By Todd Houston
This week, our Rockford Rocked Interview series catches up with guitarist Jim Carratt, who just finished his latest album.
RRI: Good morning, Jim. You just finished up an album called the James Carratt Project Volume I.
I must say, this album sounds amazing and maybe even more amazing is how you coordinated 47 musicians—most of them local—to play on it! That is just insane!
JC: (Laughs) Yeah, it was one of the most difficult tasks I’ve ever taken on, Todd. Coordinating over 47 musicians and getting them to record was crazy! Working with their schedules. Some of them working nights, some working days and some with availability only on the weekends. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, only the musicians listed here would make the record: Christi Letsinger, Dwayne Meyer, Chuck Ward, “Cowboy” Eddie Long , Ed Ribeiro, Leanne Leonard, Clinton Joe Huebbe, Jimmy Carratt III, Todd Anderson, Mike “Muddy” Ceretto, Stephen Fierz, Jimmy Roeling, Jim Davis, Thor Davis, Brad Shear, Kathy Palazzolo, Kelly Kristine, Jeff Rath, Bill Flory, Mike Johnston, Bill Brewster, Jamie Campbell, John Guler, Dan Janssen, Oz Amaro, Thomas Turnure, Jeff Mitchell, Chris Puckett, Paul Bronson, Tom Buchko, Zach Johnsy Johns, John Ciulla, Brian Williams, Rick Aronica, Jim Crouch, Bobby Rygh, Lyndsay Thompson, Gary Underhill, Johnny Frye, Michael Hysmith, Woody Elliot, Kenneth W King, Dan Tritten, R Mason Carratt, Joel Brockwell and Ben Hales.
RRI: Impressive list! How did you get interested in playing and writing music in the first place? Take us back in time a bit.
JC: Well, I have been playing the guitar since I was about six or seven. I started taking lessons at this little guitar shop called Peg Nelsons in Beloit, Wis. I still remember the teacher’s name, Sandy, but I cannot remember her last name. Every year I would be entered into those guitar contests and I always seemed to do very well. However, after about three or four years the music that was being taught was something I was not in to. I wanted to start playing something current, something new and I ended up putting the guitar down for about eight years.
I ended up getting a call from a friend of mine while I was in high school, Ryan Hayes, who was forming a band in 10th grade with a couple of different people we knew. Pat Dean-Adamany was on drums and at this time the bass player was still in the works. I was terrible. I was so out of practice after so many years of leaving the guitar in the corner it was embarrassing! I could no longer site read and I could barely pick out the chords. Yet that moment was when I realized I really wanted to play again. The guys ended up letting me go for another player but it was the spark that got me fired up enough to prove myself as a player.
That band went through some changes and eventually, one of my good friends and guitar inspirations would join the band, Jeff D. Mitchell. This was the very beginning of a popular Beloit area band called Nemesis.
I met my wife in college and that was when I wrote my very first song. It was so basic. No bridge, no breaks, and the chords simply repeated themselves over and over and over again. I recorded it on a TASCAM four-track recorder in my college apartment. I wish I had the recording, but it has long since disappeared. I would still consider it a good song. The song was filled with emotion: brand new love and falling in love all wrapped up in one track.
RRI: The quality of the songs on the album are top notch. Were all of the songs featured on this release written by yourself or did you have some help in that area as well?
JC: I wrote everything on this record. It is filled with my pain and happiness. (pauses) I had an affair three years ago with a woman who was working on her 13th affair. It was the dumbest thing I ever did. I stripped my wife of everything she had. Stripping her of her marriage, her self-confidence, her dignity, her ability to trust and love someone and the love of her life. Yet, through it all, she has stayed with me.
All my emotion is wrapped up in these recordings. Falling in love with her, falling out of love and finally after the curtain falls and I realized everything I ever thought was true was a complete lie, the agony of feeling completely alone. So many emotions, you know?
The song “Whiskey Jar” is the pinnacle of my agony and the emotion in that track overflows with the pain I was going through. I thought at the time that song was written, I would end up alone—a sad, lonely man with only his music.
This record is definitely a tough one for my wife to listen to. She relives the nightmare of losing everything she held sacred. Listening to a song that she knows was written about someone else and yet, we are still together, fixing what went wrong. Fixing ourselves and telling the story for the public to get a small glimpse into our lives and the healing process.
RRI: Tell us why you decided to release the album on vinyl.
JC: As a kid, growing up in the ‘80s vinyl is all we knew. Sure, there was the cassette and the 8-track, but vinyl always had that allure. There is just something sexy about vinyl. In addition, there is nothing like holding a record in your hand and feeling the grooves of the music. Listening to that white noise and looking at the artwork. CD’s and MP3’s seem to degrade and take away from the “experience”.
Yet, despite always wanting to go to vinyl, I knew I would not be able to accomplish this alone. Here I was, a lone songwriter, with mediocre vocals at best. How would I attract the best in our area to get on an album with a guy they barely knew and songs that even they were not sure would be any good? I thought about this for a while. Vinyl was the answer. Vinyl was my gift back to the musicians and the musical community that have supported them for all these years. Vinyl was my gift for all these people taking time from their families, their bands, their livelihoods to tell my story.
My next solution: test everything. Send everything through the testing process and allow nothing on the record that could not score. I not only wanted to tell my story, but I wanted the musicians to be proud. I wanted them to know that the songs they were on were deemed radio quality and critically acclaimed. At the end of the day, we tested everything over and over and over again. Sometimes we would test a song even after one instrument was added.
RRI: A lot of the musicians that played on the album are seasoned rock’n’rollers from the area. Having said that, how difficult was it for them to “get their country on,” so to speak? Was there any trouble capturing the “twang” aspect of the songs?
JC: I don’t think capturing “twang” was what I looked for. There were times when the musicians simply could not capture the sound I was looking for, or the sound I or the critics deemed acceptable. Another tough call was taking a track and scrubbing a couple musicians in lieu of seasoned session players from Nashville. Yet, this is what makes this project so special. How many musicians can say they are on an album or track with a Grammy-nominated musician. Not very many can say that.
For example; Ben Hales, who played the drum track on “Jackson Street Pub”. He is smiling ear-to-ear. Not only a vinyl record, not only getting airplay, but playing on the same track as the guy who did all of Kenny Chesney’s steel guitar work on Kenny’s last record and also playing on the same track as Craig Morgan’s lead guitar player. It’s a pretty amazing feeling to give another musician that gift.
Getting back to the sound though. I pretty much asked that musicians come in and provide their own interpretation of the material. They knew the chord structure and had the basic acoustic track provided, yet it was up to them to provide the missing pieces.
I found that I would use guitar amp models and split the signal to ensure I had the sound I needed. This allowed me to control the tone of the guitar later on. If I was not happy with the guitar player’s amp I could use scrap the mic’d amp and use an amp that I thought fit the song better.
Through this process, I found myself continually gravitating back to a Fender 57’ Deluxe and/or the Fender Junior. Later, Rockford native Dan Jansenn was asked to (play) on the record and he really wanted to use his own amp. Here I am thinking, “Great, another guitar player who thinks his tone is amazing” I hesitated and said, fine, thinking to myself that I would definitely be splitting this guy’s signal to edit later on. What does he show up with? A Fender Deluxe!!! I was blown away.
Another amazing example was when a young guitarist, Thor Davis, one of the guys at Paradise Guitars and former guitar player of The Cinamucks and Audio Abduction came over to record. Thor said, “I kept to the chord structure, but re-wrote the basic riff of the song”. It was, again, amazing to me. Finally my son, Jimmy Carratt put the signature sound to “Whiskey Jar.” We have tried again and again to play this song live and it just does not hold up without his performance. He is only 20-years-old and I could not be more proud of his performance on this record.
RRI: What’s your personal favorite track on the album?
JC: Personally, “Jackson Street Pub” is my favorite. My eyes will well up with tears listening. It takes me back to when my wife and I were dating and falling in love. It’s a song that is nostalgic and as reflect on my biggest mistake in life I long for those days again. It truly is my escape.
RRI: Are there any plans for a Volume II?
JC: We had about five songs that tested extremely well that did not make volume one. In addition, still another 10 are almost finished but need some polishing. I continue to write and more are being added every month. Musicians are now coming out of every burrow asking to be part of the next record. However, the testing process and criteria for landing a spot on the next record just got tougher. Everyone expects and wants a followup, and the songs HAVE to be as good if not better. We expect to start pre-orders by the end of next year for Volume II at jamescarrattproject.com.
RRI: Where can we pick up a copy?
JC: The record is offered on all digital distribution sites, iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, Napster and etc.
To purchase the CD or vinyl go to the website or the following retailers: Paradise Guitar, Beloit; Tin Dog Records, Beloit; The Tavern, Beloit (CD Only); Voigt Music Center, Janesville; Toad Hall Records, Rockford; and Culture Shock, Rockford. And more are being added every month as the demand continues to grow! R.