I didn’t see it coming. Had no idea it would appeal to the listeners as it has. This song has been my only co-writing experience so far. A good old fashioned back yard, sitting around a campfire, unintentional co-write. Maybe those are the best kind of writing experiences, I don’t know.
A guy I met at church, Richard Turner, expressed an interest in songwriting after hearing me perform an original and asked if we could get together sometime. I’m so glad he did as we have become close friends through the years. I’m not sure how many times we had gotten together to toss around song ideas but I remember clearly the evening he came to the house where I lived; we struck up the mandatory campfire and presently the songs came forth. He trotted out this idea for a song he was feeling; a dark and moody song but thus far only a first verse had come together. After he played what he had been able to work out, we agreed the song had a vibe that conjured thoughts of chains, bonds, maybe even imprisonment. Not literally of course, but the chains that exist in someone’s soul or mind especially the chains of guilt. So we strummed. And strummed. And stared into the fire….while strumming. Can’t explain exactly what happened next. We had kicked around terms relating to imprisonment to keep with the theme of the song but nothing had really clicked until I had this thought burst into my mind, almost screaming at me, from somewhere in the night sky: “Love without parole!”. I didn’t even get it myself, at first, but that didn’t stop me from blabbing about it. At the mention of the phrase though, I saw it in Richard’s face, a look that said “ya got something, there”.
The song had taken a little more shape.
We gave the phrase “Love without parole” a little analyzing and decided the play on a prison sentence of “Life without Parole”, was a good fit for what Richard had originated with his lyrics. I had recently read a bit of Dickens and Hawthorne and from one of their works I had picked up a phrase to the effect of dreaming awake or asleep and somehow that seemed a fit for a wretched soul who can’t get a lost love off his mind. I pitched that to Richard for the second verse and that was pretty much it for that evening’s collaboration. I’m not sure how much I even thought about the song until I saw Richard again. But he had developed a solid structure for the song and it was really fleshing out. We picked on it several occasions, but to be truthful, I thought it was a song we liked but nobody else would “get it”. I was soon to be proven wrong.
In another blog, I talk about ties to a live radio show in Eastern North Carolina with Raeford Brown as host. I began making regular appearances on the show, doing songs live on air and being interviewed about North Carolina Songwriters, the music scene, etc. One week, I was scheduled to be on air and I was needing a fresh song to perform. Love Without Parole came to mind. I emailed Rich for the lyrics and he obliged. Soon , I started really getting into the vibe of the song. Rich had done a great job of working out the combination of his lyrics and mine, so I had very little work to do there. The only thing it needed was a little guitar work; a catchy guitar lick to kick it off and something rhythmic as well to beef it up. Being a huge fan of Merle Travis and countless other finger-style pickers, I noodled with some ideas for a finger picked intro and soon had a simple but solid kickoff for this new-ish original song. I also felt like a Luther Perkins/Johnny Cash style rhythm would sit well and after adding a dose of that, it really felt like a complete work. The song went over well on air and has ever since, whether solo acoustic, or live with a band. I often get questions about it from audience members after the show, which tells us the song stands out in comparison to others on the set list.
In time, the possibility of recording the song occupied my thoughts. Rich was all for it. It took time to find the right set-up to get the feel the song needed but with help from Chris Bellamy and his home studio, it came together with a nice, dark and moody vibe as intended. Hopefully, our audience is not relating to this song too closely as they listen; but rather enjoying the unique, edgy groove of this crowd favorite,