It began with songwriting. Looking to collaborate with another writer, I reached out to Drew Nugent whose band, The Midnight Society, had been a guest performer at a concert where I was a chorister. That was a little over 2 years ago.
We turned out to be a productive pairing, writing about 2 dozen songs, collaborating with Cynthia Carle and Shayna Zaid during a trip to LA, and recording music together during a return visit in April. At the end of the third day of long and spirited sessions at the Village Recorder in Santa Monica, Drew sat down at the piano and recorded the first track on this project, “All God’s Children Got Rhythm”. He also recorded “End of the Road” and “Craving” that same night. His piano/vocal performance was extraordinary.
It made sense. We were at the Village. It is a recording studio, yes, but more than that it is a museum filled with vintage instruments, ghosts and potent spirits. Drew was playing a piano that used to belong to Oscar Peterson, in a building where Ray Charles and Muddy Waters once recorded! The audio evidence is indisputable.... The Village spoke to Drew, who lives in the past, who revels in history, and who is profoundly inspired by those who preceded him. Even in our mentally fatigued states, everyone within earshot of the A Room was aware of Drew’s virtuosity that April night.
A few weeks later, having reviewed the tracks and cleared my head of previous intentions, I decided to produce “I’ll Never Be the Same” for Drew. He needed to be heard.
I repeated the museum-recording studio strategy by using the Orpheus Club House when we returned to Philadelphia. Founded in 1872, The Orpheus Club is the oldest continuously active men’s chorus in North America. In the 1920’s the club converted an urban stable on a side-street into their club house for dinners and rehearsals. The room is bedecked with old photos, antique banners, portraits and statuary. It doesn’t take special antennae to hear the ghosts rummaging and whispering. We set up temporary recording equipment, plied the chorus with alcohol, and recreated the atmosphere of an English Music Hall for “Trafalgar Square” and “The Caretaker’s Daughter”.
Drew and I had used that same downstairs rehearsal space at Orpheus for songwriting late into Sunday nights. I get misty-eyed each time we hear or play “Same Again”, because it represents the best of what we wrote, and the closest to certain truth that we ever came as a collaborative team. The ghosts whispered their affirmation to us, too. Every little bit helps.
There’s no way to properly describe Drew’s passion except to listen to his music. Yeah, he’ll talk your ear off about “Jelly Roll” Morton or Bix Beiderbecke or W.C.Fields, but when you listen to him play, you know how important it all is to him, you’ll get that lightning rod connection through Drew into a 1930’s speakeasy. That’s a rare thing. He is a unique professor of our history.
Peter Evans December 1, 2016