Out today from Lakeshore Records: John Velghe & The Prodigal Sons’ sophomore album, Organ Donor Blues. Organ Donor Blues is “about people who fight to die and win and people who fight to live and lose, and it asks what you do when they’re gone,” says Velghe. Velghe is joined on the album by long-time friend and music legend, Alejandro Escovedo (Rank and File, The Nuns). Lakeshore Records welcomes John Velghe to Film Music Daily for this special guest post.
I discovered the music of Alejandro Escovedo like most people I guess. A guy in a record store in my hometown told me I should check out this band called The True Believers. So I did. The True Believers were a three-guitar, Texas-rock barrage of a band he played in with his brother, Javier, and Jon Dee Graham. Daniel Johnston called them “the marching guitars”:
And no ear shall go untouched
There’s no place to hide
For the marching guitars
Their songs encompassed the take-no-prisoners, rock ‘n’ roll ethos I’d grown to love since being told to “turn it down” over and over again as a young guitar player. I listened to their first EMI tape until I got a car with a CD player and lost the tape. For years I stopped hearing about the True Believers. There was no Internet, no ubiquitous Facebook postings or Instagram accounts from bands showing you their every meal. Back in the late ’80s, when you stopped hearing about a band, you didn’t know why until you ran into one of them playing in a bar somewhere. I was still too young to get into a bar. So when I lost track of the True Believers, I lost track of Alejandro Escovedo.
One night, around the mid 1990s my friend Jim asked me if I wanted to go to Lawrence, Kansas to see a show. His buddy, “Al,” was opening for Son Volt at the Granada Theater. We had free tickets and I figured what the hell? So, a few of us loaded into my truck and made the hour-long drive to Lawrence. For the entire drive, Jim neglected to mention who this “Al” was. We got there in time to see Jim’s buddy walk out on stage. I looked at Jim and said, “You never mentioned that ‘Al’ was Alejandro Escovedo.”
That night Al was alone on a stage with one guitar and some songs. I watched him hold that theater full of people in the palm of his hand. Playing songs that swayed somewhere between lullaby and chamber music, it was a distant cry from the marching guitars of the True Believers.
After the show, Al and I met. While everyone else in the group drank up Jar Farrar’s bourbon, we sat and talked. We talked about music, poets, authors, families, etc. In nearly 20 years since that night, I’ve shared the stage with Alejandro; we’ve stayed up all night more times than I care to count, ate barbecue and watched baseball. We’ve cross paths from Memphis to Chicago to Washington, DC. I’ve also worried over him (Al nearly died from complications of Hepatitis C in 2006); his journey has brought me to tears (and even prayer) a couple times. But, it’s always been those quiet moments in the wake of the post-show din that I’ve learned the most.
John Velghe with Alejandro Escovedo. (Photo courtesy John Velghe)
He’s crafted his music in a way that made it obvious that he was respecting the song first; letting the song lead him where it wanted to go. Instead of starting with some concept, and trying to make songs fit that, he works the other way. The songs make the decisions, and he follows them.
So here we were, thousands of miles and years down the road. Al and I are talking on the phone one November afternoon in 2013 and he asks what’s going on. I tell him we’re getting ready to go into the studio to record our new album. His response: “Well, what do you want me to do on it?” In late January — right in the fit of a Kansas City Winter — Al comes from the 60-degree Austin to work with me on Organ Donor Blues.
Bringing Alejandro in helped me see that the right kind of restraint can end up with a beautiful explosion. You listen to a song like “Gold Guitar” and it simmers, and simmers and simmers, then it just explodes. The band had settled on that groove in the studio but when Al came in and played guitar in such a restrained way, it really fixed that song in a way that explodes.
He’s worked with some great producers: Chris Stamey, Stephen Bruton and Tony Visconti. And I know from their work that those guys know how to pull the listener into the core of the song.
Al’s always talked to me about how when you’re singing, you need to be the only thing in the universe at that moment. You have to forget everything else but the world of the song you’re singing. How important it is that people understand every word you sing. So he insisted that I focus on those things. If he heard a song and he couldn’t understand the lyrics, he made me go back in and re-record it. He said, “You put all this into these words and then you go in and sing them and people can’t understand them? That’s no way to treat people listening to you.” There’s a reason we call him Papa Bear now.
Download The Album: John Velghe & The Prodigal Sons: Organ Donor Blues
Stay tuned for the album preview video!
01. Don’t Understand Your Home Town
02. Beaten by Pretenders (feat. Alejandro Escovedo)
03. On the Interstate
04. Gold Guitar
05. Set it Fire
06. Organ Donor Blues (feat. Alejandro Escovedo)
07. Pyramids and Counterfeits
08. Singers Let You Down
09. Poison the Well
10. Love’s No Place
11. Big Tent Revival
12. On the Interstate (Radio Edit)
Check out John Velghe & The Prodigal Sons’ other album, Don’t Let Me Stay.
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