Back in my 24th to 30th years, I had two primary songwriting partners, both of whom were twice my age and three times as dark. Despite our obvious cultural and generation gaps, the thread that made us siblings was love of the blues. The fact that mine was of the pimply Long Island type and theirs with deep and bona fide Southern roots mattered not. I could lay down a guitar rhythm for demos and help with lyrics. So I was good to go.
ROSE MARIE McCOY, one of the two aforementioned partners, was a journeyman (or woman) songwriter who posthumously became the stuff of legend. But at the time, I was too young to really understand her place in music history. To me, she was a born lyricist who sang a little – but couldn’t read a note of music. I’d try to count her into phrases and invariably, she’d come back with “There ya go with that countin’ again.”
After several years of trying to get a hit record (something we nor she never quite did despite having literally 100 of her songs recorded by the likes of Elvis, Aretha and Nat King Cole), we got into a shmassle about something and fell out. But not completely.
One day I came up with a melody and a title for a country song (“Love Is a Four Letter Word”) and called her up to see if we could write it together. And so we reunited for a day and completed the first verse and release whereupon OTIS BLACKWELL (writer of “All Shook Up,” “Return To Sender,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Handyman” and others) knocked on the door to interrupt our “session.”
Otis listened to what we had and sat at the piano to give us his take on the song. I kind of liked what he did. But Rose wasn’t having it. She threw Otis out and then turned to me to say “I hate when Otis does that!” She didn’t really hate Otis at all. Rose just figured we had the song…and we didn’t need a third writer on it.
But alas, by the time we were back alone, Rose was out of the mood and we never finished the second verse. (That’s the point.) This all happened about the time I faced the harsh reality that if I wanted to stay in the music business, I’d have to record and release rap records on my own label. Thus, nobody that mattered ever heard the unfinished song we wrote that day.
But it’s a funny thing about songs you write. They stay in your mind forever. Or at least they do in mine. Twenty five years or thirty years later, I still remember the day I wrote that tune with Rose. On the way up to Breakneck last week, I brought my old taxi clipboard, a pen, and a couple of sheets of paper on the train determined to write a second verse. Obviously without Rose, it wasn’t going to be nearly as good as the first. But I got it done – at least to the point where I have a finished song.
While I thumb my nose at social media (read a week or two back), I applaud today’s technology. With it, I can now create free-of-charge (in Garageband) what would have cost me literally thousands of dollars to record thirty years ago. And on a whim, I decided to take a crack at making a 3/4 (a waltz) country track with my limited ability to play the piano.
This is clearly not a record. And it’s not even finished as a demo. Plus, I’m no vocalist. But despite being my own harshest critic, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t proud of what I’m about to post. To use a sports metaphor…”We had no star players on the team but somehow managed to win a few games!”
That “Love Is a Four Letter Word” idea is noticeably gone. Rose completely reworked the concept – to my delight – but liked the melody which stayed. I follow the track with a You Tube video featuring a duet of Rose and the amazing and legendary BIG MAYBELLE. If you don’t know who Big Maybelle is…look her up. She is the blues.
Most important and with my “recording,” Rose Marie McCoy is momentarily resurrected. I was a fool to stop writing with her when I did. Petty bull shit ruining a considerable partnership. Wasn’t the first time – and it won’t be the last.