Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Considering A Move To Memphis


Colorblind James: Vibes and vocals
Bernie Heveron: Upright bass
G. Elwyn Meixner: Banjo and Telecaster
Jimmy Mac: Drums
Phil Marshall: Modulus Graphite Blacknife

Well, here it is: the big one. The one that got that got things going for us. The one Chuck instinctively knew would get attention.

Considering a Move to Memphis was written in San Francisco before the 'hiatus' when the line-up include Dave Fischer, Scott Young and Kevin McDevitt. When Chuck first introduced the piece to the band, I think we were all a bit shocked. Dave downright hated it. The rest of us to one degree or another figured he must be kidding around. He wanted us to play this riff over and over with no change up except every so often the riff would stop and we would chant "I'm Considering, I'm Considering..." completely out of time. Right...I thought he was mad.

But actually, it was a logical follow-up to Solid! Behind The Times: another persistent riff underscoring trippy nonsense lyrics and a spoken word interlude. While the song did nothing to change the band's non-reputation in a 1983 peroxide-blond San Francisco, I think it did to a certain degree steer the band towards its inevitable 'vacation'. Dave was becoming frustrated with the amount of rehearsing we would do, working loveingly on all the details of the songs, only to have them trashed by Kevin and me. Casting aside any sense of subtlety and nuance, he and I favored pounding drums and a cranked Les Paul in a joint display of youthful machismo. Couple those frustrations with no audience to speak of, a landmark change in Chuck's songwriting and Dave announced his departure.

Needless to say, the song didn't really find its voice until Rochester. And unlike S.F., Rochester audiences seemed to love it right off the bat. The song really benefited from the lighter approach we were all giving it. Although I still would often (and to the end of my days in the band) be too loud for Chuck, I'd begun to play considerably quieter. I'd also begun to favor the clean single coil sounds of my Blacknife Strat style guitar over my big throaty Les Paul.

While I make no assertions that I became a student of African guitar styles, I was honestly influenced by some of the more bell like tones and chording I had been soaking in from LPs like the Sounds Of Soweto and Nairobi Guitars. My approach to 'Memphis' was a direct result of that influence. Jimmy Mac was also a much more subtle drummer than Kevin and the song became lighter, bouncier and the riff popped more than pummeled. Bernie Heveron's upright bass added a cool jazz edge to the song while G. Elwyn's guitar and banjo kept the song rooted in pure Americana.

And of course, there's Chuck's vibes without which the song would never have come into existence. Chuck first acquired a set of bells in S.F. which got the ball rolling for him. He then purchased a said of Mussers from Tower Of Power's own David Garibaldi.

Considering A Move To Memphis was another of the the songs recorded at Marcus Glodell Studios and while the performance was flawed in many ways, it again benefited from the polish the engineer gave it. As the vocals were overdubbed, one of the first problems we encountered was in the amount of time we left in the 'hole' where the chanting would occur. Again, mind you, this recording was fast and on the fly. While there are obviously many ways to get around it, I believe we just stopped playing, waited, and then resumed. I can't remember if Chuck chanted to himself or if Jimmy counted us back in, but instead of allowing for a scratch chant track, we left a big pause of silence. When the chant was later overdubbed, the band seems to kick in at different times, more often while the chant is still in progress.

In the second set of solos, Jimmy Mac lost his place and ended up leaving twelve bars open for G. Elwyn's overdubbed banjo and only four bars for himself. G. Elwyn filled in the space very well and the overall effect is not that of a mistake but of a loose, improvisational excursion, which is difficult to suggest when overdubbing is part of the game.

The mistake that freaked us out most of all didn't occur during the recording. Chuck and I drove up to Toronto to pick up our 1000 copies of the LP. We drove back in a thunderstorm the likes of which I'd never experienced. It really looked the dark skies were opening up and revealing swatches of the universe no one should ever be allowed to see. When we finally got home, we lugged the boxes into Chuck's living room, cracked one open, took out a record and put it on. All was well and good until we got to Considering A Move. The song started and immediately Chuck and I looked at each other in horror. It seemed the opening downbeat was missing. Another LP was opened and was missing there too.

We thought we were the proud owners of 1000 copies of a ruined record. While the missing downbeat is on both the original Earring and Fundamental/Red Rhino LPs, it mysteriously reappeared on the CD version. Actually I remember Chuck being quite happy to learn that in the mastering for the CD, the downbeat would be saved.

But that, along with the performance problems, begs the question: what is a mistake? What is a flaw? It was the LP that John Peel played and it was Considering A Move To Memphis that made his 1987 Festive Fifty list. The song sounds like nothing before it or since. It's funny, poignant and catchy as hell. And for those who were or perhaps still are inclined to criticize it as completely annoying, I direct you to the closing line: "It's OK to disturb me, that's what I came here for." I think the folks who gravitated to what is arguably Chuck's masterpiece, understood that on a deep level.

It's the song that didn't change a damn thing, yet it's there for those of us who will always embrace the hope that change for the better, especially in pop music, will occur one day.


Eric B in Ithaca said...

HA! So the first downbeat is missing on some versions, that explains it! I thought my version was just cut off or something. Classic lore.

And interesting to learn about the "mistakes" on this song that have become it's signature. Thanks for the in-sight... ;^)

Oxenholme said...

When is this going to be reissued? It's a wonderful song...

Anonymous said...

Indeed it is a must for a reissue. It was played lots when I was at Uni in 1995 and everyone in the room loved it and now it brings smiles to faces if anyone goes "I'm considering, I'm considering"