The Most Gracious of Hosts
While I’ve been greatly encouraged to hear how some people have been positively moved to joyous tears and laughter through my music, live performances and personal interactions, there has also been a small group of people in whom the opposite might be said to be true. I question whether my life might have impacted these other people in a more traumatic way. One such gentleman is Kelvin* of Brentwood, Tennessee.
I was first introduced to Kelvin and his wife, Carol* when some mutual musician friends suggested I stay with them on my 2015 recording trip to Nashville. Kelvin and Carol lived in an older house in Brentwood, outside Nashville with a basement apartment. After a few messages between Kelvin and Carol in Brentwood and myself on the Sunshine Coast of Australia, we agreed for me to stay with them for the duration of my time in Nashville.
The travel to Nashville began for me on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, Australia. At some truly inconvenient hour of the morning, I awoke and drove an hour south to Brisbane International Airport. Then it was a matter of checking in three hours prior to my flight. After that, it was then just a wee fourteen-hour flight to Los Angeles where I picked up my bags, headed through security and then checked in for my connecting flight which was five and a half hours later to Nashville airport. Then there was the four-hour flight from Los Angeles to Nashville. In all, it was just twenty-eight hours from the Sunshine Coast through several time zones to Nashville airport.
Once I arrived, I picked up my luggage and made my way to the car rental desk. Learning from some of my previous times in Nashville, I chose not to hire a tiny hatchback this time, as I wanted to control where I drove and not be pulled along in the slipstreams of the many monster SUVs and pickup trucks. I found a great online deal on the smallest SUV on offer.
I don’t know if it was my haggard, travel-weary face or the way I smelt, however, the lady at the car rental counter took pity on me and surprised me with a complimentary upgrade into a brand new Jeep Grand Cherokee which I later found out had just three miles on the odometer! I thanked her and had a little brief surge of joy against my travel exhaustion.
As I drove out of the airport into the nighttime surrounds, I took a turn from the car rental lot and immediately got myself lost. In my mind, tension was beginning to mount, as I wanted to make a good first impression on Kelvin and Carol, and knew that they would be staying up for me to arrive. Meanwhile, I was hopelessly lost in the inner city streets of Nashville. Because I didn’t wish to have huge international mobile phone fees, I’d removed my Australian SIM card from my smartphone, rendering the GPS all but useless.
As I circled through the darkened alleyways of Nashville, looking for any signs which would point me towards Brentwood, my headlights picked out the occasional drug deal and small malevolent gatherings of machine-gun-wielding youth all dressed in black hoodies with neck tattoos. Of course, that might have just been my travel-weary imagination. I chose not to stop and ask any gang members for directions and tried to look as unobtrusive as possible in this shiny brand new Jeep Grand Cherokee. The interior light, which I had to keep switching on to read my photocopied tourist map, also seemed to make a target of me. As a sense of danger threatened to overwhelm me, I found the central locking button which locked all the doors with a loud judgmental thump.
After circling outwards and with frequent stops to check my photocopied map, I finally found the freeway out towards Brentwood. Soon enough, I turned into the community of houses, amongst which was where Kelvin and Carol lived.
Even with my uncanny sense of direction, I could not find their house in the darkened laneways. Finally I saw a house which looked like a contender and crawled up their driveway. Lights flicked on in the house and a large man walked out.
“Kelvin?” I called meekly through the window.
It wasn’t Kelvin. It was someone I’d never met before. I was just glad that he hadn’t shot me dead as an intruder on his property. Instead of the open hostility I deserved, he generously offered to lead the way to Kelvin and Carol house in his golf cart. And so, with his golf cart and my V8 idling behind we set off in procession towards a brightly-lit house I’d earlier overlooked, despite every exterior light of the house blazoning into the darkened night.
Kelvin and Carol couldn’t help stifling a yawn or two as I tried to explain my delay in reaching them from the airport. They were both ‘early to bed, early to rise’ kind of people and this was well past their usual bedtime. They graciously led me into their house and showed me my new basement apartment space. Their little dog, Fido*, didn’t immediately take a liking to me, however, I made my own internal commitment to myself that I’d work on gaining Fido’s trust over time. Shortly after, Kelvin and Carol withdrew to the upstairs lodgings whilst I simply collapsed into bed from fatigue.
This trip to Nashville was for me to record my Fire This Love album with Rick Price in the producer’s chair. Rick is an Australian musician who is now living in Nashville and who has had incredible success in Australia and many other countries as a singer and songwriter. As well as his incredible voice and engaging live performances, Rick’s long flowing lustrous hair has its own fan club, and across his career, many a lady has swooned when Rick has flicked his satiny locks towards them during his songs. His music isn’t bad either (understatement there).
Prior to this particular album recording, I had been recording and releasing contemporary gospel music. Yet over the years of touring the contemporary gospel genre, I’d found myself quietly writing songs outside the genre - love songs with a vintage-style singer-songwriter vibe. While I continued touring my contemporary gospel music, at the same time I wondered what I could do with these other songs. Eventually, just as the thought of releasing a new genre of music entered my mind, I had an email come in from Rick Price announcing his own new album project to all his fans.
Without thinking too long about it, I sent off an email asking if Rick would consider producing my new genre of music on a new album. I didn’t expect any reply, as Rick was so successful that I thought he would have ‘people’ who would keep him from the riffraff. I was pretty sure that nothing would come of it at all.
Instead, I had a personal reply from Rick five minutes later, asking for some music to listen to. I quickly sent back a few songs and within forty minutes, Rick sent me an email telling me how much he loved my music and asked me if I’d like to record an album with him in Nashville. All this within an hour of my initial thought of releasing a new genre of music!
All those thoughts flashed through my mind as I awoke in the basement space of Kelvin and Carol’s home, a little travel-fatigued after arriving across several time-zones, yet ready to go off to Rick’s house to go over all the musical arrangements for my album. The day didn’t begin well, however, as when I had my shower in the downstairs basement bathroom, the pipes sprung a leak. I cheerfully mentioned it to a yawning Kelvin over breakfast who was still a little fatigued from my late arrival the night before. Leaving him to sort it all out, I then dashed out to find a US SIM card for my phone, as I didn’t want to frighten other motorists with my non-GPS status.
That first day was spent at Rick’s house, me at Rick’s keyboard, and Rick at his drum kit, both of us working our way through my album arrangements. I’d already recorded rough piano/vocals for the musicians, however Rick and I wanted to make sure we had everything down pat. The next day we would be heading into Sputnik Sound studios in East Nashville with a musicians and engineers to start the recording.
Eventually when I returned to the basement apartment, there was Kelvin, who was joined in my bathroom by a plumber and his apprentice. They were all gathered around a pipe in the floor, the plumber ‘tut tut tutting’ about the state of things. With disuse, the pipe had shifted somehow and with my arrival, water was going places it wasn’t supposed to go.
Kelvin suggested that I relocate upstairs into the main part of the house while the plumber and apprentice repaired the shower pipes. I couldn’t be sure at the time, however I began to see a great friendship building between myself and Kelvin. He was thawing a little.
The recording days went by in a flash. I was in a constant state of euphoria as the songs I’d so carefully written over the years were brought to new life by Rick and the musicians and engineers he’d chosen for my project.
The recording started out with producer Rick, tracking engineer Eddie Spear, assistant engineer Mike Fahey and me in the control room with endless racks of analogue equipment and a monstrously large mixing desk which filled up one side of the room. I was set up at a keyboard in a corner to do what I’d call ‘live guide’ tracks where I’d sing and play along with the group of musicians as they recorded.
In the main recording room next door, Chris Powell sat at his drum kit and was joined by Doug Lancio on his electric guitar, Byron House on bass guitar and also John Foreman on a huge Hammond B3 organ all in the same large room. Apart from drums the other musicians had cables snaking off into the amp rooms.
In a tiny studio room next to them stood multi-instrumentalist Jeff Taylor with a number of squeeze boxes, accordions and concertinas. Jeff also had a little instrument called a ‘dolceola’ which looked like a tiny hand-held piano but was actually a zither with tiny piano keys.
Each song would start with the musicians in the control room listening through a basic piano and vocal version of the song. We’d discuss the feel and groove of the song, establish the tempo and then they’d all disappear to their recording spots.
I’d sit down at the keyboard in the control room and then I’d hear Chris on drums counting us in through my headphones. In essence, the process was similar to recording a live album in the sense that many of the musicians were recording tracks at one time. Afterwards someone would call out, “Any confessions?” which occasionally would lead to one of the musicians saying something like, “Put me back in for that second verse,” and they’d record their second verse part again while the rest of the musicians grabbed a quick coffee break. A quick listen and then it was onto the next song.
The recording process was the most efficient process I’ve been a part of and we were all surprised by how effortless everything went. After some extra time for Doug Lancio’s lead electric guitar parts and some acoustic tracks, we found ourselves ready for my final piano parts.
I was really excited about playing the piano. There was this beautiful grand piano there in a neighbouring room which I was itching to play. Unfortunately, Rick had other ideas.
In the corner of the main recording space was what I initially thought was a furniture dumping ground. I paid it no heed. However, in reality, it wasn’t furniture that filled the corner, it was one of the largest upright pianos I’ve ever seen. It was old and run-down and as I sat down to play it, I realised that the sustain pedal was permanently on. It sounded broken. Each piano key was significantly higher than its neighbour and took more force to press down that any piano key I’ve played.
I refused to play it.
“This ain’t going on my album!” I decreed. I put my foot down.
Rick asked the engineers to give us a moment and they quietly withdrew.
I’ve previously described Rick’s ability to almost hypnotise people with his soothing, svelte voice. This was the first instance that I’d come across Rick’s unique gifting of persuading people with opposite views to his way of thinking. The few times I’ve seen stage hypnotists on television, they almost always start out with, “Look into my eyes, look into my eyes.” Rick’s technique is simply to stare unblinkingly towards his subject whilst speaking softly down an octave.
As Rick outlaid his vision for the use of this hundred-year-old piano, I found myself quietly repeating his views back to him like an automaton. I felt strangely sleepy and when I came to my senses, I was now at the piano being counted in to record the first piano track by Eddie in the control room.
I recorded my piano parts and at the end of each song, with the sustain pedal permanently down, I’d sit there mesmerised by the continued notes ringing out. I remember thinking that the piano was so large that I could have crawled inside it. The rest of the piano recording went well until on the last song which had endless piano runs and I eventually felt something give in my index finger.
“That’s a wrap!”
Each of these initial days of recording started early and went late. I was still suffering a little from jet lag, and yet the thrill of recording energised me.
One interesting message came in to my phone during the recording sessions.
A day earlier, Kelvin had mentioned that he and Carol would be heading away for a day or two. Kelvin mentioned someone coming by to pick up and that I should put the alarm system on.
The message that came in to my phone (which had been switched off during the time of recording) was from a distant Kelvin, away on his trip. He didn’t sound overjoyed. It turned out that Kelvin had NOT wanted me to put the alarm system on. He had wished for the opposite. In my state of jetlag, plus my usual sense of vagueness, I had gotten his instructions wrong (if you could call doing the complete opposite of what someone asked you to do “wrong”).
In effect, I had left their dog Fido in a house with the alarm system turned on. Inevitably, the alarm went off, blaring out across their housing community, disturbing their neighbours and traumatising Fido, their dog who was locked inside suffering the full volume of the alarm going off. The lady who came by to pick up Fido was also shocked and afraid. Kelvin started receiving phone calls from concerned neighbours, as well as the police and his alarm system company - all while he was too far away to do anything about it. He’d tried reaching me a few times, however I was in the studio with my phone turned off. As stern as Kelvin’s voice sounded on the phone, deep down I couldn’t help but feel that this challenge was bringing somehow bringing us together.
After being forgiven for ruining their reputation with their disturbed neighbours, stressing out their beloved dog and seeing a note attached to their file with their alarm system company, things settled down and I reengaged with the recording process. I came and went from Kelvin and Carol’s house without too much further interruption to their lives. Eventually I was moved back down to the basement apartment again, the bathroom pipes having now been repaired.
My first shower back down in the basement should have been seamless, however as I stripped naked and went to get into the shower, the whole shower door sprung off its frame and into my hands. I wandered around the bathroom, the shower door framing my naked body and pondered whether I should go find Kelvin and Carol. I realised that my nakedness might be inappropriate. I wedged the door back into some semblance of functionality and continued carefully bathing.
When I mentioned the shower door now being broken, Kelvin spent a long moment silently gazing off into the distance, a far-away look on his face. A small tremor high in his cheek muscle was his only visible movement. As I left Kelvin, I’d like to think that he was attempting a smile. It certainly couldn’t have been a nervous tic.
I continued the recording process. The time came around for me to record my vocal tracks, this time in Rick’s vocal studio. Over one day, I recorded all my final vocal tracks and Rick and I were surprised that it had gone so well. Just after I recorded my last lead vocal note for the album, I coughed a little. The next day I found out that I had a flu which I must have picked up on one of my flights. The timing was perfect in that Rick would be doing much of the backing vocals from here so I could spend time recovering.
The only downside was that I had passed my flu onto Rick. Originally, Rick was to have sung the backing on the album, as he was gifted at moving his tone and range around so much. When I turned up after recovering from my flu, I had a couple of vocal ideas to share. Rick quickly suggested that he and I sing the idea to hear how it sounded. Before too long, Rick and I were singing all the backing vocal parts together.
One song in particular was a highly unusual song I’d written called ‘Wild Ride’. The lyrics are all about chasing the adventure beyond your routine. I remember writing the song and immediately dismissing it. I often joke about the song being a lovechild of the theme songs from Bonanza and Rawhide. I’ve never pretended to be a hardened cowboy, and this song was in that style. However, in the studio, the song had come together in spades. The musicians contributed some incredible parts which gave the song back to me like a precious gift.
When it came time to record the backing vocals for the album, I remember turning to Rick and asking about a female backing vocalist, with this song in particular in mind. Rick surprised me by playing me a female vocal he’d recently recorded. I remember thinking, “She’s great!” Rick sheepishly turned to me and told me that I was actually listening to him singing up a few octaves. It wasn’t a computer effect - it was Rick’s ability to throw his voice around.
For ‘Wild Ride’, Rick and I sang parts I didn’t know I was capable of. I had a fiddle line I was thinking of, and Rick suggested I sing it. Soon we added it as a backing vocal track instead. The song came alive.
The time soon came for me to leave Nashville, to visit other friends across the US. After I’d packed my bags, Kelvin came and found me. He had a special guest book that he’d curated over many years, each guest signing and leaving a kind thought on the pages. I’m pretty sure that Kelvin almost chose to omit me from the guest book altogether, but his wife, Carol, must have stepped in. Without thinking, I signed my usual autograph across several lines, ruining a single-line guest-book system he’d had in place for many many years. He went a little pale, except for bright red dots high up on each cheek. I could tell that he was suppressing emotions as he came to grips with my having had such a wonderful impact on their lives.
“He’s missing me already!” I remember thinking.
During my travels across the US, Rick sent through the mixes, which we were fortunate to have done by multi Grammy Award® winner Vance Powell. When I arrived back in Australia, the mastered album soon appeared, mastered by yet another multi Grammy Award® winner in Richard Dodd.
I soon began a few national tours with the album, which we named ‘Fire This Love’ after one of the tracks.
Even though I think I’d traumatised them more than a little, Kelvin and Carol did go on to become life-long friends of mine. I think that after surviving my initial impact(s), they eventually chose to embrace the danger. I’ve since returned and stayed with them again for my Outside the Inside album recording. I noticed on my Outside the Inside recording trip that they’d replaced the downstairs shower door with a simple curtain. Unfortunately it became a kind of unwelcome saran wrap, clinging to my body each time I showered. I’m pretty sure that it was a deliberate ploy to make me feel uncomfortable.
One final thing was that on this second visit, I noticed some spiders here and there in the basement area. Kelvin mentioned them with a little gleam in his eye. I don’t usually worry about spiders too much as my home country of Australia has some of the most deadly animals in the world - what’s one more spider or two? Kelvin took pleasure in telling me in that these were ‘Brown Recluse’ spiders whose bite led to flesh dissolving around the bite site. My nonchalance changed quickly into me hosing harsh insect killing chemicals around the basement like I was washing a sidewalk. For some reason Kelvin seemed a lot happier that visit.
Kelvin and Carol have now moved on from that house and I’m keeping careful track of them in case I can inconvenience them again with another of my friendly stays.
*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.