Back in a earlier time (e.g. 2 years ago), Tuesday was widely known among US music aficionados as album release day. Then the world changed when the music industry decided that Friday would be a much better day to unleash new music. Well, with an ode to that bygone Tuesday era, Twangville if offering up a trifecta of special premieres.
Texas singer-songwriter Ronnie Fauss may be bidding time between albums, but that doesn’t mean that he’s been idle. While recording tracks for a new album, he took some time to record a tribute to the late Merle Haggard by recording the legend’s “Swingin’ Doors.” Whereas the original version saunters with a country swing, Fauss and his band picked up the pace a bit while retaining the song’s honky-tonk charm.
We asked Fauss to share a few sentences about the song; what we got was several paragraphs. I guess that’s what happens when one gets to talking about someone who is an inspiration. And we’re fine with that. Have a listen and enjoy the story behind the song.
Merle Haggard is one of the first artists I ever remember hearing. We lived in Texas, but our people originally came from Oklahoma, just like the Hag, so my pop kept an 8-track of Merle in his green Mazda probably to remind him of home. “Swingin Doors” is beautiful for it’s simplicity, which is the perfect type of song for me to play. The chord progression never changes at any point (once you memorize the first 4 chords just set on repeat and you’re good) and half the lyrics from the verse seem to repeat themselves in the chorus. As a result, when I added this song to my band’s live set a few years back, I inevitably end up mixing up pretty much all the words every time we play it…I always kind of hope folks are just digging the groove and aren’t listening to the lyrics, but I’m not sure anyone would even notice if they were. Surely no one really knows the words to this song!
When we went into the studio to break ground on my coming album, “Swingin Doors” was on the list of songs I wanted to include (along with covers of Dylan, Uncle Tupelo, and Okkervil River…that’s a lot of covers, but there’s a lot of originals too, it’s just kind of a big album). Any time I’m recording a song written by someone else, rule #1 is that our version has to offer something unique from the original. It will never be better, but it sure better be different or it’ll definitely end hitting the cutting room floor. So we decided to straighten this one out…the original is fittingly a swing type of number, we moved to a straight 4-4 rock beat with a driving rhythm section getting down to business from the jump. My vision was to have a clean, concise track that did not feature a ton of instruments…just pick a few pieces and mix it in such a way that every single part stands out against all the others. For some reason when I imagined the end result, I kept hearing the same three things – electric guitar, mandolin, and upright piano. I just had a feeling they would blend well together…kind of like a Counting Crows thing.
So last Summer we got to work – my Texas pals Matt Pence and Mark Hedman provided the drums and bass, respectively, and then we headed to Nashville to add the other pieces. Devin Malone is a Nashville pro who has played on all my records for the last 5 years, he’s a dynamite guitar (and mandolin) player who always adds the perfect amount of grit or elegance to my tunes, whichever they happen to call for. I explained my idea to him and as usual he got it immediately. He nailed the guitar and the mandolin, and then we brought in my good buddy Chris Tuttle who has also played on all my records for the last 5 years. He got the piano part down perfectly, and then we debated adding other things…organ? Accordion? Nope, we had all we needed…keep it simple, don’t overthink. We came back to Texas to mix, and realized there actually was one missing ingredient – so I called my bandmate Shawn Hannon (my right hand man when I play live, who adds all harmonies and takes over lead vocals whenever I give him a look mid-song of “please take over I need a break!”) and asked him to come add his usual genius harmonies to the song. He did, and it was perfect. We were done tracking. So we sent the whole thing off to mix and when it came back, we knew we had it. Our work was done. Merle was honored, and it felt good.
Last year in April it was a sad day when I learned that Merle had passed away on his 79th birthday. As the anniversary of that day approached this year, I had a thought – let’s go ahead and peel this track off of the coming full-length album (goodness gracious, as mentioned above I think it has enough tracks already) and instead let’s release it in April, to commemorate Merle’s one year anniversary of his passing as well as his would-be 80th birthday. So here it is, a straightened out version of a honky tonk classic…let’s hope Merle isn’t listening in from the Great Beyond, calling it a bunch of “hippie nonsense” and shaking his head. Here’s to you Merle, thank you for this great song.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.