SONORA'S DEATH ROW - (Blackie Farrell) Blackie was one of the original members of Asleep At The Wheel. They started out in the bay area and other than Ray Benson, the personnel was entirely different. A number of people recorded it, like Michael Mark Murphy, Robert Earl Keen, and even Tom Russell did it on one of his cowboy records. Those versions are in the Mexican-border, Spanish-flavor style. I wanted to make mine sound different. I thought of it as an Appalachian ballad that got lost on the hottest day of the year.
You can say it was written about Sonora, CA, or Sonora, NM, or Sonora, TX., There was once something said about Sonora, TX: when you were going into town, it was so bad it was like being on Death Row.
DOWN ON THE RIVER BED - (David Hidalgo and Louie Perez) That's from a Los Lobos album called The Neighborhood. Their version is a big electric funky thing. It's good but very different. The song is really just a blues, and felt real natural. You'll hear a little tribute to I'M SHAKIN at the end of the song. That was planned. David Hidalgo said he always loved the Blasters I'M SHAKIN'. Years ago when David Hidalgo made The Neighborhood he told me that RIVER BED was his attempt to do that kind of song. I don't think he even remembers telling me that. So I said, "OK, here we go. This is where we meet. I'm gonna throw I'M SHAKIN' in there."
BETWEEN THE CRACKS - (Tom Russell and Dave Alvin) Of all the songs that Tom and I wrote together, this is the only one I thought I never got a good version of. It's like a Doug Sahm-meets-Creedence-meets-a-Norteno-band kind of song. I wanted a flash accordion player. Gaffney is more of a soulful player. So I used the Blazers Jesus Cuevas. Gaffney highly recommended him. Gaffney came in later and recorded his backing vocal.
DON'T LOOK NOW - (John Fogerty) Fogerty is problematic because unless you drastically rearrange the song, you have to do it like Fogerty. They don't work any other way. I always liked the lyrics and the way Creedence did it as a Chicago blues. I thought it sounded like Willie Dixon's lyric style.
TRAMPS AND HAWKERS -- (Jim Ringer) My version is sort of like Jim Ringer's. His was piano and violin. The main idea on this CD was that the vocals had to be good - Not to compete with the original artists but to do them justice.
LOSER - (Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter) My version is different from Garcia's - It's darker and bluesier. The original appeared on Jerry's first solo record. I always liked the lyrics and thought they were Dave Alvin-style.
I put in a psychedelic section in there that is a tribute to the San Francisco sound. Jerry has an iconic voice - very recognizable - so it sounds wrong to hear someone else singing it. I had to worry about Deadheads liking my version. Joe Gastwirt did the mastering. His house is a mini-shrine to Jerry; Gold records on the wall, posters, pictures, and he was friends with Jerry. So the test for me was: "Will Joe approve?" Joe said: "Jerry would like this."
SURFER GIRL -- (Brian Wilson) It's a good song that can be done in a variety of ways. Structurally it's a doo-wop song and when the Calvanes sang on it, it was obvious. Freddie from the Calvanes was there and guided me through the recording of the vocals. He was very patient and encouraging.
Freddie does the harmony arranging for the Calvanes. I sent him the Best of the Beach Boys CD in advance, and he did a very jazzy demo. I told him: "It's a tribute to the Beach Boys as much as to LA R & B."
The Beach Boys grew up in Hawthorne, which is about three miles from where the Calvanes came from. They are from two different worlds. So this song is a way of mixing those two worlds. They all meet in music.
The Calvanes made records in the early 50's for the Doo-Tone label. That was the big west coast doo-wop label who put out EARTH ANGEL by The Penguins and HEAVEN IN PARADISE by Don Julian and the Meadowlarks. The original Calvanes never broke up; they have always done gigs over the years, so they are the real deal.