I think the real idea behind these sessions finally came to fruition. We were hoping for organic sessions where each band can visit Shirk’s studio in Chicago and play whatever inspires them: Old songs. New songs. Skynyrd songs. Whatever.
Even for The Morning Pages, it took an hour of playing, a few beers, and some encouragement from both Shirk and myself to settle into their groove. Early on I overheard the guys talking about which 4 songs they would play. While we would surely be thankful for those 4 tracks, there are no really no minimum requirements and The Morning Pages ended up cutting loose. Those four songs quickly turned into six and then eight and then nine.
Shirk and I were standing out on the balcony overlooking the city as we waited for the guys to show up. After fewer than 30 seconds, or two sips of beer, the nicest tour van (opposite of the Illinois van) I’ve ever seen pulls around the corner and up to the gate of the studio. We headed down the stairs to help lug the equipment upstairs, but end up holding the doors as the five guys somehow managed to carry everything on their own. A few minutes later we were ready to go. In what seemed to be a sense of the openness to come, Alec the keyboardist, even opted to play Shirk’s Wurlitzer and old Hammond organ instead of his own set of keys which he had already carried up the three flights of stairs.
Two of the first four tracks put down were included on their EP, The Company You Keep. After a quick break, which included a lengthy discussion of better WWII movies (Battleground, The Great Escape, A Bridge Too Far) and Tele Savalas’ bald head, we were back in the studio and just running with it. After putting down a few previously unrecorded tracks, we needed another break so that singer and guitarist Grant Maxwell could write down the words for “Slippin and Slidin” for the harmony parts. The amazing but short Little Richard tune took a few takes due to a tricky progression between the verse and chorus but ended up as one of the best tracks of the day.
While lead guitarist, Kevin Drost, grew up in the suburbs, many of the other guys had never been to Chicago before. In the industrial, train track locale of the studio, I think the New York City native band felt right at home. Their comfort level definitely came through in their performance. And if I were to have one experience in a new city, this certainly would be the one.