September 2006 , Nashville - I sat in the office at PLA Media with Pam Lewis and Jeanene Van Zandt. They had just listened to my then new release “Who’s Bad Now“. Jeanene was armed with a box of music, telling me that this was everything she had recorded by her late husband Townes Van Zandt. She wanted me to cover something in this box and after lunch and conversation she suggested I listen to the tune “ Ain’t Leavin Your Love”. “This song Townes wrote for me when our son Will was born,” she said looking more at the box and talking more to herself then me. Eric Paul walked into the room and I was introduced, Eric produced and engineered for Townes at Willie Nelsons studio in Austin. A friendship was kindled that afternoon and a seed was planted. Two years go by. May of 2008 Eric calls saying he really wants to get this song recorded. We made several attempts before so neither of us was sure that it would happen. We booked Pedernales Studio in Austin for Saturday May 17 one day. Dony Wynn on drums, Will Sexton bass, Larry Chaney Guitar. It was set? I flew to Austin on a Thursday and picked up Dony Friday morning. We drove to San Antonio to do a radio show on the Outlaw Radio 92.5 announcing my show at Sam’s Burger Joint for that evening with the Mother Truckers. On the drive there and back I played the demos I had been writing and recording for Dony to hear. Dony and I have history - we first met in Los Angeles in the 1980’s he was touring with Robert Palmer. I was playing with John Shanks, Bony James and the guys from Little Feat. Dony and I had become fast friends, so this was common ground for the two of us. I entered Willies studio for the first time Saturday morning, met Will and Larry. As Dony and Eric set up the drums Will, Larry and I sat down in the lunchroom. I pulled my laptop out and played the tunes I had demoed. Will I liked right away he listened and there was a vibe I connected with. Larry wanted to diagram my songs out and I am so much more of feel/vibe musician, then a technical musician. So I had to wrestle my way through that with him. Although in retrospect he really killed it in the recording process nothing he did had to be redone! Learning about my recording process.
I choose three more songs to track along with “Ain’t Leavin Your Love”, we started at about eleven in the morning. Will had to leave by three for a sound check at the Fox Theater in Austin. He was opening a show for Kris Kristofferson with Idgy Vaugan so there was no playtime. We cut for four hours - the tracks had a vibe, “…this is something very cool”, I remember thinking. As we cut the Townes tune Will starts telling the story about his record deal in the eighties. He had a band called “ KILL “ and was looking for songs. In Texas there is always singing around a campfire. So Will tells us that the first time he heard the song “Ain’t Leavin Your Love” was at a campfire. Townes was there and had been drinking - hell they all had been drinking. Anyway Townes said “I got a song you should put on your record”. Townes stands up with the guitar and starts into “Ain’t Leavin Your Love” as he sings closing his eyes he looses his balance and falls into the fire. Getting up brushing off starts into the song again right away. Singing eyes go closed and heads right into the fire. Will said we all tell him “hey just do the song sitting down man”. Townes fires back before they finish “ this is not a song you do sitting down! ” he then played the tune complete with no fire dance.
I listened to stories that day. Ghost stories around Townes standing in the control room with Eric . The last time Eric saw Townes alive with a batch of tunes he had to play for Eric. Lived stories, downstairs in the pool room Townes, Waylon, Willie and Kristofferson playing pool till the sun came up. Then heading down the road for food or going their own separate way for the day. The walls talked in that studio, I listened to my recordings and they sound like Willies records warm and real. Old microphones and used wires wood and steel. There is a dust on these recordings that will not wash off. Three o’clock came around four songs recorded. Will had to leave so Eric and I asked Larry to add some guitar parts down before he had to go. About five o’clock we ran for food and wine Eric, Dony and I ate and talked more about where we were and it’s musical history. I just love those stories, the pictures on the wall all of it. We headed back into the control room to listen to what we had and more wine. Dony and I listened then said hey we are all set up lets record just drums and guitar you and I. We recorded seven more songs before packing it in. Winding our way back to south Congress. Dony’s drum storage is behind the Continental Club we unload in the dark. We stand out there on the top floor of the parking garage. You can see the Capital building and downtown lights of south Congress. Just a moment breath in, I give Dony a hug and say goodbye. I head to my hotel and off to Fort Worth to play an early show at the White Elephant before heading home. So I got four songs recorded that day drums, bass and guitar. Seven more, ideas with my acoustic guitar and Dony’s drums. I listened to them all the way to Fort Worth and back to Austin. I called Dony when I was getting close to Austin late Sunday evening. I want good BBQ before I head back to Seattle, get dressed I coming by to pick you up. We ate great BBQ at the place next to the old Antone’s location I will remember it’s name soon. Back to the hotel and up early for an eight am flight.
Michael ONeill. Showcasing a new collection, this singer/songwriter with a “roots-rock” history and a soulful ease carries his listener into a time and place reminiscent of steel strings, guitar heroes, and great story-tellers like Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. A living music legend, ONeill comes armed with vignettes of open-eyed romance, highway drama, and hard-earned tenderness – vocalized with the assurance and attitude that comes only from experience.
One of 13 children, he got started in music early. At the age of 24, he cut his teeth opening his first tour for a then-unknown band called U2. By the time the tour ended in Los Angeles, ONeill found himself signed with legendary manager Don Arden (father of Sharon Osbourne). A record deal followed soon after. ONeill put together a band that featured a young John Shanks (now superstar producer of Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morrisette, Vertical Horizon, etc.), Kenny Gradney (Little Feat), and jazz saxophonist, Boney James. He spent the better part of the next ten years touring with the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughn and penning songs with Bob Weir (Grateful Dead), Steve Cropper (Booker T. and The MG's), and Jason Scheff (Chicago). His band held down a weekly gig at the hottest club in town, The Central (now The Viper Room), playing to packed houses. As the '90s approached, ONeill left Southern California for his hometown in the Pacific Northwest to raise horses and focus on his family. “I retreated to gain some perspective and try to keep my family together,” ONeill says, “I did pretty good on the perspective part.”
Quietly working on material for nearly a decade, ONeill found himself happily remarried and content. In 1999, he released “Dream On” to critical acclaim, garnering nation-wide airplay. His current work, “From the Beginning” is an uncommon album that documents an artist in his prime, a man who knows himself, strengths and weaknesses alike. Part country crooner, part haggard storyteller, ONeill makes a noise that is refreshingly classic. Drawing on heroes like Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan for inspiration, “From the Beginning” plays like old-time rock and roll, deceptively simple yet focused on craft and execution.
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