desert island classics #17
catalog-no. tx 3021
country/folk - 2004
"The region in which I live is east of Los Angeles about
35 miles and is on the edge of, what has come to be known as, the Inland Empire,
or in skateboard parlance, the Badlands. Most of my musical influences and musical
pals have come from this region. Though I am drawn by the lure of LA and its
power, the foothills and the desert provide a much greater and, I believe, truer
vision of the people and traditions of the west. We are westerners, either by
birth or choice, and it has a major effect on the tone and consciousness of
the people and, in this case, the music. The Rank Strangers are a total product
of the west and represent it in a broad and unique way.
The name Rank Strangers comes from a well-known bluegrass song of the same title by the Stanley Brothers. "Everybody I meet seems to be a Rank Stranger," the plaintive refrain, the feeling of aloneness that it evokes, makes it a perfect name for a band that fits no category. Templeton Parcely and I had discussed for a long time that we should put together a band that had bluegrass-type instrumentation yet would have no banjo. We felt that the nature of the Scruggs-style banjo playing only allowed for certain grooves to be established and we were interested in doing non-traditional feels and non-traditional material with an acoustic band. Our choice of material ranged from originals to songs from the Sons of the Pioneers and George Jones. In addition, we wanted to use a female voice in the construct and yet strove to keep the harmonies as pure as possible and no vibrato was to be sung. Thus, the Rank Strangers became a concept realized through the only people who could do the job.
After recording three solo albums for major labels, I decided to leave the road and touring and devote myself to producing records. I was looking for artists to work with and was introduced to Robb Strandlund through my association with my engineer Randy Sterling. I had known Randy in LA when he was in Neil Diamond's band and playing on many a session. He decided to move out of LA about the same time that I decided to get into producing. I had done Maxfield Parrish's It's A Cinch... album, my three solo efforts and had produced an anniversary Kaleidoscope record, When Scopes Collide, for Mike Nesmith's Pacific Arts label, with Templeton aka Chester Crill. Randy was at the engineering console. We were working out of a studio in Riverside called Sound Sync when one day Randy called and said that I had to see a great singer and songwriter, Robb Strandlund. He and his band, the Silverados, were performing at a small club on old Route 66, called Bodine's, in Montclair. Robb was tall, stately and could sing high and hard like a good bluegrass singer but with the power of a guy who knows what Rock and Roll is all about. The band was great and I became an immediate fan. Randy and I decided to work together on a Silverados project. We had developed a team of singers and musicians who were part of the studio rats that inhabited Sound Sync at the time. Cindy Edwards was part of the singing contingent at the studio and we were always looking for various combinations of vocalists for different reasons. Robb and I found that we could sing as hard as each other and discovered that our blend was familial, like two brothers. When Cindy entered the mix (she could sing as hard as each of us) the sound of the Rank Strangers was realized. All of us are six feet tall or taller and the projection and blend of voices is like no other. With the addition of John Selk, another six footer, on bass and bass voice, the vocal sound was complete.
The period after meeting Robb up to the recording of the Rank Strangers album was a great, creative time. The Silverados project developed into a solo record for Robb on Polydor Records produced through my production company, Laguna Productions. The Eagles had recorded his song Already Gone and it had already become a Country Rock classic. Cindy, Robb and I did all the back-up singing on his solo project.
After the When Scopes Collide record, Chester and I initiated the Rank Strangers based on the solo singing of Robb, Cindy and myself and the ensemble playing of all of us. Robb played guitar, I played mandolin, Dobro and an occasional accordion and Chet played mostly fiddle, augmented by his fabulous harmonica playing.
We knew that it was going to be the material that would make us or break us. We put together a potpourri of material as far left as Starting All Over Again, an early seventies duet featuring Cindy and Robb, originally performed by R & B greats, Mel and Tim, on Stax Records. Our rendition got us a Grammy nomination in 1977. Another song from the same genre features Cindy's gorgeous voice on her version of Aretha Franklin's Do Right Woman.
The smooth sound of Tumbling Tumbleweeds and Ragtime Cowboy Joe hearken back to Singing Cowboy movies, cactus and western sunsets. Chester's hot violin playing and my steel guitar playing merge beautifully on the latter cut.
Robb does two of his original songs on this CD, All I have are Memories and Just Another Country Song. These are both classics in style and content. Memories is the archetype song about the down and out alcoholic yearning for the old days. The bar band's lament, Just Another Country Song, should be on every set list, of every bar band, in America. The band as jukebox metaphor is apt.
Too Ripe in the Vine, Time Will Tell and For As Long As I Live are my original compositions and they are the proverbial fast one, medium tempo song and the ballad. We always started our sets with Time Will Tell, a karma song of the first order, "Time will tell, time will tell on you". I don't mind retribution if I don't have to wield the sword, especially in love relationships. For As Long As I Live was written for Bill Monroe and has some great harmony singing on it. Too Ripe on the Vine tells of a failing love affair that just can't hang in there any more. "If love bears fruit, are you and I, too ripe on the vine?" These songs are all about love!
The song about the other side of love, What Did I Do?, was the only Darrow/Strandlund composition on Rank Strangers. The last of the ten song original order was Where the Grass Won't Grow, Robb's heartfelt interpretation of a George Jones classic.
We originally recorded fourteen songs for this project. We could only use ten at the time, so this will be the first hearing of the four extra cuts. Just Another Country Song is one we've spoken of already, another, the Bell Notes classic, I've Had It, is one of the favorite songs of my teenage years. Hank Locklin's Send Me the Pillow You Dream On is a perfect song for Robb's romantic tenor voice and Cindy's harmony; Chester's violin is great! Last, but not least, is one of the saddest songs in the American mountain tradition, Little Girl and the Awful Dreadful Snake. The girl cries, "Help me Daddy, there's and awful, dreadful snake". Nothing could follow that song.
The album was recorded and mixed in three days at a studio in Covina, California, called Audiotronics. Randy Sterling handled the engineering chores and our pal, Pope Firman, contributed bass on Time Will Tell and What Did I Do?
I wanted a Chicano graffiti placa for the cover. Those lettering styles always fascinated me. My friend, the artist, Rick Griffin, created an alphabet from a myriad examples of graffiti we found on a long southern California image seeking drive. I still have the notes from that day. The Rank Strangers cover is supposed to be the first album cover to ever use graffiti as a motif. The editor of a French graffiti magzine gave me that information.
We only had a small picture of the band on the original vinyl release. Steve Cahill, my compatriot from my early bluegrass days, and Mary Strandlund, have both supplied photos of the band for this CD.
The music on Rank Strangers anticipated many trends in American acoustic music and is as fresh and relevant as it was when it was released in 1977."
Chris Darrow, 2004
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