Getting to the Heart of a Song

Our weekend tour began Thursday at midnight, when we pulled out of Nashville, bound for Wake Forest, North Carolina. By early afternoon on Friday, we were loading our gear into Crossroads, a large nightclub located in a strip mall that would be home for most of this day. After a couple hours of setting up and dialing in our sound we began to build an arrangement for one of Rhett’s most recent songs to make the charts, All About Tonight, which was cut by Blake Shelton. In most touring situations, when an artist needs their band to learn new material, band leader will distribute CDs, and the players will learn the parts that were created by the studio musicians that cut the original tracks. But the situation in the Rhett Akins band is far from the typical Nashville way of doing things.

During sound check, he will sing the new song, accompanying himself with the acoustic guitar while we listen and begin thinking of parts. Sometimes, Rhett will hum a signature lyric and convey other ideas, while we begin piecing an arrangement together. Usually two or three run-throughs at full volume, and things start coming together. There’s usually some conversation and an open ended exchanging of ideas between Rhett and the band that enable these songs to take shape.

This is the fourth or fifth time we’ve done this in the past couple of years, and as Rhett continues to have major cuts with popular artists, it only makes sense to continue this trend. This unique approach is quite exciting, as it allows the individual band members to create their own parts, ultimately allowing us to become more connected with his songs than we would if we were just learning somebody else’s parts. Each of the players in Rhett’s band has their own strengths; Pasi on drums, Clint on bass, Scott and myself on guitar, we each bring something to the table. The fact that Rhett allows us to participate in the arranging of his songs is the ultimate sign of respect.

In Nashville, the journey a song takes is typically far more diluted. In most situations a songwriter, or more than likely two or three co-writers, write the song, and then record a rough acoustic guitar and vocal “work tape”. This work tape will then be sent to a group of studio musicians who will record a demo based off of that rough recording. This demo will then be pitched to different artists, and when an artist decides to cut the song, another group of studio musicians will record the final album version based off of the demo. When that artist goes on tour, his touring band will learn the parts that were created by the studio musicians that cut the album tracks. So the touring band is learning, usually note for note, parts that were created by studio players, who copied or interpreted parts created by other studio players, that created parts from the writers work tape. Three generations removed from the original writers spin or “vibe” on the tune. Obviously this can work because there are plenty of successful touring artists and bands.

Rhett’s band and myself are very fortunate to be in a situation that allows for creative participation with the music we play. I’ve been in plenty of situations where that was not the case, and I must say this is far more organic and rewarding. It’s kind of funny, I’ve never even heard some of the other artists radio versions of these songs. In a few situations, the band actually began working up these arrangements and playing his tunes before they even got demoed or cut by other artists. This was the case with Kiss My Country Ass, and Put a Girl in It. I realize this isn’t practical for all band situations, and I am greatly appreciative of my good fortune that allows me to get to the heart of a song.

One Comment

  1. Eric; Rhett surely knows what he’s doing because as you know, the audience won’t hold your feet to the fire for putting your band’s own energy into the songs. Signature riffs may need to be in the assigned places and the harmonies tight but other than that I think many in the crowd may be hearing the song for the first time anyway. And at that point you’ve always got the visual – the live vibe going on to carry you through.
    As always Eric your thoughts,experiences and stories from the road are helpful to anyone in the business!

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