Behind the Music in Tennessee River Shakedown: Lighter Load

Lighter load was a pivotal tune in the development/making of Tennessee River shakedown.  At the time, I was struggling to figure out what to do with the six songs I had just tracked at FAME with Jimbo Hart producing.  I was really excited by what we (me, Jimbo, Spencer, and the band) had done and even more excited about writing with Jimbo producing. But in the end, I had these six songs that were completely tracked (and not mixed) that didn't feel like they belonged together.  The songs were:

Not Alone

Half a Mile from Heaven

Come Down Easy


Like a River

Someone Like You

As I noted in a previous blog post, I came out of that first six song session thinking that if there was any time in my life to make a full length record, this was it.  So, I started the process of trying to write a “buddy” song for each of the songs I had already recorded.  The first task for me was to write an uptempo song that could be paired with Half a Mile from Heaven which was a song at the time that I felt was headed to nowheresville in a hurry.

We had just tracked the vocals for “Like a River” which I liked a lot--especially the 60's flare and the doo-whop backgrounds. So, I was thinking about getting that same kind of vibe when I stumbled across what felt like a bluesy/rocking/rock-a-billy thing. Once I had the opening riff, I started making all of these Elvis sounds and before I knew it I was singing this chorus, “I need another love, love, love…..”  The chorus felt like it was going to be great.  I just didn't have any idea what the song was going to be about. 

That same week, I headed down to Mobile Alabama to do some evaluation work (my day job) with a not-for-profit that provides services for Veterans struggling with substance use and mental health challenges. The task for the coming days was to attend a 2 day retreat for the organization to identify its strenghts, weaknesses, challenges, opportunities, etc.

What I didn't know, or expect, was that there were going to be several counselors (and peer counselors) in attendance who were veterans who would be sitting at my table.  And the result of that two day retreat were some pretty heavy conversations about each counselor's experiences with post-traumatic stress that were mirrored by the experiences of the veterans they were trying to support.  Every day was a struggle for them, and every moment appeared to offer countless opportunities to be triggered and re-traumatized.  

It was lunch on the second day when one of the veterans said that he was just so tired of everything (work, love relationships, family life) being so “heavy” all the time. And as soon as he said that a lightbulb went off in my mind: He needs a lighter load.

Later that day, I got in my car to return home to Hoover, Alabama and wrote the whole song lyrically front to back. Its one of my favorite songs that I've ever written and the band's performance on it is amazing.  We all need a lighter load, but every time I sing the song I think of those men and women and appreciate their service and sacrifice to the country.


Additional Notes:

Elvis came from Tupelo Mississippi which is about an hour from Muscle Shoals. Its a bit removed from the Tennessee River, but after I finished Lighter Load, I knew that I “glue” of the record were the musical influences that came out of the Tennessee River.  From that day forward, the remaining songs for the record were going to be written for an album that was going to be called “Tennessee River Shakedown.”

Also: If you want to play the song on guitar, its really easy. Its just not all that easy to find the key. Why? All of the chords are major chords, which means that there are a lot of flats in the song IF you start with the idea that the key of the song is E major.  The chords are:  E-G-D-E (verse) D-B (turn) E-D-B-G-A (chorus).  Then the outro is C-D-E-G-D-E.. Again, all major chords--nothing minor about that tune.

Turn it WAY UP!!!

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