As a follow-up to our review of Lane Baldwin's The View From Here, we asked Lane to give us a bit of background into the creation of this amazing Blues collection.
Thunder Row: I understand it took a long time to put the project together.
Lane Baldwin: A very long time. The seed for The View From Here was planted all the way back in 2008, soon after the release of Dig the Hole. My close friend, Polo Jones (a monster bassist, music director and producer), assisted with final financing of DTH and made me promise to talk to him before starting another project. We stayed in close contact, and in 2010 began discussing bringing me out to California to do another CD. It took almost two years to find a hole in his schedule that was long enough for us to do the project. I came to CA in January, 2012, and we began work soon after.
TR: You went a very different direction for this CD. Tell us about that.
LB: Initially, we thought we were going to do a sort of follow-up to Dig the Hole – working with a smaller band, a trio, perhaps with some organ here and there. But as Polo and I went through my catalog (over 60 unrecorded songs at the time, now up to 80 or so), he started hearing ideas that included horns, percussion, strings… all sorts of incredible things! He wanted to show as many sides of me as possible, while weaving a thread through them all.
TR: With such a large catalog of unrecorded material, how did you choose the songs for this CD?
LB: We were looking for a broad view of my writing and storytelling – because they’re all stories at heart. Our intent was to show the listener some of the things I’ve struggled with (had the Blues over) and some of the high points in my life. We chose eleven songs and began work. The 12th track – Spoonful – was an accident. Polo found a hockey stick that had been turned into a one-string bass!
He just knew we had to use it, and we chose Spoonful because it was written by a bassist (Willie Dixon) and was one of Jack Bruce’s signature songs.
TR: How did you choose the lineup of songs for this one?
LB: Imagine we’re on top of a hill, looking down into the valleys below. That’s my life down there, my journey so far. Stand with me, and I’ll show you The View From Here. Over here is my deepest fear: dying alone. There’s my faith that God will guide and protect me. Over that way is how I feel when I’m in love. You see what I mean? You listen to this song cycle and you’re peeking into my life, and my deepest emotions. And, sister, if that ain’t Blues, I don’t know what is! (laughs)
TR: What does each song mean to you?
LB: There’s a reason for every song I write, even the happy, “let’s-go-dancing” ones. Each song begins as a story, one that needs or wants to be told. It’s like the song is banging on a door inside my head, yelling “Write me! Write me!” A lot of the time, it’s almost as if I’m hearing the story for the first time, which can be extremely emotional. They come from somewhere deep inside me, and sometimes I don’t even realize I’m carrying such deep pain until it comes out in one of those stories.
Right now, we’re working on a series of videos to tell the story of each song on the record, and will begin releasing them soon. I don’t want to give away anything yet, so I’ll ask that folks keep an eye out for the videos.
TR: Is there one song that means more to you than the others? A special number?
LB: It’s hard to give you a single song that’s a favorite, because they’re ALL favorites! (laughs) They’re my babies, my children. They are each a little piece of my heart that I’m putting out into the world in hopes that they will be of value to others. Not just as good tunes to sing along to, dance to, all of that. And I certainly hope that a bazillion people will like them enough to buy them! (smiles) But beyond that, I want them to bring something good into the lives of others. Are you heartbroken? I’ve been there, and here’s a song to help you through it. Have a deep-seated fear? Me, too, and here it is. Head over heels in love? THIS one’s for you! Like that…
TR: But there have to be some that stand above the rest, right?
LB: Well, yeah, there are a few.
- Lullaby – This may be the best love song I ever write, because it’s simple, easy to sing, and straight to the point: “Sleep with me, and dream…” Polo did an incredible job producing this one, and I hope the whole world sings it!
- Freedom Train – This one is to honor the slave communities who gave birth to the Blues, and to the parents who put their children on the Freedom Train, never to see them again. “Oh, Lord, I pray my sons will all be free – Sent ‘em down that railroad, so they won’t live as slaves like me.”
- Lay Me Down – the opening track, is a look at my deepest fear: dying alone. “Ain’t nobody comin’ when they lay me down.”
- Happy Boy – Like Lullaby, Polo really worked magic on this one. At its heart, which is the acoustic guitar part, it’s a simple, upbeat Blues tune. But, wow! What an arrangement on top of it! This is what it feels to find the perfect partner. “. . . got the shiny red bicycle when I found you, I’m a happy boy…”
TR: Who are the musicians joining you on the album?
LB: Polo assembled an amazing group of musicians for the project. For me, it was like hitting the big jackpot in the lottery. Local legend Terry Hiatt did much of the guitar work, along with LA monster David Adams. Drums were done mostly by Bryant Mills, who toured with John Lee Hooker for several years. Freedom Train features Abe Laboriel, Jr. – and that’s a real honor, to have Sir Paul McCartney’s drummer on the CD! HUGE honor!! Nate Ginsberg (Larry Graham, Herbie Hancock) did keyboards, as did Danny B., from Sistah Monica’s band. The horns were done by Mambo Tropical, led by Rik Feliciano, and the acoustic parts on Sing Along Song were provided by The Abbott Brothers, a highly-regarded second-generation Bluegrass trio. And that’s about HALF of them! (laughs)
TR: Of course, you played all the bass parts, right?
LB: Actually, I didn’t! Weird, huh? But we had reasons. On Lullaby, what you think is the bass part is actually part of the acoustic guitar track. We de-tuned the low E to D, and that note is equal to the D string on a bass. There is a bass part, but it’s a bowed electric upright in the interlude section, and Polo played it because I don’t really do upright at all, much less bowing. For Sing Along Song, which we did with the Abbott Brothers, Mike Hutchison played upright, and I played acoustic guitar. Other than that, yes, I did the bass parts.
TR: I didn’t know you even played guitar!
LB: I tell people I don’t play guitar, I play around with it. (laughs) But for many years I’ve used it as a writing tool, and in my solo shows. It surprised me more than anyone, as I expected we’d bring in a specialist. Polo just said, “Nope! You’re playing this part. You already know it.” I also played acoustic on Happy Boy, Sing Along Song, and the one we did last Christmas with the Abbott Brothers, Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.
TR: What else did you play?
LB: I also played the electric rhythm guitar part on Freedom Train, and a simple keyboard part on Runnin’ for Daylight. Polo really made me stretch, and it was very good for me.
TR: Since we’re a bass-centric site, tell us about the gear you used.
LB: All of my bass tracks were recorded with my Spectors. My main bass is still "The Voice", my NS-6XL, which I’ve had for almost twenty years. I also used my Coda-5, Etta, for a couple of tracks. We ran everything through various Markbass Amplifiers – everything from a 410 and 1200 Watt head, down to this teeny little combo that sounded like a rig four times its size! We mic-ed the cabinet and took a DI out of the head, then blended the two.
I love my Spectors because I don’t have to fuss with eq, either on the bass or on the amp. We did very little eq on the amp, leaving any of that to the outboard processors. Don’t ask me what they were; there was a bank of them, and Polo would choose different units for each track. He did the same for each vocal track, picking the best microphone and best preamps, etc. He made sure every track sounded its best.
TR: You’ve been an avid Spector supporter for a long time. Have you ever considered switching?
LB: Never. Let me repeat that: NEVER. Let me tell you why. When PJ (Rubal Spector VP of sales) sat me down with more than a dozen Spectors one day, every one of them sounded the same – like me. For the first time, I heard in the world what I had heard in my heart for decades. No other instrument sounded and felt so right for me. I ordered The Voice, which is a serious piece of Spector history, on that very day. We’ve been partners ever since.
TR: But other companies have offered you deals. Maybe even free gear?
LB: Yes, they have. And I’m always honored. But there are certain things that just can’t be for sale. Your voice is your voice. And your soul is your soul. You only get one of each. Best not to trade them away, you know? There’s a reason I call that bass "The Voice".
TR: You said you used Markbass amps, but for years you endorsed David Nordschow, first at Eden for many years, then at DNA amps. Why the change?
LB: I discovered Eden at the same time I discovered Spector, and fell in love. It was the other half of the “voice” equation. I promoted them for years before I became an endorser, then eventually worked with David on the inside. After David left Eden, I stayed at his request to assist the other endorsers and end users during the upset. I exited not long after, though, and helped him start DNA.
I still use an Eden head and DNA cabs live, but only until we decide which Markbass rig I’m going to use on tour. Touring and ease of service were the two main reasons for the move, because at this stage of the game, tour support is essential to success. None of that would matter, though, if they didn’t also sound extremely good! From the first rehearsal, I was able to get my tone quickly and easily, without a lot of dial tweaking and fussing. I’m very impatient with basses and amps that require a lot of knob-twisting to get a decent sound. A little finesse is fine, but I’m the kind of person who wants to plug it in, turn it on and go. As I said earlier, we didn’t have to work to find my voice.
TR: What about effects pedals? Did you use any?
LB: There were only two tracks that had effects – an octave in one section of I Miss You, and the fuzz bass in Happy Boy. Both were in Polo’s bag of magic. I did, however, use my pedal board for the tuner and the wireless. I’ve used Peterson Tuners for decades, and have endorsed them for almost ten years. My current units are Stomp Classic models. The wireless is a Line 6 G-50 unit I got in 2010. It’s incredibly clear and dynamic.
TR: Any other essential gear?
LB: DR Strings. I’ve used them exclusively for decades, and have been proud to endorse them for the last ten years. I use Black Beauties on both of my Spectors, and Rare acoustic bass guitar strings on my porch bass. I also use their strings on my guitar. Again, it’s about consistency and tone. I’ve never heard a better string. And I swear by LM Products straps! The attention to detail is incredible.
TR: What about the bass parts themselves? You’re known to have a sort of split personality on bass. On one hand the depth of your groove is well known, but you’re also known for some pretty complex stuff.
LB: Yeah, in this sense, other players are either going to love it or hate it. (Laughs) Like the last CD, The View From Here is mostly straight ahead groove lines. They’re often pretty straight because that’s what works best for that particular song. And to me, presenting the song to its best is more important than bass chops. The beauty is in choosing slightly different approaches to how you write those lines.
TR: What do you mean by “writing” the lines?
LB: When I’m in a jam situation, I’m writing my line as I go. I’m not just tossing licks out willy-nilly. There’s a reason for every note I play. I think it was George Carlin who was quoted as saying that, in the Blues, it’s “not enough to know which notes to play; you have to know why.” There is no greater truth in the Blues and, for bassists, pretty much everything else.
In the studio, it’s even more important, because once it’s done, it’s there forever. When I build a line, I think of the entire song, the ebb and flow of it. On a straight 12-bar, like Big Dog, that means being very careful about where I change the line, so that it adds to the song instead of detracting from the groove. On Running for Daylight, I means staying completely straight for the verses and bridges, then letting loose in a focused manner at the end.
TR: On that one, the bass line at the end is very different from the rest of the song. Why is that?
LB: I didn’t notice it until Polo pointed it out, but flipping things around at the end of the song is something I like to do. Running for Daylight is a great example. The main bass line, the one for the verses, is played claw-hammer style (think finger-picking on an acoustic guitar), has a little chord stab at the end, and is a bit syncopated. For the end, I use the same notes, but lower and heavier. The whole song just drops a bomb for that outro guitar solo, and everything flips. It really underlines what’s happening at that point in the song.
TR: You mentioned complex parts. Can you tell us about some of those?
LB: I guess the most complex part is on Blow Twister Blow. That’s another finger-picked part that’s two parts in one almost. You’ve got a low line and an upper part that flows on top. Plus a chord dropped in on the hook lines. The solo section mimics the intro line, which is based on, but different from, the main bass part. Then the outro flips everything into this cool half Reggae, half heavy, all Blues thing.
TR: What made you decide to do a two-part line?
LB: Polo made me do it! (laughs) It’s actually the acoustic guitar arrangement I came up with when I first wrote the song. As soon as he heard it, Polo said, “you need to do that on bass.” And it was so similar to other things I’ve done before that it made perfect sense when he said it.
TR: What about bass solos?
LB: There’s actually just one bit of a bass lead line at the beginning of I Miss You. But that’s really it this time around. As I said, some bassist will hate me because I didn’t solo more on my own record.
TR: You’re known in the bass community for your unique Blues-based solo arrangements. You even won the Sacramento Blues Challenge on solo bass – which I understand has never happened before. Why didn’t you do more than that one solo?
LB: Well, yes, I was the first solo bassist that ever made it to the finals in Memphis But honestly, we weren’t producing a record for bassists alone. We wanted the record to appeal to as many people as possible, to showcase my stories, not my bass lines. As I said earlier, I choose what to play on bass based on what the song needs in order to be presented at its best. I’m not a fusion or jazz player. I’m a Blues man at heart, and the Blues doesn’t call for a lot of super-flashy bass licks.
Besides, there are so many great players out there already doing that stuff. Folks like Victor Wooten and, of course, Roy Vogt, whom we all know and love. I love what they do, and have enormous respect for both of them, along with a ton of others who do that. But if I’m going to solo, it’s going to sound like a Blues guitarist, only lower. And I’ll only take a solo if it advances the song.
TR: You talk about Polo a lot. How important was he?
LB: It’s not a stretch to say I couldn’t have done it without him. Working with Polo is like working with a smarter, more experienced version of me. He totally gets me, from one end to the other. Not just musically, but everything else I do, the special kind a crazy I am, my vision, just everything. For the recording, Polo handled everything from booking musicians and studio time, to pushing me to be my best, to overseeing every aspect all the way through mastering. He’s also my executive manager, and is putting together my team, and will guide them as we move forward. I have leaned on him far more than he deserves, and he’s always been there when I needed him.
TR: What were the biggest challenges in getting it all together?
LB: You know, it’s supposed to be easy to talk about your project – how it all came together, all of that. And yet, this time around, it’s not a simple answer, even though the question itself is very simple. It took a serious leap of faith to come out to California and bet my entire life’s savings on it. I mean I literally spent everything I had on this venture, and that’s a pretty scary thing to do!
Then, when we realized it was going to take significantly longer than expected, we had to keep faith. 2013 was a difficult year because we had gone well beyond the timeline I had budgeted for. It was hard not to lose faith, but I believed in Polo, perhaps even more than I believed in myself. I knew that if he wasn’t giving up, I couldn’t either.
TR: But then you almost died.
LB: Yes; on the very first day of the year, I got sick, and the ordeal almost killed me. In fact, it did kill me several times as they were preparing me for emergency surgery when the gangrene set in. And that all happened in January! Since then, it’s been a long, extremely difficult road, a serious challenge of my faith and perseverance. I had a second surgery in early May, then was back in the hospital a third time in June due a tear at the surgery site that almost forced me into a second pair of surgeries. I’m still not out of the woods, but every day I get a little stronger and the odds tip a little more to my favor.
TR: That must have been horrible!
LB: It was, and in some ways, it still is. But I’m still here, so I’m looking forward, not back. I don’t want to sidetrack too far, and I’m writing a book and a CD about it all. If all goes as we hope, you’ll see those before too long. For now, suffice to say that God slapped me down harder than I’ve ever been slapped and then challenged me to prove my commitment to the whole thing. Almost like, “prove to me you deserve it and will honor it by doing your part.”
I’ve done my best to do my part ever since. Now, almost eight months later, I’m finally able to work again, and I’m really looking forward to what comes next, whatever it may be.
TR: You're very positive in the face of so much hardship.
LB: (laughs) Well, I’ve sure lived through some Blues, but part of using the Blues to conquer pain is finding renewal and a way forward. It’s something Dad talked about a lot, so it became ingrained in me. “It’s not getting knocked down that defines you, son,” he told me. “It was how you get back up.”
So, at this point, that’s all I know to do. It’s like Stephen King’s anti-hero, Roland, says in King’s Dark Tower novels: you have to “stand and be true.” I just doing my best to do that, to stand and be true.
(Read more about this in Lane's Blog Post)
TR: Excited about the album's release?
LB: To say I’m excited is an understatement. Even without all the upset this year, I’d be excited to put out a project of which I am so proud. Just to have worked with all these wonderful people is like a dream. And I couldn’t ask for a more perfect producer and guide for my career than Polo. As much as I still love Dig the Hole, I’m even more proud of The View From Here.
This CD is such a leap forward for me in so many ways, as a writer, a singer, a bass player and perhaps most important of all, as a person. I feel like I’ve come a lot closer to who I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to do with this gift we call life. I’m very grateful for the opportunity.
TR: Why aren’t you releasing a physical CD?
LB: There are a few reasons for that. The first is financial; it’s far more expensive to manufacture and distribute CDs than downloads. It’s not hard to get into all the iTunes stores, Amazon, all the rest. But doing it with a physical CD is far more complicated.
The other is that, like it or not, CDs are dying. It’s harder and harder to find an actual CD player. Sure, you can play them in your computer and in your DVD player, but you can also drop the files on a thumb drive and plug that into newer DVD players. Plus, I won’t scream if you burn a CD for your private use. Go ahead and make an extra for your car, if it has a CD player. But that’s another thing. Newer cars don’t have CD players; they have USB ports for thumb drives and phones.
TR: Will you ever manufacture CDs for The View From Here?
LB: It’s possible. We have to do a short run for radio stations and such, so we may make those available on our web site. If we do, I’ll make this promise: anyone who purchases the full album download from CD Baby will have the opportunity to purchase a physical CD if we produce one, at a cost of $5, shipping in the US included. The combined price would be just about the same as if you purchased the CD from the site. So, everyone can get the album now, burn a copy if they need to for personal use, and get the official CD if/when we produce them. I’ll even sign them for the folks who ask.
TR: What’s next for you?
LB: Well, we have a ton of videos to do, and we’re already working on those. If we can pull it off, we’re going to release a single or two in the near future – date specific stuff, such as another Christmas song. And I’m so ready to take this music on tour and let the world hear it! Then add the fact that I’m still alive, still breathing, still able to do what I do, and that just amplifies everything I feel about this CD. And I’ve got to tell you, even after all of it, after crawling through fire, as I call it, you know… the view looks really good from here!
The View From Here is available for download on CD Baby and iTunes.
Check out the latest promo videos on Lane’s You Tube Channel.
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