Sleepy Joe Lee Talks About the Sessions, the Studio, the Musicians, the Production, the Tunes
All I'd like to do is write songs and make a living at that. I don't aspire to be some big attraction or hot guitar-slinger. The two biggest thrills for me are first, creating a good song and second, hearing hot players and a good singer doing a tune of mine.
Before anything else, I want to thank everybody who played on the sessions for the great job they did in making the tunes come alive and Phil Mehaffey for capturing the genie for us. Thanks to Queen Ida Guillory for writing a great song. Thanks to family and friends for all of the music they put in my ears and to everyone who encouraged me along the way. Thanks to Pops and Budgie for an appreciation of all things beautiful and the glass always half-full.
Now, they tell me I need to write until they tell me to stop. Here goes. With the exception of "What a World", all of the tunes were recorded on two inch tape, mixed to tape and digitally mastered. I'm a big proponent of analog versus digital, and even though the mastering was digital, I think you really can hear much more warmth, or presence, or whatever you want to call it, going analog. QCA in Cincinnati did the pressing and did a great job for us.
Just a word about Cyberteknics, where we cut and mastered the album. The studio, has been in the same location for years. The place just has a really good vibe to it that is really comfortable. I know there are newer, shinier studios around, but Phil's the best and has the best equipment to work with and he knows the room so well. Just a cool place to record. The first session we did was Brian Lee on bass, Scotty Robertson on drums, Jimmy D. Rogers on keys, and me on guitar. I think we knocked out ten or more tunes that day. I'd given everybody some rough recordings to listen to. They all just had really good instincts about what to play. I just try to pick good players and basically tell them, "Play what you want as long as it fits." We just did the tunes, we didn't stop to overdub or punch in. I think about half the tunes that ended up on the cd are just as we did them that day.
The second session was just to do one tune, "Walk Stumble Crawl", that I wanted Nancy Wright to play sax on. Before Nancy got into town, I had Charles Woolf on bass, J.J. Yates on drums, me on guitar and then had Jimmy D. come in and throw on some piano. Then Nancy came in and played along with the tracks...then I figured, as long as I had her there, well, I prevailed on her to play on a couple of additional tunes.
For "Lily of the Valley" we just had me, Phil coming up with The Tone, and Vince DiSalvo playing a 200 year-old Scottish drum. That was the hardest tune for me to sing. You might think that would've been the easiest, but I had a terrible time with it.
The last session, that resulted in "What a World", was a jam session with Britten Van Winkle on bass, Aaron Freckman on drums, Phil Mehaffey on keyboard and me on guitar. They'd never heard the tune before, we ran through it a few times, and Phil "live mixed" and played, and we cut it live, direct to disc. After I heard the take a few times, I knew it was going on the cd. We didn't do a lot of producing and I'm quite happy with the result. For me, as a songwriter, it's all about the song. I've seen it happen all too often, a decent song being buried in overproduction. I like the rough and raw feel. I want the tune to be outfront, not the production.
One of the things I'm most happy about is the live feel that we ended up with. That's because it's basically a live recording. We didn't try to build track upon track. You lose the energy of the tune. There is nothing better than to have the musicians playing off each other in the moment.
I've been asked about the tunes..."Blues #99" came to be when I started thinking about the classical composers having things like "Opus 99" and it just went from there.
"Lily of the Valley" was inspired by the memory of my maternal grandmother, Rosa Lee Wall Scherr, who came from North Carolina to West Virginia as a young bride. Her favorite scent was Lily of the Valley and she had them growing in her garden. That's actually a picture of her Victoria Rose on the cover.
I watch a lot of news and I started thinking one night that if you could listen to the whole world somehow, you would hear constant gunfire 'cause someone's always fighting someone else somewhere...that's where "What a World" came from.
"I Like It" was inspired by my dog barking at some unknown bump in the night, and I said aloud as I patted his head, "I like it when you talk like that." And then I grabbed my guitar.
One night I was thinking that I'd never written a car song so I took a stab at one and came up with "Big V-8".
"Rock Until They Roll Me Away" was written as a reaction to someone talking about the youth of popular music artists out there. "Walk Stumble Crawl"...I have no clue where that one came from. "Rope of Sand" is the title of an old Burt Lancaster movie. I don't recall it being a great movie, but I ripped off the title. The last tune, "Every Now and Then", is by Queen Ida Guillory, originally a zydeco tune that I came up with an uptempo rock arrangement for. We always got a great reaction when we played it live so I wanted to cut that one, and give a nod and a bow to Queen Ida.
As far as any of the technical details about the project, all I know is, there're some wires and plugs, and you hit the 'on' switch and everything's supposed to work. I'm playing a '75 Fender Strat through a '66 Fender Vibrolux amp, and with a Tubescreamer on most of the tracks. Alright, I feel like that's all I've got. Is that enough? That's enough.