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!)


  1. As someone lucky enough to have heard an early preview on a recent trip to Hannibal, I can attest that this is one of the best CDs I've heard in a long time. I hope to make the release party on the 20th. If not, I'll be anxiously awaiting the arrival of my CD in the mail.

  2. Thank you, Al... I hope everyone declares it a family favorite!

  3. Mark Twain released a CD of music. In a CD all types of songs are formed and these songs related to his life. All the thoughts of his are present in it.