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Hurricane Irene Blues (2020 Version)

Robert James

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This isn’t the best song I’ve ever written. I think that one is on the Quarantine Tunes Volume 1 playlist. No, it’s not the best but… I’m pretty sure it’s my favorite song I’ve ever written. Not because of the quality of the song, but because of the circumstances that lead to writing it. I like the song itself too, but I kind of adore what it stands for.

It was 2011 and a couple of things happened at about the same time. I had my first MacBook Pro and was starting to noddle with GarageBand. I bought a little USB keyboard and a littler USB mic input and wrote myself a little waltz number to test drive it all. The lyrics to that song were about the imminent arrival of Hurricane Irene. That storm became a sort of theme for a mini music project but that’s kind of irrelevant.

My step kids were 10 and 8 years old. They saw me playing around with the little waltzy song and were curious. I decided to give them a demonstration of what I was doing by starting a new song. I used an upright bass sound and wrote a little phrase in Eb and looped it. I then added a new instrument every eight bars or so. First a cymbal, then a drum set, then a keyboard. They thought it was cool.

Then I decided to blow their little minds. I took them into the cellar where I was planning on building a little music nook. I plugged in my guitar and recorded myself improvising a little rhythm part. Then I recorded a little improvised vocal part to stick in the middle of the song. Then I turned up the distortion and blew through a guitar solo that surprised me with it’s grooviness. The kids were still impressed.

I then mixed the whole thing down and played it all back for them. They liked it. I mean, at the time they actually liked it. A couple of weeks later I heard my step daughter singing it to herself. Can you believe that? The old hack of a step dad wrote something that they actually liked and may have actually stuck with them for a while! I was so happy. The fact that the song was actually kinda fun to play and wasn’t too bad a listen just made it that much better.

That’s why this is the favorite of all the songs I’ve ever written. For a stretch of a couple of weeks there, the kids liked it. That was more of a scream to me than Hurricane Irene could ever dream of being.

The rhythm guitars here are a Gibson ES-335 Pro into a Ryra The Klone overdrive pedal and both a Fender Bassbreaker 15 and a Vox AC15. I doubled the part this time so it wasn’t improvised. I think this version loses a little bit of magic because of that, but not enough to taint it for me. The lead guitar is a Gibson SG Standard into a Klon KTR and a Malaise Forever Black Lives Matter into the same two amps. The first eight bars of the first solo are pretty similar to what I did nine years ago but the rest is improvised.

Bad dream
She’s a scream
That Irene

Greg Connor's avatar
Greg Connor said

Another sonic blast of great tone.

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