About Michael O'Neill

Showcasing a new collection with a previously un-released Townes Van Zandt song as the title track, this singer/songwriter with a “roots-rock” history and a soulful ease carries his listener into a time and place reminiscent of steel strings, guitar heroes, and great story-tellers like Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. One of 13 children, he got started in music early. At the age of 24, he cut his teeth opening his first tour for a then-unknown band called U2.

By the time the tour ended in Los Angeles, O'Neill found himself signed with legendary manager Don Arden, (father of Sharon Osbourne). O'Neill put together a band that featured a young John Shanks, (now superstar producer of Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morrisette, Vertical Horizon, etc.), Kenny Gradney (Little Feat), and jazz saxophonist, Boney James.

He spent the better part of the next ten years touring with the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughn and penning songs with Bob Weir, Steve Cropper (Booker T. and The MG's), and Jason Scheff (Chicago).

Part country crooner, part haggard storyteller, O'Neill makes a noise that is refreshingly classic.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

September 2006 , Nashville

I sat in the office at PLA Media with Pam Lewis and Jeanene Van Zandt. She was armed with a box full of everything she'd recorded by her late husband, Townes Van Zandt. She wanted me to cover something in this box and suggested I listen to the tune “ Ain’t Leavin Your Love”.

“ This song Townes wrote for me when our son Will was born” she said looking more at the box and talking more to herself then me.

Eric Paul, who produced and engineered for Townes at Willie Nelsons studio in Austin soon came in. A friendship was kindled that afternoon and a seed was planted.

Two years went by. In May of 2008 Eric called saying he really wanted to get the song recorded. Now, we'd made several attempts before and it hadn't happened, neither of us was sure that it would this time. We booked Pedernales Studio in Austin for Saturday May 17. Dony Wynn on drums, Will Sexton bass, Larry Chaney Guitar. It was set?

Dony and I first met in Los Angeles in the 1980’s when he was touring with Robert Palmer. I was playing with John Shanks, Bony James and the guys from Little Feat. We had become fast friends, so this was common ground for the two of us.

I flew to Austin on a Thursday and picked up Dony Friday morning . We drove to San Antonio to do a radio show on the Outlaw Radio 92.5 announcing my show at Sam’s Burger Joint for that evening with the Mother Truckers. On the drive there and back I played the demos I had been writing and recording for Dony to hear.

I entered Willies studio for the first time Saturday morning, met Will and Larry. As Dony and Eric set up the drums Will, Larry and I sat down in the lunchroom. I pulled my laptop out and played the tunes I had demoed. Will I liked right away he listened and there was a vibe I connected with.

Larry wanted to diagram my songs out and I am so much more of feel/vibe musician, then a technical musician. So I had to wrestle my way through that with him. Although in retrospect he really killed it in the recording process nothing he did had to be redone! Learning about my recording process.

We started at about eleven in the morning. I'd chosen three tracks for "Ain't Lea vin' Your Love". Will was opening a show for Kris Kristofferson with Idgy Vaughan so had to leave by three for a sound check at the Fox Theater in Austin. That meant no playtime.

We cut for four hours and the tracks had a vibe. This is something very cool, I remember thinking. As we cut the Townes tune Will starts telling the story about his record deal in the eighties and how he first heard the song. He had a band called “ KILL “ and was looking for songs. In Texas there is always singing around a campfire. So Will tells us that he and Townes were at one and had been drinking, hell they all had been drinking.

Anyway Townes said “I got a song you should put on your record”. Townes stands up with the guitar and starts into Ain’t Leavin Your Love as he sings closing his eyes he looses his balance and falls into the fire. Getting up brushing off starts into the song again right away. Singing eyes go closed and heads right into the fire. Will said we all tell him “hey just do the song sitting down man”. Townes fires back before they finish “ this is not a song you do sitting down! ” he then played the tune complete with no fire dance.

The walls talked in that studio. So did we and I listened to stories that day. Ghost stories around Townes standing in the control room with Eric . The last time Eric saw Townes alive with a batch of tunes he had to play for him. Lived stories, downstairs in the pool room Townes, Waylon, Willie and Kristofferson playing pool till the sun came up. Then heading down the road for food or going their own separate way for the day. I listened to my recordings and they sound like Willies records warm and real. Old microphones and used wires wood and steel. There is a dust on them that will not wash off.

Well, three o’clock came around, four songs recorded. Will had to leave so Eric and I asked Larry to add some guitar parts down before he had to go. About five we ran for food and wine Eric, Dony and I ate and talked more about where we were and it’s musical history. I just love those stories, the pictures on the wall all of it. We headed back into the control room to listen to what we had and more wine.

Dony and I listened then said hey we are all set up lets record just drums and guitar you and I. We recorded seven more songs before packing it in. Winding our way back to south Congress. Dony’s drum storage is behind the Continental Club we unload in the dark. We stand out there on the top floor of the parking garage. You can see the Capital building and downtown lights of south Congress. Just a moment breath in, I give Dony a hug and say goodbye. I head to my hotel and off to Fort Worth to play an early show at the White Elephant before heading home.

So I got four songs recorded that day drums, bass and guitar. Seven more, ideas with my acoustic guitar and Dony’s drums. I listened to them all the way to Fort Worth and back to Austin. I called Dony when I was getting close to Austin late Sunday evening. I want good BBQ before I head back to Seattle, get dressed I coming by to pick you up. We ate great BBQ at the place next to the old Antone’s location I will remember it’s name soon. Back to the hotel and up early for an eight am flight.

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