LINER NOTES: APRIL 4, 2017
It was a race against time.
The circumstances behind the recording of John Cody‘s fourth album, Hard Won, may sound panicked and urgent, but there’s a reason for it: they were.
In May 2016, the Montréal-based singer and songwriter received the news that no one wants to hear, especially if you’re a musician: his larynx, laced with cancer, would have to be removed within weeks.
“They told me, ‘Any longer than that and you’re going to die,’” Cody recalls.
Rather than heading to his apartment bed to rest and gather his strength for the impending operation, Cody pushed the procedure deadline back by six weeks. The doctors wanted him in the operating room June 10. He received a reprieve until July 18 and immediately went to work on planning to finish his final vocal album.
“I just wanted to know how much longer I could have to sing and to make this record,” Cody explains. “When they told me they were taking my voice I didn’t go hide in the corner. I started a crowd-funding campaign. It wasn’t about focusing on the grim reality. It was about being able to make the last statement, being able to say, ‘this is my last song, my last record.’ A chance to say, ‘Thank you.'”
The desire to complete what would be arguably his most important work was accelerated in earnest: John Cody had six weeks to finish his album vocals.
He did have one advantage in his favour, however: some of the tracks were in a stage of completion. Some, like “Cheers, (Thanks A Lot)” – his duet with multiple Grammy Award winner Jennifer Warnes – date as far back as 2001.
But there were complications, foremost of which was Cody’s own health. It’s one thing to be dealing with larynx cancer, but his body was already suffering from a number of maladies simultaneously: since 2013, Cody has endured six polypectomies, related to colon cancer. A looming umbilical hernia, later excised in November 2016, which stabbed him with icepick intensity until that point of relief. He’s suffering from auto-immune degenerative disease that fill his joints and spine with relentless pain, diabetes, and a rare form of Gilbert’s syndrome.
“It’s hard to keep up,” he quips.
Throw in exhaustion and the mental fog created by the medication that is working towards healing him, and the cards were stacked against Cody before he even sung a note.
Yet he remained buoyant, confident. Something that one learns very quickly in John Cody’s company is that the man has indomitable spirit, especially when it comes to music, and his involvement in it.
“I would pretty much endure anything in service of my music,” says Cody. “Making music gives so much inner peace that I don’t let it get to me. I have so much love in my life that it behooves me not to let anyone down. Plus, look at all the amazing people that I get play with that also want to play with me.”
If health complications weren’t enough to contend with, there was also the financial factor: Cody simply didn’t have the money to spend the estimated $15,000 he needed to finish the recording. His savings depleted, his survival dependent on a monthly disability cheque, with rent of his modest one-bedroom apartment claiming a healthy portion of that amount, and charitable music-based foundations like Canada’s Unison Benevolent Fund and MusiCares providing help with groceries and other basic needs, he ended up heading to Toronto in June with the conviction that, somehow, everything would work out.
A brief intermission here for some words about John Cody and his accomplishments: although, as an artist, he has remained in relative and undeserved obscurity, with four albums to his name, his career has enjoyed flashes of success as a songwriter. He’s contributed material to albums, songs and artists that the public is very familiar with, selling more than eight million copies in the process.
The biggest of these is Canadian singer and songwriter Tom Cochrane‘s smash breakthrough Mad Mad World. Cody helped arranged the vocal parts on the crossover chart-topper “Life Is a Highway” and co-wrote “The Secret Is to Know When to Stop.” Proudly displayed on the wall of Cody’s humble Montréal apartment is the Diamond Award he received for the album’s achievement of selling more than 1.7 million copies in its native Canada.
Mad Mad Worldequaled its Canadian feat with an additional 1 million sales in the U.S., with Wikipedia claiming the album factoring in another four million in sales around the world. “Life Is a Highway” itself also hit the seven-digit sales mark to the total, and a cover of the hit including Cody’s original vocal arrangement by Nashville country superstars Rascal Flatts added another chart-topping seven-figure sales windfall for the song.
Along with Larry Klein and David Batteau, Cody also co-wrote “The Fundamental Things,” the lead-off track of 10-time Grammy Award winner Bonnie Raitt‘s RIAA-certified 1998 million-seller Fundamental: a song that was later reinterpreted by American Idol finalist Melinda Doolittle. There’s also Canadian gold for the John Cody co-write “Hold On” on Holly Cole‘s 1997 album Dark Dear Heart.
Despite these impressive credentials that should have provided a decent royalty stream to Mr. Cody, the music industry mechanism of calculation and delivery is a complex web often convoluted by deals, transactions and inconsistent accounting practices frequently affected by unexpected and outside forces.
Combine those factors with the fact that the three solo John Cody albums – 1993’s Zelig Belmondo, 1996’s Darkness Visible and 2012’s Painful Righteous Bliss – garnered modest sales (as Cody likes to say, “I’m a successful composer but an unsuccessful recording artist…”) and you have a brief explanation of Cody’s financial predicament leading up to the completion of Hard Won.
Mind you, those early acclaimed recordings attracted some stellar talent to help realize the Cody vision: Don Dixon (R.E.M., The Smithereens, Hootie & The Blowfish) produced Zelig; the Grammy-winning Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock, Madeleine Peyroux) came aboard for Darkness,and stellar musicians ranging from Tom Cochrane, Bobby Economou, Lynn Miles and Claude Desjardins to Greg Leisz, Colin Linden, Mary Margaret O’Hara and Rusty McCarthy made appearances. Klein was charmed enough by Cody’s talents to wax eloquently about him on Darkness,writing, in part: “John Cody is Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and Prince braided in with Charles Bukowski.”
The association with Klein, which prompted his move to Los Angeles, also reacquainted Cody with Joni Mitchell, Klein’s wife at the time. Mitchell and Cody first met at a Montréal press conference that promoted Mitchell’s 1988 album Chalk Mark in A Rain Storm.
Cody recalls Mitchell telling the story of their meeting during one late night at the famed L.A. celebrity hangout Les Deux Cafés, where he served as music director from 1998-2004, a gig he took over from Klein and a place where Joni would occasionally sit in and sing.
“One night we performed jazz duets and standards for about three hours,” he remembers. “She was there having dinner with Robbie Robertson, Irene Cara, Dennis Hopper and I think Rosanna Arquette. Later, we were all standing in a circle about 3:30 a.m., having finished performing and she said, ‘There’s only two people in the world I bust onstage.’ Robbie asked her what she meant. She replied, ‘There’s only two people in the world I would go onstage with and start singing without asking their permission – Bob Dylan and John Cody.’ I was standing there, a glass of wine in one hand, a cigarette in the other, trying not to melt into the floor. I couldn’t believe she said that, and then she started telling the story of how we met at the Montréal press conference for Chalk Mark. That’s pretty amazing.”
During his tenure, Cody performed for luminaries ranging from Prince, Boy George, Robert DeNiro to Warren Beatty, Jeff Bridges, and Sting.
He also began various songwriting collaborations with the likes of Sharon Stone, Keith Urban, Christopher Ward (“Black Velvet,”) John Capek (“Rhythm of My Heart”) and has performed and/or recorded with Van Dyke Parks, Siedah Garrett, Grace Jones and Eric Idle among others.
Zelig also introduced Cody to three of his band members that would help him complete Hard Won: his former drummer Blake Manning, bassist Peter Fusco, and guitarist extraordinaire Bill Bell (Jason Mraz, Tom Cochrane.)
Manning and Fusco helped an ailing Cody complete some tracks in October 2015 and Bell shepherded the conclusion of the Hard Won sessions during the summer of ’16.
To help cover expenses, a couple of close friends, Autumn Scott and Anthony James Walker II, had organized a crowdfunding campaign on YouCaring.com on Cody’s behalf to raise the $15,000 U.S. needed for the album, but despite the contribution of many generous souls, only $4549 of the required amount had been reached.
The clock continued to tick, as a challenged Cody landed in Toronto and worked in earnest with Bell to finish vocals and add in a few overdubs, usually spending three or four hours nightly at Bell’s home studio. They worked at breakneck pace, benefiting from an almost telepathic relationship when it came to the studio.
“John is an incredible musician,” notes Bill Bell. “What we did was a lot of off the cuff, off the floor, and that’s how he operates. He knows when he has something good, and he doesn’t need to do it again.”
“We’re very quick in the studio,” Cody confirmed, and proved true to his word: by the time the sessions ended, the only outstanding parts to be added were the guest musicians that had promised to either add their harmonies, unique instrumental flair or, in the case of five tracks, a rhythm section, and a month’s worth of Cody’s instrumental overdubs while recuperating after the surgery at his home.
According to Bell, the sessions were a breeze.
“He always keeps things light,” says the producer. ” He really did a good job of downplaying his illness and concentrating on the joy of the music. Even though you could tell he was in pain, he always had a laugh.”
As a musician and a ringleader, Cody is not exploitive: he believes in the value of everyone getting paid for whatever work they do on his behalf, and in the case of the album, there remained a financial roadblock that now would delay in the completion of the record, unless a solution was found.
In the meantime, Cody learned about a Unison benefit that was scheduled for June 17 at Toronto’s Phoenix Club. Founded in 2010 by music executives Jodie Ferneyhough and Catherine Saxberg, Unison provides counselling and emergency relief services to the Canadian music community during times of hardship, illness or economic difficulties. Usually beneficiaries are assisted under strict confidentiality, but John Cody felt that the fund had aided him enough that he wanted to go public. He announced, at the show, that this would be his final vocal performance, ever and then proceeded to explain how he had been aided by the fund and the importance of it for him and others.
Accompanied by Bell on guitar, Cody sang an original Hard Wonsong called “Solidarity,” and then literally tore down the house with a slow-grind rendition of Prince’s “Little Red Corvette.”
“I saw tears and huge smiles,” recalls Bill Bell of the capacity audience,” I think it really affected most of the people there. He was emotional and I think you could hear it in his voice.”
Cody was nonplussed.
“What was I supposed to do? Just go up there and cry for 10 minutes and say, “Love me, love me, love me?’ Or sit on the stool and sing ‘Close to You’ by the Carpenters and get all choked up about the angels and all that shit? No way,” Cody explained later.
“That’s not the way to go. To me the way to go is cool. How can you go wrong with Prince? ‘Little Red Corvette’ is fun and funny. That song I felt would galvanize people and it did. They hardly know me and 10 minutes in they were singing along. That’s the job.”
As for his final moment on stage as a singer…
“When we finished the song and people clapped for a long time, which was really nice, I just looked at them,” he recounted. “This is it. This is what it looks like, this is what it smells like and this is what it feels like. A reporter said I was soaking in all the adulation but what I was really doing was trying to look at every face I could. So I would remember them all. This is what singing in front of people is all about. This is what they do when you give them everything you have.”
Word traveled quickly: Kerry Doole, a writer with FYIMusicNews, posted an online review about the experience and the next day, Slaight Music came forward with a $10,000 donation to help Cody renew work on his album. The money allowed producer Bell to rent Mississauga’s famed MetalWorks studio for a day, hiring the rhythm section of bass player Marc Rogers and drummer Davide Direnzo (Jacksoul) to provide bed tracks – and mainly first takes – for “Is It Freedom in A Cage”,”When Something Is Wrong with You”, “You You You”, “Back to California”, and a cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Groom’s Still Waiting at The Altar.”
The Toronto Star’s Paul Hunter interviewed him for a lengthy feature, and at the summer bash thrown by Toronto management rights company ole, founder and CEO Robert Ott offered to complete Hard Won and release it through his company’s red dot label.
Encouraged by these latest developments, John Cody returned to Montréal during the first week of July with mixed emotions: content that some of his musical prayers had been answered, as he prepared himself for the removal of the one anatomical part he treasured above all else.
As he told The Star’s Hunter:“There’s nothing that exists on the face of this Earth that I love more than singing. Even as a kid, I never wanted to be a fireman or a policeman or an astronaut, it was always a singer.”
Except, it didn’t happen.
Oh, the operation happened alright, but, in post-recovery, the surgeon had told him they had only removed 90% of his larynx. When told of this, Cody was incensed, appalled that he hadn’t been consulted about an action that should have been his decision to make.
Even worse: a follow-up appointment confirmed that the regenerating squamous cells were still present – he would have to undergo a second operation to remove the remainder of his larynx, scheduled as of this writing, for June 2017.
At this point, a vexed Cody, able to speak slightly above a whisper, decided to postpone all his numerous treatments until the album was mixed and delivered to ole. Cody’s former publisher, Frank Davies, negotiated the deal and when the funds were released in mid-September, John Cody boarded a plane for L.A. and headed to a studio helmed by his long-time mixer and friend, Dan (Danno) Marnien (Joni Mitchell.)
The final mix also took longer than anticipated – nearly a month – happening simultaneously as Bill Bell rounded up some guest artists to add the finishing touches, then shipping off the files to Marnien for assembly under Cody’s supervision.
“We had a pretty grueling schedule – we were together for a month and we didn’t have too many days off,” Marnien recalls. “Then we worked a good two-and-a-half weeks every day. We were getting a bit run down. He didn’t complain much, if at all. He trouped through it. I’m really impressed how he ploughed through it with everything that’s going on with him. He obviously looks like he should be in pain. But he wasn’t going on about it. He’s so focused on the present day that he’s not letting those things interfere with it. And he had no pain meds while he was here.”
Marnien said both were pleased with how the Hard Won mixing sessions turned out.
“Johnny and I had a brief discussion about what kind of record he was hoping this would be sonically,” Marnien explains. “It was just about making it as real as possible: organic, and warm and big and just feature his music and voice as much as possible. And I think we did it. I think the record is the way he wanted it to be, and I’m very happy about that.
“It’s a real honour to be part of it,” says Marnien. “A lot of these songs I was familiar with. Some of them were reborn again, which was really nice, because I think they actually turned out better than before. Song for song, I just think it’s a great record -it might be one of his best. I think the writing is just fantastic, and his singing is up there.”
Cody also took the occasion to attend an album photo session with celebrity photographer Greg Gorman, his dear friend.
Cody will be the first one to tell you how much he loves California, and that it wasn’t his preference to leave in the first place. As much as he enjoyed his extended stay, the situation became slightly problematic for his health, as medication that was usually provided directly to his home in Canada did not make its way to Los Angeles. He received a temporary respite for some of the medication from a California hospital while he was in town, but was forced to go without many of the pain-preventing pills prescribed to him north of the border.
Still, he battled it out, and finally, upon the October 17 completion of Hard Won – save for Dave Collins’ masterful mastering touch – a spent Cody boarded the plane back to Montréal and his beloved Root Beer, the cat and constant home companion he rescued from the streets of L.A. just before he left the city two years beforehand.
So one can see why Hard Won is such an apt title for this project, 25 years in the making.
“It’s an unconventional album made in an unconventional manner for unconventional times,” is how Cody summarizes his 16-song, 79-minute effort, recorded in one dozen studios and one in which he plays 13 instruments, ranging from dulcimer to kalimba. It’s mixed by Dan Marnien and produced by the artist, Dan Marnien, and Bill Bell with Larry Klein, Blake Manning, and Peter Fusco.
The respect and affection that Cody commands from the music industry in general is evident in the lineup of stellar talent that adorns the material, from many stars who donated their time and efforts once they learned of the musician’s predicament: multiple Grammy Award winner Jennifer Warnes; Leonard Cohen support vocalist Perla Batalla; James Taylor support vocalist Kate Markowitz; Tom Cochrane; violinist Hugh Marsh; sax player Kamasi Washington; pedal steel genius Greg Leisz; bass player Miles Mosley; drummer Joachim Cooder; pianist Lionel Cole; singer Damnhait Doyle and The Landreth Brothers’ Joey Landreth – and that’s a partial list.
Hard Won is a time capsule of sorts; a chronicle of John Cody’s singing, split between the full-voiced healthy years, and more recent times when his vocal cords were burdened by the strain of sickness. But even with his vocal strength diminished, the results are no less poignant: Cody’s sentiments are potent and dynamic, sung with power, sweetness, sincerity, tenderness, wisdom, acceptance and resignation, if the song’s subject matter called for it.
It also tells his story, an emotional Roller coaster laced with darkness, cynicism, but also hope and humour. Cody says he writes “pretty songs that are horror stories;” soul-baring slices of life that are observant, reflective and honest, whether they’re something as vulnerable as “Open Door” or the darkly romantic “You You You.”
“They’re very well-crafted songs that speak of heartache and longing and love, and John has a way with his lyrics to say something in a perspective that maybe you hadn’t thought of before,” Bill Bell notes.
“I really think he’s made a great record, and I’m really proud of him.”
The music is both personal and relatable: he poetically chronicles his own truth, but sets it in enough of an open-ended context, like any songwriter worth his salt, for the listener to derive and apply his or her own interpretation to his lyrics.
“I learned a huge lesson from Joni before I started my second record,” he recalls. “I remember her asking me, ‘what do you want to be, an artist or a craftsman? I’ll tell you what it’s like to be an artist: You can’t care what people think about your work, even after you’re dead, but I don’t believe in art only 14 people can appreciate either. And if you make yourself the hero in a song, you have to make yourself the anti-hero too.’ That dramatically changed the way I chose to write songs. I realized that if you want to make music that resonates with people you can’t hide.”
Also included are a trio of covers: a vocal-and-piano duet of the late Leonard Cohen’s classic “Hallelujah,” with Cody accompanied on the ivories by Nat King Cole‘s nephew, Lionel Cole, affectionately recorded for his brother Alain before he succumbed to cancer; a ribald and raucous rendition of Bob Dylan’s “The Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar,” featuring a star-studded chorus of Cody, Tom Cochrane, Damnhait Doyle, Joey Landreth and Lisa Stone and a version described by Cody as “a kind of apocalyptic, blistering 12-bar blues…that I aim to sing the shit out of,” and “Little Red Corvette,” his Phoenix vocal grand finale.
As much as those songs haven’t come from the pen of Cody, they are representative of who he is: brave, determined and inspiring, ready to demonstrate breathtaking stamina and relentless sacrifice in the pursuit of his muse.
Overall, the album fulfills his mandate of providing a career overview of sorts.
“The position going in was to create a musical narrative beginning with where I was when I started out right up to the point where I would no longer be able to sing anymore, whether that is in the track selection or in the people that were available to perform, ” Cody explains. “So from where I first started writing and I first started recording to the day I actually completed Hard Won.I regard that as the arc of my career.”
Hard Won is a lasting legacy of one of Canada’s most talented, vastly underappreciated singers and songwriters, one you’ll be privileged to know through song, as those who know and have heard him can readily testify.
And regardless of how his life fares, he wants you to know he will be okay.
“I don’t want people feeling sorry for me,” Cody declares. “I’m happy, in spite of everything. I still have a sense of humour and I laugh every day. And maybe I’m turning into an old lady, because I’m getting a lot of joy out of my cat.
“I don’t want to sound like I’ve given up. I haven’t.”
HARD WON: THE SONGS
Hard Won is an album that is interesting from the standpoint of its framework: Some of its 13 original songs were written and recorded earlier, one revived, and the remainder fleshed out between October 2015 and October 2016. Representing a 25-year journey of John Cody’s career, descriptions follow in the songwriter’s own words.
Is It Freedom In A Cage – 2006
“I don’t understand your pain/ What’s your complaint / You can’t be my judge /And I can’t be your saint….”
“The very beginning of that song is all loops except for Glen Scammell‘s bass. The first eight seconds – or four bars, was taken from the original recording of that song.
“What the song is about, essentially, is someone leveling their judgment on me, and me looking back saying, ‘well, what’s so great about you?’ If, for me to be accepted, I have to take your line of defense, what’s the difference?’
“Well, I’ll tell you what the difference is: it’s not a hard won philosophy. There’s always going to be somewhere in the world where you’re nothing but dog shit.”
“Now that hearts are clear and can be seen through, I recognize these snakes perched the same and not new…”There are biblical references in my stuff. The Bible is a great book to steal from, you know? But the snakes that I talk about are the vipers that tempted Adam and Eve. What I’ve said was, that kind of hatred goes back that far.
The Devil’s Radio – 1991
“When will you learn some discretion/When will you learn to acquiesce/When did you become so exclusive/When did life become a public address…”
“This is the oldest song on the record. I wrote it in 1991. The song is about someone who is a very devious person, someone who becomes friends with everyone in the circle only to get their dirt, and then spread it around in some sort of high school, manipulative kind of way. It’s the devil’s radio, which is gossip.
“It’s basically, ‘Judge not, lest you be judged.'”
Not Bound to Calm Down – 2004
“Whether it’s going down fast or slow/Whether it’s great or small/Grief makes holy brethren of you all…”
“I had written a lyric – “grief makes brothers and sisters of us all”– and it was also a statement about how I saw the world at that time reflected in a group of several songs. Although that one was more social commentary from a personal perspective, most of the music was about my brother passing away a year-and-a-half earlier.
“The only thing that my producer Larry Klein recommended was that I write this from the position of God speaking to the world, rather than from me. And so the lyric – “grief makes brothers and sisters of us all” changed to “grief makes holy brethren of you all.”
“So it became God speaking to his people from a pretty pissed-off position: “I gave you all this stuff and you pretty much fucked it all up and it’s not bound to calm down. We all want it to calm down. And it didn’t. It hasn’t. That’s 12 years ago – look where we are now politically. So I’m very pleased with the lyric on that one. I love the music, too.”
The Road Is Long – 2012
“How does it feel/when nothing is for real/can you tell / it’s coming down…
“I was watching the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles and Barack Obama‘s acceptance speech before his second term. He was talking about how the road is long. It really struck me and in my mind I went, ‘When the road is long… the load is wrong’ – just phonetically. When the load is wrong, the road is long.
“I remembered the first time I drove across the United States from Canada to go to L.A. If you’re driving through the mountains in the U.S., the highways have these embankments for 18-wheelers if they’re going down the hill too fast. They can go off the side of the road, up these hills: so obviously velocity has to do with density. If the load is too heavy, you need those embankments.
“I equated it with mental illness: The mechanism of our organism is not designed to go this fast and I’m thinking, that’s one of the reasons why we have so much depression and anxiety in this world. How is anyone going to keep up? We’re over-informed. In the dearth of information, it’s both all truth – and no truth – at the same time. So imagine someone who is in a struggle with reality amidst that kind of society, especially in the heart of Hollywood, which is just over-ridden with the psychotic.
“Fame attracts the mentally ill. That’s what that song is about.”
Cheers – 2001 (a duet with Jennifer Warnes)
“Hook your train up now to mine /and I will pull you through this waste of time / So take this Walk of Fame / Take it on your knees /Can you see the stars/ Do you feel the breeze…”
“Klein and I had produced Night In A Strange Town for Lynn Miles in ’98 and I met Jennifer Warnes at the record release party. We became friends and after I recorded this tune, I gave her a copy and she was enthusiastic about recording it. I had produced her performance and when I was mixing it, I did a version of our vocals together, even though we had not recorded it together. She liked that version even better than her own. So we recut her vocal again to match mine.
“This song represented a kind of landmark for me because I had written it with Sharon Stone… and with Jennifer singing, it all sounded Oscar worthy to me! The irony of it being a cynical overview of life in Hollywood was not lost on me either.
“‘Cheers, thanks a lot,’ is actually a line that the Patsy Stone character says in Absolutely Fabulous. She says it all the time, but there’s one episode where she has to do her fashion review for morning television and she’s camera struck, and all she can say is ‘Cheers, thanks a lot.’ It was very funny.”
You You You – 2009 (a duet with Damnhait Doyle)
“All, suffering aside/I do know this/I’d rather suffer with you/Than have you to miss…”
“‘You You You’ is a love song. And it was kind of a, ‘Fuck, I love you!’ song – like, ‘I’m screwed now, because I just can’t walk away.’ In my life, I’ve lived a vagabond existence. Never owned a lot of stuff; never wanted to, because it’s the antithesis of being able to leave at the drop of a hat. There’s just enough stuff to throw in a suitcase and go where you need to go – a good way to live.
“For many years, I enjoyed that. The truth was reflected in my relationships to the extent where I never really had one. So this time, I thought, ‘well, I’ve got to do this for myself: I’ve not allowed myself to be loved and to be in love.
“So that song is about how it’s great in one way – and scary in another. At that time, I felt that, wow, I can actually be myself; be who I am as a person, be with someone else and share my life. Didn’t last very long… but long enough.”
“I can’t say enough about how great Damnhait was. I’m very honoured to have her voice, her quality, her essence and her spirit on that song. When I finally heard it, I listened to it for four hours non-stop. She’s a wonderful singer.”
Sweet Mercies – 1995
“Take the drama from my dreams/The madness from my mind/Steal all my conventions/Where liberties confine…”
‘That’s a very lustful song. It was written in one of Joni’s guitar tunings that I subverted on one of her Martin guitars and her microphones on an Oscar Sunday in 1995. A lot of the drums that were on Turbulent Indigo– a lot of the skin drums – were played by hand that day. I played them all.
Klein was playing bass for the Oscars and left Danno (Marnien) and I at his house. It’s where we cut most of Darkness Visible. That song… ‘I don’t care what you say/As long as you move yourself my way/ Take me under wing/ What sweet mercies you might bring…’– it was a very kind of dark, erotic song about taboo areas of sexual experimentation.
Little Red Corvette – written by Prince (Live at the Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto)
“I had seen Prince in concert less than a month before he died, and was needless to say, shocked, when he passed away. Knowing it was my last live performance, I was compelled to sing one of his songs, knowing that it would bring people together that were not aware of me so much. It was also a version of the song that Prince had seen me play in L.A.”
It’s Not That Hard – 2004
“It’s kind of strange/Or so it seems/You’re not here/But you’re in my dreams…”
“I wrote that about losing my brother. It’s pretty self-explanatory. Obviously it’s a sardonic or cynical attitude towards losing someone you love that much. It’s not that hard.Of course it’s hard. There’s nothing harder. So that was just my way of taking the piss out of it. I knew my brother was dying. It was not sudden – it was a terrible death – a long and lingering death.
“But I remember one person telling me on the phone, ‘you should just take a walk around the block – you’ll feel better.’ And I thought, ‘what an asshole thing to say.’ And I kid you not: a year later to the day my brother died, his mother died. And it was all I could do not to say, ‘you should take a walk around the block – you’ll feel a lot better.’
“I also arranged the orchestra myself and was very happy, having done that, with James Peterson conducting. That was my first score, ever.”
When Something Is Wrong with You – 2009
“Every single day/In every single way/Whatever the grievance/You have my allegiance/You will never have to wonder why…”
“It’s an uncharacteristically simple song for me. I don’t always write them that simple. I have tried many times… and then I just get distracted by the hybrid chords and cluster chords and interesting chord progressions that float my boat.
“Being raised on Joni Mitchell, Brian Wilson and Miles Davis – the list goes on – where they meet is where I tend to compose from, so – you know – it’s kind of a breath of fresh air to have something simple, but they always tend to be the hardest ones to work on.
“That was the first song I think I used my Tres guitar on. It features Kate Markowitz from James Taylor’s band. What can you say about Kate – my God! It’s another love song: when something is wrong with my baby, something is wrong with me. It’s basically a song saying, ‘I’m here if you need me. If you don’t have wings, you can have mine.’
Solidarity – 2013
“Sweeping souls up off the floor/I’m in a room that has no door/I’m on a sea that has no shore/I’ve taken a lot – can I take more?”
“‘Solidarity’ was a song that I wrote in Los Angeles once I’d been ill. I had been sick for about a year before they had cancelled out a lot of things that they thought were wrong. My family history, having so much colon cancer in it, was like a beacon to what was the matter. I had every symptom you could have – and more than most – at an early stage. In my case – I had been tested maybe five or seven years before – and I had pre-cancerous polyps then. So it was through eliminating other things on the list that I got my diagnosis.
“So I wrote that song – the lyrics are pretty self-explanatory. ‘I’m not blind, but I can’t see what the hell is wrong with me.’And it was also a kind of, what do I do? It was a question mark. I like songs that have question marks. I don’t think that you can resolve them. Some things are best not to. ”
Hallelujah – written by Leonard Cohen
“I recorded it live off the floor, one take. Danno and I were at the Espy Music Group, a publisher I signed with preparing to record a session. My brother was dying in hospital and I asked Lionel, my piano player at the time, to come in an hour early just so we could cut some sides and send them to him for Christmas.”
“It was a very emotional and bittersweet moment and I knew it was going to be my last musical communication with him. He was very supportive of my work and I loved him a great deal, and still do.”
Back to California – 2002
“When I get back to California/I won’t have a thing to do/When I return to sunny salvation/I won’t take no shit from you…”
“I wrote this in 2002, but the recording was in 2016. I had a previous recording and would have used it, but all the files were lost in a fire. Same with ‘Cheers,’ – the original master was lost in a fire and so we were stuck with what we had. In the case of California, Kamasi Washington played sax on the original version.
“I was lucky enough to have violinist Hugh Marsh on that one, which, in the context of an arc of a career, to me, unites the whole thing to have him on that track. He did a really fantastic job.
“And I wasn’t there – Bill Bell recorded that session in Toronto. Bill would send the takes to LA, Danno would put them in the song and we’d listen down. It’s a very interesting way of working. I really enjoyed it.”
The Groom’s Still Waiting at The Altar – written by Bob Dylan
“When it was looking that this record was becoming a reality, I said, ‘well I have to do this song: It’s a dovetail, plus it’s very apocalyptic – these are apocalyptic times!’ The end is always near…is it not? I really wanted the Dylan song to be loosey-goosey.”
“I decided that this will be the one with the guest artists, so Damnhait Doyle sings a verse; my good, close, beautiful friend Lisa Stone sings with me and in the choruses; Tom Cochrane does the last verse and Joey Landreth did the third verse – we play in the same family of musicians with Blake Manning and Pete Fusco.”
“Perla Batalla and Katie Markowitz sang some fantastic background vocals in the chorus. Davide Direnzo and Marc Rogers did a fantastic job as the rhythm section.”
“That song was recorded over three countries, two continents and several cities – Toronto, Los Angeles, Montréal, Nashville, Rome – and I’m sure I’m leaving some out. I played the Hammond B-3 at the Village Recorder in L.A., which is my favourite studio in the world.”
I Am an Open Door – 1998 (Dedicated to Eva Batalla Mann)
“I am an open door/You could walk through me/I am an open door/You might tread carefully…”
“That song really wrote itself. It’s just one of those songs that tells you where to go. My philosophy is the song is king: do what the song wants you to do – not what you want the song to do. And it’s a very simple kind of chord progression, but a very African rhythm. Most of my compositions are in search of African blood in some way. I had asked pedal steel player Greg Leisz to play a particular kind of style, which I normally don’t do. I don’t tell musicians what to do.”
“This song is my version of hero/anti-hero: It’s varying degrees of honesty. How much of yourself do you want to reveal? I think, just enough that people find themselves.”
“I think it might be misleading in a way because it ends with the Grim Reaper waiting for me. I say that twice in that song. I’m not trying to write about being sick – I had written this before my health began to wane: The Grim Reaper waits for us all. None of us gets through life unscathed. And people talk about how, ‘oh, you’re so brave and you’re so courageous.’ I don’t feel that way. To me, none of us get out. The essential state of being is in revelation and wonder. So I think that this song conveys that. Because you don’t know… that’s why you’re in revelation. It’s the forced epiphany.”
Cut to the Bone – 2014
“I’d offer you a penny for your thoughts/But I’m not sure just what they’re worth/I walk these city streets in misery/Wondering why the hell I’m on this Earth…”
“I had written this lyric: ‘yet at this point I have but just one goal, I’m going to test you to your motherfucking soul.’ I knew that was a tall order for someone to say. So I supported it – what was around it was very important. I spent a lot of time working on that lyric, working out the feelings that would come beforehand. And in the spirit of hero/anti-hero, I began the last verse – ‘I have to tell the truth about the ugliness of my own frustration’ and knowing that I’m ending with,‘I’m going to test you to your motherfucking soul.’
“I felt this was a good set-up in saying, my frustration is ugly and that I have to tell the truth about it, because I was pointing a finger in that song. Earlier on I say, ‘I don’t want to be the sacrificial lamb to your denial.’
“This is a conversation with someone who I felt, and I still feel, is completely capable of understanding the reality of a situation, but refuses to see it, and therefore, let the worse things that could possibly happen to someone, happen.
“The chorus of that song talks about the synthesis of opposites and that is where the truth is found. That is the resolution. In our differences, we can find a way to come together and triumph, so to speak: a theme that appears more than once on this record.
“That’s the feeling I came away with – in spite of my hopes and dreams, where I wanted the situation to work out – at the end of the day, I’d just rather be alone – whether it’s playing my guitar or reading a book or watching a movie. And I felt that it was a good way to end the last record with my voice – that I acknowledge the love that I have for other people, and the love that they have for me.
“But sometimes, if in the conflict of all of this mess, it’s just easier to be alone.”
Special thanks to these folks without whom this record would not be at all possible:
Robert Ott whose kindness and belief in allowing me to endeavour in this project was immeasurable, Frank Davies (who was midwife for the whole shebang) and his wife Lynda for all their perseverance and support, Danno who is quite simply my best friend and most trusted partner in music ever, Bill Bell for shepherding, heavy lifting, and constant attention, Blake and Pico for jumpstarting the whole thing, Larry Klein the mentor and professor, Perla and Katie for their sweetness, love, and sound, Greg Leisz for being such a gentleman and genius, Greg Gorman for his vision, belief, and care, Gary Johns for his brilliance, Tom Cochrane for contributing when he didn’t have to, Kathy Cochrane for never altering her faith, Greg Torrington for his encouragement and inspiration, Hugh Marsh for completing the circle even though he didn’t know it, Joey Landreth and Damhnait Doyle for their unbelievable work, Glen Scammell for being the right arm to a broken wing, Autumn Scott for picking up every kind of slack there is and always being there any time of day, Davide and Marc for rocking when I was rolling, Nick Krewen for being selfless and welcoming, Brian Charron for being so much more than a cousin, Carolyn Joyce Brown for medical encyclopedic knowledge, advice, and nurturing, Denise McCann Bachman for all the thoughtful help and a kick ass shirt for the cover, Lisa Stone my sister in song, Jennifer Warnes whose precision is unparalleled, Mick Gray and Anthony James Walker II for giving the most valuable gift of time and perspicacious insight, Gary Slaight whose validating spirit is uncomprimising, Derrick Ross for his astute assistance, Andy Curran for his considerate oversight, Barry Roden for his energy and eye, Tracey Singer for her commitment, the entire staff at Ole, John Beaudin for his unfailing friendship, Michael Wrycraft for his artistry and for putting up with me, all of the contributors to the fund sites, Yonatan Elkayam, Zachary Ross, Thomas Greene, and James Emley for being my L.A. musical brotherhood, the staff at the Twelfth Fret for being such pro’s and so understanding and thoughtful, my Mom and Dad for being parents and friends too, and my Oracle Joni Mitchell for always KNOWING.
Dan Marnien: I would like to thank John Cody for his friendship, love, and for the many great records and songs that we have had the opportunity to work on together over the past 20 plus years. It has been a pleasure and a blast. All my best to you my dear friend. I would also like to thank Jeff Greenberg and Tina Morris at The Village Studios, and Erik Swanson at Epole Studio for their generosity and support. And my love always to my little gems…Michelle, Nicole, and Jessica.
Bill Bell: I’d like to thank my wonderful daughter, Sophia for knowing that I record at home and knowing to be quiet. Ha!
Gil Moore and everyone at Metalworks for being so supportive in the making of music . Kevin Dietz for always getting great sounds!!
Davide Direnzo & Marc Rogers for always bringing their “A” game and playing their ASSES off!!!
John Cody, Dan (Danno) Marnien, and Bill Bell
with Larry Klein, Blake Manning, and Peter Fusco
Recorded at The Village Recorder, Castle Oaks, Epole, Criterion, Espy Music Group, Metalworks, Music On Main Street, Billbellmusic, Gone Electric Studios, The Boilerhouse , Las Palmas Sound, Sound City, Drewproject, and Worstward Ho!
Engineered by Dan Marnien, Kevin Dietz, Bill Bell, Peter Fusco, Noah Siegel, Glen Scammell, John Cody, assisted by Joshua Blanchard, Jeff Gartenbaum.
Mixed by Dan Marnien
except for Little Red Corvette by John Cody and Noah Siegel
Mastered by: Dave Collins
Is It Freedom In A Cage; writer John Cody
Dulcimer, Tres, Electric Guitar, Lead vocal, Loops: John Cody
Acoustic Guitar: Bill Bell
Drums: Davide Direnzo
Bass: Glen Scammell and Marc Rogers
Background vocals: John Cody, Perla Batalla and Kate Markowitz
The Devil’s Radio; writer John Cody
Parlour guitar, Electric guitar, Classical guitar, Lead guitar, Lead Vocal: John Cody
Drums: Blake Manning
Bass and Keyboards: Peter Fusco
Electric rhythm guitar: Tim Bovaconti
Background vocals: John Cody and Blake Manning
Not Bound To Calm Down;Writer John Cody
Wurlitzer, Piano, Electric Guitars, Lead vocal: John Cody
Sax: Kamasi Washington
Drums: Rob Perkins
Bass and Horn arrangement: Miles Mosley
(When The Load Is Wrong) The Road Is Long; Writer John Cody
Acoustic guitar, Hi String guitar, Piano, lead vocal: John Cody
Electric Guitar: Bill Bell
Drums and Piano: Blake Manning
Bass and keyboards: Peter Fusco
Cheers (Thanks A Lot)Duet with Jennifer Warnes; Writers John Cody and Sharon Stone
Electric Guitar and Lead vocal: John Cody
Duet Vocal: Jennifer Warnes
Piano: Zach Raye
Drums: Joachim Cooder
Bass: Miles Mosley
Orchestral arrangement and conductor: James Peterson
You You You(duet with Dahmnait Doyle); Writer John Cody
Acoustic guitar, Hi String guitar, Piano, Electric guitar and Lead Vocal: John Cody
Drums: Davide Direnzo
Bass: Marc Rogers
Duet vocal: Dahmnait Doyle
Sweet Mercies; Writer John Cody
Acoustic guitar and Percussion: John Cody
Little Red Corvette; Writer Prince
Electric guitar and vocal: John Cody
Acoustic guitar and background vocal: Bill Bell
It’s Not That Hard;Writer John Cody
Wurlitzer, Piano, Electric guitars, Orchestral arrangement, Lead Vocal: John Cody
Sax: Kamasi Washington
Drums: Rob Perkins
Bass: Miles Mosley
Orchestra conductor: James Peterson
When Something Is Wrong With You; Writer John Cody
Feat. Vocal: Kate Markowitz
Tres, Parlour guitar, Electric Guitar, Lead Vocal: John Cody
Acoustic guitar: Bill Bell
Drums: Davide Direnzo
Bass: Marc Rogers
Background vocals: Perla Batalla and Kate Markowitz
Solidarity;Writer John Cody
Acoustic and electric guitar, Lead Vocal: John Cody
Electric, Acoustic, and resonator guitar: Zachary Ross
Pedal Steel: Greg Liesz
Drums: Thomas Greene
Bass: Yonaton Elkayam
Hallelujah; Writer Leonard Cohen
Lead Vocal: John Cody
Piano: Lionel Cole
Back To California;Writer John Cody
Piano, Hammond B-3, Electric guitar, Lead Vocal: John Cody
Electric Guitar: Bill Bell
Violin: Hugh Marsh
Drums: Davide Direnzo
Bass: Marc Rogers
The Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar; Writer Bob Dylan
Vocals: John Cody, Tom Cochrane, Dahmnait Doyle, Joey Landreth, and Lisa Stone
Electric Guitars, Resonator Guitar, Hammond B-3: John Cody
Slide guitar: Joey Landreth
Drums: Davide Direnzo
Bass: Marc Rogers
Background vocals: Perla Batalla and Kate Markowitz
I Am An Open Door; Writer John Cody
Dedicated to Eva Batalla Man
Feat Vocal: Perla Batalla
Acoustic guitar, Tres, Dulcimer, Piano, Harmonium, Lead Vocal: John Cody
Pedal Steel: Greg Liesz
Background vocals: Perla Batalla and Kate Markowitz
Cut To The Bone: Writer John Cody
Wurlitzer, Tres, Parlour guitar, Acoustic guitar, Electric guitars, Kalimba, Lead vocal: John Cody
Pedal Steel: Greg Liesz
Drums: Blake Manning
Bass: Peter Fusco
Background vocals: John Cody, Blake Manning, Perla Batalla, and Kate Markowitz