Hello again, Bluestorms fans! I have been asked to ask Glen Laughlin to comment on the songs on The Cherry Bluestorms latest album, Bad Penny Opera. I did so and will be posting the results in the coming weeks. Here’s the first installment:
W: Hello, Glen. Thank you for agreeing to answer some questions regarding Bad Penny Opera.
GL: Glad to do it!
W: Before we talk about individual songs, how did you come up with the title and concept for BPO?
GL: Truthfully, I can’t recall exactly when the title occurred to me, but it was several years ago. I think it was just one of those things that occur to me because I like to play with words and phrases. Bad Penny Opera is of course a corruption of Three Penny Opera, which is in turn a work based on the earlier Beggar’s Opera by John Gay. I liked the “bad penny” reference, because it implies a cycle, as a “bad penny” is one that returns to you. When we were coming up with songs and titles for the next album, I thought of that one. I realized that it suggested a concept that worked with some of the songs we had, for example Start Again.
W: The first track on BPO is the instrumental, “Bad Penny Overture”. The title implies a piece formed from themes taken from the album. Is that in fact how that piece was constructed?
GL: It’s interesting that you use the word “constructed”. I did approach the track differently than any other piece I ever recorded. Usually with multitrack recording you have a different instrument on each channel. In this case, I started with the Fender VI bass part, which was derived from the acoustic guitar part on By Your Leave. I recorded that live with the drummer, Tommy Diehl for about five and a half minutes. I intended to use that as a passive framework. I then put parts from various songs on different tracks, usually in a complimentary key. The idea was to bring up a different fader or channel at different times to create different sections over the groove and “construct” the piece that way. So rather than a channel being named “guitar” or “tambourine”, each channel was a different song title. That approach worked to a point and got me going in a good direction, but later in the process I had to adjust the parts to create a more musical structure.
W: So, take us through the themes.
GL: The first thing you hear is the Wurlitzer electric piano. Some people have thought that there was a synthesizer part in there, but they’re just effects on the piano. There are actually three different Wurlitzers on the track. The first part is from Sunday Driving South, but it is intentionally reminiscent of The Small Faces’ Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake. Shortly thereafter the bass and drums come in with the By Your Leave-derived groove. Then the guitar comes in with the riff from our version of Wear Your Love Like Heaven. The first change comes when the riff from the coda of The Country Man comes in and then the guitar solo. The last section is the chord progression from Start Again. Of course, the whole piece is essentially the same as the last song on the album, “Bad”.
W: So, Bad was written after the overture?
GL: Actually, the lyrics were written before and then I had the idea to put them to the music from the overture.
W: Well, I think “Bad” is good!
GL: Thanks, Winston!
W: Thanks for sharing about the overture.
Next installment: By Your Leave!