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VICTORIA WILLIAMS RETROSPECTIVE

Victoria on Victoria
or: 'How Miss Williams found her way through the maze of corporate and personal deception' 

Hearsay #18 / 1998

18hp
"Anton Fier understood my jazz soul when he had me go out to Carla Bley's house to record a couple of tracks - it was snowy and she had a large cat"

dear neil,

did you say this issue was due on the 15th of july? i have to leave for a tour soon so i better get cracking...

HAPPY COME HOME (Geffen, 1987)
This record started out with demos being made for EMI by Van Dyke Parks, featuring players like the Richard Green Quartet, Richard Thompson, Jim Keltner, Fred Tackett and Van Dyke on accordion. The demo was not appreciated--or I wasn't As EMI said: 'we already have Kate Bush', such was the state of female artist recognition at this time. So I began Happy Come Home for Rough Trade in
England after Geoff Travis had sent me to Europe with Jonathan Richman on tour. It was a low budget project and T-Bone Burnett was producing until a gal from Geffen, Teresa Ensanat, heard a bit of it in the studio and said she wanted to put it out on Geffen. So T-Bone made up a budget and submitted it but Geffen said they didn't want me to work with T-Bone as he had gone over on some other project... So long story short, I went into the maze of corporate and personal deception. Not knowing 'the ropes', I began to get hung up on every turn. I went to NYC and began to record with Anton Fier who had just finished a record with the same 'low’ budget and felt he was just the person to record this as he had the time and Steven Soles came in, when mid-way through the recording I wanted to hang it all because my husband wouldn't come to New York to play harmonica and said he wasn't sure he wanted to be married to me... oh no...

But Van Dyke, who I wilt always be thankful to, came equipped with charts for Main Road, TC, and even Shoes (I didn't ask for him to write a part for Shoes but he said he would never speak to me again if I didn't use it) and the NY orchestra to sing with was a divine experience for me to sing my little songs with. I think Anton understood my jazz soul when he had me go out to Carla Bley's house to record a couple of tracks - it was snowy and she had a large cat and a stream running through the woods below.

So that record came out and got very good reviews yet was never shipped (a girl told me this who worked in shipping at Warners… Geffen used Warners for distribution at that time) and was not even put on CD at a time when everyone was buying CDs. Well, I had a manager but he never returned my calls and finally I wrote the record company a letter and said I would like to be off their label as there was no one in my corner any more (Ms Ensanat had left the company). But the good thing that manager did was introduce me to DA Pennebaker and his wife Chris who were hired to make a video and who only knew how to make a film! This film is sill in existence to document that record and period. There were specific details I have probably overlooked as I quit drinking during the making of Happy Come Home as I thought I was an alcoholic (I later learned it was MS that made alcohol suddenly affect me so strongly) and my memory of some of the sessions is thwarted— but I remember there were some great renowned players and people I met in a bar and on a train on that record...

SWING THE STATUE! (Rough Trade, 1990)
Here, after having left Geffen I go back to my original idea of Rough Trade... Oh, but what a mess I was with the ‘divorce’; a word I'd never heard spoken but in hushed solemn tones as a child. Now here I was the first in my family (now there have been more) to go through it.
My first attempt to record Statue was a mess. Next I brought in Michael Blair and his organizational skills. We rehearsed at my house with Willie Aaron, Don Falzon, Andrew and David Williams. Then we went into Sound Factory and brought other players... Melissa Hassin, Byron Berlin, Julie and Buddy Miller came in at different times during the week to record a mostly live CD. It's so good to work with good friends, we had a good time... or so I remember. Many dreams came true such as playing piano on my own record, putting some surprises down like the walking in on the gospel song (I have always included some gospel on records as I feel so fortunate to be able to make records I want to give back to the Maker) and the message machine tape off my machine at home at the time… it's not listed on the track sheet so may have been missed. Julie Miller and Buddy were very good friends to me during the 'depression-era' prior to Swing and they still are. They came and picked me up and let me stay on the couch for a while - it seems like a month, but maybe it was just a couple of weeks.

After finishing the recording I set about making the cover and Roby Cavolina helped. There used to be a circus parked down on
Cahuenga Ave. in Hollywood and I would go late at nite and visit the elephants. They are really something, chained together at the ankle. They were seven in number starting with the baby and if the large one on the end wanted to lay down, he would send a pull on down the line and the baby would lay, then the next and the next, all the way back to the boss elder. So I asked Roby to take a picture of them but when he went it didn't work out so we went down in the daytime and lo and behold they brought an elephant out just as we arrived so you have the big smiling cover! The illustrations inside are s'posed to follow the song tracks.

LOOSE (Mammoth, 1994)
I met with a lot of producers but Paul Fox impressed me because he smiled a lot and I thought it would be nice when looking thru' the glass to see that. So we pre-produced going thru a tape of my tunes and I said what instruments I heard on this and that and wouldn't it be nice to have Van Dyke write a string section for Polish Those Shoes, and a horn on You Are Loved would be great (Paul knew those Tower Of Power fellows who lived near the recording studio ... which was American Recording Studios in Topanga Canyon). I had the arrangement in mind for Crazy Mary because I had already recorded it with my initial arrangement with
Pearl Jam. On this one I sort of lifted the idea from Madman Across The Water for a different dramatic approach. Any how, the core band, Don Heffington, Andrew Williams, Tim Ray, Greg Cohen, Greg Leisz and I rehearsed for two weeks then recorded live. On the first day in the studio I decided the record was called Loose so there would be the relaxed atmosphere needed. Indeed, there were takes when I lay with my head on Mollie and Ed Thacker (the engineer) put the mike down there so I could sing. I'm not mentioning my health in any of this as that could get boring...

Oh, I just remembered the first week of recording Greg Cohen was in
Israel so Tim Ray and I recorded standards. This was when What A Wonderful World was put down along with seven others. The orchestration that Van Dyke did was all his doing. He was hired to do Polish Those Shoes but he heard on the cassette we sent him the basics of Wonderful World along with the rest of what we'd recorded so far and so he called and said he wanted to write strings for that one as well as Polish. He is so dear. It was a different method than on Happy where I recorded the basics with the orchestra... this time he conducted the orchestra to the tracks. What a maestro!
There were many beautiful moments in the making of Loose: drop-ins such as Gary Louris, Peter Buck, Tammy Rogers, Mark Olson and
Tower Of Power, and the Richard Greene Quartet… the man who owned the studio had lost his dog a few months before and didn't mind Mollie being in the studio every day. His old dog was named Molly, too. Dave Pirner came in to sing on Nature's Way and we wrote a song (My Ally) there in the studio and recorded it. Danny Goldberg was at Atlantic and was very supportive and for the first time I felt good about my record company. Mammoth let me come in and work on the cover and let me have an all paper CD. And this was good experience. Now for...

MUSINGS OF A CREEKDIPPER (Atlantic, 1998)
...did I mention before recording with Paul Fox, Trina Shoemaker and I had tried our hand recording at
Kings Way in New Orleans? It didn't work out… my fault. But we both still wanted to work together. There was a lot of pre-production for Musings done with Andrew Williams. He came over and we went thru' a bag of tapes I had made but never listened to. What a chore! We counted 96 songs... and there is one—no, two—out of that bag that I recorded, Allergic Boy and Rainmaker. My problem is that I always seem to want to do something new and it's hard to go back. There were plenty of sad songs written during break-ups and there were plenty of gospel healings from these songs but alas, maybe some day they will interest me enough to seem vital. So Andrew and I went about getting me set up to record at home. I invested some of my recording budget in equipment as I thought this time about how in the past I had nothing to show for these budgets I was paying back and this would help in the future not just for this one record. Somehow there was mis-communication between Andrew and myself. He wanted to produce but I was too blind to see that this was not to be and so was he. We went into a studio in town because he was allergic to the desert and it broke down. But the one good thing that happened was Brian Blades. He came in on the first two days and we recorded Blackbirds Rise and I knew I wanted to record more with him. Fast forward past the exacerbations and home care nurses and Mark and I attempting to record at home, both of us nonmechanical as we are... to the point that the record company said I must get help. So enters Trina Shoemaker. I sent her the tape of what we'd done here at home and she said she preferred to work on analogue fat tape and--lo and behold—my neighbour Fred Drake had just gotten in just such a system. Fred was Trina's old friend and was responsible for me finding our home here in the desert so it seemed a good match. She brought in a lot of outboard gear and we used my mic so Brian Blades was free to come and so were the others. There were some very special surprises like Ray Ortega dropping by with his new flute he had made the night before--he began to play along with me on this new kalimba I had never played before and Tim Ray on organ and ever-ready Trina caught it. It was summer time and the days were too dreadfully hot to be in so we recorded at nite. I had just adopted Ruby and he stayed up with me and we returned at daybreak to dig in the garden then sleep till 4. JC Hopkins was in LA doing a gig and he came out with some band members, Jon Birdsong being one and he added the wonders of the cornet and sousaphone. Giant Sand was out and I got to play with my old bros John [Convertino] and Joey [Burns]. That was who Trina and I originally recorded with at Kings Way those years before. The recording was very organic and there was trouble-shooting along the way such as the bass on Let It Be So—it just needed a little lift and Greg Cohen (who happened to be out to record with Bonnie Raitt, otherwise we couldn't afford to fly him out!) he solved that problem. He is so talented and pure good to be around. I had to leave mid-way thru' to play the Lilith Fair and Trina had to go out with Sheryl Crow. We finished in Oxnard with Mark Howard who was Trina's teacher. After Lilith I went to the Theatro with Mr Howard. Listening to where we were at, we decided to recut some. Danny Frankel came out on drums and we cut Kashmir's Corn. On Train Song I stripped everything off but the drum loop Brian had made and went to the piano and rearranged it with Wendy and Lisa who have a lot of experience with loops and we finished it off along with Patrick Warren on the chamberlain. It was very fun. Oh, and Greg Leisz on pedal steel and bass. Mark recorded his parts on our home studio because at the time there was no-one to keep the dogs... (Ruby and Solo; Mollie was with me). I bought a bike the first day in Oxnard at the Salvation Army 'cross from the studio and rode it every day. We went creek dipping on the weekend and that is where the cover picture comes from.

well, hope this does it there was nothing to write about this moment in toronto as it is a live show complete please xcuse my hurry but there is practice to be done. take care. sincerely,

victoria.

Victoria Williams, 1999

 
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