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"It's easy to overlook the Everly Brothers because they're everywhere and we've all heard the songs often over the years," explains Frank Drennen, one half of the California vocal duo Dead Rock West, "But this time was different." Kismet played a big role in Drennen and Cindy Wasserman (the other voice in Dead Rock West) coming to record their 13-song tribute to the Everlys with Grammy-winning producer Mark Linett.
"We went to Mark's studio to demo a couple of songs, and at end of the day he suggested Cindy and I try an Everly Brothers song," remembers Frank. "About a month later I was driving through Hollywood and heard 'Problems' on the radio and it was like hearing the Everlys for the first time. I was so excited, I pulled over while the song still played, called Cindy, and asked if she would like to make a whole record of Everly Brothers songs."
Frank didn't have to convince his singing partner of over 10 years of the brotherly duo's magnetism: As a kid, Cindy had bonded with her own older brothers' vinyl copies of Everlys, Beatles, and Beach Boys albums. The close harmonies with a touch of twang she brings to singing with Frank in Dead Rock West are rooted in the attention she paid to the Everlys' intertwined voices and rock'n'roll song styles while she developed her own ear for melody and ability to sweetly harmonize.
Photo: Jim Herrington
Photo: Jim Herrington
"When Frank suggested we record a whole record of Everly Brothers songs with Mark Linett who'd worked extensively with the Beach Boys, I was beside myself. Words can't express the joy," says Cindy. ["It was if a lifetime of studying harmony all made sense in that moment" or something like that!]
Preparing for the It's Every Time! sessions by practicing songs behind the wheel of their respective cars, "We each learned both vocal parts," says Frank. "We kept all the songs in the same keys as the Everlys sang in and they fit just right."
Choosing favorites from the Everlys vast repertoire, Frank and Cindy largely chose evocative originals penned by Phil and Don Everly, songs like "Gone, Gone, Gone" and "It Only Costs a Dime." "I know no one uses phone booths anymore but that's what I love about that song" says Cindy. "And the sentiments are timeless." The pair was also drawn to the ageless quality of the Sonny Curtis classic, "I Used to Love Her." "I just loved listening to the Everlys versions of
these tunes," says Cindy. "Over the next several months we lost ourselves to listening to the songs," adds Frank.
When time came to enter the studio, it was decided Dead Rock West would cut the songs live with a band largely at Linett's Your Place or Mine Recordings in Glendale, California. Cramming all the players into one room, Wasserman and Drennen called on DJ Bonebrake (drums), Dave Gleason (acoustic rhythm guitar), Elliott Easton (lead electric guitar), multi-instrumentalists Phil Parliapiano and David J. Carpenter and special guests: Guitarist Dave Alvin and bassist Rob Wasserman (Cindy's brother) for "Gone Gone Gone, "(You Got) The Power of Love" and "The Price of Love."
"I'm always trying to get my brother to play with us, though usually he's on the road or just too busy. When he said yes this time, it meant so much because of the way I discovered the Everlys through his records," says Cindy. "We were simply blessed to have such fine players throughout the record."
Setting out for a photo shoot with photographer Jim Herrington to East West Studios (formerly Western Recorders) and in the very rooms where the Everlys and Beach Boys once worked (and still equipped with microphones said to have been used by Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley), the photo session shot on vintage film, turned into a recording date.
"Much of the equipment we used is from a bygone era," explains Frank "Microphones from the '40s, preamps the Doors used on LA Woman,Fairchild compressors, and two-inch recording tape." With the addition of the Section Quartet, Dead Rock West filmed and recorded six more songs live-in-the-studio with Linett, including a version of "Let It Be Me."
"Cindy and I had our own room where two microphones were set up," says Frank. "Mark had shrugged at the idea of us doing vocals live, but I confidently told him we would, though I certainly didn't know we could. I especially loved singing all the slow, sad ballads," he says.
The pair shared an emotional connection to the material, especially the songs of heartache and loss like "So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)" and "(Why Am I) Chained to a Memory."
"It's real," says Frank. "Cindy and I each were going through heartbreak at the time. The songs were a balm and spoke to us. We spent four days facing one another and singing to each other into our microphones." The intimate circumstances of the recording session turned out to be palpable in every note sung, on Everly standards from "Cathy's Clown," to lesser-known treasures like "June is as Cold as December."
"I believe in every song," says Frank. "This was much more than a vocal exercise or experiment. When we all filed into the control room and Mark pushed play, everyone could instantly feel the magic of that first take." That they were able to sustain the feeling over 13 songs is a testament not only to the endurance of the Everly's catalog, but to the deep commitment to song interpretation demonstrated by Dead Rock West.
Following the sessions for It's Everly Time! the duo returned to the road to support their 2010 album, Bright Morning Stars. The collection of California spirituals and old-time gospel was produced by Peter Case and featured contributions by John Doe and Exene Cervenka, the artists Cindy primarily tours with as a vocalist. But real life tragedy intervened when Frank's mother fell ill followed by the sudden loss of his brother, sidelining him from road work, and the release of It's Everly Time! was understandably put on hold. And yet, the road keeps calling back Frank and Cindy, to sing together the harmonies they love. Launching a new label, Angel's Flight Recordings to celebrated the long-awaited release of It's Everly Time!, Dead Rock West not only takes charge of its catalog, they've reignited the creative vocal spark that defines who they are as artists.
"I like singing with Cindy more than anybody," says Frank.
"If you're lucky you get to have a magical connection with a few musical partners in your lifetime," says Cindy. "I guess I must be lucky."
Dead Rock West