Soundtracking the Guardian - october 25, 2006
It's been quite a while since I last wrote a blues journal piece but it feels good to get started. Life has been full, the kids are growing and days have turned into weeks and months. In addition to finishing a new disc and working the new material into my act, I have fallen into an interesting project.
A song, "Hold Tight" which I co-wrote, with Richie Davis (Chicago Catz) and Chris Cameron (Sonia Dada) and sang on, is included in a new major motion picture called, The Guardian. Directed by Andrew Davis (The Fugitive, Holes, Under Siege), The Guardian stars Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher, Sela Ward and Bonnie Bramlett (yes, from Delaney and Bonnie fame!). The film is an account of the serious business of Coast Guard rescue swimmers and it is exciting, heartfelt, well written and very suspenseful. Andrew Davis, as always, has done a beautiful job and I am so grateful to him for using my music! The Guardian is also a very patriotic movie, in the true sense. And that is a wonderful thing, especially given that we find ourselves in a period of American history in which the hard Right-wing, with its jingoistic rants, has attempted to co-opt the very idea of patriotism. This is a well-crafted movie, with universal appeal, which tells a story about flawed people who are real American heroes and it leaves the audience uplifted.
"Hold Tight", a romantic ballad, can be heard during a scene which takes place in a restaurant. In the scene, Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher), first meets his soon-to-be girlfriend, Emily (Melissa Thomas). He has made a bet, with his rescue-swimmer buddies, that he can pick up Emily. As he approaches her, the song kicks in and sets the tone for this initial meeting. The song is also included on "The Guardian Soundtrack" CD.
Director Andrew Davis - a native of Chicago, with a deep love for the city
This is the third time that I have been included in some capacity in the production of an Andrew Davis film. Davis is a native of Chicago, with a deep love for the city and a deep sense of loyalty to his old creative team from Chicago. He has consistently, throughout his career, employed Chicagoans in key jobs on his films, as actors and in the crew. I had a song in Davis', A Perfect Murder, which starred Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow, and I was on screen in his movie, Under Siege, as a terrorist-disguised-as-a-blues-singer, performing songs that we wrote for the production. My work with Andy can be traced back to my friendship with his brother, Richie Davis, one of Chicago's finest guitarists (Richie played on my first Delmark CD, "One To Infinity", and on the House of Blues tribute to Janis Joplin, "Blues Down Deep" which I co-produced). Richie is a founding member of and the guitarist with the Chicago Catz. The Catz are the pride of Chicago and one of the most soulful, talented and hardest hitting R & B bands in the country. My silver screen connection takes me back to when I first met Richie Davis and the Catz:
When my wife, Amy, and I first came to Chicago in the early 1980s we both came with a dream. Amy, a graduate of Herron School of Art in Indianapolis, came in order to immerse herself into the edgy world of Chicago's art scene. Within a few months she found herself a denizen of Chicago's gallery district working as a lithographer at a studio called Atelier Black Box. She went on to work with several heralded Chicago artists and has since continued to design jewelry, accessories, make art, and teach art, all while we have raised our two sons. Meanwhile, I was playing in blues clubs and working at a liquor store among other odd jobs. I wished to be a working musician.
In the 80s, in Chicago
One day, out of the blue, I got a call to do a recording session for a McDonald's commercial. Someone had heard my demo and recommended me and a week later my first national TV spot singing about burgers and fries was airing. When the first residual check came, I opened it, glanced at it and announced to Amy, "look, 89 bucks just for singing, 'the good time, great taste of McDonald's'". Amy checked it out and noticed that I needed correcting. "It's for 890 dollars, not 89" she said. I was never good at math. Anyway, I liked the idea of doing these kinds of gigs so I set out to find more contacts in the thriving jingle business of Chicago. In researching this hidden and somewhat arcane world I spoke with a wise old-head, producer Clyde Batton, who had a unique perspective on how to 'break in".
Clyde told me that hounding producers would get me nowhere, but getting to know the "cats", the musicians who played on all of the jingle sessions was essential, because it was those killer players who really had the producers' ears. The session cats would be the ones who kept producers in the loop about the new kids on the block in Chicago, the flavors of the month, the new talent, so to speak. That's what led me to Richie and the Chicago Catz. You see, the Catz band was made up of the heaviest session "cats" in Chicago at the time. After paying serious dues playing nightclubs and bars these guys had risen to A-list status in the demanding world of TV and radio commercial jingle music. Richie on guitar, Wayne Stewart on drums, Tony Brown on bass, and the amazing singer, Stevie Robinson, to name the nucleus of the group, had each played on thousands, (yes thousands), of commercials. They spent every week-day shuttling between recording sessions in Chicago's advertising district, but on weekends you could still catch them at their live shows.
Taking Clyde Batton's advice, I went out one night to hear them at the Cubby Bear near Wrigley Field in order to meet them and try to make them hear me. I introduced myself to Tony Brown, one of the most gracious and wonderful musicians you would ever want to meet, and he actually asked me to sing a couple of tunes with them. They were a genuine soul and funk band in the tradition of Donny Hathaway, Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye but they let me lead them in some Otis Redding-flavored material in addition to a standard blues song. To make a long story somewhat shorter, after that meeting I became good friends with all of the Catz and they did indeed turn me on to work by getting my name around to the power brokers of the jingle scene, the music producers.
Thanks to The Catz, I ended up being a pretty busy jingle/session singer for about 15 years in Chicago and still do occasional national and local TV and radio spots there. In addition, Richie suggested to his bro, Andrew Davis, that I be included in the shoot during the making of his movie, Under Siege, which starred Steven Seagal, Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey. Richie and I have been friends ever since and have been writing partners as of late. One of our new songs, a minor-key soul/blues ballad, "He's Movin' In (To her life)", will be on my next studio CD coming in early 2007.
blues and soul in film and commercials - part of the cultural landscape
Some folks may find it unusual that blues singers and other artists find themselves shilling for breakfast cereals or fast food, but it seems to be a growing trend. Kim Wilson's, "Tuff Enuff" on a truck commercial, Little Charlie and the Nightcats' appearance in a Taco Bell TV spot, B.B. King testifying about a diabetes medication, and the brilliant jazzer Kurt Elling intoning for Chrysler, "Inspiration Comes Standard", in his sly, hipster-beat-poet-whisper are all fixtures on the tube. The use of blues and soul numbers in film and commercials is part of the cultural landscape.
Richie and Andrew Davis are two wonderful creative whirlwinds of the "Windy City", who have been kind enough to blow open doors for so many struggling musicians. I am blessed to have met them and to have been lifted up by their outstretched and generous hands.