Marshall on Big Lonesome …
I recorded this album after my best friend in music, Tim Krekel, died in June 2009. He was 58. We were planning to record a duet album called Sweet Talkin’ and had booked gigs throughout the summer, including a couple in San Miguel, Mexico.
We’d planned to include “Big Lonesome” (the song) on Sweet Talkin’. I originally recorded it in 1999 at Tommy Spurlock’s train studio (behind Union Station in Nashville) using ADAT. For years, the ADAT went missing. Then, just before recording this CD, Spurlock found it in a pile of stuff in his garage in Austin (where he now lives), and we were able to transfer it to ProTools. I didn’t even know Tim’s voice was on it. First miracle.
I wrote “Down to Mexico” on July 4, 2009, while flying to Mexico, six days after Tim’s memorial service.
I’ve been performing Cindy Walker’s “Going Away Party” since the early ’70s. I learned it off an old Bob Wills album in my then-boyfriend’s apartment in Boston. The relationship didn’t last, but the song did. Fans of my music have been hassling me for years about recording it. I’m glad I waited.
I wrote “Falling Through the Trees” when I realized my last album wasn’t going to happen. At least not as I had hoped. I like how this song and “Going Away Party” deal with the same theme—the devastation following the death of a dream.
“Sick of Myself” is the last song Tim and I wrote together. It started as an email from me to him, at a time when I really was sick of myself and thought, If I could be anybody else (for a day, maybe two) who would it be? So it was sort of a love poem from me to him. Within hours, Tim emailed me back with the last two verses. We both agreed this would be an excellent song for Sweet Talkin’. Shortly thereafter, Tim fell ill. We all hoped for the best as he sought treatment. But as things quickly deteriorated, I couldn’t help but think, Damn, I’d better get up there and record him singing his part, because he’s the only one who can sing it! I never got that chance. Nor did we ever get to put our words to music. In the back of my mind, I knew the song was a shuffle. I finally put it to music shortly before tracking in December 2009. Later, Tim’s son, Jason (Mad Tea Party), dropped by the studio and sang his dad’s part. The similarity in the timbres of their voices gives me goosebumps. And makes me smile.
On Sunday, June 14, 2009, Tim married his longtime girlfriend, Debbie Cooper. Jeff Hanna, Matraca Berg, my husband Chris, and I drove up to Louisville for the occasion. With fifty or so of Tim’s closest friends, we stood in a circle as Tim and Debbie exchanged vows in the sweltering heat and sun. I knew Tim had a doctor’s appointment that following Thursday. The silence over those days was deafening. Finally the phone rang. It was Debbie. “The news isn’t good,” she said. “The doctors say there’s nothing more they can do. We’re going home with Hospice.” Her words hit like a ton of bricks. That night, I wrote this song (or it wrote me). Two days later, I sang it to Debbie over the phone. “I want Tim to hear this,” she said and put him on the line. He sounded weak and a bit agitated. I didn’t know what to do. So I sang the song, fully expecting to hear a dial tone at the end. Instead, he came alive: “Now listen, Marshall!” he said, all animated. “When you go to record this, you be sure and put mariachi horns on it, you hear?” Those were his last words to me. Three days later he was gone.
“I Can’t Stop Thinking About You” wrote itself one month after Tim died. I like to think Harlan Howard dictated this to me from heaven.
I wrote “Mississippi Man in Mexico” while flying back from Mexico (July 8, 2009). I’d spent a magical evening two nights before at a rancho outside San Miguel, where an American expatriate from Mississippi lived, cultivating cacti from all over the world. He and the owner of the property prepared a feast for us – doves which had been wrapped in bacon then cooked over hot mesquite coals, grilled cactus, fresh salsa, and so on. The clear night sky was filled with a million stars and the moon was full. After the meal, I leaned back to see the moon disappear behind a single purple cloud and thought of Hank Williams.
Later that night, I played songs for my host and his teenaged son, Mark, until the wee hours—songs long forgotten (i.e., ones I used to sing before I started writing songs) like “Me and Bobby McGee,” Buddy Holly’s “Everyday,” Robert Johnson’s “From Four ’til Late,” and Hank Williams’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” When I drew a blank on a line in the Hank Williams classic, Mark printed the lyrics out for me from his computer. Over the next few days, I’d sing “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” in the empty courtyard of the house where I was staying, high up on a hill above San Miguel. I believe we captured that courtyard’s lonesome sound in this recording.
“Riding with Willie”
In August 2008, I spent three days on Willie Nelson’s bus. (I was there to interview him for my upcoming book.) The story of how this song came to be is documented in the book.
I wanted to end the album with a live recording (like Waylon did on Dreaming My Dreams). So we decided on “I Love Everybody” from the 2003 Belgium Rhythm & Blues Festival. Tim plays lead guitar and harmonica and sings on this track, so it seemed right and good. The only problem was we didn’t have a multi-track. (Our performance had been directly mixed in Belgium Radio 1’s mobile recording unit.) Regardless, the track sounded pretty damn good, so we decided to go with it.
After the album was mixed, I called Debbie (Tim’s widow) because I wanted her to hear what we’d done. As it turned out, she and her sister were about ten miles outside Nashville (driving north from Florida to Louisville), so we met for lunch at my favorite meat and three. During the course of conversation, she casually mentioned, “You know there’s a multi-track of the last time you sang with Tim at the Vernon.” You could have knocked me over with a feather. That night, a multi-track of “I Love Everybody” was overnighted to our engineer. The Belgium track got scratched, and what you hear here is the actual last time I played with Tim Krekel.
The first time I heard this track, I turned to Mike [Utley] and said, laughing, “Damn! I thought I was using hyperbole when I said we sounded better than the Rolling Stones!”