HIGHLIGHTED QUOTE // "...WHILE RECORDING BLUE MOON, I WAS RECORDING TO STAY ALIVE."
I wanted the cover of Blue Moon to portray confidence, but I also wanted to create a sense of the darkness that seemed to consume me during the making of this album.
Photo: Brian Hancock
By Skinny Hightower
January 2, 2020
Recording an album is usually a fun and uplifting process. It's the opportunity for us musicians to express ourselves the best way we know how. Generally, we have the creative freedom to take the music to some pretty cool places. However, while recording Blue Moon, I was recording to stay alive.
It took me nearly all of my life to learn the importance of knowing exactly what you want. It doesn't help to just "sort of" know what you want. After the release of Retrospect, I thought I had it all figured out. I told myself that I'd have a big release party, play some live shows, do a few festivals, and see where it went from there. I did exactly that, and each step of the way exceeded my expectations. That wasn't the problem. The problem was that I'd spent nearly two years chasing something that I didn't really want. I just "sort of" wanted it. I didn't have a clue what the next step should've been, because I realized that I was going 100 miles per hour in the wrong direction. For two years. That hurt.
Most people who know me well think of me as a tough guy for various reasons. Be that as it may, I ran into a brick wall when I came to the realization that I was going in the wrong direction. I don't care how tough you are, if you run into a brick wall at that speed, literally or figuratively, you will break.
You may be wondering why that's a big deal. Think of it like this: Imagine climbing a very high mountain. You've spent months and months climbing, expending energy, using resources, enduring the elements, risking everything, including your life, to get to the top of the mountain. You can just about see the top. You finally get there and realize that something's not right.
The thing you want is missing.
You then realize that what you want is on top of another mountain. That's what it felt like.
It's pretty hard to understand for anyone who hasn't been in that situation. I felt like I had let my family, my fans, and myself down. Here I was telling everyone to follow their dreams while doing my best to move toward mine, and I'd been going in the wrong direction the whole time, living a facade. That was part of my thought process at least.
As a result, I fell into a deep depression. I knew at that point that the road ahead would be extremely hard. I couldn't bear the thought of getting on social media and giving people my "inspirational thoughts" let alone keeping people up to date on my goings-on. It would have been phony. A number of people asked me to get back on social media for the sake of my music. I refused. I was not in a good place at all. I started drinking heavily. I didn’t want to be around anybody, didn’t want to go out and I broke up my band. I didn’t see the purpose of anything, including life. That's a dangerous place to be. And for the first time in my life, I didn't touch an instrument. This went on for about four months. That's why I have to give my wife, my dad, and my sister tons of credit. They stuck it out with me and supported me during this time. Another big supporter was God. He was there the whole time, I just didn't pay attention.
This is the only photo of me during the "blue moon" phase. Listening to music was one of the things that kept me going.
Photo: Brittany Carroll
One day while sitting in the living room, I noticed my wife's record collection in the corner of the room. It had been in that same spot for nearly a year. Something told me to go through it. It was as if I were being pulled by some unseen force. Out of curiosity (and the need to satisfy the "pull"), I rummaged through it. I dug up an endless list of classics from the likes of War, Isaac Hayes, Earth, Wind & Fire, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Johnny Mathis, Maze, The Temptations, Millie Jackson, Marvin Gaye, and a lot more that I don't have time to list (all music of the '70s). I looked at the cover artwork and decided to listen. I listened to everything. It took me weeks, but I went through each record. And for once, I felt something that I hadn't felt in months.
Joy. Happiness. Freedom.
I don't know what happened, but that music moved me like nothing before. It was real, joyous, transparent, free, imperfect; qualities that are rare in music today. It wasn't like I'd never heard their music before, but this was different. I needed it this time. I remember crying as I listened to some of them. People who know me will tell you that I never cry. I was so moved that I couldn't control it.
Slowly but surely, as I continued to listen, I could feel my strength coming back. The layers of depression were being peeled away as the days went on. Then I went from simply listening to studying. Literally. I had an Excel spreadsheet, and I would study every element of every single song. I'd write down what made each song different, I'd research who produced the songs, what session musicians were used. I studied how the instruments were mixed, their levels, the panning, the amount of reverb. I'd write down every single lick the drummer played. I'd notate bass lines and make notes of guitar riffs. I listened for how the strings and horn sections were used, how much reverb was used. Was it a large ensemble or a small section? I took note of every percussive instrument, the patterns they played. I listened for the types of keyboards used and saw patterns as to what instruments were used depending on the year. I could hear the difference between music from 1969 to '70, from '70 to '71, '71 to '72, all the way up to '78 when disco was really making noise. Everything you could possibly think of, I analyzed it. I still have the document to this day. I've also thanked my wife multiple times for keeping her record collection. I believe that it literally saved my life.
It was so engraved in me that I knew what I had to do. I had to start recording. I needed to let what I had absorbed come out of me in its own way. So I started writing songs. I recorded every day. Every single day. One song per day. I didn't care if it took all day, I recorded. I started out making what I believed at the time was good music. But that was the problem. It was just good. I was still being influenced by previous recordings I had done. I needed to make great music. I knew I had a different, unique and fresh sound in me, I just had to get through the old layers to get to the "heart of the soul" music I'd been studying. After 68 songs, I finally figured it out.
I kept recording, and when it was all said and done, I had well over 100 songs.
I'd never recorded that many songs in such a short amount of time, and I knew it would take help to put together a coherent album. So I put together a listening team to go through each song and select the best tracks. I ended up calling the album Blue Moon for many reasons. It relates to everything I went through on so many levels.
Looking back, I realize that everything happened for a particular reason. One could say that I may not have recorded Blue Moon had I not seen my wife's record collection. Had I not gone through the depression, I wouldn't have noticed the record collection. It could go on until the day of my birth.
I want Blue Moon to do for others what that record collection did for me. It brought me joy, gave me hope, gave me a sense of purpose, realigned me with my destiny, cured me of my depression, brought my family closer together, and inspired positive changes in my life.
I hope the music moves you.