Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mark Twain: Words & Music - The Release

Everything happened so fast, it was almost blurry.  Think of it.  Carl Jackson and I first spoke in 2007 about doing this project.  (And remember, this was after having not seen or spoken to each other since the early 1970s.)  After our reunion phone call when he agreed this all sounded like a splendid idea, we kept in touch by phone and email, and then I stopped in Nashville and had dinner with him on my way to Florida in December of, let's see... 2009?  Must've been.  Well, the hours we have logged on our iPhones, the emails that've flown across the World Wide Web, the hundreds of songs and words considered, the devilish details, the serendipitous surprises... it has all culminated in the actual release of Mark Twain: Words & Music.

We had a release party.  That is to say, Carl and Val Storey came to Hannibal to be on hand when the first CDs were sold at the stroke of midnight (Tom and Huck's famous hour), so we led up to the appointed time with a first rate party followed by Carl and Val singing songs from the CD.  You're familiar with the line-up: Jimmy Buffett as Huck Finn, Garrison Keillor as the narrator, Clint Eastwood as Sam Clemens, & Angela Lovell as Susy Clemens.  Then there are the singers... Emmylou Harris, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Rhonda Vincent, Bradley Walker, Carl Jackson, The Church Sisters, Sheryl Crow, Brad Paisley, Marty Raybon, Val Storey, Vince Gill, Joe Diffie, and Ricky Skaggs.  The CD is released on the Mailboat Records label.  It is produced, of course, by the one and only Carl Jackson.

Now, let's go to the party...

The Museum Gallery was decorated "just so"
In hopes that all of our best friends would show

Megan and Beau brought wine from the Cave
I sampled them all, now which is my fave?

Chocolaterie Stam donated mouthwatering chocolate
I'll have to confess to stashing some in my pocket

The downstairs was ready for what would come later
Upstairs there was food that LulaBelle's catered
The Rockwell Gallery was full of folks
Sharing good time, laughter, and lots of good jokes
With LulaBelle's catering, the food was superb
Most everyone made it, but we sure missed you, Herb!

Journalism students and prof spoke with Michael
Their blog is the best, glad we got into their cycle
Danny and Emily co-wrote "Huck Finn Blues"
Brad Paisley recorded, now THAT is good news!
There's Micki and Michael and Carl and Ryan
I can't remember all names - I swear I am tryin'!

Val and Nancy catching up with a chat
Mixing and mingling, you just can't beat that!

Gregg and Vikki check out the exhibit
That describes the CD and tells how we did it

Everyone's laughing and giggling and grinning
I guess you could say we were all just "Huck Finning"

While the party continued the stars sneaked downstairs
To warm up their voices for a few empty chairs
We've heard of air guitar, but never wine
Henry's tuned and he's ready to have a great time

Finally it's time for music and more
Of our beloved Sam Clemens, there's so much in store
Kristy is mesmerized, Dena is smiling
This musical evening is truly beguiling

The fans were nestled all snug in their seats
While Carl and Val did not miss a beat
Carl played lead, he and Val took turns singing
That sweet Martin guitar, like a bell it was ringing

After the show folks waited in line
To buy their CDs, then have Val and Carl sign

Okay, so the captions aren't award-winners, but you get the idea.  I mainly wanted to share pictures for those who couldn't be here.  Now, aren't you sorry you didn't come?  A highlight of the evening came when Carl got ready to sing "Indian Crow," a song he co-wrote with Jerry Salley.  The song calls for a respectable dobro, and boy, did we get lucky.  Rusty Young (of Poco fame) and his lovely wife, Mary, had come to the party, and with no warning, planning, or rehearsing, Carl called upon Randy to come up and help play the song.  Breathtaking.  (Rusty, we gotta book you for Music Under the Stars somehow!)

We really did have an amazing time, and now the fun will be watching how it sells and hearing how folks like it.  We've already had many letters, emails, and phone calls with lots of folks re-ordering after they've played theirs.  Looks like Santa Claus might need to stock up.  Remember, this is a benefit for the Museum, and the artists donated their time and talent to this project to help our cause - caring for 9 historic properties.  Please help us get the word out.  The Associated Press ran a great article yesterday that seems to have generated a lot of interest.  I peeked at the Amazon rankings earlier this evening, and the CD was ranked #46 in Country Music and #2 in Bluegrass.  Kind of amazing considering we've done no advertising.  But then, the whole thing's been kind of amazing.

Thank you to all who believed in this project.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Mark Twain: Words & Music CD Release

Just when I think my week can't get any better (I "work" at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, after all), a small package arrives that sends everyone into a tizzy.  The small package that arrived this past Tuesday contained a precious handful of our new CDs - Mark Twain: Words & Music.  Now, this has been a work in progress since the idea began in 2005, so to hold an actual CD in my hand after all this time - well, let's just say I'm not over it yet.

Our first peek at the finished product!
What is this CD project, and why all the fuss?  The quick answer is: This double-CD with a 40-page booklet of liner notes tells Mark Twain's life in spoken word in song.  The glitzy answer is: This CD features Jimmy Buffett (as Huck Finn), Garrison Keillor (as narrator), Clint Eastwood (as Mark Twain), Angela Lovell (yes, MY Angela Lovell as Susy Clemens) and songs by: Emmylou Harris, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Rhonda Vincent, Bradley Walker, Carl Jackson, The Church Sisters, Sheryl Crow, Brad Paisley, Marty Raybon, Val Storey, Vince Gill, Joe Diffie, and Ricky Skaggs.  The most important answer is: This CD is a labor of love that will generate much needed revenue for the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum.

A double-CD with a 40-page booklet of liner notes
Back in 2005 I was trying to come up with a creative project for 2010, also known as "The Year of Mark Twain" because of the confluence of three important anniversaries: the 100th anniversary of his death, the 175th anniversary of his birth, and the 125th anniversary of the American publication of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  For two years my favorite CD had been Livin', Lovin', Losin' - Songs of the Louvin Brothers, which won two Grammys in 2004 and was produced by Carl Jackson, a childhood friend I hadn't seen in more than 30 years.  I met Carl when he played banjo for Jim & Jesse and the Virginia Boys, a top notch bluegrass band.  Carl was 14, I was 12, and we became friends and pen pals.

Carl Jackson playing banjo with Jim & Jesse and the Virginia Boys
Carl left Jim & Jesse and played several years with Glen Campbell.  He later toured with Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Vince Gill, and Ricky Skaggs.  Being raised on bluegrass music, I kept up with Carl's music even though we lost touch.  On the Louvin project, which won the Grammy for Best Country Album, Carl had paired the perfect voices to recreate some of the Louvin Brothers' greatest songs.  Adding to the magic of the album was the inclusion of archival audio footage of Ira and Charlie Louvin onstage, talking to the audience, introducing each other, and talking about their songs.  I loved the way the songs blended with the chatter.  The idea for a spoken word/song compilation CD about Mark Twain's life felt like the perfect way to honor Twain's legacy in 2010.

Livin', Lovin', Losin' - Songs of the Louvin Brothers
The CD that started it all... produced by Carl Jackson
Although I hadn't spoken to Carl in more than three decades, I got his number from a mutual friend.  I called, he answered, and six years later, here we are - with real CDs on hand.  I have to say that I was thrilled for two reasons when Carl answered that call: 1) he remembered me; and 2) he said he liked the idea and would do it.  Now, if Carl Jackson is not a household name in your family, it's because Carl does not do any self-promotion.  But he is, without a doubt, the best acoustic producer in Nashville (which also means in the entire country).

I set to work writing the script, listening to songs, and planning the sequence.  Carl also set to work, reviewing everything I sent him, doing a lot of listening on his own, and contacting friends to write songs, play, and sing on the CD.  (And yes, Carl wrote new songs especially for the CD.)  Carl and his friends generously and graciously donated their immense talent to this project.

And speaking of generous folks, a handful of unsung heroes (The Hutchison Brothers: Herb, Bob, and Tom; Keith and Heather Harned; Joan and Bruce Coffey, Cheryl Amman, Mina Brown, Jimmy O'Donnell, the Riedel Foundation, and the Hannibal Convention and Visitors Bureau) stepped up to the plate and wrote checks to cover the costs of making a CD - everything from studio time to legal fees.

Oh, and then there's the lovely Sally Poole and her excellent staff (I'm talking about you, Sheena Kendrick) who took all the words and images we provided and created a work of art in the design of the CD.  Yes, this CD was a team effort - TEAM TWAIN.

And now we are about to unveil this amazing project with a heart full of gratitude and hope...

14 story segments + 13 songs = 1 life story of Mark Twain
(Or, you could rewrite this as 2 CDs + 40 pages of liner notes = 1 unique project)

The CD will be released September 21, 2011.  In fact, we're so excited, we're having a party on the evening of Sept. 20th!  (Tickets are only $25!  Call 573-221-9010, ext. 404 to order yours!)  Carl will be there along with other special guests, and at Tom and Huck's favorite hour - MIDNIGHT! - we'll begin selling the long awaited CDs!  For folks who can't make it to the party, it's easy to pre-order this beautiful, historic project from the Museum's online store.  Priced at only $18.95, your holiday shopping could not be easier this year!  The CD has something for everyone: history, literature, American roots music, some of your favorite stars, and some brand new stars.  And remember, you're not just getting the best road trip CD ever created, you're helping to preserve the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum properties in Hannibal.  Who ever knew that doing a good deed could have such a great payoff?
"Like" the CD on Facebook and tell your friends about it!

P.S. Carl and I dedicated the CD to our parents and to my 4th grade teacher, Mr. Ronald E. Riese.  Mr. Riese introduced me to Mark Twain a long time ago at Newberry Elementary.  It just goes to show you how much impact teachers have on their students.  Thank you, Mr. Riese!  (And thank you, Carl, for making my dream come true!)