- Cross Beside the Highway
- Miner’s Son
- Restless Wind
- Sawmill Man
- Johnstown Flood
- Lost Town
- They Sawed Up A Storm
- White Dove of the Desert
- Wounds That Never Heal
- Shadow in the Pines
- One Big Hammer, One Big Rock
- Soldier’s Last Request
Cross Beside The Highway
This song was inspired by thirteen wooden crosses along a stretch of road near our home. It marks the place where several fatal crashes took place over a period of time. Never could understand how that could happen as it is a flat, straight stretch of well-maintained highway. Does in no way look dangerous. Only thing I can think of is that it goes East/West and the sun is directly in your eyes at sunrise and sunset. The accidents all occurred in the same area, and the sight of the crosses one after the other on the highway is frightful.
I had attempted to write this song for years, with no luck. Then early one evening at dusk I decided to drive by there for no particular reason. As the crosses came into sight something came over me and the entire song poured out, music, melody, lyrics. Fortunately, I had a hand help tape recorder with me and captured it all. It was an out of body experience that never happened before and has never happened since. Only explanation I came up with is that their spirits still were there and somehow, they wanted me to tell their story.
This song had a very unusual beginning, turned out to be one of my favorites on the album. I had been writing with an area friend Joel Schwelling for about a year or so, songs with more of an Americana or singer/Songwriter feel. Most often he’d come up with a song title, guitar riff or melody and I’d help write the lyrics. He sent me this one that had a very cool acoustic modal sound, very different than any of the others. Joel had a title in mind but somehow it didn’t seem to fit the music/melody. Playing around with it one day I started singing “I was born a miner’s son”. I thought that would be an interesting perspective for a song. Shortly after I ran across some fascinating transcripts written by the son of a coal miner that captured my imagination. This song was based on his story.
This was perhaps the hardest song I’ve ever had to to write. It’s about my younger brother Denny’s daughter, Jessica, who died at a very young age. It was his first born, and her loss was heart breaking. Jessie was buried in a children’s cemetery, separate from our family plot. Over time we lost several other family members including my youngest brother Mark and our mom and dad. Denny and his wife June had moved to Louisville Ky to be near their two sons. He called out of the blue one night and asked if I could have Jessie’s remains moved to where the rest of our family was interred. Difficult as it was, I agreed to help and made the arrangements. I was there at the cemetery on that cold bleak late fall day.
The wind was howling, shaking the branches on the trees that surrounded the graveside. The memory of her tragic death all came back, and I was overcome with emotion. Later that day went home and wrote this song.
I wrote this song as a tribute to my dear friend Bud Bannish who, to me, was the greatest sawmill operator in our part of the country. I entered the hardwood lumber business in 1970 and would visit Bud’s mill in Chester MA a few times a year. Over time he became one of my most valued lumber suppliers and we became close friends. Bud brought in the biggest and best timber to manufacture into his lumber. He’d have mountains of logs piled up at his mill at any given time. Buds lumber quality was second to none. Saw-milling is a hard way to make a living. They work in the cold, rain and snow and face one challenge after the other. I gained a great deal of respect for Bud, his wife Marlene and three boys. Bud loved nothing more than standing at the head rig of that big band mill, making sure to get the best yield from every log. Sometimes I’d stand there beside him, the noise was deafening. At the end of his life, when he could barely walk, Bud actually had his boys carry him down to the mill each day so he could run the head saw for an hour or two. So proud to know Bud, and honored to tell his story in song.
A good friend, Dave Saxe, brought the story of the Johnstown Flood to my attention several years ago at his annual picking party, suggesting it as a potential song idea.
I ended up purchasing a book about the historic flood to learn more about the story. It was fascinating, a real page turner. The tragedy occurred in 1889 in western Pa when an earthen dam that held back the waters from Lake Conemaugh broke and gushed down to the flood plain below. The town of Johnstown was right in its path, and its 30,000 residents had no warning when the raging waters swept their town away. It was the worst disaster in US history at the time and the first time the American Red Cross was called in to help. Clara Barton arrived five days after the disaster to lead the relief effort. Thousands of people lost their lives and it took five years to rebuild the town. After reading that book several times, I just had to write this song.
Back in the early 1900’s the city of Boston MA was in need of additional drinking water supply due to its rapid population growth. A study was conducted and it was decided that Quabbin area in the western part of the state would be an ideal place for a body of water to fill the need. Only issue was there were four towns right in the middle of where the reservoir would be built. To proceed, the towns would have to be dis-incorporated and totally removed. A state vote was approved and all the residents of those four towns were forced to leave, never to return. Many of the residents had lived there for several generations. A hard deadline was set, everything in the towns was torn down and hauled away, including the bodies interred in the cemeteries. By the time the area was flooded the only thing that remained were the rock foundations of some of the old houses.
My good friends Bob & Krissy Dick took my wife and I to the site of one of the towns (Dana MA) introducing us to the story of the Quabbin.
After reading transcripts from one of the town residents I was moved to write this song, and tell the story based on his recollection of this life-changing event.
They Sawed Up A Storm
A colleague of mine in the lumber industry, Sarah Shea Smith, uncovered the story of the Woman’s Sawmill at Turkey Pond NH. After much research she wrote a book about the events that took place leading to the building of the mill, propelling this group of woman to become heroes of their time.
The great hurricane of 1938 devastated the NH forests, knocking millions of feet of standing timer to the ground. Times were hard as our country was still recovering from the Great Depression. In an effort to salvage the timber and help our dismal economy, the government built a sawmill at Turkey Pond NH to saw up and sell the timber. The effort was going well until WW2 broke out. All the men operating the mill joined the war effort and the mill shut down. Thirteen patriotic woman went to the NH State House offering to run the mill. Although many doubted this would work, they were given permission, and the salvage operation continued.
This group of brave, determined women in service to their country saved the day and made history. This song was written to celebrate their historic accomplishment and share their story in song.
White Dove Of The Desert
About fifteen years ago my wife Wendy and I traveled to Tuscan AZ to visit a dear elderly friend, Rosemary Smith, who had relocated there due to health reasons. One day she took us to the site of the San Xavier Del Bac Mission about ten miles south of the city. Knowing about my passion for songwriting she thought it would spark my interest. That it did, and that visit was the inspiration for the writing of this song.
Known as the “White Dove Of The Desert” it’s one of the very first missions built in the southwest part of the US back in the late 1600’s. Founded and built by Jesuit Missionary Francisco Kino, its purpose was to bring Christianity to the region. A magnificent structure, the mission lay right in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. Its white stucco exterior can be seen for miles away. The interior features tall cathedral ceilings, ornate displays, paintings, carvings, Native American artistic motif. An amazing display of Spanish architecture. Many a soul was saved at the San Xavier Del Bac Mission, and over time it helped tame the West.
Featured on the track are:
- Kati Penn- lead vocal
- Becky Buller – fiddle
- James Kee – mandolin
- Ned Luberecki- banjo
- Todd Parks – bass
- Stephen Mougin – guitar/harmony vocal
- Junior Williams – harmony vocal
Wounds That Never Heal
I wrote this song with my good friend and outstanding guitarist Lincoln Meyers. Lincoln would come up with some really cool guitar riffs and musical passages from time to time. He’d share them with me, asking if any might be the catalyst for a song lyric. Several of them eventually turned into songs with interesting story lines, inspired by Lincoln’s musical ideas. One day when we got together and he played this intriguing melody and shared a story idea that captured my imagination. I wrote a lyric to it over the course of the next few weeks and we were both pleased with how the song turned out. That was how “Wounds That Never Heal” came to be. A few years later I happened to watch a TV drama with a very similar plot to our song. It was surreal watching as the several of the scenes mirrored the lyric I’d written so closely. There was no doubt in my mind that I was meant to write this song.
So glad that Wounds That Never Heal made it on the story song album. One of my very favorite co-writes with Lincoln.
Shadow In The Pines
My co-writer, Rich Schleckser way up in Northern Maine near the New Brunswick border one time visiting the Baileyville Paper Mill. He stopped for a cup of coffee at a small gas station/ convenience store pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Rich noticed a set of rusty railroad tracks running behind the store and started thinking about all the logs/lumber that moved on those rails from the woods to the paper mill, and how very dangerous that kind of work was. It was kind of a desolate setting and the line “Shadow In The Pines” came to mind. Rich brought the idea of the song to me; we came up with the story line and wrote it together. A tragic tale, but one of many that took place in the remote Maine timberlands in days gone by.
One Big Hammer, One Big Rock
One of my favorite co-writes with buddy Rich Schleckser. So glad it made it on the album. As I remember he got the original idea for the song from high school English class. It’s based on a myth where a man continuously pushes a rock up a hill only to have it roll down again. He was picturing old prison rock piles which led to the story line which we developed together. Loved the song title! Rich and I worked long and hard on it for weeks until it sounded real and believable. It was well worth the effort.
Soldiers Last Request
This is another Rich Schleckser co-write, and a perfect fit for the album.
The idea for the song was spawned when Rich was on a trip to PA and took an unplanned detour to Gettysburg. He’d never been there before and decided to visit the battlefields. Overwhelmed by the tragedy that took place on that ground he was standing on, Rich sat down and started to write. He imagined himself being there, lying wounded on the battlefield realizing that the end was near. He saw the name Henry Cotton on one the gravestone markers. That set the stage for the story we wrote together. The song was written with pure emotion weaving in and out of every line. This song is as real as it gets.
I sat down to write with Stephen Mougin a few years back and we started talking about the old days. That’s when he first brought up “Toodleoo”
The song is a true story about Stephen’s grandfather who lived with him the last years of his life. An electrician by trade, he ran the first wiring in the homes in his area and was notorious for whistling while he worked. Stephen was only six years old when his grandfather passed away, but never forgot his peculiar habit of saying “toodleoo” rather than “goodbye” as his departing message. So glad we could include this song on the album which offers a message of optimism, a tuneful whistle, and a wry smile”