Behind the Music in Tennessee River Shakedown: Tears and Whiskey

Tears and Whiskey was one of the final 2 or 3 songs written for the record. When we started the session, the goal was to record a 6 song EP with Jimbo producing. But after we tracked the first six songs, the record didn't feel like it cohered around anything. So, I started 2023 trying to write a buddy for each of the 6 songs we had already tracked in an effort to bring some cohesion to the mix.  That was the idea, anyway.

Tears and Whiskey was written in May of 2023.  At the time, my then girlfriend was taking her son on his “senior trip” to the Big Apple. So, I was left alone in the house with the dogs which meant that they got to be tormented by me singing and playing guitar for 3 days non-stop (they slept through most if not all of it).

Anyhow, I started off singing over a basic chord progression in the key of A. The original chorus line was “Why, did you have to fly to New York City???”  And then, “And you got me feeling down, so I have to drown in tears and Whiskey" (makes no sense, I know, but that's how songs start).

I actually wrote the song pretty quickly from there. But I couldn't come up with a lyric. But I heard some Mellencamp on the ride home from work a couple of days later and realized that I had a great opportunity to revisit some of the themes in his song about small towns. I had been watching my kids (step ones included) struggling with issues of identity; and I was amazed whenever I went to concerts that folks were spending more time taking pictures of themselves then actually watching or listening to the band.

All of that gave me a real appreciation for how hard it is to find oneself in any context--let alone for folks living in settings that are (a) too small and not-identity supportive; (b) surrounded by a digital world that is also not identity supportive; and then also (c) Living in social-economic conditions defined by out-migration as well as the loss of jobs and health and human service supports and resources.  So, that's what I am playing with lyrically in that song--the struggle for identity, meaning making, happiness, and social welfare in small town America.

In terms of production, I wrote the song to have a hip-hop vibe with some George Michael (he's my hero) undertones.  But when we recorded the tune, it quickly turned into a Yacht Rock song.  Which, frankly, I think is pretty fucking cool.

Jimbo played fretless bass on T&W which l think provides a really cool, breezy trademark to the song. But whats even cooler is that he sings the background harmonies on the chorus lines of “whiskey” and “make it.”  The rest is me (vocally) but if you listen closely, you won't be able to tell the difference between the two of us. Jimbo's falsetto is almost exactly the same as mine.  Very cool.

Turn this up on your next trip to the beach or lake. Its a cool summer tune!


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