I was back in Brooklyn Recording, in early 1997, and the room felt familiar. We were tracking the songs that would become the album, one of which was “Going Down with Mister Green”, and the band that played on Horizon was back in the groove. We were friends, and I was getting used to producing. I figured it was easy. Just show them the songs and let everyone play! Horizon had done well, and the songs for the next album had come quickly. Benmont Tench (the keyboard player with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), walked up to me during a break. I had first met him in 1988, when he played on “Waiting for the Dawn” and “Diamonds and Dirt”, and he was a Southern gentleman, the son of a Federal Court judge, and a musical genius. I had been a fan of his since hearing his piano riff on “Breakdown,” and his Hammond B3 solo on “Refugee”. It was always a privilege to hear him play.
He had just traded his old Camaro Z/28 for a Mercedes sports, with a car phone, and we took a walk outside to have a look. As we looked over the car, Benmont looked up at me and said, “These are the best songs you’ve written. I love your lyric on “Hitchhike” … It’s easier for the needle, to pass through the eye of the meek. Lay down your guns, boy, sink down to your feet. We were standing in the hot LA sun; the studio was set up and we were into it. It felt like it was going to be a good album.
Kevin was in New York, producing Nine Lives, the Aerosmith album which went on to be one of their most successful. He was on a winning streak, having just done Silverchair’s Frogstomp, and Journey’s Trial by Fire, all of which had been multi-platinum successes. It had taken him just seven years to become a world-famous producer and engineer, and there was no holding him back. He had moved to New York City, and his 25th birthday party, at Rita’s, seemed a long way back.
It was Saturday afternoon, the 29th day of February 2020, and we had finished eight songs in the last two-and-a-half days. I had called the songs that I felt hung together the best, first, but now my choices were becoming more difficult. I still had four or five songs, but I knew, as soon as we had tracked a song, Kevin and the band would look at me and say “What’s next?”
I had left the rockers to last, and I felt we could try one now. I played the acoustic intro to “Headlight Dreams” and looked for the reaction. “Cool, let’s do it, sounds like fun,” said Kev (McKendree). I liked the song’s story, and as I played the acoustic intro, the band kicked in, sounding big and heavy. “That was fun,“ Kev laughed, as we walked back into the control room. We were grinning at each other, and it felt like we had been playing together for years. As we walked up to the console, Kevin pushed up the faders, opened a bottle of red wine and started mixing.
Steve Louw is a South African singer-songwriter and rock musician. Winner of Best South African Rock Act, and a member of the SA Rock Hall of Fame, Steve is one of SA rock’s most talented and unassuming singer-songwriters. He and his band Big Sky appeared on stage with Rodriguez on the sold-out South African tour in 1998.