Music Flows North - Jack Yoder

Production Notes from EP

A few weeks ago, Jack Yoder released Music Flows North on 40 Watt Records.  I had the great privilege of producing this EP.

I have known Jack for twenty years and have seen him play everywhere from jam-packed clubs to my funky old sofa.  I wildly admire his talent and aimed to create a record that captured his tone and technique in a manner that was authentic and pure.  Most musicians I know would pucker at the thought of this, but Jack is a musician's musician who simply grinned and said "Well, All Right."

We decided that the best place to make this record was in New Orleans.  This is where Jack lived and played in the years surrounding Hurricane Katrina.  This is also the place where Jack seasoned his chops and evolved from a player to a musician.

The Musicians

Accompanying Jack on the record is Gregory "Li'l G" Rosary.  Li'l G and Jack used to play together regularly, everywhere from street corners to festivals.  Reuniting the two of them in this city where music oozes from the soil seemed to be the best way to capture Jack at his most raw and genuine.

Jack had always told me that Li'l G is not like other harmonica players in that he blows real hard.  Jack loves that sound and that sense of fury.  The first time I heard Li'l G, I knew just how right Jack was.  Li'l G is amazing.

The Recording Session

The recording session was held at Esplanade Studios and engineered by Misha Kachkachishvili.  The studio is actually a converted church which offers a remarkable open room for recording.  This room creates a natural reverb and warmth that was perfectly suited for the type of record we were making.

The room was enhanced by the incredible collection of microphones and Misha's skill in deploying them.  Later on, during the mixing process, we were regularly delayed because Ben Price would stop mixing to listen to the beauty of the microphones and the sound created in this studio.  No wonder people like Willie Nelson record there.

The session was very straight forward.  Jack and Li'l G set up in the big room, Misha set up the microphones and dialed in the EQ, and off they went.  In a ten hour session, they recorded thirty-nine tracks.  They started with classic old songs they used to perform together.  They ended with some new compositions by Jack.  There were no overdubs, nothing of the sort.  Simply a straight, high-quality recording of a musical performance.  Uninhibited and beautiful.

The Songs

We spent several months listening to these recordings, over and over.  In the end, we chose the best crafted songs with the best vocal performances.  It is my belief that these are the two essentials to any great record.

Another objective was to select older songs with a New Orleans heritage.  I believe that it is the responsibility of music lovers to keep great old songs alive.  The English graffiti artist, Banksy, is quoted as saying: "They say you die twice.  One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when someone says your name for the last time."  This is also true for songs.  Is there a sadder moment than when a song is performed for the last time?

Catfish Blues is a song that was written and recorded by Robert Petway in 1941.  This song was later recorded by folks like John Lee Hooker and Jimi Hendrix.  Muddy Waters famously morphed this song into his own composition Rolling Stone.  It is from this song that Mick Jagger and company took their band name.

Robert Petway was from Yazoo City, Mississippi and spent his life traveling around the delta playing in roadhouses and juke joints until his death in 1978.  He remains beloved in certain circles of New Orleans.

St. James Infirmary was first released by Louis Armstrong in 1928.  This song is credited to Irving Mills, who together with his brother discovered some of the greatest jazz composers and advanced the careers of jazz legends, including Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman.

St. James Infirmary is actually derived from an 18th century english folk tune called The Unfortunate Rake which detailed the story of a prostitute-frequenting soldier who is dying of syphilis.  The song was also transformed in the cowboy classic, Streets of Laredo.

Walkin' Shoes is an original Jack Yoder composition.  In listening to it, I assumed it was a cover of an older song.  When Jack advised that he was the songwriter, I was not altogether surprised.  Jack understands the intricacies of classic songwriting and adopts them into his modern style, creating a sense of timelessness.  This is uncommon in blues music today.

Bring It On Home was composed by the great Willie Dixon.  Sonny Boy Williamson first recorded this song in 1963.  However, it is best known from the Led Zeppelin version off of their second album.  This song was an easy choice for the record.  Li'l G finds a killer harmonica groove on this tune that allows Jack to fall right into the pocket.  It is some of their best work from the session.

Sometimes I listen to Li'l G's playing on this song and compare it to the Led Zeppelin version.  His groove rivals that of John Paul Jones and John Bonham.  Amazing.

Mixing and Mastering

A very light hand was applied in the mixing and mastering of this record.  Our objective was to take the recording and provide the lightest possible touch in bringing it to life.  We wanted the listener to experience the record as though Jack were sitting in their living room, performing live.

To that end, the process was much like finishing a piece of fine wooden furniture.  Very light sanding around the rough spots, judiciously applying a stain that brings out the wood's natural features, and putting on a finishing coat that brings the piece together and makes it shine.

The mixing session was led by Ben Price at Studio LaRoche in Atlanta, Georgia.  Ben's keen ear and reverence for the music lent itself well to the project.  This record contains no overdubs, no special effects, and - most amazingly - no reverb.  It is, as Ben says, "two humans making music."

The mastering was performed by Alex Lowe at Red Tuxedo Mastering in Atlanta.  Here again, we tried to "put a shine" on that original recording, assuring that the sound was cohesive between tracks to give the EP a congruent sound.

Working with professionals like Ben and Alex is most rewarding.

Album Title and Artwork

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans residents scattered about the region to find new cities to live in and call home.  Jack wound up in Memphis.  Home of Elvis and the ancient Greeks.

While there, he was interviewed by the Christian Science Monitor about the plight of all those displaced musicians.  In the interview, Jack spoke elegantly about how varied influences converged in the Mississippi delta where they synthesized a distinctly American music.  As this music traveled up river, it ultimately touched all corners of the world.  He paralleled this to the exodus of musicians following Katrina.  The title "Music Flows North" is derived from that interview.

The original photo on the album cover was taken of Jack performing at The Little Bear Saloon in Evergreen, Colorado by Jennifer Babeon.  This photo is magnificently framed and leverages the stage lighting to great effect.

This image was overlaid to a night photo of a street corner in the French Quarter to provide the New Orleans connection.  This art direction and graphic design was skillfully overseen by Rich Benevento of Heck Yeah Studios in Atlanta.  Rich does great work.

A Special Thanks

I would like to say a special thanks to everyone involved in this project, particularly Jack Yoder.  I hope this record creates a document to your artistry and helps further introduce the world to your talent.

A Call To Action

Please check out Music Flows North by Jack Yoder.  It is available at iTunes, Amazon, and digital distribution sites everywhere.

Purchasing this music helps ensure that future recordings of great American music are possible.