Sunday, May 31, 2015

Rattlin' The Hocks

Last September, I was walking through some exhibits at the local fair with my girlfriend when my phone rang. Reception was kind of weird in there, and I lost the call before I could answer. A few minutes later, I checked my voicemail. Chad from Piano Man Pictures called to see if I was available to do sound on a shoot the next day. I had been doing a ton of shoots for the past several months, and I was kind of hoping for a break. Plus, the next day was a holiday, and I just wanted the day off. Eventually, I decided to help out, and I am extremely happy that I did.

The Grahams Website

Early the next morning, I met a couple of guys from Piano Man and we got on the road. I had no idea what the shoot was, beyond "interviewing a band." Those kind of gigs are usually pretty basic. A few lights, a chair, a boom mic, and someone talking about their new album. I have to admit that it didn't sound all that exciting.

We drove down to somewhere in Mississippi, and ended up in a wooded area with a couple of wooden buildings. It definitely did not look like a recording studio, as I had been told it would be. My interest grew when we unloaded gear and went inside. It was, indeed, a studio and was set up for recording a band. It was very rustic and folksy; very comfortable and inviting. We were met by one of the sweetest ladies I have ever had the pleasure of being introduced to. She kept talking about her husband, Jim, and recalled the various clubs he had played and bands he had recorded. After a moment, it finally dawned on me where the hell I was. I was in the middle of Jim Dickinson's recording studio, now run by his sons Cody and Luther.

As a singer/songwriter, myself, I was in awe. I had been expecting some boring shoot with some band that would probably never be successful, and here I was in a room that held immense history. I wandered around, looking at everything. So many great records had been cut here, and I was getting paid to hang out there.

Eventually, Cody Dickinson arrived and explained a bit about the project. A husband/wife duo called The Grahams would be arriving soon to record a few songs, live, in the studio. The shoot was not just interviews, but part of a documentary about their latest album. He talked them up, speaking energetically about their interactions. I was highly intrigued to meet them.

The Grahams arrived about an hour or so after we did. As their car pulled up, our cameras were rolling. The door opened, and a big dog jumped out and ran all around us. Doug and Alyssa stepped out with huge smiles, obviously amused by the reception. They were laid back and personable from the get go. To my relief, they were instantly disarming. (Some clients can be very demanding and uptight. Not at all the case here.)

Over the next several hours, we filmed the band recording a few songs from their forthcoming album, Glory Bound. We talked to them about the record and its backstory. The couple traveled around the country, riding the rails and talking to the people they met. Those stories weaved their way into songs, each infused with the spirit of the railroad.

Glory Bound had already been completed at this point. The idea of these sessions was pretty incredible. Along with Cody, they would record at various studios in the South with a wide range of musicians. Today, it was in Cody's studio. They would go on to record in Sun Studios, Royal Studios, and others,  with everything culminating in a live recording/performance at the Memphis train station.  They would even take the train to New Orleans to record, documenting each step of the way.

After recording for several hours, we jumped in our cars and headed back to Memphis where we shot at the train station. We were given a tour of the station, along with a history lesson. We were even allowed to film a performance underneath, in a huge tunnel that runs the length of the building. By the end of the day, we were all tired, sweaty, and dirty, but we couldn't be happier.

The Grahams and crew took the train, leaving me behind. (They had a sound guy already scheduled for that trip. I was an emergency fill in.) They did return for a show at the station to mark its 100th anniversary. This time, I got to go as a spectator and bring my girlfriend with me. The band was set up in a circle, so that everyone could make eye contact. The audience was seated around them, giving it all a very intimate feel.

The show provided a unique look into the making of a record that few ever get to witness. Seeing how a group of talented musicians can come together, with little to no rehearsal, and bang out an amazing take is fascinating. The Grahams made sure to include the audience in a few numbers, particularly "Big Jon." We were all given a lyric sheet and gathered around a microphone to record the acapella song.

Working on this documentary, even in the small capacity that I did, is a highlight for me. Everyone was so positive and fun to work with. I got to hang out in a historical recording studio that I'd never see otherwise. And, I got to see a group of fine musicians make magic.

The documentary is being screened around the country now. Rattle The Hocks, as it is called, has a companion soundtrack that is available, as is Glory Bound. If you are a fan of country, roots, or rock music, you should definitely make it a point to check these recording out.


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