I wrote Gospel Songs under the fog of an incoherent head on one of the few rainy summer nights of 2012. I remember how the scene was set for writing the song but as far as the moment when the pen hit the pad and the older-style chord progression came to be; no recollection. This is the story of how the day unfolded before I wrote Gospel Songs.
The morning of a gig down in Gruene, Texas started with me “hitting the fan” (as the saying goes…). I jumped into my ex-truck to back up to the cargo trailer, hit the fan (button) and realized that the AC was blown, not blowING. The outdoor thermometer on the rearview mirror was reading “110” in the shade, as if to say, “yeah buddy…you’re on your own.” Needless to say, my steering wheel took a beating…it was starting out to be an irritable day.
After an hour-and-a-half midday drive with the windows down, I arrived at the gig to realize that I had given the band the wrong load-in time. I was an hour early and the speakers needed to get out of the hot trailer immediately so they wouldn’t melt. I proceeded with the task by myself. It felt like I was back at one of those Central Texas high school football practices…that familiar feeling of heavy lifting in the heat that brings you to the brink of panic. By the time the band arrived, I had stopped sweating (a good indicator of dehydration) and I was looking rough…apparently really rough because the guys were offering to finish setting up the PA, and back-line, so that I could sit in one of their cars with a working air conditioner…THAT doesn’t exactly happen every day.
I recuperated before the show started and we made it to the half-way-point of the three-hour set. By the end of the first set, we were all defeated by the sun but she was sinking pretty close to the tree line so there was a glimmer of hope. At break-time, I exited the stage, careful not to make too much eye contact with anyone as I normally would. I needed water and AC again and I was prepared to rudely blow off anyone necessary to get those two things. Of course, as I was hanging up my guitar, a smiling gentleman approached me to shake hands, put a five in the tip jar, and compliment a song that had caught his ear…the one called Devil. If he had complimented me on ANY other song (example: Austin Kind Of Night, Carrie Underwood, or God forbid, a cover song), I would have had no problem saying, “Thanks a lot man” and walking off. Unfortunately, Devil was the only gospel song that I had written, at the time, and if you blow off the guy complimenting your only gospel song…well…you just can’t do that; besides, I was pretty proud of the song. I could tell that he was pretty well versed in country gospel tunes as we traded off our favorites, most of which were well over a half-century old.
I looked at the clock, I had eaten up the whole break chatting with this guy and it was now time to go back on and play. I informed the gentleman that I probably had about zero gospel songs left in my “originals repertoire” but that I would work on some new ones if he came back to see us play sometime. He was going to let me get back to the stage and, before starting back to his seat, he threw in a “God Bless” and some extra eye contact that said, “I’ll be back and you had better have another gospel song.”
A breeze kicked in about five minutes into the second set. Once that breeze hit, we were invigorated. The sun was no longer our concern, we were officially tuning into our “inner-most musician.” We felt, not heard, the songs we were playing with no regard for what was happening out in the audience. That being said, when we hit those sustaining chords at the end of each song, and heard the applause, we could tell that the crowd was “feeling it” too.
After the show, we took our time loading out. After paying the band, I started towards home with the windows down. The conversation from the break was sticking out in my mind as I turned onto 281 heading north. It was Sunday morning by the time I made it to my turnoff at FM 1623, in Blanco. The gospel conversation led me to another thought: after a day like today I would, yet again, be sleeping through those outstanding church invitations from my friends who are always concerned about the souls and salvation of the songwriters.
That week, the big news around the Hill Country had spread across the towns in the form of careful, almost superstitious murmurs: “a small chance of rain.” Through my bug-splattered windshield, out towards Johnson City…lightning. The flashes were just hazy enough to know that it was not the summer “heat lightning,” there was rain attached to the cell. By the time I made it from 281 to the junction of FM 1623 and FM 1888 (I’m sure we all know the spot), I realized that this night storm was closer than I had anticipated; no mist, just large, threatening splatters that smeared those dead bugs and finally “meant business.” As the rhythm of the drops was speeding up, it seemed to lubricate the wheels of my “creative machine.”
I’m guessing that it took an hour to get home, as I was about 30 miles from Fredericksburg, and only able to keep my truck and trailer on the road by keeping it at 30 mph. After that hour of hydroplaning down those traffic-empty farm-to-market roads, and thoughts of “gospel stuff,” I arrived back home. It was now time to sit back in my tin-box Jayco trailer with my cheap “house-guitar” (an Alvarez 1981 Mountain Ash Edition with after market brass tone pins). I let the pounding of the storm act as my rhythm section as I wrote Gospel Songs down just like I do all my other songs, on a yellow legal pad with a Sharpie.
The actual thought processes, while jotting down the words, are as hazy as that Johnson City lightning; sort of fleeting and blurry. In all likelihood, I had come up with a few one-liners over the course of the day. The premise behind the song had been subliminally summoned by simply sharing relief from the heat with good people existing in Central Texas. The big thought here? Well…
Sometimes church just happens…in gold-plated buildings, in run-down chapels, under olive trees…it can happen anywhere. It happened for me (and hopefully others) at a Tex-Mex restaurant in Gruene, and on a series of back roads that night. (True Poets: Please excuse the cliché of: “back roads” right there…) As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t much matter where it happens, when it happens, or who is, or is not, willing to come be a part of it. Just surround yourself with good folks, good sounds, and it’ll happen.
I hope to see that gentleman at a show soon…I held up my end of the bargain.
While rehearsing for recording our latest (unreleased) record, the band, and I, came up with the idea to cut a live song; something simple…just to prove to ourselves that “we can still record the way that they used to HAVE to record music” (before the days of computer-recording). Well, to be completely honest, maybe we didn’t want to only prove it to ourselves. We decided that we would bring in 3 cameras and a small “congregation” to act as “Hill Country witnesses.” I suppose if we had to pick a song that we wanted to “translate” as an “honest performance,” this one would be the one. Can’t not be honest with JC (I realize: that is a double-negative).
A side note on the second verse: AFTER the song was recorded, mixed, and mastered, my mother called me out on a common belief that “you don’t put sour cream and onion on a bagel.” Mother, have you not experienced Dunkin’ Donut’s Sour Cream And Onion Bagel? Come on, your son would never take creative-license when it comes to Tex-Mex food, and bagels, just for the sake of the rhyme and meter. Here’s a picture to prove it:
This recording will be featured at the end of my new album: “Ramblin’ Annie’s Devious Soapbox.” More information on the full album release TBA at CaseyHubbleMusic.com.