God’s awful busy, Molly. Call me.
By December last year, all the songs were written. Time to record. A band of musicians I’d never met before had assembled at the old Pinebox recording studio and guitar shop in Graham. Studio owner and engineer, Brian Haran, had assembled the unshakable, Stax-worthy line up: Phil Cook, Terry Lonergan and Jeff Crawford.
The Stax recording method—one that defined the southern and country soul sound of the 60s—put an emphasis on the players, not production tricks. Put the right people in the room, mic the instruments right and let the soul, Holy Ghost, whatever you want to call it, take over. To the session, I brought seltzer and snacks and four orderly folders full of lyrics. We rehearsed Friday night, recorded Saturday and tweaked vocals and overdubs Sunday afternoon.
I got the tracks back shortly after that session and only one of the songs bothered me. I had modified a blues tune I’d learned years ago, “Walking Cane.” The new version was inspired by Dred, the main character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book about the Great Dismal. Dred was a maroon in the swamp, “preaching angry and violent retribution for the evils of slavery and rescuing escapees from the dog of the slavecatchers.” I switched the lyrics to a version I’d heard Porter Wagoner and Jerry Lee Lewis sing, “Rocking Cane.” I thought it suited Dred better.
When I listened to the recording of myself singing it, my solo voice wasn’t bringing enough power to the thing. I needed a choir. A gospel choir.
I put out a call on Facebook and asked where to find one. Responses ranged from “go to church,” to links to choirs with Web sites that looked out of my “thank you” price range. Then came this response from Greensboro blues musician and storyteller Lorenzo “Logie” Meachum.
“God’s awful busy, Molly. Give me a call.”
He said we’d pull in Roby Doby Easter on the vocals and make it work. His fee: a can of sardines, a tall boy Budweiser and a box of saltine crackers.
In my budget.
On the car ride from Greensboro to Graham to do the session, I told Logie about the Great Dismal Swamp and about the song. He said it reminded him of an old old gospel tradition where the choir would sing you up to the altar.
That’s what we’re going to do for this song, Logie told me. When we arrived at the studio, Logie made sardine pâté with a packet of hot sauce and mustard snagged from the restaurant next door. Then Robin, Logie and myself squeezed in like a can of sardines around one mic and let it fly.
The day after the recording, Logie put the following post on Facebook about the session.
Sometimes you know that you need a healing and a prayer from somewhere. Things can get so bad and you think you been down so long that gettin’ up don’t even cross your mind. And then all of a sudden, it happens.
No, you don’t find a million in the seat next to you on the train, (you’re riding the train because all of your wheels are gone). You don’t get saved at the altar because you were a sinner (you don’t feel like you did anything wrong, it’s just that a choice you made that was stupid. Sin is self-inflicted nonsense). You didn’t find a new drug or smoke an old one, but all of a sudden there it is and you never expected to get the blessing. That’s why God is good. He is gonna bless you and as the rapper says, “You don’t even know it.”
We had church recording—this song. My soul looks back in wonder, how I got over, and years from now when I look back, last night’s session will be recorded as a healing moment.
We started testifiying about doubt and sin overtaking our joy and then we started rejoicing, with Robin getting up and running around the studio. She got so happy when we started to talk about about how much hope in life, we still have, our children and grandchildren, how much joy we get from those who love and stand by us, how happy we all were to be together at the moment, doing something wonderful and something we all love.
If I’m not mistaken, I believe at one moment, I saw Molly dancing like the woman Jesus healed in the temple. I looked over at her and she was singing, dancing, laughing and crying, all at the same time. When you put that Angel Robin Doby in the mix you better watch your soul because she will touch it and wake your spirit up. I needed that. I slept good last night.
… listen real close on the song “Walking Cane.” You will enjoy what you hear but please listen close because if you do, you gonna get a blessin too. Folks sing songs and pray prayers about glory and the beauty of hearing David’s harp and Gabriel’s horn, but honey, listen close to that CD and you will hear what sounds like a heavenly choir but its Molly, its me, and if you don’t think angels exist, listen to the voice of Doby and be ye healed. As Jesus also said to me one day, “Take up thy blues and walk.” You’re gonna love it and its gonna heal ya. Thanks Molly. Thanks Robin. Thanks God. I had a good time.
CHAPTER SIX |Where’d Your Church Clothes Go?
A song and story series by Molly McGinn, inspired by the Great Dismal Swamp. Album available now, online.