitar look like a toy in his hands.  His quiet intensity and fluid playing would have been enough but I had all the Dawgs in the house.  Jason Butler, the brilliantly talented keyboard player for The Underdawgs, laid down some clavinet, playing funky hits in just the right holes.  All I said to him was give me a little Stevie Wonder and up jumped the devil.

Matt Clark, always smiling and always ready to play guitar, walked in saying, “This song needs some porn guitar.”  Jason Butler said that he must have been doing research on the last tour and the whole band laughed.  Matt stepped on his wah-wah peddle, making that guitar slink around the room and right through the track.  Herbert Stevens pounded the percussion.  Herb is one of the funniest cats I ever played music with and has a wicked sense of humor.  As he listened to the lyrics of the song he began to laugh and wince at the same time, somewhere between amused and weirded out.  He finally called out to me, “Paul, I love you man but this is some sick shit!”  He never stopped laughing though and the percussion he added gave it the sparkle it needed.  A full dance floor of people was the only thing missing and the disco backup singers brought that to the studio.

My disco backup singers were Debbie Davis, Margie Perez, Shoeless Pollard and Billy Gaudin.  They were an excellent choice.  Shoeless showed up ready to set the disco mood with his hair teased into a perm, shirt opened to the navel, seventies-style and a big silver medallion hanging on his hairy chest.  The perfect picture of the disco lounge lizard.  Debbie and Margie didn’t need much prodding to be silly and soon the studio was all laughter, dancing and singing and as ridiculously silly as the days of disco had been.

Billy Gaudin sings the low harmony and it makes me so happy to hear his voice on there, to hear him singing again.  Before the flood, Billy had been the lead singer and songwriter for one of the most promising rock bands in New Orleans but life took a dramatic left turn for all of us and Billy’s took him to Chicago, away from music and into a few rough spots before he found love, sobriety and a family.  He is a new man now, making a new life for himself and this was the first bit of music he was doing since the flood and to my ears he sounded beautiful.  His clean baritone ringing out on the bottom adds weight to the harmony and more importantly for me, adds love to the track.

The song is sung by Michael Cerveris and he absolutely blew the room away.  Joann herself had come to the sessions to listen to the other songs we had recorded about her and to watch as Michael recorded this one.  Michel is a brilliant actor as well as a singer and he sat on the edge of the room watching everything Joann did and said during the visit.  He had the biggest smile on his face as the actor in him soaked it all in and stored up tons of information on how to be Joann.  By the time he went to record, his speaking voice had altered, the accent suddenly more New Orleans, Yat-like.  After all, Joann is one of us, a true New Orleanian.

I had written the melody near the top of my range which didn’t leave a lot of room for expression on the demo.  Michael has a far greater range than I and began to alter notes, not just improvising but making completely different note selections that changed the melody of the song and, bless him, he made the song better in doing so.  By the time he hit the last notes of the song in a section where I hadn’t even written melody, I was on my feet in awe and practically cheering. (Colman and I had agreed on the spot that he had to have a songwriting credit for the major changes and additions he made to the song.)  It was a stunning display of control as a singer and a mind blowing experience to be in the studio with a voice that powerful and pure.  Michael is such a sweetly humble fellow that you might forget that his voice can melt thousands and then suddenly he has melted you.  This is what he brings to this song and every song that he sings on the record.  A level of professionalism rarely seen and natural talent that is quite literally thrilling to stand near.

Full Time Joann sings, it dances, it declares itself and most importantly it made Joann Guidos smile a smile that said ” Yes, I am indeed, Full Time Joann.”

~ Paul Sanchez – July 12, 2011

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