Marvin Etzioni’s (Lone Justice) upcoming album Marvin Country (out April 17) features inspired collaborations with Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Richard Thompson, Buddy Miller, John Doe, Maria McKee, and The Dixie Hummingbirds.
Listen to the Williams duet “Lay It On The Table” while you read Etzioni’s awesome essay on the songs’s origins below. (If you’re at SXSW, Etzioni plays The Nine Mile Records party at Skinny’s Ballroom at 12 am on Thursday)
“Lay It On The Table”
(Marvin Etzioni/Red Lane)
Lucinda Williams: vocal
Marvin Etzioni: vocal, guitar, bass, piano, toy piano, electric mandocello
Donald “the clock” Lindley: drums, tambourine
Greg Leisz: pedal steel
Jerry Tester: strings
The song is about D-I-V-O-R-C-E. You know that Wynette record made by Billy Sherrill? It has nothing to do with that song, and I wasn’t thinking about that song at all when writing or recording “Lay It On The Table” but that’s what comes to mind now. Wynette and Sherrill. What an amazing artist and producer/songwriter combination. It seems country music is the only form of songwriting that deals with the subject. At least in a really direct way. So I wrote the song on a beat-up out of tune piano. It was a premonition of what was to come in my life. I got as far as could with the song. “You don’t finish a work of art, you abandon it,” said Pablo Picasso. I knew it wasn’t finished, and I knew I didn’t want to give up on the song. The right set of circumstances arose when I traveled to Nashville and my former publisher at Peer Music, Steve Rosen, introduced me to Red Lane. I said, “You mean the guy who wrote “Red Bandana” for Merle Haggard? That’s all I needed to know. I was in good company and I’d met my match with Red. Red lives in an old grounded airplane in Nashville. We walked up a flight of steps and there we were. What was once first class, was now a living room. Ok by me. We finished the song that afternoon. he stood up and grabbed a jug of moonshine. This was my first taste. I thought I was gonna die. For red, it was Perrier in a plastic cup. I took the song back to L.A. Called Donald Lindley and we cut the basic track, acoustic guitar, vocal and drums. All live. He suggested that I add bass. I wanted to get someone else, but he really encouraged me, so there happened to be a Mustang bass in the studio and he gave that smile that said, c’mon. I told him I’d like to go for a Klaus Voorman, like on Plastic Ono Band. Simple and raw. He was in. he added a tambourine and that was the beginning to a very long road of getting the track. Greg liesz added pedal steel, then I got Jerry Yester for strings.
I wanted the guitar solo to sound kinda like “Galveston” by Glen Campbell (it doesn’t get better than that and “Wichita Lineman”). I used a hollow body electric mandocello instead of an electric guitar. The tuning is low C, so it worked out all right. I added piano at Paul du Gre’s studio. He’s got a great funky piano. I called Benmont Tench and asked him to come by and play. He said when, and I said, well I’m in the studio right now. He laughed and said you can play it. He’s really a very supportive friend in that way. So i thought well, back to Plastic Ono Band. What would Lennon do? We got a piano track, and as Paul was listening I had the idea to have a toy piano on the bridge. Paul didn’t have a toy piano, but i thought i would look around behind the piano in case he had one hidden and i found one! I brought it out and said can we overdub this? He said, we’re did you find that? I just got it out of the trash! How did you know where it was? We can connect on the level of the unearthly pretty well, so we recorded the toy piano without too much talking about it. I then contacted Frank Colari (who has since passed away), Lucinda Williams’ manager. Booked a studio in Nashville. Brought the 2″ 16 track tape with me on the plane. (note: recorded at 15 ips) got to the studio and asked Lucinda to add a vocal with my original vocal. It sounded too separate. Like the two people weren’t even in the same room together. This song is a conversation about the end of it all. So i suggested we set up the mikes in the control room, facing each other and cut the vocal live, no headphones just listening to bass, drums and acoustic guitar through the big monitors behind the console. So we did.
Note: Because there was so much bleeding from the track into the mikes, we had to mix the song with the drums, bass and guitar on all the time. Fewer options. You learn to live with what you can’t do. Limitation in recording and mixing can be an asset.
I learned a great deal that day from Lu, she sings very, very behind the beat. At one point I was on verse two, she was still on verse one squeezing the drop out of every last word. One time during a break, we tried to make a cup of coffee. It was I love lu(cy). Neither one of us could figure how to work the coffee maker. so we laughed (and she’s got a way of laughing like no one else) we opened a bottle of something (or was it already opened?). It was not ginger ale, we got back to recording. Once we had a few takes in a row, we knew we had enough to choose from for a mix. And if we didn’t, well we’re out of tracks, too bad. Took the tape back to David Vaught’s and mixed it at Camp David in Thousand Oaks, CA. There’s a pause before the last chorus. So rather than leaving it blank, I wanted to simulate the tape print through effect that I had heard and loved so much on the intro of “Black Dog” by Zeppelin. You can hear Plant singing, hey hey mama…before the “real” vocal comes in. Favorite thing in the world. When we sent the album to be mastered, the mastering engineer thought it was a mistake. I got a call from New York. Marvin, there’s print through on the break in the song. Want us to clean it up? No, that’s all right.
So that’s pretty much it. We got divorced, but the song remains. One good thing, we had a son, Elon. He’s an artist. His drawings can bring me to tears. My ex got re-married, and everybody gets along pretty good. Next song please…
Note: Gotta love your kids.