Recording “Georgia Drumbeat” for My Album Prospect Hill
I was asked to write a bit about the 20th Anniversary of Music Maker Relief Foundation. I have known the founders, Tim and Denise Duffy, for just about 10 years and it has been a wonderful learning experience knowing them. Their mission and the musicians and songsters they’ve recorded over the past 20 years have informed the way I play and present my music on stage today. I helped sequence the new 20th Anniversary album that they have coming out in the fall. One of the artists that Tim recorded, James Davis, influenced me quite recently as I recorded one of his songs, “Georgia Drumbeat,” on my newest album, Prospect Hill.
James Davis’ music is steeped in the once rich fife and drum music of his native Georgia. His father and uncle were fife and drum musicians and, though James learned the tunes from them, he decided to translate that music onto the electric guitar, creating what must be the hardest drum and guitar duo sound I have ever heard.
When I went in to the studio to record “Georgia Drumbeat,” I had worked out the guitar part the way I had wanted. Knowing that I was only playing an acoustic guitar, I tried to find somewhere where “Georgia Drumbeat” mixed with surf guitar and also what I saw African musicians like Cheick Hamala Diabate play on the guitar. It makes sense to me somehow.
I knew that, for the rhythm, I wanted to bring the song back to its fife and drum roots, so I used snare drum and bass drum. Guy Davis and Ben Hunter, respectively, played amazing drums on this piece. Finally, I wanted a horn on the track. I’m a big fan of Charles Mingus and I wanted to try to bring some of that into the piece without breaking out of the original vibe. First, the engineer, Jason Richmond, suggested that I see if Guy would try to play amplified harmonica. We set Guy up and he began to rock it hard. I mean, we had recorded “Marching Up Prospect Hill,” a bones and harmonica duet, earlier that day and it showed Guy’s prowess on the instrument, but this was a whole new thing.
Finally, on the last day, we had Brian Horton come in and overdub saxophone on several cuts of the record. When we had him listening to the track, I had a light bulb go off in my head. I remembered an old recording that I heard from Albert Collins called “The Freeze.” That track has some crazy horn on it!
I had Brian put in the horn vamps on tenor for the final touch, and I played the track back for Brian again with the harmonica. He said, “Oh, I know what to do!” and proceeded to put down his tenor sax and pulled out the soprano. He laid down a great solo and the track was done. That’s my story! Happy 20th Music Maker Relief Foundation!
Dom Flemons is an American songster, songwriter, and former member of Carolina Chocolate Drops. His latest solo album, Prospect Hill, released this July 2014 via the Music Maker Relief Foundation, which is celebrating 20 years of working to preserve and promote traditional music. Visit his website for tour dates and more information.