Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Drinkin' Songs: The Danny Schmidt Edition

Danny Schmidt: Girlwhiskey

Danny Schmidt: Drunk at the Biltmore


Danny Schmidt: Sad Songs Walking


I'm a day late and a dollar short, although no less heartfelt - yesterday was the official CD Release Day for Danny Schmidt's Instead the Forest Rose to Sing (read the song-by-song commentary here), his sixth recording... the previous five released independently and this one through Red House Records, quite a coup. Now that Danny also has a booking agency, there's no doubt he'll be getting more of the recognition he so richly deserves - he truly is in my Top Five list of songwriters, right up there with Joni Mitchell, Dar Williams, Dave Carter and Todd Snider.

I am counting down the days/hours/minutes until Danny plays this Saturday night (a co-bill with Nick Annis) in the concert series I've been presenting the last four years - I already know we're in for an amazing night of music, camaraderie and magic. I'm telling you now that you need to go to his shows and buy all his CDs to experience the phenomenon of Danny Schmidt (eloquent wordsmith, creative musician, gentle soul, generous spirit, punster extraordinaire) - you can thank me later...

Also, because I love you... I am typing up his explanations for these songs (the first two from Danny's Enjoying the Fall, the third from Live at the Prism Coffeehouse), recorded in the songbook of his first five CDs, complete with tabs, chords and commentary - really... seriously... listen... and learn...

P.S. Not being a whiskey drinker, I was not familiar with Maker's Mark and did a bit of googling - fascinating backstory...


I’ve told this story a million times, so if you’ve seen me play this song live, you’ve probably heard this story already. Sorry you have to listen to it again, honey.

I got the inspiration for this song from one of my friends and songwriting heroes, Tom House, who tells a story about going to these backroom hootenanny songwriter shows at this place in Nashville . . . and he and his buddy and their respective wives would sneak in liquor from the store down the street. And the boys would maximize their cash, and buy something cheap and on the sour side of the sour mash scale. And the girls would buy Maker’s Mark, or bourbon of some similar pedigree and sweetness. And the boys would rib the girls about their upscale taste in “Girlwhiskey”. But, of course, by the end of the evening, they’d have drained their Manly bourbon, and they’d come groveling up to the girls, trying to get them to share what was left of their Girlwhiskey.

First off, Tom could tell any story and I’d find some sort of comic tragedy in it. He has this way of talking about things, and how they transpired, that harkens back to the days of old mountain life, and real country music, with a sorta everyday plain matter-of-fact poignancy. Anyway, the Girlwhiskey story stuck with me, in part cause I really liked the term. So I nabbed it from him and tried to write a song that was simultaneously a love song to a girl and to the whiskey. . . maybe leaning a little toward the girl at the beginning, and the whiskey as things progress. I love the ambiguity of love.

Drunk at the Biltmore

If ever there was a simple stupid song fit for playing when you're so plastered you can't tell your G-string from the next fella's over, well this is your song.

I have no notes for this song. Not just is it the simplest song ever written - - but if you screw up half the chords and let the rhythm fall completely apart, well that just makes it all the better. In that small way, it's a work of indelicate genius.

I play it as a waltz. But you don't have to play in that way. I play everying in a waltz when I'm drunk. You might find that, for yourself, you play everything in 5/4 when you're drunk. Martinis'll do that, I hear tell.

I wrote this about a frat bar in Charlottesville. But we all know, there's a Biltmore in every town.

Sad Songs Walking

It's kind of a funny process, charting out these old songs. it sounds to me like someone else wrote this song. Or really, I guess what it sounds like is some kid who's been listening to too many old blues records and John Prine's first disc over and over again, trying to write a folk song.

I wonder if John Prine thinks that when he listens back to his first record. That'd be kinda cool.

As for any personal notes on this song... this is the first song that made me worry about how Christian imagery was gonna affect my Jewish family. Was I gonna be misconstrued as "goin' Jesus" on my people? This song's kinda campy, so I didn't take the concern too deeply to heart. But it certainly did cross my mind quite a few times as I shared the first recordings with various chosen family.

And it has been an issue for me, actually, with a bunch of later songs... the fear of being identified as something I'm not, or as believing in something I don't. Cause really, my religious, philosophical and political belief systems don't fit into any traditional nomenclature -- as I suspect most people's don't. But it's a vulnerable position, putting little snippets of expression out there for your loved ones, and others, to extrapolate from.

Anyway, the Jesus part doesn't mean anything. I'm no more Christian in my heart than I am Jewish, than I am Buddhist. And no less.

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