Blue Rodeo was playing in Halifax and somehow somebody got me the word that this guy from the Guthries was making a record and he wanted some steel. So we set it up and Matt picks me up at the convention center where my gear is and we head upstairs of the Kyber, this coffeeshop/creative space in downtown Halifax to Charles' Mullet Studio. There was a ton of energy and honesty on the tracks they played for me so it was a blast to play on a couple songs.
Afterwards we packed up me gear and headed back to the convention center and somehow Matt and I entered this Twighlight Zone vortex were we drove around the damn this whole place which takes up several city blocks 3 or 4 times 'cause we couldn't find the stage door. Each time around it just got trippier and more ridiculous, we couldn't believe it.
Dale Murray also plays steel on the record and he is one monster of a picker, incredible tone and touch and pitch, really sweet.
This was a real honor to get to work with Michael Timmins on this record. We did it one afternoon in his home studio - a wonderful vibe place to record.
After it was released I go a few e-mails from long lost friends who happened to be Cowboy Junkies fans and had no idea where I had been for the past decade or two.
This was an odd session for me. Since I was new to Canada I was unaware of Hayden's previous work or what he was all about. I set up in his home studio and worked on the same track for like four hours. I didn't know what he wanted and for some reason he couldn't communicate it to me. It was just four hours of take after take not knowing if I was getting closer or further away. I mean he is a great guy and I am now a fan of his work but that was just one of those nightsÉÉÉ..
I called him a few days afterward to tell him I was uncomfortable with my work and I offered to re-visit the track. He politely declined so what you hear is a man chasing his tail in the studio. It is not one of my best performances but that is just part of the deal when you play a lot of sessions. Most times it clicks and every now and then it doesn't.
I met Jason like scores of Toronto musicians and scenesters did by going out to his long-running songwriters in the round showcases - Radio Mondays. I think I also did some work on his guitar back in my early days in Toronto. I always liked him, his music and especially his work ethic. He had a family and a fulltime job but he just relentlessly kept playing and writing and performing like he was a possessed troubadour on a mission. Talk about grit.
Things busted open for him (and rightfully so) when the Broken Social Scene started getting attention. So Jason calls me to record and I go over to Howie Beck's home studio. Which was pretty wild because I had recently been listening to Howie's record and really liking it but I didn't put 1 and 1 together and figure out this was the same Howie Beck who was recording/producing Jason's record until days after the session. During the session I'm thinking, this guy is getting great tones and great mixes, it was a lot of fun. No wonder....
I had met the Wilco guys a few months back when Freakwater opened for them for a couple of weeks. They were recording at CRC in Chicago and called me up to come over and "hang out." I was quite busy at the time and didn't get around to hooking up with them until one of their last nights in the studio. And, being naive, I didn't realize "hanging out" meant bring your pedal steel and National guitars.
I overdubbed steel on Far Far Away, then the whole band plugged in for Dreamer In My Dreams and we played the song in all its rawness for several takes. Jeff kept pushing it harder and harder until that final take that made it into the record. You can hear him coughing and putting his guitar down and walking into the next room to sing the final verse into the piano microphones as Jay improvised. That was a lot of fun. It was also the start of my professional relationship with Wilco.
This was the first session I did after moving to Canada in 2000. This record was for a movie and it was chock full of great players from Halifax including Matt Murphy (Flashing Lights and___________ ) and Chris Murphy (Sloan). It was the first time I worked with Nick Holmes (he later engineered Blue Rodeo's Palace of Gold). Anyway I played steel on a bunch of country songs and then I pretty much forgot about it after a few months.
Then 5 years later the movie comes out and there were all the old country songs on it. I was blown away by the perseverance of these guys making the film cause I am sure they invested many years before I met them.
Recorded at the Gas Station in Toronto during November 1999.
I was in Toronto working on Oh Susanna's record and I heard that Neko was in town recording at the Gas Station. I called Don, co-owner of the studio and offered my services. He invited me by when I got a day off from Suzy's project and it just so happened to be the same day that Ron Sexsmith was in the studio playing guitar. We recorded two songs together, and I did a few overdubs and that was it. My contribution aside, this is a classic record.
Recorded at the Bath House in Kingston, Ontario during the winter of '97.
I met the Hip when Wilco played on the bill of their summer tour - Another Roadside Attraction with Los Lobos, Sheryl Crow, Ron Sexsmith, Change of Heart, and Ashley McIsaac. What a summer that was! Steve Berlin from Los Lobos ended up producing their record and they invited me to do my thing during the infamous ice storm of '98 that left much of Ontario and Quebec powerless. It was a really smooth productive couple of days as I got to play mandolin, pedal steel, National, and lap steel guitar on the record. The single Bobcaygeon (on which I play pedal steel) won a Juno award in 1999.
I go back to 2001 with Reid. He approached and asked if he could play with me saying "I know all your songs." I said "Really????" because even I didn't know all my songs. He had the harmonies and guitar parts down cold so it was a no-brainer to start working with him.
We played house parties together for a couple of years and then Reid stated work on this record. We recorded in Josh Finlayson's home studio a couple of cold winter nights. It was great to hang out with Josh and Reid and share stories.
This record has it all for me - an unforgettable voice, great songs, great players. It is a real "feel" album.
This was the first record I made with Blue Rodeo, my first experience with how they worked in the studio. It was a bit of sprawling mayhem from my perspective because we tracked most of the record as a band - all six of us in the same room. It was also the inaugural recording at the new Blue Rodeo studio so we were getting used to the sounds and the gear and the microphones, working out the kinks as we went along.
Some stuff was thought through regarding steel guitar or there. But I mainly just hung around and grabbed miscellaneous stringed instruments try to contribute something, to add a layer or a hook. It was a lot of fun to work that way.
Recorded at Greg Keelor's farm during the spring of 2000.
I got to know the Sadies when they opened a string of dates for Blue Rodeo in the Maritimes and became a fan immediately. When they asked me to come to the farm and help out I was honored. It was especially cool because Steve Albini was 'producing.'
I don't know if this vibe made it on to the record but after one intense take (that worked) I was so moved I went outside, looked up at the stars, started crying and thanked my maker for this gift of music.
By the time Freakwater recorded this record, multi-instrumentalist Max Johnson from Wilco and I had traded places. They invited me over one night to overdub steel on a few songs. I remember being nostalgic and envious because they sounded so good with Max on mandolin, fiddle, banjo and dobro. Max even got to sing a song on this record!
This is a record I am really proud of. I met Suzy in 1997 when she opened for Wilco at the Horseshoe in Toronto. We stayed in touch over the years until she invited me up to Toronto (from my home in Mississippi) to work on her first full-length record.. I ended up sleeping on her floor for a month while we made this record (how rock and roll!). We had a memorable gig at the Black Sheep north of Ottawa and I met Bazil Donovan who was eventually my ticket into Blue Rodeo. A great month!
Recorded in Kingsway (New Orleans) and Brad Jones' studio (Nashville) during the summer of 2000.
I know John from my days in Wilco and it is always great to hang out with him. The added bonus for these sessions was playing with Kenny too (Wilco's drummer) and working in Daniel Lanois' Kingsway studio in New Orleans. We could record all night and still have time to hit a piano bar in the French Quarter and listen to Johnny sing 'The Piano Man.' A great way to end the day.
One night we had an impromptu horn section consisting of Dave Pirner from Soul Asylum on trumpet and Jimbo Mathis from Squirrel Nut Zippers on trombone. Lots of smiling and good clean fun all the way around.
Recorded at Sweet Tea studio in Oxford, Mississippi during the summer of 1999.
The Jars of Clay came down from Nashville to record with Oxford's Dennis Herring. Dennis had just spent the better part of a couple of years producing the Counting Crow's album in L.A. and was ready for the opportunity to work at home. At the local bakery he invited me to play a bit. The record won a Grammy in 2001 in the Christian category. You'll see my parts credited to Ben Egan on the record!
I met Neville through my friends at Capsule Music in Toronto and had no idea for the first few years that he was a singer/songwriter. The night I finally heard him I was blown away by voice and is lyrical imagery. I immediately offered my services on steel and we would play a handful of shows over the next few years. I believe there was a long drive to the Montreal Pop Explosion that is better left forgotten.
When it came time to record this record he enlisted the wunderkind Luke Doucette to produce and the fabulous Kesper Brothers to play. It was all done in Blue Rodeo's Woodshed Studio just a block from my house in Toronto. And as for cover art, it gets no better than the players and guest musicians re-creating Da Vinci's last supper.
I had just moved to Chicago in the mid 1980's and hooked up with Chris and Joe who were recording their first record as Souled American. I knew them from their previous band, the Uptown Rulers, who were based in my college town of Normal, Illinois. I don't remember much about the actual recording of my steel guitar parts but I do remember a couple of special shows we did - one at the Metro and the other opening for Buddy Guy at Phyllis's Musical Inn for about 40 people.
Years later on the first date of my first European tour with Freakwater I finally heard the finished record. We had just come off the stage at a club in Hamburg and the D.J. put Fe on. At first it sounded strangely familiar. I thought someone was covering one of Chris' songs. Then I heard this real twisted steel guitar and realized this was the Souled American I had worked on years before! It was pretty surrealistic.
When Chris Houston called from Vancouver to ask me to contribute a song for this benefit album to help defray Alejandro's medical bills I said yes in a heartbeat and so did the other musicians on this track. Of course there was no money and no glory, it was all about helping a brother in need. And Alexandro had touched so many lives over the years there were more musicians volunteering than slots on the CD.
We had a fun time working on this song. It was the first time I worked with Glenn Milchem in the studio outside of a Blue Rodeo record and in addition to solid drumming and inventive percussion he had great arrangement and instrumentation ideas. It was a very creative session. It was also an excuse to work with the phenomenal Jay Danley on the Cuban tres and Miranda Mulholland on violin. It was all anchored by John Borra on bass. We go back a few years to some of my earliest solo show in Canada. And to top it off we got to record at Peter Hudson's Hallah Studio, one of the finest rooms in Toronto for recording drums, just a great vibe room all the way around.
This was the first record that I played on more than just a few tracks. I remember it as a real relaxed few weeks as the producer, Brad Wood, set us up to play live in the studio. Most of the steel guitar was recorded live as Janet and Catherine sat facing each other while Dave (on bass) and I accompanied them. It was kind of a buzz for me to work with Brad as he had just finished Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville (a favorite). Around this same time Brad also mixed a few of our live Freakwater shows. It was an honor to work with him and Freakwater on this record.
Recorded at KingSize Sounds in Chicago and Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin.
Nora Guthrie, Woody's daughter, opened up Woody's archive of 5,000 sets of lyrics to Billy Bragg and Wilco with the intent of making a record with their music from the 1990's with her father's words from decades earlier. The results garnered a Grammy nomination for folk record of the year.
We (Wilco) had been on the road for almost 2 years and were exhausted. And, it was understood that this was going to be my last work with them so things were...well, different. Still, it was one of the honors of my life to work on this record.
I often record my parts blind, that is, I record while listening to the track for the first time to see what inspires me. While doing this on one of the Mermaid sessions I was struck by the emotional depth of the words. Afterwards I began talking to Jeff (Wilco's singer) about what was going on in his life, assuming the lyrics were autobiographical to a degree. Jeff replied that Woody Guthrie had written those lyrics in the 1940's!
To me, that speaks equally of Woody's timeless lyrics and Jeff's heartfelt performance. An honor, indeed.
Recorded in Chicago and Dublin in the winter of '97. This is the follow-up record to the Grammy-nominated Mermaid Avenue.
We were in Dublin in U2's studio when the Wilco boys took off on a weekend jaunt to Spain. This left me and Billy and Corey Harris in the studio to work on things. We recorded 'Against The Law' which didn't make it on the original record and I added steel guitar to 'Unwelcome Guest', the final track on the original record.
It was quite interesting as my housemate was Jerry Boys, the engineer, who had just recently finished engineering and mixing the Buena Vista Social Club. We would come back from the studio each evening, have a cognac and he would start telling stories about that record - Cuba and Ry Cooder. It was fascinating. The best cognacs of my life.
Three years later at a club in Toronto someone congratulated me on my work on this record. I had no idea that 'Against the Law' was on Mermaid II.
Recorded in Edmonton with my overdubs being done at the Rogue studio in Toronto during the spring of 2000.
Talk about a small world - the brother of one of the Old Reliable members booked my first show in Toronto (with Freakwater in '95). Years later I met Old Reliable during the Edmonton Folk Festival and was asked to add some steel to their record.
The day before I left for an Australian tour we booked some time in the Rogue and I went in and did my thing which was shipped back to Edmonton for approval and mixing the next day. That's the beauty of digital technology and FedEx.
Recorded at the Woodshed (Blue Rodeo's studio) in the middle of Sadies shows and Blue Rodeo shows and Langford shows. We all have a lot of shared history so it was a great hang in the studio and all the different live shows.
Years ago before I was in Blue Rodeo I was booked for a festival in Norway. I had met and worked with Bazil Donovan on Oh Susanna's record and he volunteered to come with me. Unfortunately the festival was cancelled but fortunately Baz and I made it into Norway and so did John Langford. The party had arrived.
We ended up playing a handful of shows in Halden that were just over-the-top country piss-ups with commander Langford at the helm.
One night there were 2 steel players, me and this other cat from Sweden who was a real hot-shit player, just tore it up. So all night long Langford was calling out dueling steel solos between us with this rebel cry of "STEEL WAAAAARRRRRSSSS!" At the end of the night this other steel guy was running on 10 and I was at about five. When it came time for the final steel wars round of solos I picked my steel up and bashed a hole in the stage with it. Talk about desperate showmanship fueled by Aquivet.
This record was recorded on the last date of my first European tour with Freakwater. We had spent a month in a Iveco van driving 5 to 10 hours every day across Germany. It was pretty brutal. I remember having a "meltdown" before this show - I was just so burned out and beat up. I was not a pretty sight. Fortunately my mood doesn't show up on the CD! It is a good document of that tour.
I always loved recording for the Fat Possum label in Oxford, Mississippi cause you never know what to expect when you get the call. Their studio, the Money Shot, is located in the backwoods of Mississippi among dirt roads and trailers. It is a place you wouldn't want to be lost in at night.
Recording with Super Chikan was a trip. But I guess you would have to expect that from a guy who has made his living playing guitar and well, clucking like a chicken.
Recorded at Atheltic Studios in Halden, Norway during the summer of 1999.
I was in this small coastal town in Norway producing a record for a country rock band, Bonkers. During a rare day off I overdubbed pedal steel on 7 songs for Madrugada's new record. It was quite an experience as I have never worked with a more democratic group of musicians, quite a noble bunch of guys.
"Months later I returned to Norway to tour as a solo artist (with my new friend Bazil Donovan) and I played Madrugada's record release party. We had the pleasure of watching the rock and roll machinery at work, hanging out with these guys as they were propelled into the media spotlight. Quite fun indeed."
Recorded at Le Studio in Quebec during the spring of 2000.
We had 24 hours off from our tour bus in Toronto so I caught a train to Montreal with my steel guitar. I had a total of 10 hours I could squeeze in for this recording which meant I would do a few takes then nap on the couch, then a few more takes and another nap.
I met Pigeon Hole in Montreal when we were both opening for the Jim Cuddy Band. They impressed me so I offered my services and six months later they took me up on it.
Recorded in the Rogue Studio in Toronto during the fall of 2000.
The producer of this record, David Baxter, invited me to play on these sessions. I knew David through Bazil Donovan. Baz recruited Bax to play my debut Toronto show during the NXNE conference in Toronto a few years ago. I subsequently sat in with Hey Stella, Baz and Bax' weekly house gig at Barcode in Toronto.
I remember there were some ideas for what I should play, but I convinced everyone to let me listen and try my own part first. That's what ended up on the record, thank God. See, it is much easier for me play what's in my head than to learn what's in someone else's head.
Recorded onstage after soundcheck at Schuba's in Chicago during the fall of 1999.
This guy tracked me down cause he heard I was going to be in Chicago with Blue Rodeo. He brought a portable hard disc recorder to the club and while the guys were eating dinner I listened to the song on headphones and recorded my part. Painless and efficient.
Recorded at The Money Shot Studios in Oxford, Mississippi.
The Neckbones are the only young rockers on the Fat Possum label which is home to real blues artists such as R.L. Burnside and the late Junior Kimborough. They are such raw, energetic rockers I wasn't sure how I would find a place to fit in. However, when they told me to play like a demented carnival organ grinder I knew I could find my niche.
This record also features Cary and Laurie from the Oxford band Blue Mountain and John Stirratt from Wilco.
This record was recorded in a different way than Palace of Gold. The record was tracked with just the four core members with the sidemen to be overdubbed later. I think you can hear that in the intimacy of the vocals and guitars on this record.
There wasn't going to be much steel on the record, it was going to be much more stripped down. But when overdubbing we tried a few parts just to see what would happen and they stuck.