Dreamland and the magic of songwriting

I’m recording a CD of lullabies. I had re-recorded a version of “You are my sunshine,” the way the band plays it live and, since the original demo I did was slow and mopey, I wanted to make it happy! In the studio, it came out lively. Great. But, this is a lullaby CD. Maybe too much for that. So, Denice and I were in New Orleans. We love it there: music, food, sights, people watching, and hangin’ with friends. I heard a cat in the street singing a funky version of “Just a closer walk with thee,” one of my favorite hymns. I was thinking if “Sunshine” doesn’t make the lullaby CD, I could record that hymn.

I asked Dee and she replied “It’s about dying, that hymn..”

…hmmm

She said “Write your own song.”

“About what?”

She says, “Going off to dream land.”

hmmm again…

“What would I write about that?”

“Seeing people that have gone to heaven, that anything can happen in your dreams, flying, anything…”

I immediately wrote down “When it’s time to say good night, sleep takes me far away, but I know that I can’t stay, once I’m off to dreamland.” A good start. I kept writing verses, making sure I put in the lost loved ones “I’ll see faces that I miss.” Lyrics were coming quickly, once I had the form of the rhymes. I wanted to have a chorus. I had “I could land on a cloud and watch the world below, or sail farther than any ship could go” (making it vague; could be a boat or rocket).

I got the chords together the night we drove back from New Orleans. I wanted it to be kinda jazzy so I could have a tuba on it. (I love tubas!) I’m on the phone booking musicians at this point. I want this recording done as soon possible. Tuba, drums, clarinet were needed. Everyone was on board, and I told all the guys “The song isn’t done, but, I’ll sing something!”

(I usually wait until I’ve finished a tune before I call cats.)

So, the chorus chords. This is an issue. I try and try and try. No luck.

I played the piano, I played the ukelele, I played the guitar.

Still no luck. I was hearing a chord, but not playing it. I sat down at the piano, first thing the next morning. Shazaam! There it was: an “A” chord. The lost sound I needed. Call it magic, or inspiration, panic, New Orleans mojo, whatever: I finally completed the chord progression! I recorded a little demo at the house, that helps me get the tune organized. I’m still struggling with the 3rd and 4th lines for this chorus. I had the line about the moon and following it home, or letting it guide me…staring at the lines… Then it hit me: The stars! And, “moon glow” will rhyme with “below” and “go.”

I seriously do not know how I do this.

John Lennon said it best about songs: “I don’t write them, I just write them down.”

I re-record the demo and send the it to the tuba player (he has the most notes to play), then I play it for Denice. Crucial moment in the story.

She said “It almost made me cry!”

Yes!

(Actually, she cries at TV commercials sometimes, but I chose to take it as a compliment.)

We are off and running.In the studio,(where we are supposed to be working on the other lullabies) I record the chords on guitar, sing a rough version, drummer comes in, tuba player comes in, clarinet player records his solo. This process, from writing to recording, is about 4 days total. Unbelievable!

“Off to Dreamland” by D.Hicks/Bill Crosby 3/15

When it’s time to say good night sleep takes me far away

but I know that I can’t stay

once I’m off to Dreamland

When I close my weary eyes

I know my heart longs to be where my imagination runs free

once I’m off to Dreamland

I could land on a cloud and watch the world below

or sail farther than any ship can go

the stars will shine and the moon will glow

I’ll let them guide me all the way home

All my wishes can come true

I ‘ll see faces that I miss until morning’s warm kiss

brings me from Dreamland

I’ll be lost in Dreamland

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