Patrick Damphier, Michael Rinne, Robbie Crowell, Jon Radford at Club Roar (photo: Mick Leonardi)
My AMERICAN FORK LP has been out for nearly two months now. In between wrapping up the North American tour dates and preparing to leave for the European tour, I wanted to write a few lines about the people who physically helped me make this record. This week it remains in the Top 20 most played albums on the Americana Music Radio charts, and much of the reason for that is the musicianship and the way it was recorded. I’ve been getting lots of emails and notes about the songs, which have struck a few chords and nerves out there in the big world, so I wanted to say a few things about the players behind the grooves. My name might be on the cover, but I couldn’t have done any of this without the following dedicated musicians and friends. There’s a very large crew of great touring and studio players in my town of Nashville, and I was very lucky to have worked with these following ten, who helped me bring the American Fork songs to the forefront.
Patrick Damphier (photo: Mick Leonardi)
It took ten musicians and three engineers to create the American Fork album, but one of them contributed the lion’s share. Without a doubt, the direction of the album took a unique and specialized turn in the care of my co-producer Patrick Damphier, who records his own material under the name FIELD DAYS. Not only did he sing a lot of the backing vocals (Right Before Your Own Eyes), but he added keyboards and many other musical ideas before mixing and mastering the whole album at Club Roar in Nashville. The majority of the album was recorded in a few days with me mostly singing live with the band while playing electric guitar. Patrick then contributed a ton more through his approach to producing and mixing, after already having engineered it most tastefully. Lastly, he prepared the vinyl master as well, and with just four songs per side, the vinyl edition of the LP is truly warmer and bigger than the digital. If you are a songwriter or artist in Nashville who is looking for a consummate professional in terms of taste and contemporary production, offer your songs to the thoughtfulness and care of this super creator.
A beloved figure in my East Nashville neighborhood and for good reason. This is a drummer with Tennessee heart and soul and basically the kind of guy that makes tracks and songs come alive. Maybe it’s a Southern thing, maybe it’s his love of Hip Hop and The Grateful Dead combined, or just an innate musicianship that is undeniable. He’s got serious time, as Ginger Baker might say, but also the ability to improvise without hesitation, something that I look for in all the musicians I work with. Jon Radford has the goods, and I was lucky to run into him my very first night walking around my neighborhood when I dropped into the original Family Wash to see a band called Luella And The Sun. It was their second gig and I was floored that this was a band playing a bar just down the street from my house. I thought to myself if this is the kind of band playing on a Tuesday night in Nashville then this town really is at the center of a musical explosion. Like all great Rock And Roll bands through the years, the drummer was a big part of the thing that made them go from Tuesday night gigs to making the kinds of records that people pay attention to. I’ve worked with some great drummers- Jim Keltner, Sam Brown, Ben Kennedy, Ken Coomer, James Dommek Jr, Miles Loretta, Jovan Karcic, Jimmy Castoe, Aaron Shafer-Haiss, Jerry Pentacost, and many, many more, and Jon Radford is another that brings his style to the song in a way that can’t be denied. He’s also a brand new Father now and watching this part of his life unfold has been heartwarming.
Some guys show up for work with maximum musical knowledge and preparation. This would actually apply to many of the musicians in Nashville, but it’s always refreshing to encounter it on the job. Michael Rinne and Jon Radford were the rhythm section on American Fork, and while I showed up to Club Roar studio with the songs all arranged and ready to go, Michael Rinne was the session player that brought forth suggestions to improve the arrangements, and then played his bass with sublime taste and decisiveness. You may catch him in town or on the road playing with Steelism, Rodney Crowell, and many others.
Multi-instrumentalist Robbie Crowell played piano, Hammond B3, Wurlitzer, and saxophone on American Fork. As a member several great bands, including Deer Tick, Turbo Fruits, and Diamond Rugs, he travels the planet. He’s a natural in the studio and on stage. His range of musical knowledge is inspiring. My favorite moment on the album is Robbie's Wurlitzer solo on "Right Before Your Own Eyes."
One look at this man’s AllMusic.com credits will tell you most of what you need to know. He designed and built the pedal steel that he played on my album. He is one of the greats, and if you’ve ever listened to the radio, you’ve already heard him play. My favorite pedal steel moment on American Fork is when he imitates the sound of the air break on an 18 wheeler in the album closer “On My Way.”
Emma Berkey and Ariel Bui
I first met Ariel when she worked as a caretaker for my daughter Ellington. Today, she is my daughter’s piano teacher, and the teacher of many-at the school she founded called MELODIA STUDIO. It’s classic Nashville that your circle of friends is full of supremely talented people and Ariel certainly a stand out. She has a brand new album, recorded with much care and deliberation and attention to sonic detail by Andrija Tokic at The Bomb Shelter. You can find out more about it at ArielBui.com
I met Emma through Ariel. The two of them had done some singing together. Both the producer Patrick Damphier and I had in mind to add some strong backing vocals in a layered way that brought more depth to the songs. Emma is another songwriter/musician that understands harmony and arrangements better than I do, and she brought my songs much further along with her attention to detail. She is the vocalist that double’s Robbie Crowell's saxophone part on “Right Before Your Own Eyes” as well as the sole harmony singer on “On My Way,” plus she sang on two other tracks. Basically, she sings on half of the album!
Together, with Ariel Bui and Emma Berkey, the multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger and singer Larissa Maestro sang the harmony parts on three different songs for American Fork. Plus she played the cello accompaniment on the song “Gatekeeper.” I first met Larissa when she was working as a teacher at the Montessori school in East Nashville, where Ariel Bui had also worked at one time. Check out her band Poly and find out more about Larissa at her website.
Many of you know of my work with the multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and fellow Ohioan Megan Palmer, and in the case of American Fork she is the co-writer of the song “Now Vs. Now,” as well as the harmony singer on that particular track. She has sang and played violin on records of mine in the past, and I have sang and played some guitar on her records, including the brand new one, also produced by Patrick Damphier, called WHAT SHE’S GOT TO GIVE.
One of my favorite singer-songwriters, and now running his own record label called CAFE ROOSTER RECORDS, Brian was recruited to play the devil voiced character in the song “Alaskan Bars, Part 1,” which has a timely lyric about “groping inappropriate people.” I believe strongly in the Randy Newman school of writing…. or when you write from the point of view of the not so trustworthy narrator, and Brian helped us make this strange and comic or novelty song stand out with some sturdy darkness.
Every album I make goes through some growing pains. American Fork happens to be my ninth studio album, and at first I had it in mind that it was going to be a very, very stripped down production. Mostly me and my acoustic guitar with perhaps some kick drum and only a few other additions. I started out working with Gabe at East Side Manor studios, just down the road from my home in East Nashville. After we cut around 15 songs or so, I listened and didn’t feel satisfied with most of the performances, so I changed my whole direction and moved the entire operation over to Club Roar to start anew with Patrick Damphier. We kept the basic tracks for “Gatekeeper,” however, which is primarily me singing and playing slide guitar on a 12-string acoustic while simultaneously kicking a drum. Gabe and I continue to work on the “We Are The Neighborhood” series of benefit tracks and the first one we did, with The McCrary Sisters, Aaron Lee Tasjan, and Megan Palmer, was a Bob Dylan song called “What You Gonna Do,” which was featured in American Songwriter Magazine.
We just recorded another Bob Dylan song called “Rocks And Gravel” with The Cordovas, Megan Palmer, Julie Christensen, and Aaron Lee Tasjan. Look for this recording sometime in November of 2016. The video is being created by Stacie Huckeba.
Travis runs Strangebird Recording here in Nashville, and he helped prepare and maintain the 8 Track tape machine that we started recording American Fork on at East Side Manor, before we moved the whole shebang over to Club Roar. Nashville is a great place to make records, not only for the caliber of musical talent around, but for the engineers and technical men and women that can maintain and repair the tape machines and other equipments we use to make all these records on.
Mick Leonardi (photo: Tim Easton)
Mick took the cover photo, and most of the photographs associated with American Fork, including many in this blog. He also directed the video for RIGHT BEFORE YOUR OWN EYES and the upcoming video for ALASKAN BARS, PART 1. He too is a great songwriter. Stay tuned for a project he has with his band MACHETE.
This Raleigh, NC artist and drummer designed the artwork for American Fork. He runs a cool design and print shop called The Crawlspace Press.
These two cats run LAST CHANCE RECORDS and AT THE HELM RECORDS, respectively. Travis was instrumental in helping the vinyl side of the project get off the ground, sending the masters to the new vinyl manufacturer in Memphis for printing. James Walker is at the helm of AT THE HELM which released American Fork in the U.K, where I will tour in October 2016.
For radio promotion, we hired the amazing ANGELA BACKSTROM.
Thanks Joe Lekkas and Craig Grossman of GREEN ROOM MUSIC SOURCE for keeping me hard at work on the road, booking the American Fork Tour in North America. To reach out about booking me for a house concert, go to the contact page and write a letter to Joe Lekkas.
Thanks also to Club Roar Studio owners Robin & Karen Eaton, and East Side Manor Studio owners Todd & Nona Muir for supplying the amazing and comfortable spaces in which to record albums. John Mccollam helped start the financial ball rolling on this and you Pledge Campaign folks really sealed the deal, making this the first financially successful album I’ve made since SPECIAL 20. With your permission and encouragement, I would like to go the Pledge route again, probably soon after SXSW (March, 2017) when I will begin recording the next album. By all means, write to let me know what you thought worked about the Pledge campaign, and what you think could be done better. I really enjoyed bringing you all into the creative side of financing a project like American Fork.
Tim Easton (photo: Mick Leonardi)
See you around the neighborhood.