One of the things that happens to musicians as we evolve is that we say more and more with less and less. On the Annie Stela sessions for Capitol that occurred around the same time we were working on Black Cadillac with Rosanne Cash, there was one song for which we listened to the demo — and I simply didn’t hear anything I could add to it. Bill Bottrell castigated me for that, saying I wasn’t being paid to NOT play; we put a week into it. And the version of it that made it to the (unreleased) record was just Annie and piano. Of course, I do understand that I’m expected to come up with something, even if I think we shouldn’t come up with anything. We have to work through the process and damn the expense. But as one evolves as a player, one thinks more and more as a producer. Or at least I do. You have the end result in your head.
When you’re younger, you think first about your own part, and it’s easier to come up with parts if you’re listening primarily to yourself. The best example of what I mean can be heard in Paul McCartney’s playing — his truly great bass parts are almost always on songs that he didn’t write. “Something”, “Come Together”, “Baby You’re A Rich Man” — when the focus is off of him as a singer or writer, he steps to the front on his bass.
I suffered from the same thing, I think — generally, I played too assertively. Of course, I say this now; who knows how I’ll see it in five or ten years? No one can really predict how their playing will evolve. All of which is to say, from the perspective of now, Rosanne’s song, “I Was Watching You”, needed me to enter exactly where I did. At some point, the power of not playing got across to me. I entered well into the song — and it feels exactly right. And again, as with the title track, the 4th or 5th take and there it was, all of us performing at once.
I can’t remember if I played the song on the couple of gigs I did with Rose in 2007, but we played it on the Tonight Show with the original group (Benmont Tench on keyboards, Bill Bottrell on guitar, Brian McLeod on drums, and me on bass) in early 2006.
When I sat down with the record the day before the taping, I felt a long moment of panic and thought: how could we repeat that? We’d essentially played it perfectly once before. We hadn’t played the song since we got the take in 2004, so when we did a run-through in the afternoon, everything was very fresh. And that run-through was remarkable – everyone played it perfectly again. The show’s director was actually moved to tears. It was pure magic.
When we finally did the taping itself, everybody flubbed it slightly in one way or another. And such is life – and art.