First things first: if you have not already been contacted by me in the last couple of months regarding any change of mailing address, here is the place to email us and update it so you can finally receive what I have owed you for some time now. If you have moved since summer of 2010 or even think you have (it was a long time ago), please let us know with updates of both physical address and email as you will soon receive a digital download of the record and CD in the mail. God bless you for your patience.
And now, please let me convey to you my utter and absolute heartfelt thanks and apologies, honor and appreciation.
It’s so difficult to even begin to find the words to describe how I feel about making this record over the last few years because it involves so much more than just sitting in a room and recording songs as I had originally planned to happen. I recently re-read what I originally posted on the old Slobberbone site some 5 years ago when I started this project and I have to admit that I winced. Not only because it was five fucking years ago but because of a context I have since lost. I remember living in an old house in the country, having newly signed on to Facebook and connecting with so many friends old and new. I remember The Drams being done and Brian Lane having moved back to Texas and Slobberbone starting to play again occasionally and having a number of songs that I had been sitting on that I hadn’t recorded. The context I lost until recently re-reading that was that I was sure that this was a perfect way to get those songs out that would have never been band songs before we started up working on a new Slobberbone record. That’s what made me wince, because the next three years would prove to be some of the most difficult (and rewarding, ultimately) in my life. Forget about writing and recording a new Slobberbone record. I would fail to even send out already existing songs to the 600 or so friends that encouraged and participated in my naïve and adventurous endeavor.
April of 2010 was when the first of you began signing on. The response was immediate and overwhelming. The end of May 2010, my soon-to-be wife’s father, a mountain of a man in stature, health and kindness was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and given three months to live. We were devastated but soon began planning a hastily cobbled-together wedding so as to assure he could be there. I asked his permission to marry his daughter some ten or eleven days before the wedding. He rose and hugged me, laughed and smiled and said yes. The day of the wedding, Father’s Day, he was too weak to attend, so we completed the ceremony and then the minister followed us to where he was staying at his other daughter’s home so we could do it again in his presence. Too weak to move, or even speak, he somehow managed to nod approvingly and conjure a “yes” when the minister asked if he would give his daughter in marriage. Three days later he was gone, some seven weeks after diagnosis. One of the most beautiful moments in my wife and I’s life was and will always be tied to one of the most painful. But that’s what we’re here for. We are, and had already been, family.
Summer of 2010 in Texas was hot as hell. I was still renting my old little house in the country outside of Denton where I had started what I intended to be the record all of you would receive. That house was next to the Echo Lab recording studio. I had worked on a number of projects there over the years, both at the studio and in that house. The Drams, Two Cow Garage, several local bands. That old house sounded amazing and was surrounded by a wrap-around porch, woods, chickens, dogs, owls, coyotes, but still a ten or fifteen minute drive from downtown Denton. I could also stay up all night making noise, blasting electric guitar or drums or whatever without bothering anyone. I wrote and recorded a lot of songs there but the two that really got the ball rolling for me were neither loud nor electric. They were Robert Cole, a song I would record for a tribute album to the late Larry Brown, and another new one called Aunt Ramona. These along with Queen Bee and a few others were what I intended to crank out, print up, and mail off. They were rough, like the house they were recorded in. A house with bad A/C in the summer, no heat in the winter, and the occasional snake in the toilet. A house I could not ask my new wife to move into (although she loved it as well). Besides, she had bought a modest but far less frontier-times house in town a couple of years earlier on her teacher and bartender’s salary. I was very proud of her and it was clear that this was where we should start building our life together. I moved into town but kept the country house for a little while more where I transferred the original recordings of the songs I had to an external hard drive and proceeded to furiously overdub the shit out of them, overcooking them within an inch of their life out of knowledge that I would soon no longer be able to record in that great sounding room where it started. A couple months later, I moved all of my instruments and recording gear into a storage place in town. The old house was torn down. It would be a couple months, I figured, before I could get up and running again with the record.
New life back in town. My wife, me, two large dogs and four cats crammed into her little house. Things were still heavy regarding our loss and would of course continue to be. She had lost her mom only a few years prior, about the time we started dating, but there was adventure to be found in our new domesticity. Neither of us had been married before and, despite the heartbreak of recent events, we were and remain very much in love. Later in the year she received a letter from her mortgage provider. Seems the government, in the wake of 2008’s banking meltdown and subsequent mortgage crisis wanted lenders to provide more affordable terms to ease the burden on underwater borrowers in the midst of the troubling downturn. Now my wife had never had any trouble paying the monthly note on her modest little home (in fact, we pay more now just to rent), but a subsequent phone call from Chase assured her that it was the prudent thing to do, it being offered, and that she could shave a couple hundred bucks off a month. Paperwork was signed and she was enrolled in the “trial period”. Turns out the “trial period” was a few months of her lender, Chase Bank, telling her NOT to send in her mortgage payment until the trial period was over and her paperwork was finalized. Sketchy, right? But this was a MAJOR bank and mortgage provider, not some fly-by-night firm. She sent her check every month anyways only to have it returned to her with some variation on the same letter about “trial periods” and modification enrollment. Then she got a letter telling her that she didn’t meet the criteria for mortgage modification (that she never asked for in the first place), but that lo and behold, Chase had their own mortgage modification plan that they were enrolling her in. A few more months of returned mortgage payments and vague paperwork and futile phone calls to a different “case manager” every time she called ensued until a new letter arrived informing her of foreclosure. Due to her mortgage not be paid for several months. The months they kept returning the checks to her during her “trial enrollment. Several WTF???’s were produced, and phone calls made only to be told that she needed to short-sell her house immediately for about $35K less than the note and just be on the hook for the rest. Look, times were tough, the banks had been bailed out but people were drowning everywhere. But Kate hadn’t been. She was completely above board. We finally got in contact with a retired mortgage lawyer, a friend of my parents, who told my wife this: walk away. Stop dealing or speaking with them at all. Stay in the house if you want, they are so inundated that it may take months or even a year or more to actually give you the boot, but don’t short-sell, don’t give them another dime. They, Chase, and all the others were thieves in the midst of perpetrating a massive land grab in order to shave the books and reset the bubble. It made no sense. She had done everything right. Why wasn’t this shit on the news? Plenty of stories of people underwater, trying to live beyond their means according to the assholes who sold them the mortgages at adjustable rates and packaged them up as Grade A shit to investors, but nothing about them actively deceiving and luring people into loan modifications and then willfully botching the terms and procedures. Subsequent Google searches revealed it was happening to tens, maybe hundreds of thousand others but no mention on the news until a couple of years later. People were absolutely burnt. No one went to jail. And there was nothing she could do. She was far too proud to stay and essentially be squatting in her own house. She was wrecked (along with her credit), worn out and ashamed, still reeling from the loss of her father. We began looking for a rent house that would lease to us and that we could afford, which would end up costing more than her mortgage did. I started working more bartending shifts. She did too, in addition to teaching, and we moved.
The new house was old and not that great, but the landlady rented it to us after letting us know that she used to work in collections for credit providers and making sure we knew what a risk she was taking and charging us crazy deposits and all the other shit. The house had bad window units and heaters and our utility bills were half as much as the rent was each month. I got my gear out of storage and set it up in a cramped side room of the house and got back to work. I was a year in to the record now and answering a lot of emails assuring people it was coming soon. Nothing, other than my wife, meant more to me than finishing the record. I massaged the tunes. Added stuff here, took it away there. Mixed something and then remixed it. A few months in at the new house, and I had taken what I had and dug a big old shithole with it. Everything sounded like shit in that house. I began to think that most of it was just shit to begin with. I stepped away for perspective and came back, only to feel more lost and ineffectual. It was becoming beyond off-track. It was becoming depressing. I didn’t sleep much, I drank and smoked too much, started having low blood sugar issues, and just started feeling worthless. I felt like I wasn’t a good husband, because I was squandering whatever emotional energy I had into this hole. My confidence was gone, and I was letting all of you down.
Here’s the thing I never expected when I started this: in the past, I had always made records for a label. I love my record label and making those records for them. But there was always enough of an adversarial attitude in my mind to eventually just go “Okay, here’s your record. Might be good, might be shit, but it’s done. Take it”. To not agonize too much over anything. But this wasn’t for a label. It was for you guys, directly. Now I was agonizing over everything. There was absolutely no adversarial situation in this endeavor. All of you responded assuredly and said “Yeah, do it! We’ll take it”. So now I was scared shitless, and had become my own adversary. I jettisoned all the built-up over-recorded shit and went back to the original tracks, and finally saw a glimmer of hope again. I made notes, I went to work, I played the occasional show. And then I erased more than half of what I had recorded. Why had it taken me so long? When I started it was just to get some songs out – a collection of tunes, but nothing really connecting them other than here’s what I’d been sitting on. I kept Robert Cole, and Aunt Ramona. Aunt Ramona had come from Robert Cole. They were connected. Some character in Robert Cole was also in Aunt Ramona, maybe at another time in their life. Queen Bee too. ‘Daddy Was a Liar’ – those were some of the same people as well. And then I realized, all these songs were ones that had written themselves, fairly fast. So I started listening to them. Listening not to what I had recorded, sonically, but to what was written, what was being told. And then they started telling me what else to write, and what to look for, both now and from before. Now I was off again! I kept answering the occasional inquiry with the assurance that the record was coming, but now I was starting to feel good again about what would be coming. Which made me start feeling good again in general. Then the hard drive died. But this drive was just a back-up, right? Yes, a back-up for the internal one I had on my old computer, that had died and been replaced the year before. Fuck me. I was losing it but trying to hold it in, which, it turns out, is bad for you.
A year into this house and our lease was about up and we hated it. It was a corner lot on two busy streets. No yard to hang out with the animals in. One of our dogs had died of old age, the other one always in my mind in danger of getting out and being run over at the busy intersection. A sweet, loving cat we inherited from Kate’s father was killed and devoured by a coyote right in our front yard. The house had shitty mojo for us, in addition to costing way more to live in than it was worth. So Kate found a sweet but little house a few blocks away on a tree-lined street with an awesome back patio, large tree-covered, fenced-in back yard for the animals, well built with central air and amazing sweet landlords (a couple Kate had served at Dan’s Silverleaf for years). I was skeptical of its’ tiny rooms at first, what with Kate and I both still hauling around all the sorts of detritus that two separate people who didn’t get married until their late thirties accumulate. But the large back room, what had once been a back porch but had long since been closed in and finished out, with wrap-around windows, ceiling fans and plenty of grounded electrical outlets on breakers proved just what I needed to finally have a working recording space again. We moved in, cut our utility bills in half, and finally started to feel better. Grounded and hopefull.
I wrote two more songs, then another. They all spoke to the other songs. One night at a show, I played a really old song. It was a song Kevin Kerby and I wrote together when we were teenagers, when we first started writing songs. I had played it occasionally over the years before but now it seemed brand new to me. It was lockstep with these other songs, as if it had just been waiting 25 years to find its friends. I started recording again. Weeks of walking between the back room and the living room. Press record. Walk to the other room, play. Fuck it up? Walk back and press stop. Erase, start over. Garbage truck drive by? Dog bark? Cat knock over a microphone? Start over. It could be a little tedious at times but it felt great. It finally felt good. The songs began singing themselves and telling me what they wanted. Nothing too hi-fi, but I better bring some A game. I recorded, I went to work. Came home, made dinner, spent time with the wife, played the odd show, went to work, recorded. In two or three months all the basics were complete, with both basic guitar and vocal takes I felt good about. I never remembered ever pulling that off on any albums I had ever recorded before. That January, I brought in a good friend, Grady Don Sandlin to lay down some drums. I played a handful of shows with one of my heroes, Ralph White of the Bad Livers. He came to the house and played some snaky ancient fiddle and the songs started to come alive. Another friend on bass, one on banjo, one on steel, Sweet Petra Kelly on strings. I returned to the Echo Lab one night where the badass that is Matt Pence recorded the badass that is Scott Danbom playing piano on a couple of songs. I was no longer ashamed, no longer scared. I was disappointed that it had taken me so long to find it, but elated that I had. I mixed and mixed and mixed.
Long about somewhere in there somewhere, whether before or during this point, one of the most genuine people I know, a badass in his own right, Travis Hill of Little Rock, Arkansas asked me if I needed any help. I sheepishly confirmed that I could certainly use some help organizationally, specifically in regards to correcting and maintaining the mailing list. How the hell does Excel work? He knew how. What about shipping? He knew the best way to do it. He ran a label, and a great one at that. Hell, I had to admit to him that when I first started this and asked for ten dollars from whoever wanted one, I had forgot to really figure in postage. Turns out that was the biggest chunk, especially for the overseas orders. The man has been a godsend for me.
I continued to mix. Mix and mix. That sounds great, but next to the other one not so much. Remix. Massage, nuance, but stay the hell away from that hole. Claude Bernard from The Gourds showed up one night and played some accordion. Mix, listen. Listen some more. Take it out to the car and drive around with it awhile. Listen to some other stuff then listen to yours. Finish, finish, finish. Master. Step back one last time and listen. It’s done. Thank you Jeebus.
Well, I’m sorry this has all been so long winded. I started this letter at two in the morning and it’s now noon. But I have to say that the timeline of it all still baffles me. It’s amazing to me that the painful times in life can just seem to drag on ceaselessly until you finally really look back and then it all seems to have flown by. I can’t get a handle on it. I guess everything just seems to continue to speed up the older you get, and you can either let it depress you or be appreciative. And that, in all candor and honesty is what I am. I am completely and utterly appreciative of and grateful for you. All of you. Every one of you had the right at some point of your own deciding in the last few years to be righteously frustrated, indignant, disappointed or outright angry with me. Every one of you had the right to tell me to go to hell, but only a couple of you did. Your support in the beginning and throughout, both active and passive means more to me than I can accurately convey. If I had it to do over again, knowing what I know now, I guess I’d be hard-pressed to do it this way again. But I would lament not understanding the full breath and depth of what your support has meant to me. As earnestly as I can, I beg your forgiveness for the delay. And from the bottom of my heart I thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Man, I hope you all enjoy the record. You should receive your downloads and CD’s in the next couple of weeks. God bless you for your patience. Hope to see you all on the road somewhere soon.