So, there I was in July 2007 with a few unreleased old songs, a few new songs, when I got an email from a long lost friend from my high school days in Moline, Illinois, guitarist Bret Hartley.
Maybe you’ve been through this. An old friend finds you on the Internet. You exchange emails, crack jokes, remember the old days, talk about how you’d like to catch up sometime, but it never happens.
That’s usually how it goes. That’s not how it went with Bret and me.
It turns out Bret had had a great deal of success since we’d played together in our band the Varietles, Moline’s only Replacements wannabe band circa 1989.
Bret had become a respected Atlanta session player. He’d written, played, and recorded with the likes of Sugarland, Clay Cook, John Austin, and Billy Pilgrim.
It was good to hear from Bret. We’d always gotten along, and we’d always spoken the same language when it came to music. I suggested, off-handedly, we should play together again, and I asked if he’d like to add some guitar to a song I’d been recording called “Riverboat Captain.”
“Are you serious?” he said.
“Sure,” I said.
Before I knew it, Bret had set up recording time at an Atlanta studio, and he’d booked hot shot drummer Kevin Leahy — who’d toured with the likes of Shawn Mullins and the BoDeans — and a recording engineer. Bret took care of everything, and I gave him “Riverboat Captain” to do with what he would. “Pretend it’s like that interior design TV show,” I said. “Here’s my bedroom. Have at it.”
In a week, I had an mp3 of “Riverboat Captain” sitting in my inbox: full band, pro guitar and drums, a clever breakdown in the third verse, and a bridge guitar lick bigger than God.
You have to understand what I gave Bret to work with. He got nothing from me but a snapshot of the song — creaky acoustic guitar, bass, scratch vocals, and a bad-sounding drum machine — and Bret delivered back an IMAX movie.
I called Bret as soon as I’d heard it.
“You like?” he asked.
”Let’s do it nine more times.”
So, we did it nine more times.
Bret played all of the guitars, produced, and mixed. I wrote all of the songs, sang lead, and played bass. Kevin Leahy continued his stellar work on skins and percussion, and that’s why Songs from Memory exists today. After 14 years, I’m still proud of it.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look back at Songs from Memory as much as I’ve enjoyed bringing it to you. Be sure to listen to Songs from Memory at Apple Music or your favorite streaming service, or you can support my musical efforts more directly by buying the CD version of the album straight from me.