It’s been quite some time since my last post. A lot has been going on. I moved to a new state, started law school, and these days studying seems to be the way of life. I have very little time to myself to draw, do music, or even write…but I feel like I need to anyway. Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of music, revisiting old favorites, discovering some new things. As such, I have decided to post some new Songwriting Spank Material segments, as I’ve always found them to be short, so they shouldn’t distract me too much from my studies. So, here’s my first of what I hope are many to come.
It might seem like this edition of Songwriting Spank Material comes with some degree of bias on my part. Several of my friends and family know about my connection to Willie Nelson. In 1999, I was asked to perform with Willie at a fundraiser at The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. I was just learning to walk as a songwriter, and the prospect of not only meeting, but getting to perform with someone like Willie Nelson was tremendously exciting for me (on a related note, I also got to meet Carole King during this time, which was also tremendously exciting for me). What people don’t know is that I was also excited to meet Willie Nelson because his image – red hair, beard, bandana – and music had been a fixture in my life since I was very young. My father was an avid Willie Nelson fan and had every album, and when we still had a record player that worked, my father would listen to those LP’s all the time. Willie’s trademark nasally tone, his distinctive guitar licks, and everything else about his music would be synonymous with the early parts of my life. It wasn’t just that I was getting to meet someone who I respected as a songwriter…I was getting to meet the person attached to a voice from my past.
Despite meeting him, and performing with him, I still contend that Willie Nelson is one of the best songwriters of all time, and certainly near the top of songwriters in the Country genre. What I’ve always loved about Willie is his nostalgia for the old standards. Over the past few years, I have also developed an affinity for the standards, and the songwriters that wrote them, people like Hoagy Carmichael (who will be part of a future Spank Material segment), Harold Arlen, and Ted Koehler. This is not only apparent in his album Stardust which is nothing but Willie doing covers of some of these old standards, but it’s also apparent in all of his songs. They all follow the same formula that these old standards followed – a hook, simple lyrics that have complex syntax, a straight forward melody. This is probably why Willie’s songs (more them him) have enjoyed so much commercial success. I also admire Willie because he really took the idea of the concept album to another level with albums like Phases and Stages and the very famous (and awesome) Red Headed Stranger.
So what song did I choose to feature? Well, with Willie Nelson there is grocery list to choose from. I could’ve gone with – “Crazy,” “Night Life,”“Hello, Walls,” “On The Road Again,” “You Were Always On My Mind” (which I almost went with), or a whole host of others, but the one I chose for this segment is one that a lot of you probably aren’t familiar with – “Home Motel.”
This song, I think, follows that “old standard” formula I talked about earlier. It has an incredible (though perhaps kind of cheesy) hook, this line that ends each verse, “Home Motel on Lost Love Avenue.” The production value of the song is outstanding (produced by Daniel Lanois who also produced The Joshua Tree – U2 and Oh Mercy and Time Out of Mind which won the Grammy in 1997 – Bob Dylan). Willie’s voice is really great with the slight echo and reverb going on. Above all though, it has a piano part that kind of meanders and harkens back to something from the Stephen Foster songbook, something from another time in the history of music in this country, but still familiar to me somehow. And as you will find out from forthcoming posts, I am a sucker for songs with a meandering piano. Enjoy.