Finding Our Way

Man, time flies. I planned to write this blog about a month ago, but I got distracted by other things—namely, assembling and rehearsing a new band to perform the songs from (re)animate live. More on that later. Meantime, I thought I’d share some thoughts about one of my favorite songs on the record…and maybe my favorite song I’ve ever composed: “Find Our Way.” 

“Find Our Way” was written for my wife, Carol, when we were still courting. (Do people still say ‘courting’? Or does it only apply to frogs?). We were both shaking off previous, troubled relationships and even though I was head over heels for her, she was proceeding very cautiously with me. I guess the lyrics were a way of asking her to give me a shot. 

I’d been listening to a lot of old Rod Stewart records around the time—you know, “Maggie May” and “Every Picture Tells a Story” and the early ’70s Faces albums. I love the slurring swagger of Ronnie Wood’s guitar playing on those tracks, and especially his acoustic bits. I was definitely trying to cop Ronnie when I came up with the opening salvo for “Find Our Way.” The song fell together pretty quickly from there. When you have lyrics written at the outset—as I did in this case—a song’s changes and cadences and melodies are sort of suggested. I think that’s why this tune slides pretty seamlessly through the major-to-minor chord sequences. 

I first recorded “Find Our Way” in 2010 for my Truth Lies album. I like that original mid-tempo rock version—it came out as I intended—but I wanted to strip it down for the (re)animate project. I’d played it live at The Birchmere on a couple occasions, once accompanied by Parthenon Huxley on guitar, and another time by Joe Adams (check out this video, which includes footage of both guys). Old friends of mine from North Carolina, Hux and Joe are both six-string virtuosos—but very different stylists. As it happened, I was able to get both of them to play on my new recording. 

Let me first tell you about Joe Adams. I met him in 1987 or so when we were both working at a music shop in Durham, NC. Joe looked—and played—like Eddie Van Halen. Seriously. The dude was the #1 shredder in town. But in contrast to his high-volume guitar and hair, Joe was a shy, soft-spoken Southerner, and instantly likable. We started a pop metal band called Jo Jo Ex-Mariner (very much out of fashion in R.E.M.’s jangly backyard), wrote and recorded an album’s worth of radio-ready tunes, and took a shot at the big time. We got a whiff—a regional record deal and a bunch of showcase gigs—but never quite made it over the hump. My friendship with Joe easily outlasted Jo Jo, and continues to this day. He can still play like EVH, but he’s broadened his palette to include pretty much every musical style, including flamenco—which he studied under masters in Seville, Spain. 

Joe’s lyrical sensitivity is on full display on “Find Our Way.” In and around my acoustic guitar strumming, he weaves beautiful supporting lines on his Telecaster, evoking a dash of Bill Frisell, a smidge of Mark Knopfler. Joe helped me with the arrangement of the song, too, and made sure he left plenty of space for the other instruments. True to his character, he begged off playing the guitar solo, insisting it called for a contrasting vibe. That opened the door for Hux. 

Lots of music lovers know Parthenon Huxley, who was known as Rick Rock when I lived across the street from him in Chapel Hill back in the day. We were post-college “townies,” aspiring musicians and writers for the same local arts and entertainment magazine. Similarly moved by the film This Is Spinal Tap, we put together one of the world’s loudest, stupidest, funniest heavy metal bands in all of history: Jiz Gradu. Alas, the band didn’t last because Hux scored a major-label record deal on the strength of his “real” songs and made a break for L.A. He’s never looked back. He’s made a stack of great records over the years and now plays with The Orchestra, an offshoot of the Electric Light Orchestra (though if you say it like that, Jeff Lynne will probably sue you). Hux is a wizardly guitarist, a crazy-good singer, and one of my songwriting idols. He lives in DC now, so he popped over to my studio to cut the guitar solo on “Find Our Way.” I think he did it in one take. Boom. Listen to it—understated, unhurried, understanding. 

This song’s North Carolina connection continues with the rhythm section. When I lived down there, the most popular party band was Steps, featuring young Morgan Davis on drums. In a town of stick-slammers, Morgan was a cut above. He could play anything and everything. He was also one of the jolliest guys you’d ever hope to meet. We never played music together (I couldn’t have kept up), but became pals and talked about it. Morgan left Chapel Hill for Nashville, where he did session work, was hired to tour with C.J. Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band, and eventually fell in with Ben Folds. You know Ben’s song “The Secret Life of Morgan Davis”? Yeah, that’s about our boy. These days, Morgan plays with Mister Potato Head—the best cover band you’ll ever hear. On a whim, I called him up and asked if he’d be interested in playing on (re)animate. He was all in. I’d sworn I would not allow drums on the project, but for Morgan I had to make an exception. On “Find Our Way,” he plays a loose-skinned kick drum and something he calls a “snambourine”—a snare crossed with a tambourine—and holds down a fat, open groove that gives the song a bit of that Levon Helm feel. 

In my previous post about “Take It Back Baby,” I told you about Andrew Luthringer and Chuck Sullivan, both of whom also play on “Find Our Way.” Listen to how Andy’s bass guitar locks in with Morgan's drums, drawing out each beat, and the way Chuck adds sizzle with his shakers and bongos. So tasty. 

Even though “Find Our Way” includes three guitars, there’s still space on the track for Buddy Griffin’s majestic pedal steel. Whereas Joe and Hux and I go way back, Buddy and I had just met when I asked him to play on (re)animate. I knew I wanted some steel on the project and just happened to run across Buddy at a book party celebrating Chuck Sullivan’s biography of Steve Winwood. Little did I know at the time, Buddy would turn out to be related to me (I think we’re cousins several times removed). We’re a lot closer when it comes to music. With very little direction from me, Buddy sprayed “Find Our Way” with perfectly placed washes of delay-drenched pedal steel that brought earthiness to the recording without ever falling prey to that hokie country-western thing. Turns out Buddy plays a mean electric guitar, too, and even though he’s busy sitting in with lots of DC-region bands, he’s signed on to play with The Powers That Be when we take (re)animate live. 

I need to mention one more fellow who played on “Find Our Way”: Fred Monte, my father-in-law, known to his family as Pop. Pop played drums in hard-working pop and jazz bands in New York back in the ’60s and ’70s, and he remains as passionate about music as ever. There’s nothing like knocking back a few cocktails with Pop while listening to Gene Krupa’s “Drummin’ Man” or a Steely Dan tune featuring Bernard "Pretty" Purdie. I had wrapped up recording “Find Our Way” when Pop came to visit one weekend, but when he heard the rough mix he said it needed something else. We ran out to the studio and he laid down a tambourine track that gave the song the snap it was screaming for. Pop’s time was perfect—and I mean perfect. We didn’t have to re-cut or edit anything. 

I’m so grateful that I was able to get such an odd assortment of family and friends to contribute to “Find Our Way.” They combined to make its something way cooler than the acoustic guitar number I started with, but without forsaking its spare, straightforward vibe. I hope you like it. And I hope at some point you’ll come see The Powers That Be live, because we’ve got a version of “Find Our Way” that’ll knock your socks off. 

Thanks for reading—and listening.