OK, let’s kick this series off and start with the first song on the “Troubadour” DVD, which is “I Wonder”.
I remember rehearsing one evening with the band and right at the end of the session I ran through a very rough idea of what I thought “I Wonder” should sound like. Basically all I had was that walk-down on the C chord and the F and G were in place as well. I didn’t have any lyrics at that stage so I just hummed something as we went through the chord changes. The sound and melody I had in mind at that time was something along the lines of Clapton’s “Holy Mother”.
…and then I did nothing with it for about 12 months! It’s a good job I’m my own boss, otherwise I’d have been ‘let go’ long ago. I guess the song needed a little bit more time to percolate.
When I finally did get back to writing the songs for the “Beyond The Tears” album they came quickly and I laid down some quite basic ideas on a 4-track. I’d come up with a new melody for “I Wonder” and hummed it onto the tape as I laid down a basic guitar part and the main riff.
When we got into the studio to record the songs not only had they never been played live but they were still all very much in the embryo stage. We laid down the backing tracks – drums, bass guitar, rhythm guitar and Hammond organ – and were busy for a few days. Then I had to go out and play a few gigs in the weekend, so I came back in on the following Monday to do some vocals.
That may not have been the best idea in the world because I was tired from the live gigging and so my voice was a bit lower than usual. I thought I’d try “I Wonder” first as it was a quiet song. The engineer ran the tape and I went to sing it (with the lyrics I’d written in the meantime). Bear in mind, I’d ever only hummed something alongside the playing so I’d never really ‘sang’ it before this moment. I stepped up to the mic. and nothing came out. I suddenly realised the new melody I’d written for the song was really high (I don’t normally write in the key of C) and it just wouldn’t work if I tried to force it. So there I stood with my lyric sheet in my hand and a song that wouldn’t work.
It was a shock to me and a new experience because I just never had a problem singing any song in any key prior to that. I thought to myself – what on earth am I going to do now? I loved the song and the lyrics and I loved the melody as well, so basically there was nothing I could change, other than the key but that would entail changing the ‘vibe’ of the song. Certain keys lend themselves to certain sounds or vibes.
Well, there’s nothing like having your back to the wall to force you to come up with a solution, so while we were talking and contemplating whether to just move on and do the vocals to another song an ‘inspired’ thought entered my mind. Because both the lyrics and the melody of “I Wonder” are wistful and melancholic I suddenly had the idea – why not go the exact opposite direction and sing it as low and as gentle as possible. It would be in keeping with the mood of the song and rather than singing at the listener it would help to pull the listener into the song by singing it that way. The engineer ran the tape again and I cut the vocal track in one go. We listened back to it and that was it, problem solved! Phew!!
I think “I Wonder” is a song that lends itself quite well to a more stripped back or acoustic version, so the idea to include it on “Troubadour” was always there. I played it acoustically quite a bit when I was promoting the “Beyond The Tears” album at radio stations. By having Ralph with me for this session we were able to add some very tasteful Dobro guitar to it, which I think adds a really nice background to the main melody line. I hope you’ll agree. Please click here to listen to it on YouTube.
I’ll talk to you next week when I write about the next song on the DVD – Alberta!