Making of "Goin' To Clarksdale"

June 12, 2017

 

Hello, and welcome to my blog. I’m very happy to be able to reach out to friends and fans in this way. I want to thank my wife, Marion Walmsley, for building this website. The design and most of the photos are hers. We had a lot of fun putting this together, but all the credit for the real work goes to Marion. If you’re reading this on a mobile device, be sure to check out the desktop version - it has some cool additional features. We sincerely hope you enjoy it!

 

You may have noticed that the website features a shop where I’ll be selling autographed photos, cds, etc. This is not a new concept, but it is a first for me. I think of our web shop as a family project, not unlike the little corner grocery store my parents owned - and above which we lived - in Blackburn, England. The item I’m most excited about at the moment is my new CD, “Goin’ To Clarksdale.” I decided to sell the CD exclusively through my web shop. If you’ve read about all the changes in the music business over the last few years, you know that artists these days receive very little in the way of royalties from online platforms, particularly streaming. It’s only when a CD sells millions of copies that online sales and streaming accumulate a significant amount of income for the artist. The idea of selling my CD in my own little village “corner store” has much more appeal to me, with the added bonus that I’ll be able to establish a closer relationship with my fans. There are some “Waltons” fans who have no idea that I’m primarily a musician. It’s how I’ve made my living all my adult life. Yet, “Goin’ To Clarkdale” is my first solo release. There are numerous reasons for this, but this is a story for later. Suffice to say, I have reached a point in my life where it’s important to me to “do my own thing;” and my thing has and always will be, music.

 

I’ve loved the blues ever since I was child, even before I knew what it was. My obsession with the guitar and rock and roll led me to seek out it’s origins. As Muddy Waters so aptly put it, “The Blues Had A Baby And They Named It Rock And Roll.” My young efforts to become what in those days was referred to as a “lead guitarist” led me from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones to B.B. King and Eric Clapton. After discovering the blues, my musical life was never the same. To me, no other music possessed that level of feeling, that amount of soul. It is a style where, as a player, one can really “dig in” and express a lot of raw emotion.

 

Throughout my musical career, no matter what type of gig or session I was called to play, I always tried, in a musically appropriate way, to inject the music with that level of feeling. These days, I have the great opportunity to pursue the things I love, to play the kind of music I love most- the blues. 

 

“Goin’ To Clarksdale,” my first solo CD, was inspired by a trip Marion and I made through the Mississippi Delta last year. It’s a 50/50 mix of blues songs I grew up loving and some original material. I tried to capture in the recordings the kind of raw energy I love so much about the old records. In those days, there were no computers, no synths or samples, no pitch correction. What you heard was what they played. Often, mistakes were just left in. I decided to make this record in my home studio, playing all the instruments myself, with the goal that it would sound like a bunch of guys just having a great time jamming away. I didn’t try to make it perfect. This was a bit of a challenge for an admitted perfectionist. Still, to me, those old blues records are perfect. These days, you could make Muddy Waters sound like Britney Spears, but who would want that? I hope you have as much fun listening to “Goin’ To Clarksdale” as I had making it. I’m including a few comments below regarding the individual tracks, which I hope will further add to your enjoyment of the music. 

 

I must make one important correction. On the back cover of the CD package, I am credited for “Mastering” the CD. This is incorrect. I detest the idea of taking credit for something I didn’t do. Unfortunately, it was too late to change the packaging. So, for the record: The CD was mastered - wonderfully - by Brad Vance at Red Mastering in California. Thanks, Brad! 

 

About the songs:

 

“Goin’ To Clarksdale” - This is my instrumental tribute to the Mississippi Delta town; truly a great place to visit if you’re looking for a “blues experience.” The Martin D-18 acoustic guitar I play on this track - and elsewhere on the album - is one I’ve had for over fifty years. It’s also the guitar I played on “The Waltons.”

 

“You Can’t Judge A Book By Looking At The Cover” - A great Willie Dixon tune, made famous by Bo Diddley. I’ve loved this song ever since I first heard it in 1967, sung by Mike Nesmith during The Monkees concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Bo’s sideman, Jerome, always played maracas on his records, so of course I had to as well, along with some electric slide guitar and distorted blues harp. I’m often asked about “typecasting.” The lyric of this song sums it up pretty well.

 

“Love And You” - This eight-bar blues is a Jon Walmsley “oldie.” I wrote this song as a teenager, on a break between scenes, in the rusting trailer that served as my dressing room for “The Waltons.” I always liked the chord progression. The performance was a first take vocal and guitar lead, and, in the spirit of the album, I kept it.

 

“Too Much Is Not Enough” - A new tune; written, like most of the original songs here, during our RV trip through Northern New England last summer. The lyric speaks for itself. Greed is a huge problem. There is so much wealth out there, particularly in the U.S. The “haves” seem obsessed with having more, while the middle class is shrinking, and more and more people fall below the poverty line every year; and yes, the story of the minister “beating up” the congregation for not putting enough in the collection plate is true.

 

“Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out.” - One of the great old blues songs, written in 1923, made famous by Bessie Smith. Believe it or not, I can relate to this one. It was interesting to see what happened when “The Waltons” ended. “Friends” drifted away; party invitations stopped coming. I guess that’s “showbiz.”

 

“The Thrill Is Gone” - One of B.B King’s great hits. I felt it might be a bit audacious to even attempt such an iconic song, but what the heck. I heated up a Hot Toddy and went for it. This is another lyric with a lot of meaning for me. I think it turned out pretty well.

 

“Key To The Highway” - Another eight-bar blues. Some people feel that the blues is a limited form, but I disagree. There are so many styles and feels, and variations on chord progressions. This one features some slide guitar as well as a bit of mandolin. I also played a Breedlove acoustic fretless bass guitar, which I love.

 

“Hound Dog” - Another iconic tune, written by Lieber and Stoller. I’ve played this one on gigs for years; never the Elvis version, but something closer to the way Big Mama Thornton did it originally. This version is neither of those, but a rather “swampy” version I came up with that I kind of like. 

 

“New Glasses” - Another new song of mine. I did indeed get some new glasses, but the song is basically just about trying to see through b.s. Not always easy, these days.

 

“Three O’Clock Blues” - This was the first song recorded by B.B. King, and one of Marion’s and my favorites. I hope you like it too. Wondering where your woman or man might be late at night is not a pleasant experience. Hope you don’t have to go through it.

 

“Good Day To Have The Blues” - Another original. This was written last, during the recording process. I wanted something with a different feel to round-out the album. It ended up being one of my favorite tracks. I generally have a pretty positive outlook, and the character in this song definitely has that. This track, like some of the others on the CD, features a lot of gratuitous guitar soloing on my part. When you’re the artist as well as the producer, you can get away with that. The guitar solo is one take, beginning to end, I think. I played on this track the way one plays on the ‘third set” of a bar gig, when you’re loosened up and you’ve already had a couple of beers. Good times.

 

“Katahdin” - This is the only tune on the CD that is technically not a blues tune. However, as is my nature, I managed to sneak some blues guitar licks into the mix. Again, I played fretless acoustic bass. “Katahdin” is one of Maine’s most famous and beautiful mountains. After our Mississippi Blues trip, Marion and I returned to Maine and, driving through Rockland, came upon a Mississippi Blues Trail marker! It turns out that Rockland has been enormously supportive of the blues for many years and features a yearly blues festival that has showcased many of the greats. So, this was composed for the Mainers. Rock on, Rockland!

 

Well, that’s all for now. Thanks for checking in, and for checking out “Goin’ To Clarksdale.”  I’ll be back with another blog soon. In the meantime, my best to you all.

Cheers,

JW

 

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