My friend and fellow Robot Holiday musician, Rob Lynch, owns an original t-shirt with “Jimmy Whitford” silkscreened on it. Now that I’ve had the privilege of writing and performing songs with Jim, I think everyone should own a Jimmy Whitford t-shirt.
Writing songs with Jim goes about like this….first, I send him a page of lyrics (in the case of Cold Morning Christmas, these lyrics took me about a year to get right) and a rough iphone recording. When we finally get together in person, we sit around Jim’s dining room table. I tell Jim, “I hear it but I’m not sure about the chords– you know, because I only know like 3 of them”…he says “I can help with that.” I sing what I think I hear, he plays some fantastically gorgeous guitar part back to me. We hum, we sing, we stammer, we are self-deprecating, we tell funny stories, we swear, we wonder, we say “you know what might be nice…”, we say “yeah, that really works,” and then we run through it a few times, apologize for being flat, make a few notes, a few more self-deprecating comments, and record a solid working draft on our phones.
When working with Jim, this whole process usually takes about 45 minutes.
Once we have the bones of the song in place, Jim gets together with Jonathan to record the guitar. Then Jonathan e-mails me an instrumental track so I can practice the vocals before recording. A short while later, we meet in person to record the vocals–followed by Jim working his magic on the pedal steel or dobro or electric guitar. I usually say something really cheesy, like, “I’m so lucky I get to make music with you guys,” multiple times throughout the recording session. The endorphins run high.
But the song is not done yet! After the bones of the song are recorded, Jonathan works tirelessly behind the scenes– adding his “secret sauce” ingredients until each song finally feels “right.” When Jonathan sends along the finished recording, I have to say that it’s a bit like opening up the best Christmas present ever.
A note about the lyrics on this one…I like taking little glimpses of rural life and creating “flash fiction” songs. This idea of decorating the Christmas tree alone is totally heartbreaking (and perfect Americana song-writing material). Loneliness is so universal…if you can bottle that feeling up in a song, I think you’re on to something good. And if you can convince Jim Whitford to play pedal steel on it…well, that’s just pure poetry.