Talking about Songwriting

Songs, and music in general, are curious things. Unlike pretty much any other art form, songs can infect you in a way that a book, or film, or painting can not. Ever wake up with an “ear worm?” You know, that song that is already spinning around in your head when you wake up in the morning, and you can’t get it out of there, no matter how hard you try? This morning, it was “Georgy Girl,” the Seekers’ song from the 1967 film of the same name. I have no idea how it got into my head, but it certainly stayed there for the better part of the day. Songs can steal upon you in the dark, on the road, far from home, anywhere. All other art forms require that we engage directly with them in some way. But songs live “in the air,” and seem to come to us, miraculously, whenever they think we have a need for them.

After years of playing other people’s songs, I finally decided to begin writing music back in 2010, following the unexpected deaths of two musician friends. I initially started writing as a way of expressing my feelings about losing my friends. As I got further into it, I began to recognize a desire to develop a musical voice that would more accurately express who I am. Years of performing other people’s music had provided me with a framework for the types of music that I enjoyed playing, which would then serve as a foundation for creating my own music.

In the spring of 2016, I had been working with a lineup of wonderful musicians: Mike Scott on sax, Flourtown Fats (aka Jeff Michael) on bass, and Mark Shewchuk on drums. These guys were, without doubt, the finest group of musicians that I had ever played with, and our live performances were really starting to gel. I decided it was time to document it in the studio.

I began writing in earnest, and pulled-together a couple of songs that I’d been working on over the last couple of years. As I polished them up, I was inspired to write even more. Bits and pieces of songs or ideas came to me all hours of the day… while commuting, while working, while watching television… you name it. Ideas were coming to me from all directions, so, as always, I made notes and put them aside, to be worked on later. I quickly wound up with about 18 songs, 14 of which eventually found their way onto “I Heard You Twice the First Time.”

In this occasional “Talking About Songwriting” series, I will talk a bit about the genesis of specific songs from the CD. Here’s the first installment.

“I Heard You Twice the First Time” is the title track from our latest CD. I actually had the song title for years, before finally deciding to do something with it. In fact, when I decided to make this CD, I had already decided on using it as the title for the CD, mandating that I write the song to go along with it. Sometimes you just need that little kick in the ass…

“I Heard You Twice the First Time” was a bit of dialogue spoken by a character in David Simon’s exceptional HBO homage to New Orleans, “Treme.” The character, trumpeter Delmond Lambreaux, wonderfully played by Rob Brown, is responding to a comment made by his irascible father, Albert, played by the always fun-to-watch Clarke Peters: “I Heard You Twice the First Time!”

I heard that phrase, and it really stayed with me. I later found out later that it was quite possibly a nod to New Orleans-based trumpeter Branford Marsalis’ 1992 album of the same name. In any event, I thought, “what a great retort!” Someone has just told you something in no uncertain terms, and you need to let them know that you got their message, loud and clear. So, I filed it away until such time as I might put it to use.

In the summer months of 2016, recording sessions for the CD were well underway at Bobby Dreher’s Beach Bunny Sound studios in Doylestown, PA. And the time had come to put pencil to paper for what would be the title track. One of the great things about the Treme series was how much great “live” New Orleans music was packed into each episode. The opening credits featured John Boutté’s lively second-line march, “The Treme Song,” and that song has tickled me since the very first time I heard it. I decided that a second line drum rhythm would provide the foundation for my song, as well.

Once I had that nailed down, the lyrics actually came very quickly. As with the phrase’s original context, I built the song around someone responding to another person who had admonished them. In this case, I decided it would be a simple story about a man and a woman, which, while admittedly stereotypical, would place it into a humorous context that could be appreciated by many, especially within blues audiences.

Here are the final lyrics:

I Heard You Twice the First Time
@2016 by David Z Orban, all rights reserved. BMI

Well, I love my baby… she’s the keepin’ kind…
But there are some days, she drives me out of my mind
She tells me I didn’t hear a word she said…
Some days it’s best to just stay in bed She’s a sweet little girl, but she’s drivin’ me out of my mind

My baby lets me know she’s right and I’m wrong…
And without her around, that I wouldn’t last long
She says that I don’t listen… that I’m only here for some kissin’
She’s a sweet little girl, but she’s makin’ me sing this song

I heard you twice the first time, don’t you know?
Sayin’ it more than once don’t make it so
You made you point, so let’s move on…
Even if it’s totally wrong
I heard you twice the first time, don’t you know?

Some say that I’m a fool to keep you on…
But truth be told, I’d be lost if you were gone
You say I don’t pay attention…
And numerous other things that you mention
But at the end of the day, you keep me keepin’ on!

I heard you twice the first time, don’t you know?
Sayin’ it more than once don’t make it so
You just keep on talkin’, only makin’ it worse…
No need to keep wailin’ on that poor old horse…
I heard you twice the first time, don’t you know?

Yes, I heard you twice the first time, yes I did…
Oh, don’t hold back, little girl…  Don’t keep it hid
You made your point, no need to make it again…
I’ll cry “uncle,” I’ll even say “when…”
I heard you twice the first time, yes I did!
I heard you twice the first time, yes I did!
I heard you twice the first time, yes I did!