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Except for “Trouble Back in ‘05,” I write fiction. I don’t write about my feelings or relationships. Just fiction. A lot of my music is unashamedly a vehicle for my interest in an instrument or a style of playing. On the more up-tempo material the riff usually comes first. As often as not, the chord structure suggests a melody suggests a lyric. If I only wrote using a guitar I would have far fewer songs than the four-albums-plus worth of material waiting. For example, a mandola, though tuned in fifths, pulls different music out of me than a mandolin, which is tuned in fifths at different pitches. Every instrument seems to open new paths. The following are a few thoughts on the songs on the first Nite Cafe album.
1. LET’S GO HAVE A TIME: This song grew from the mandolin riff at the beginning. I originally did it in the key of ‘G,’ but it was really a little high for my voice. When I bought a metal National resonator mandolin I saw an idea on the internet claiming these instruments sound good when tuned down a step and a half, making the ‘G’ chord position play an ‘E’ chord. A much better key for me to sing this particular song and I had already been tuning my metal National resonator guitar to open ‘E’.
Denny Hall: slide guitar, mandolin, bass, drums, vocal
Judy Wayenberg and Dan Wilson: harmony vocals
2. MORPHINE: This one is a period piece in theme if not in style. Morphine, though still medically viable, doesn’t seem to be the drug of choice on the streets anymore, so I thought I might be able to use it as a trouble-and-strife focus for some of my seedy characters. No offense to any of you morphine addicts who aren’t the least bit seedy.
3. TROUBLE BACK IN ‘05: It’s hard to write a protest song and have it come out like it should be a song with it’s own musical merit. To make your point within the limits of a given poetic meter is a challenge. Sometimes your most important message has too many of those pesky syllables. I’ve never had good luck writing message songs that I felt musically satisfied with, so I thought about another approach. Since the songs I’m currently trying to put across are not contemporary in feel and the instruments I use are almost all antiques, why not try an old style of song like those from the twenties and thirties? This song is what I got. I think of it as having a Salvation Army band rhythm section.
4. CELEBRATED RED DRESS: I didn’t know her. I knew someone who could have been her. This story intrigued me enough that I am well into writing a novel about her. A street person with a colorful air of elegance.
Denny Hall: mandolin, slide guitar, bass, drums, lead and harmony vocals
Judy Wayenberg: button accordian, harmony vocals
Dan Wilson: harmony vocals
5. TALKIN’ ‘BOUT YOU: I started the riff and Billy Blue made up most of the song on the spot. I added a last verse and slightly altered the four-chord bridges so I could sing them and play at the same time. Talk about fiction, this one doesn’t mean a damned thing. It is truly a vehicle for the instrument. Maybe less so when Bill did it. Maybe more so when I do.
8. HIDE AWAY: Another song grown out of a riff. I make no apologies. Who cares where fiction comes from? I kind of like songs that are minimal melodically if they have a beat I can stomp to. The feel of the chorus on this one is inspired by fifties R&B.
9. STEEL HIGHWAY: This song was written in the early seventies. I had the pleasure of hanging out with Lowell George just before the first Little Feat album was released. I got to hear the test pressing in advance of it’s appearance in the stores. Our Buffalo Nickel Jugband also played a concert at McArthur Park that the musicians organized as a free event. Little Feat and several other bands played. I was very impressed with Lowell’s song writing. Steel Highway was the first thing I came up with under his influence. I just wanted a lot of rhythm. I actually did write this before “Dixie Chicken” came out. So the southern-girl theme was parallel if not equal development.
10. HARD LUCK BLUES: I’m not having trouble with religion in this song--I’m having trouble with shyster TV preachers with their hands in the pockets of the poor and infirm. I’m having fun having trouble, though.
11. BILLY CAUGHT THE 10-9-0H: Oh no. Now right away I’ve run into a song that isn’t really fiction. I’m so damned sorry I lied, but here we are. The first album, “Nite Cafe,” is dedicated to my long-time music partner the late “Billy Blue,” a.k.a. Bill Graham. Bill had written a train song called “Ten Nine Oh”. He recorded it with his band The Nu-Vines on the album “Watermelon Time in the Nisqually Delta.” Bill lived in an historic old house near a railroad track. We talked almost daily by phone and I could clearly hear the train whistle when it sounded.Whatever the time of day, Bill would say, “There goes the ten-nine-oh, right on time.” Bill passed away. It seems like yesterday and it seems like10 years. There is a reference to playing all night with Blueport. This was Blueport News, a band Bill had in the seventies. WPLJ (white port lemon juice)was a great old R&B song we did as teenagers. Manning the lighthouse refers Bill’s song “No Light in the Lighthouse” (Nu-Vines album “Take to the Woods”). Hang tenor on “The Night Cafe”--nobody sang harmony on my songs like Billy Blue. I don’t know where he got the lines--there are only so many notes, you know.
12. MAMA WON’T LET YOU: The mandola started acting up in my hands one day and this song came out. In trying to figure out a way to do it live, Judy played button accordion and it came sounding pretty full for two people. It also gave a zydeco feel, which we went with by adding drums, washboard and bass.