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Sunday, January 18, 2015

The story behind the new song "Mama"

By Ted Slowik

Yesterday was a very special day. At a family gathering celebrating our Mom's 89th birthday, I played her the new song I wrote called "Mama," which she inspired.

The performance took place in front of about 25 family members at Salerno's in Hodgkins. You can watch a video of the performance here.

Our mom, Dr. Clare Slowik, is an amazing person. Not only did she raise 12 kids, she went back to school, earned a doctorate and was a professor of nursing at Lewis University. She's so special the Sunday Chicago Tribune published a front-page feature about her on Mother's Day, 1989.

The notion of performing the song for her on her birthday didn't occur to me until a few days ago, and after running the idea by my wife Jo and sister Liz and receiving their support I decided it would be a nice gift for Mom.

I'm fascinated by how artists create tangible works out of thin air. A song, written story, painting or other piece starts with an idea in the mind of the creator. It is first imagined, then realized.

The idea for "Mama" came about in mid-December. I was preparing to write new material and thinking, "What subjects matter most to me?" Since I'm planning to write a collection of new songs I'd recently been thinking about my favorite albums, and it occurred to me that John Lennon's solo debut "Plastic Ono Band" opens with the track "Mother." Eureka! I had my first topic.

I'd written about family before, and composed the historical story "Slowiks" for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary in 1995. I'll always remember playing it for them, sitting at their kitchen table. For Mom's song, I didn't want to write a literal story of her life. Instead, I wanted to tap into a "universal truth" about a child's love for his mother and create a work that others could relate to.

It started with the first line. I'd be driving to and from work thinking of truths to say about Mom and I came up with: "Mama is the greatest person that I ever met." The melody flowed instantly from that first line. Over the next week or so I'd think of more lines and scribble them on scraps of paper until on Dec. 30 I had the whole thing mapped out in my head.

That night after my neighbor Scott Kinsella's annual Risk game I came home, picked up the Martin acoustic guitar, strummed a G chord and played it through for the first time. Here's a video of that play-through. Notice how I sing the melody in a low register for the first few lines before settling on a more comfortable range. You're watching creativity as it happens, folks! What had been imagined in my mind became, at that moment, something able to be appreciated by others. It was rough, but fully realized.

Next I wanted to record an audio demo. I imagined electric guitars, drums, backing vocals and all kinds of notes and sounds, only some of which I was able to capture on the first audio demo, which you can listen to here. It was recorded Jan. 2. I love the sound of the Gibson ES335, which musician/architect friend Laurance Glasser recently got sounding great again!

Next, I played the song for my guitar teacher Kev Wright during a lesson, which you can watch here. Kev offered excellent suggestions, including adding a stop before the solo. (I liked the tip so much I also added one to the first verse). When we played the song through together, I started the solo on the low G note, third fret on the top E string. As a 30-year bassist I'm comfortable around low notes, and that's where Kev showed me patterns like the "blues box" when we began our lessons together a year ago. I eventually work my way up to find where to play scales in the middle and top of the neck, but I often start low.

Well, Kev heard that and shared another great idea. He thought his Eastwood Sidejack Baritone guitar would sound great on the song, so he loaned it to me. I agreed it would add a really cool sound, so yesterday I recorded another audio demo of the song with the Eastwood, which you can listen to here.

Structurally, I think of this song as having "sections" as opposed to choruses and verses. Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney wrote many songs that way. The melody is determined by the phrasing of the lyrics, so the chord changes are not always the same way because each line of lyric is different.

So for all you songwriting aficionados that's the anatomy of how the new song came to be. Thanks for reading and if you're able to be sure to let your Mama know you love her!



"Mama"  Words and music by Ted Slowik

Mama is the greatest person that I ever met
She loved me unconditionally that I won’t forget
Mama always knew when I was lying
She always figured out when I wasn’t trying
How she knew I’ll never know

Mama is a saint you know I pray to her every day
She showed me how to do that so I wouldn’t lose my way
She taught me how to tell between what’s wrong and what is right
And how to solve your problems without getting into fights

Mama always knew what I was I doing
She always sensed when there was trouble brewing
And how to work it out

(solo)

Mama always said the best is yet to come
And the secret to life is to keep on having fun

Mama listens to me when nobody else will
She always sees right through me and yet she loves me still
Mama has to leave you know I hate to see her go
I love her with all my heart that I’m sure she knows