In the olden days, you would open a new album, and the inner sleeve would often have the lyrics or maybe a running commentary about the songs and production you were hearing. I had a few listeners ask if I could offer something similar, so here ya go!
The Stonehill Sessions
Released November 2020
Wayne Willingham Guitars & Vocals
Cliff Stegall Recording Engineer, Bass, Background vocals
Caleb Barnett Drums
Brent Brunson Piano on "All That I Am"
Cliff, Caleb and Brent have contributed on all four of my albums. I doubt there would even be any albums without them. Forever grateful. Two special guests joined us:
Jeff Plankenhorn Slide Guitar on "A Fine Time". I met Jeff at a song-swap late 2019, and his slide work knocked me out! He's a top session guy and a great singer-songwriter. So glad that he could add his unique talents to the project.
Jesse Spradlin Vocal Harmony on "The Dutchman". Met Jesse at a guitar show, where she was manning a booth. Sometimes you just get a vibe, and before hearing her play or sing a note, I knew that she was exceptional. She is.
Because of the Pandemic, the studio we've used in the past was not available. Cliff could do the post-production there, because it's where he works (Brent too). So we did the unthinkable, converting my home music room into a recording studio, with sound dampener panels and an ungodly amount of audio equipment. Almost everything was tracked in that room - on Stonehill Drive. Thus the title.
A Fine Time Fun little Americana love romp. The music on this one is so basic; a simple 12-bar, but bouncy - not bluesy. The first line I recall was "I'm here mindin' my own, waitin' for you to come home . . ." To be honest, I was thinking a lot more like a funk R&B song. Sometimes the song takes you where it needs to go - you need to recognize it and just go along.
My Turn Part funny, part heartbreak song about covering for addiction. I used to drive home from gigs at 3 AM every night - I've seen this on the side of the road. I set out to write a comedy song that was like an episode of Cops. In some ways, I did. The second verse exhibits that in spades, and comically. But there's such a ring of truth that it became much more real. It's said that comedy is just tragedy that happens to someone else.
Gypsy Soul A traveler's ballad. Music first, as usual. The first lyric I wrote down was the opening line, "Thousand miles of highway...", then "A gypsy soul, has taken control." With the music and those few lines, I kept circling back to it for close to a year. My longing to get back on the road and touring motivated my finishing it. It occurred to me that the only time I ever heard the term, Gypsy Soul, was in Van Morrison's song "Into the Mystic". It's used throughout history, but I'll credit Van.
All That I Am This is a wedding vow. A young couple asked if I could write a song for their ceremony. I said I'd try, but made no promises. I wrote it over the Christmas holiday 2019, and played it at their wedding in early March. It sounds a little more intimate on guitar, but the piano gives it a majesty. If I may say so, this is possibly my career-best vocal performance, underscored by Brent's incredible grand piano accompaniment.
These Jeans Throwback classic country ala Chet Atkins. This started as a songwriting exercise; Write a story about an inanimate object. We all have a favorite pair of jeans, so here we go. The music is simple, but getting all those syllables into cadence and rhythm was HARD. It left me lots of room to flail on the guitar - maybe even show off a bit, so fun for Wayne! In studio, we decided to start the instrumental verse a few bars early. By then, the listener should know those words.
No No No Great sing-along about learning from experience. This started with the hook. I had the chorus fairly quickly, but the verses took painfully long. I knew that each verse would be its own scenario, leading back into the chorus and the moral of each verse's story ""I'm just not that lonesome/foolish..." and "I won't let you hurt me anymore." . I can't say that any of these stories is autobiographical - at least no more that anyone else. Musically, the chord pattern is exactly the same for the verse and the chorus, but in completely different keys! 'scuze me while I pat myself on the back...
Heart to Heart Country soul. Valentines weekend 2020 (pre-pandemic), I played a cool wine bistro in McKinney TX, right off the town square. Just like the song, I found myself watching one couple after another. I was the only solo on a night made for couples - but not in a bad way. As I was loading out after the gig, I spotted a couple dancing to no music and gazing into each other's eyes. That gave me the last verse, "Back on the Square, a couple is dancing. Has anybody ever looked at me as she does at him?" The song revealed itself from there.
The Dutchman The legendary Michael Smith song. I knew Mike from my Detroit days, though not well. We got to know each other better over Facebook in that last couple years. This song was legend, even in the early 70s on the Michigan Folk Scene. I wanted to stay true to Mike's masterpiece, yet make it my own. I hit upon the twin Classical guitars for the second chorus, giving it a European flavor. I asked Jesse to sing harmony, and gosh, how beautiful is her part! The final chorus ties the voices and guitars together. I'm totally happy with the result, and I'd like to think that Mike would be, and I sure hope that you are, too.
Why Start Now Running into an ex is always fodder for a song. I'd had writer's block for about six months, and rented a little cabin in Ruidoso NM for a few days, hoping to break the log jam. It worked. I think the first line I came up with was the final hook, "I've gone this long without you, why start now?" The scenario played itself out from there. I wasn't thinking of anyone in particular, but life experience sure helped. Musically similar to "Blackbird", but to be honest, adding that guitar arrangement came well after the song was written.
All songs composed by Wayne Willingham except "The Dutchman" by Michael Peter Smith
Recorded at Willingham Palace on Stonehill Drive in Benbrook, TX
Additional recording, mixing and mastering at Bethesda Studios, Fort Worth TX
Graphics by Lorie Park
Contact and additional album info available at www.waynewillingham.com
Produced by Wayne Willingham and Cliff Stegall (c) 2020
Released October 2019
Wayne Willingham all guitars & vocals
Cliff Stegall audio engineer, bass
Caleb Barnett drums & percussion
Courtney Haines saxophone
Mitchell Smithey steel guitar
Hank Singer fiddle
Brent Brunson Hammond Organ
2019 was a year of transition. My consulting obligations with my former company came to a close. I officially 'retired' May 31, though I was already out touring and consulting from the road. It was very amicable, but it was time. It was the close of a very rewarding career. Overall, my heart health had improved. That March, I also had corrective sinus surgery. I may be the only one to notice it, but singing the same passages became easier - almost effortless, and more fun than ever. To have my vocal range at my age is a blessing I never expected.
Over the year, I performed in some 17 states from the Pacific Northwest to the Mid-Atlantic, Colorado, Florida and Michigan. I made so many new friends and reconnected with some from over the decades. I'd begun establishing myself on the circuit, and was looking forward to more of the same in 2020. Darn pandemic...
As a songwriter, I reached further outside my own experiences, and explored different story lines. Some just pure fiction, but you never leave your own life experience behind - do you?
One Day I was driving to Baltimore for a show in January. After six hours, and was 'listened out' - I shut off the music and just savored the quiet. I had a phrase in my head, and I started thumping on my center console, and just sang the first couple lines, "One day, I'll get it all together. One day, I'll call you on the phone." I felt that I was onto something, so I recited the lyrics into my iPad. (Fairly safe - it's mounted like in a cop car.) For the next few hours, I drove and sang and recited. In Jackson TN, I stopped for gas, organized what I had, and about 2AM, sang it into my iPhone in a rest area just west of Nashville - still have the recording. I never write this fast, so this was exciting! In studio, we went for a Doo-Wop feel - especially on the finish, where the verse and chorus play simultaneously and end on the same word and note. Pretty happy with that vocal.
Portland Portland is beautiful, and yes, it rains - same as Paris. I was performing at Cafe Artichoke in May. Before the show, I heard a mashup of two conversations; "Portland" in the left ear, and "in the pouring rain" in the right. The phrase stayed with me, and I thought about it on my entire 3-day 1,700 mile drive home. I came home via Clovis NM and Lubbock, where there's a railroad track alongside the highway, and little else for most of the trip. I was gathering visuals of a Texas morning, firsthand, and while I love the Pacific Northwest, it was good to be home. At first, the "she" was a romantic interest, and it could be - that's up to the listener. But now I think of her as his daughter. I love the guitars, and especially the steel guitar of Mitchell Smithey - it all sounds so Texan.
Human Anyone that knows me can tell you that I love dogs more than most people. I've had many "best friends", and the hardest part is saying goodbye. I believe that pet owners should not just drop their dog off and leave. I've heard from vet techs that the dogs absolutely freak out. We should want to stay with them, to love on and care for this member of the family as if it were Grandma. I think my first phrase was "C'mon, throw me the ball" because every dog I've had loved the ball - it's personal time together. The guitar on the recording is my J-200, strung in what's called a "Nashville tuning" - the high strings of a 12-string. The jumbo body gives it a big, resonant, yet music-box sound.
Jennifer "She's in love, it don't matter anyway." Pardon the grammar, but it's a true-ism, and is where the song began. We've all seen women fall head over heels for the "bad boy" type, even if they claim to be looking for a nice guy. It rarely ends well. And she's the one all the guys fall in love with. Happens with guys, too. I'd been spending a some time in a small town in northeast Texas. I got to know some of the locals, and developed a fictional story from there. Was it a murder or manslaughter? I don't know. Some of my advisory council admonished me that at 5 minutes, it was too long. Don't care - it tells the story, and I don't want to lose a single detail. Hank Singer absolutely nailed the fiddle part; I suggested that his part would be similar to Bob Dylan's "Hurricane", which times out at 8:33. (yes, we check things like that!)
Hard to Believe I envision this in the person of a young man on the morning of his wedding, full of hope, and all is right with his world. Man or woman, gay or straight, it's a song of joy and hope. The opening line of the song is where it started. I had to fight to get most of the lyric, but once I set the scene in my mind, it came together. Can you count along with it? It's in 5/4 time - not three or four. I always wanted to write a song in five, and here it is. Courtney Haines' delicate, melodic soprano sax part brings out the Jazz aspect, though it's really a folk song.
Almost December I met a married couple in Mexico. He was a 50-something successful businessman and she was in sales and had just turned 30 - a stunning lady. They were absolutely charming together. He explained that he had reservations about the age difference, but she was the driving force. (That's a lesson, guys.) I tried to put myself in his position. How would I feel? Could I be comfortable with such an age difference? I started with the line "You shouldn't look at me that way." So this is a tale of forbidden fruit. I made sure to point out that the woman was of age - not TOO young, with the line, "You're an adult, you know the score." I've never been challenged on it, but was very aware from the outset. Love the guitars, and credit Cliff Stegall for the wind effects that heighten the drama. By the way, that couple? As we said goodbye, he told me that they were having twins.
Just When I've always called this a cross between John Denver and early Eagles. The lyrics just kind of came to me, and I liked the idea of expressing a negative thought, then turning it into a positive with the next line. Thanks again to Mitchell Smithey for a perfect steel guitar part that meshes beautifully with my electric leads. Love playing this one live, too.
All That Matters Written August 3 2019, prompted by the senseless shootings in El Paso. I watched the coverage for a while, but just shut it all off. I picked up my guitar and just played. Eventually, I had the chorus, "All that matters is Love / Love / All that really matters is love" I spent the rest of that day honing both lyrics and music. The next morning, I home-recorded the song in a single take. I sent it to Cliff to clean up, and that's what you hear on the album. It's won awards from Nashville and Fort Worth Songwriters, and it's on the 2019 compilation album "Songs for Social Change" distributed by the Renaissance Artists and Writers Association. I posted a lyric video the day I recorded it, and paid Facebook to target it to El Paso. Multiple sources told me that they were singing the chorus at the memorial site outside the scene.
Undecided A song about infidelity. I swear, I can feel the knot in the stomach, the body ache and the distance between these people. and no, it's not biographical. But we've all seen this is one form or another - saw it all the time in night clubs. I tried very hard not to reveal who cheated - you decide. Courtney Haines' returns, this time on a fabulous R&B Tenor Sax part. I think of Rhett and Scarlett when I hear the line, "One just wants to apologize, the other just to forgive, but neither knows. So it goes ... Undecided."
Sorry How do you say goodbye to a narcissist? What's the saying? When people show you who they are, believe them. This is a composite of a few people I've known. It started with, "Hard to feel sorry for a millionaire, but I feel sorry for you." Pretty cutting, I guess, but deserved, trust me. This version is a little more Rock, though it works really well live as a folk song. The music and melody are upbeat to counter the darkness of the lyric - it was a conscious decision.
The Ring I close each album with a "bare bones" song - one guitar, one voice. This song started with the premise that an old flame was back in town for a visit, and that she is now the "trophy" girlfriend of a wealthy man. Ironic, because she was always so adamant about her belief in marriage, but had apparently compromised her principals for a wealthy lifestyle. Thus the line, "Where's the ring?" My favorite line is in the finish, "If he can fly you off to Paris, he can walk you down the aisle." Two perfect visuals. Biographical, maybe about 20%. This song won me a commendation from Nashville Songwriter's Association as "One to Watch" - an up and coming songwriter. At my age...
Released October 2018
Cliff Stegall Recording Engineer, Bass, Background vocals
Caleb Barnett Percussion
Brent Brunson Keyboards
Hannah Hearnsberger Background vocals on "Hallelujah"
2018 was a tough year, but a good one, too. On March 19, I was in the hospital with Congestive Heart Failure when we sold the company we'd built for 18 years. I knew I had a future - if I survived. While nobody said so at the time, I learned that even my cardiologist had doubts. I had similar concerns. We had just started production. My energy was low, but desire trumped fatigue. I chose to limit the cuts on this one, opting to complete a smaller project, and maintain the quality. Two years later, my health is excellent, and long-term prognosis is good. I'm just too stubborn to quit now.
In early 2020 before the lockdown, I had the privilege of performing this album beginning to end a few times, which was mind-blowingly cool and fun.
Yoyo THIS is the final "Break-up" song of that relationship from the last album. When we parted ways, I told her there was going to be one more song, but "you're probably not gonna like it!" I had been pushed away and pulled in too many times, and decided NO MORE. It's not worth losing your dignity or your friends, and especially your self-respect. This is the only Blues song I'd written to date. The lead guitar sounds so HUGE because I strung my Taylor guitar with heavy strings. It took a few days to strengthen my hands, but wow, what a tone! I switched back to extra-lights the next day. That's me at the end, saying "Let's do another pass." I lost count of how many times we tracked that guitar part. Worth it.
Simple Solace I like the occasional instrumental, and tend to lean into a new-age ambiance when I do. My dog, Dudley, was feeling worse than me, and his 13-year old Golden Retriever body was failing. I pulled him and his bed over next to me so I could comfort him while I practiced. This piece had a calming effect on my boy. I'll never play or hear this, without thinking of my wonderful friend and companion. Miss him so... I play almost every guitar I own here; The Taylor as the main guitar, the Stratocaster for the languid leads, Little Red for the ethereal rhythm, and my Cordoba Classical to express the melody in a more traditional sense. It won Best Instrumental in Fort Worth Songwriters for 2018.
Rise and Shine This was a late addition, as I only wrote it about June 1. I was wearing a defibrillator vest 24/7 all summer - when your heart is pumping at only 10%, they do that. Every morning, I’d swing my feet out of bed, battery pack slung around my shoulder, and look out the window to see what my day looked like. Rain, sun – didn’t matter, because I was alive. I would even say it out loud some days, “Rise and Shine, dude!” Each day was a celebration that the universe had given me ONE MORE DAY. In concert, I take a more intimate approach, but I wanted this recording to be joyous! It's Vaudeville; Dancing, wearing a straw hat & striped shirt and sporting a cane kind of happy - because I'm ALIVE! That's Brent Brunson on the piano - he just knows what to play.
Cup of Coffee Envision a couple, having met online, finally meeting in person for the first time. It doesn't matter how much you know about each other, but it's that face-to-face, where their voice and expressions really have an impact - or not. So it's two people that haven't given up on love, though they might have every reason to. The biographical origins of the song are quite different, to be honest - way too complicated to fit into a song. But the sentiment is the same. Love playing this one live.
Tom Mr. Petty. It's rare that I become a flat-out fan. Tom Petty is among the greatest songwriters of my generation, and from all I know, a pretty good dude. He stood up to his record company when they tried to raise the price of their albums - meaning that he stood up for his fans. How cool is that? All he wanted to do was write and perform his music, and he did it better than most. When the news broke that he was hospitalized and we got mixed signals as to if he was still alive, we were living the song "The Waiting" - it was the hardest part.
Hallelujah One more version of the most recorded song in history. Playing it live, I hit on the idea of changing the time signature from a 6/8 Waltz to Country Rock 4/4, and I knew I wanted to share my rendition. Most people don't really know why it's different, but they sense something; Familiar, yet new. Mission accomplished. Thanks to Hannah Hearnsberger for her beautiful background vocal - with Cliff's alto vocal under hers, and Brent Brunson for nailing the Hammond Organ part. Believe it or not, this one gets air play all over the world - not big numbers, but many locations.
Long Day The guitar you hear, I named "Little Red". She's a little smaller, with a delicate sound, and she plays amazingly well. A 1988 Limited Edition Takamine, there are only 400 in the world, and she's FAMILY. I always wanted to write an ode to this guitar - my best, and sometimes only friend. I'd come up with the line, "And you miss her too". So the guitar and I both miss the lady. Is this one biographical? About 75%, yes, but more as a memory, even when I was writing it. It's just such a tender story and moment, so I immersed myself in it.
Stayed in Love Too Long
Released September 2017
Wayne Willingham – all guitars and all vocals except as noted
Cliff Stegall recording engineer, bass except as noted
Brian Rockwell bass on "I've Got Your Back", "I'll Find A Way" and "Someday When I Grow Up"
Caleb Barnett drums, percussion, and marimba
Christie Campbell Ferguson and Cliff Stegall Vocal Chorus on "I've Got Your Back" and "The Messenger"
Wayne Adamiec Penny Whistle on "Eliza"
Brent Brunson keyboards
As I began songwriting in 2016, I naturally wanted to record, more than just with my phone. I had some digital recording equipment, but had limited time and even less patience to learn how to use it well. I was working full-time, playing tennis several times a week, had a relationship and music was just a hobby, right? Well...
In 2017, a friend suggested that I meet Cliff, that maybe he could help me record a few (three?) songs I'd written. I had ZERO intention of recording an album. Cliff had the facility and skills I needed, and he knew some pretty solid session players, so we gave it a shot. From those first sessions, I saw that this could work. Cliff "got" me, saying that my music reminded him of his late father. Before completing the first three songs, I expressed my desire to do the album, and we set about the tasks required to accomplish it. I learned from the experience, and might have done some things differently, but I certainly will stand by every sound on the album.
As background, at the time, I was in an on/off relationship with a lady that I call the Duchess - classy, wealthy, elegant, beautiful and kind. I have not a bad thing to say about her. Five of the songs on this album were directly inspired by her, and to a lesser degree, a few more on subsequent albums. I mention her now, rather than clumsily in the rundown. She was my muse.
I've Got Your Back This was the first song we recorded - intended to be the only one. I met a lady about a year before - a tennis mom. She had a husband that could never quite get it together, and ultimately walked out. She'd met every challenge - alone, and she deserved better. I was driving to work, thinking about her struggle, and said out loud, "What fool abandoned you?" It struck me as a pretty good opening line, so I pulled over on the freeway and wrote much of the lyric on my tablet in probably 30 minutes. Caleb came back in to record the drum rolls that I think add so much to the drama of the song.
Living A Lie This isn't about a relationship, but a tennis partnership that wasn't going well. I had tennis ambitions, and it seemed we were at cross purposes. I wasn't buying the argument that it would all work out, and I wasn't going to lie to myself about it. It seems kind of negative, but my point was that if it's not going to get better with time, time's up. There are seven separate guitar tracks - or nine - not sure. First time I'd played an electric guitar in decades. Whew...
Eliza This one is absolutely biographical, though that wasn't her name. This would have been about 1986, when I suddenly found myself single and somewhat jaded. She was country, I'm not - but our vocal blend was amazing. It was brief, torrid, and restored my self-esteem which had taken quite a hit. We remained friends, though more distant, until I heard of her passing in 2003. We dropped a verse for the sake of brevity, and it adds an interesting aspect of the story. I play the complete version live, and will someday re-record with all verses restored.
A Simple Embrace Once in a while, I like to prove that I'm first a guitarist. This was recorded in my study at my home, on my little portable recording studio, before I even met Cliff. I set up a mic and plugged in my guitar, and recorded it live, maybe one or two takes. I overdubbed the harmonic (chimes) guitar part, but that's it. I handed it over to Cliff for the polish. He asked if I didn't want to re-record it in the studio, and my only comment was, "I'll never be able to play it any better than this." He did a great job bringing out the fidelity.
Donna May The Duchess told me about when she was barely out of high school, she and her Navy pilot boyfriend were planning on getting engaged as soon as he returned from his tour in Vietnam. He didn't make it. She said that she was numb, and walked down to the beach in Pensacola every day at dusk. She eventually moved on, but the lady in the song didn't. And that's the premise. Caleb is a percussion major from Berklee College of Music, so I asked if he could play marimba. He could, and he did. Such talent.
Strollin' on Sundance Hey, this is just fun! I was doodling on the guitar, came up with these licks, and put them into a fun little song. It's not so hard to play - if your hands are in shape. Great practice piece. Sundance Square is the centerpiece of Downtown Fort Worth, and a wonderful place for people watching, concerts, restaurants, shops, a fountain, and just a great place to take a stroll!
Down in Mickey's Basement Everybody in my songwriter's group was writing their 'throwback' songs, so I figured why not? I'd had the title for decades. Mick was a real guy, and the coolest in our high school clique. His basement was tricked out with a great stereo, black lights, posters, and was very convenient to cruising Woodward Avenue in Detroit's northern suburbs. Most of the song is based on our experiences in around that basement. Found out that Mickey passed away in 2012, after a lifetime of alcohol, drug abuse and dysfunctional relationships. He peaked in high school. Sad. So I remember the happier times.
Fall in Love Too Fast Written in 2015 - long before recording or the Duchess. A sleepless night, where you overthink everything, and only pass out when you're too exhausted to continue. But if you're like me, you'll be up on time and at the job or whatever, meeting your obligations, because that's who you are. This guy is trying to figure out how he blew another relationship. It's not me, but it could be. Don't what anyone else thinks, but I'm pretty happy with that vocal.
Someday When I Grow Up Channeling my best Jimmy Rogers on that chorus. This is one of the break-up songs, and I guess it's an apology of a sort - not my intent. The Duchess heard it, and within a day we were back together. I knew long before this that it was simply a matter of time. Honest, I just went with the flow.
I'll Find A Way Another break-up song, when I really thought it was over. (We had one more round) It wasn't an "I love you" song, but an "I'll miss you" song. It contains a line that is possibly the most selfless I've written, "If one of us should end up lonely, I hope that it's me." I walked into the studio with lead sheets under my arm, having just completed this composition. I set aside our original agenda, stressing that I wanted to get this one down right away. Later, the guys said they agreed with the schedule change.
The Messenger It was suggested that I write a Christian song. That's not really my forte, though I had plenty of experience from Jesus Christ Superstar. So I thought about it, and mashed up a story about a man that was one of the original throng that followed Jesus and his sermons, but after the crucifixion, he just went on with his life. Only in his old age did all the pieces start to fit. "Mysterious Ways" was the name of the Rock Band in the road show. I like this song as much 4 years later as I did when we recorded it.
Sense of The Moment As any woman is to man that's taken with her, the Duchess was a sensory delight. Her voice, her look, her scent - all intoxicating. We were asleep, just before dawn. She stirred and shifted, then resettled as we all do, releasing a heavy, yet feminine sigh, then went quiet again. I felt her breath on my arm, and I liked it. The premise for this song was born. We call this a 'bare-bones' - one guitar, one voice, and I traditionally finish each album with one, because it's the real me. The guitar part came first, as always. It's somewhat difficult to play, even moreso when also singing. It was recorded in two takes. Feel free to try it, and good luck!
By the way: the FINAL break-up song is the title song from the next album: YOYO.
to be continued...