Those songs on Rooster, most of them were written
around the time that most of King Earl was written,
which was over a period of time from about 1997-2004. I had tried
to write a short story which had turned into a short novel and I
passed it to a friend who was also a very good writer and an
honest man and he told me that it wasn’t very good although it had
its moments. So I took those moments and made songs out of them.
“Cheap Wine”, “Gone”, “Public Record Rag”, “Samuel Grady”, “Dead
Cat on the Line”, and “One Eyed-Jack” are all from that bad little
book, which might explain why they all feel related, at least to
me. The little book focused in on a neighborhood and a pretty
unsavory shut-in named Eddie who narrates the action from his
window, making up a good part of the story that he can’t really
see but feels qualified to make conjectures about. So it’s a
series of digressions that start from a simple event but by the
end of the story you’re left kind of wondering if the initial
event wasn’t the only real thing in the whole story. Anyway it was
a bad idea and the digressions ended up being better songs in any
My favorite song on the record is “Bethlehem” and that had to do with a dream (nightmare) I had about my Dad after he’d passed on. When I woke up, trying to remember the dream and figure it out (all I can see from it now is my Dad lying in a giant kidney-shaped pan in a hospital corridor and me yelling up and down the halls for help but there was no one around) for some reason I started thinking about Herod. I thought about what kind of horror it must be for any parent in any time to lose a child because of some greed for power or money or nonsense like that. Then the song showed up.
The traditional songs on the record are “Samson & Delilah”, taken from both Blind Willie Johnson (who was arrested for singing it in front of a local government building) and Reverend Gary Davis; and “Wild Bill Jones”, an old murder ballad that was covered by the great Dock Boggs and had a powerful effect on me and my relationship to the banjo.
It was a great time, recording this record. Tom Herbers brought up all sorts of cool old gear including the largest ribbon mic that ever lived, we had a bunch of good friends stop by including Molly Maher and Dave Carroll, Karl Anderson played bass and my friend Christian McShane brought a thing called a “Ukelin” over, which we decided must be satan’s favorite instrument (at least his particular one, which made us all cringe). Mikkel and I lined up behind the giant microphone and we just played, like we always played, and made it work. Not much changes around here.