‘The Man I Keep Hid’ inadvertently blends Doctor John’s New Orleans voodoo funk, Leon Russell’s pop accessibility, and Tom Waits’ old timey rasp into a tightly wrapped shroud.
That’s a song we didn’t discuss at all. I played a demo of it on guitar with everyone standing around. It felt more like Reverend Gary Davis country-blues the way I knew how to articulate the guitar changes. I didn’t want it to be driven by guitar though. Everyone went to their places and that was a first take. No conversation except when I said when it gets to the break, whatever has happened before it, it should sound like Fellini’s ‘Satyricon.’ Then we just played the song. The engineer was still moving microphones in the drum room and you could completely hear the door slam. There was no point to go beyond that. We played it once more for fun. But it was appropriately widescreen from the beginning.
When I originally interviewed you a few years back, you said you were hoping to work with rap vet Dr. Dre. Was that just a lark?
I have not been able to do so. He’s one of the people who said no to me. I don’t hold it against the good Doctor though for being unresponsive. He makes great sounding records.
As a producer yourself, you’ve worked with some heavyweight blues and folk artists. How’d that come about?
Every scenario’s different whether finding myself in a studio with Solomon Burke or Bettye Lavette. I’ve done four full projects and a couple straggling things with Allen Toussaint. That’s a life changing relationship that continues. Historically, he’s a producer’s producer. It’s humbling to continually work in his services as a producer. Even in the simplest conversations I come away with something even if it’s intangible. He’s unique and remarkable.
I first met Ramblin’ Jack Elliott in ’87 and crossed paths on tour in Italy. I happened upon him unexpectedly when I was working on the soundtrack to Tom Hanks’ film I’m Not There while working with several other artists—John Doe, Richie Havens. I asked the director if I could do something with Jack Elliott. He has a longer history with Bob Dylan professionally than anybody. Bob began by emulating Jack’s interpretation of Woody Guthrie. So I brought Jack into my home studio to do a track. in the course of the day I compacted the idea of what it would be like to do a full record with Jack—what concept we’d need to lead us to the right songs that he hadn’t done before but would be authentic to him—not to rehash anything.
Blood From Stars is available now. joehenrylovesyoumadly.com.
This and John Fortunato’s many articles on music can be found at beermelodies.com.