I was flying high. The night before I’d had the unbelievable out-of-body experience of playing not only with Jackson Browne, but with one of my earliest heroes: Willie Nelson. Now I was walking into Right Track Studios on 48th street to record a version of “On The Road Again” with the man himself. It was a pure stroke of luck that landed me here to begin with. Willie never goes anywhere without his loyal band of many decades, but due to logistics he’d decided to fly out just with his harmonica guru Mickey Raphael and to trust Larry Campbell to put together a band. Larry called the great drummer Shawn Pelton and for whatever reason, me.
The concert had gone beautifully, and I was still ecstatic the next morning as I wheeled my upright bass into the studio live room. That ecstasy turned to horror when I unzipped my case to discover that my bass was coming apart literally at a seam: The back of the instrument was coming unglued and had already opened enough that I could stick my arm through the hole. I got dizzy and went cold, then flushed hot. I’m sure I went beet red, but no-one seemed to notice. My mind started racing: Who could I call? Could I get another bass like, immediately? It was to be a very quick session, and Willie and Mickey had to catch a plane. No time.
I gingerly pulled the bass out and played a few notes. Not only was it rattling like a broken radiator, it had half its usual volume. The seam had opened up along the side I stand on, so I knew I could hide it if i could get it to stop rattling. Sitting on a stool, I squeezed the bass together with my knees and played a few notes. The rattle stopped! The bass was still quiet as a whisper though. I called over the engineer and said, “Must be the weather, but my bass just doesn’t have much volume today. Maybe we could set up some baffles to isolate it?” He put his ear to it, listened to me play a little, nodded and ran off to fetch some gobos that would not only serve to help him boost my mic but would have the added benefit of further obscuring the hole from view.
We played the song down a few times, and since it was to be theme music for a TV show we cut different versions: the regular vocal version and then instrumentals with each player taking the melody. I even played the melody on the bass, squeezing that thing so hard I could barely walk into the control room to hear the playback.
Sounded great. No rattle. The producer even complimented the sound of my bass. “That was all him!” I said, pointing to the engineer. It was at this point I realized that I’d just done a session with one of my heroes. I’d just recorded a version of a song I’d sung along with countless times with the writer himself, and I’d been so concerned about my instrument that I’d forgotten to be nervous about Willie at all.
Here’s video evidence!