The twenty songs that are posted on this site are from two albums that were recorded in 1983 (Home to the Heart) and 1985 (Looking for You.) The albums were recorded analog to 2 inch tape then mastered and pressed as records. This CD was burned from a virgin copy of a record by my friend Walker Foard. Several years ago I contacted the company that manufactured the records to enquire if they could create CD copies of them directly from the master tapes. To my dismay, I found out that the company had gone out of business and the master tapes had been thrown away.
In 1983, I had been playing clubs in and around
Both records were recorded at Weddington Studios in
The rhythm section for the first record, Home to the Heart, consisted of some friends who’d been playing live shows with me on and off for years. Jim King played keyboards, John Raymond played bass, and Sean McDonald manned the drums. (John later became the long-time guitarist in Kenny G’s touring band, and Jim was a member of the band Sneaker which had a moment on the charts in the mid-80s.) Old friend and fellow songwriter Dave Sheils contributed background vocals. And good friend Chris Peterson agreed to play electric guitar and mandolin, while also singing background vocals and co-producing the record with me. Chris had played in Pure Prairie League for years and the two of us had been playing live as a duo called “The Two Tall Guys from Van Nuys” to support ourselves. Sometimes Jim King joined us on bass, and we became “The Pep Boys: Manny, Moe and Jim.” I guess you had to be there to get the jokes.
We were lucky to get a couple of great session players to add color to the tracks. Jon Clarke had played horns in the Loggins & Messina band for many years. Percussionist Michael Fisher was part of Rickie Lee Jones’ early records and was much in demand as a session player. Friend Dave Wallace, who toured as keyboard player with Manhattan Transfer for years, added nice touches on accordion and xylophone on two songs. To round it out, old friend and fellow songwriter Steve Libbea played banjo on one song, and we found a cellist to add some bottom end to two songs.
Here is a story about each of the songs on the project, along with the writer credits:
I’m Headed Home (Parker MacDonell and David Sheils)
I stole the opening guitar riff from a Bob Bennett song and did not realize this until Wally Grant heard the song for the first time in the studio. It was too late to substitute another song, so we plunged ahead and I decided to ask Bob for his forgiveness if and when I ever got to meet him. Fortunately, he gave me that gift of forgiveness when I met him a year later through our mutual friend and engineer Wally Grant. I’m happy to say that Bob and I shared the stage several times after that and began a friendship that lasts through today.
It All Comes Around (Parker MacDonell, Steve Libbea)
When this one was finished, I realized that I’d lifted not the music but the title from a song by Severin Browne, who’d become a friend and co-writer. Severin also gave me the gift of forgiveness! That’s Jim King on fretless bass as well as piano.
Old Ohio (Parker MacDonell, Chris Petersen)
I wrote the first half of the song as I was preparing to fly back home to Ohio to sing in the wedding of an old schoolmate from my hometown. Chris heard the song and said “I remember exactly how it felt to tour around Ohio with Pure Prairie League, and I’m going to write an instrumental section for the end of that song.” He did, and to this day it’s a song that I’m proud to play live.
Maggie (Parker MacDonell)
I was staying at my parent’s house in Ohio for a week one summer and they were also playing host to a touring mime artist from LA named Greg Goldston. One day Greg left his golden retriever Maggie tied up to the garage and went off to do a show at a local elementary school. During the show, a Midwestern thunder boomer brewed up and blew in. Maggie had never experienced this before and was so scared that she broke her leash and ran away. Greg was heartbroken when he returned to find that Maggie had run away. We put a “lost dog” notice on the local AM radio station. Greg headed out that afternoon to do another show, and while I was home alone, someone called to say “We have a lost dog and it sounds like it fits the description of Maggie.” I went to pick her up just four blocks away from my parent’s house. After I got home, and before Greg got back from his show, the song appeared.
Age Old Sign (Parker MacDonell)
I inherited my musical abilities from my grandmothers, who both played piano. My maternal grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for many years, and she was the inspiration for this song. But it’s really a song about how a family deals with a victim of this cruel affliction, and it goes out with love to my mother. Jon Clarke picked up on all the emotion in this song with his English horn parts.
Fall In Love Again (Chris Petersen, Parker MacDonell)
Chris had written the music (in the key of E) and I wrote the words later. I played it in the key of E on my 12-string, which was tuned down one step and therefore sounded in the key of D. Otherwise I could never have hit those high notes. That’s friend Dave Sheils on the call-and-response vocals, doing his tribute to Kenny Loggins.
The Ballad of Wendell Towns Parker MacDonell, Steve Libbea)
Esther Towns was the number-one babysitter for my sister and me growing up. She and her husband Wendell would take us to the Church of the Nazarene on Sundays when my parents went away on vacation. It was a different brand of religion than we got at the Presbyterian church in which we were brought up. Most of the story is true, although I took a few liberties for the sake of the story and the rhymes.
Bottom Line (Parker MacDonell, Steve Libbea)
I’d like to tell you this is based on a true story, but it was instead based on pure fantasy. This was a fun one to play live with the band! Ray Parker, Jr. was close to recording this for one of his albums and I’d give my eye teeth to have heard him sing it.
Kristina’s Lullaby (Parker MacDonell, Severin Browne, Steve Libbea)
I went to visit my college friends Steve and Martha just after their first daughter Kristina was born. I guess I’d never been around a baby as an adult and was quite taken with her. They left her in my care for 30 minutes one night when they went out to get a pizza, and I started playing the opening riff on my guitar to calm her down. Severin Browne contributed so many of the great lines in this song, and Steve Libbea was there to help pull the ideas out of me like he did so many times. This is probably my favorite recorded song. (P.S. Kristina is now in her second year of medical school, to show you how time flies!)
Home to the Heart (Parker MacDonell)
We were getting close to going into the studio and I didn’t think I had a title song yet. One night this one just appeared fully formed. It was written to and about the person I thought I was destined to marry. I thought wrong, and the rest is history.
What Happened Next
I went out on the road and sold about 5,000 copies of this record, one at a time. My college friend Walker Foard sent a copy of it to Dick Cerri, who had a weekly folk music radio show in the Washington DC area. Dick started to play it on the air, and he sent a copy of it to his friend Pete Fornatale in New York City. Pete had a weekly radio show called “Mixed Bag” and he started to play it, too. As a result, I was voted “Best New Artist” by the listeners of Mixed Bag in 1984. I even got to play a New Year’s Eve benefit for Harry Chapin’s “World Hunger Year” hosted by Pete Fornatale in the lobby of the United Nations headquarters building one year. As I recall, I followed Marshall Crenshaw and was followed by Jesse Colin Young. This was pretty tall clover for a kid from Lima, Ohio!
My life took a dramatic change on September 24, 1984. I was listening to “All Things Considered” on NPR that afternoon when I learned that a hero of mine had died earlier that day. Steve Goodman was a songwriter from Chicago, best known for his song “City of New Orleans.” He’d been openly fighting cancer for years and it caught up with him on the day of my thirtieth birthday. Back when I was graduating from college and trying to decide what to do next, a creative writing professor named Dick Eberhart gave me some great advice: “When you are in your twenties, you can do whatever you wish with your life; when you reach thirty, you should know what you want to do with your life.” At the moment I heard the news about Steve Goodman, I knew I needed to pursue a career other than music. And so I did by returning to graduate school the following fall of 1985.
I had been playing shows at a club in West LA hosted by sixties folk singer sensation Carolyn Hester and her husband Dave Blume. When I told Carolyn I was leaving music as a profession, she urged me to record and release a second record. “If you don’t do it now, chances are you never will,” she advised me, “and you’ve got the songs ready.” I didn’t, actually, but every writer likes a deadline. So I raised some money from my friends and family to fund the project and booked some more studio time at Weddington Studios in May 1985. In the two weeks before we went into the studio, I finished a couple of songs for the record at the Abbey San Encino with my friend Severin Browne. The Abbey was built by Severin’s grandfather and had a wonderful vibe. (If you look at the cover of For Everyman by Severin’s little brother Jackson, you will see Jackson sitting in a rocking chair in the courtyard of The Abbey. Enough said.)
It seemed like a dark cloud surrounded this record. About a month before the recording began, I got a call one night that my long-time friend and co-writer Steve Libbea had died in a senseless private plane crash in Charleston, WV. Then the day that we went to the studio to record the basic tracks, I got a call at the studio from Jim King’s wife. This was in the days before cell phones. Jim’s father had just died on the operating table and she asked us to tell Jim, who was on his way to the studio, the news. Jim got the word from Chris Petersen and turned around to go home to his family. We were left without a bass player and keyboard player for the session.
Engineer Wally Grant had booked drummer Scott “Cactus” Moser from the band Highway 101 to play the session, and Cactus quickly enlisted two of his friends to play bass and keys on the three songs we planned to cut that day. The next week, Jim came back to the studio and with a heavy heart we recorded three more basic tracks and some overdubs. Chris Petersen was there again for guitar, mandolin and background vocals, with Dave Sheils joining him on vocals. We were lucky enough to get Jon Clarke and Michael Fisher back again, and the tape was rolling.
Looking for You (MacDonell)
I wrote this song for Steve Libbea and sang the first verse and chorus at his memorial service overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I’ll never forget the site of his brother flying over the church and out across the ocean, then dipping his wings while he scattered Steve’s ashes into the water. I’ve had people tell me they thought the song was written about my faith and in a way I guess it was. Listen to Chris’s guitar solo and feel the anger that I felt (and still feel to this day) that Steve was not wearing a seatbelt when the pilot of the plane put it into the side of the hill on which the Charleston airport sits.
Summer Dream (MacDonell)
One of my favorite places to visit was, and still is, Squam Lake in New Hampshire. This song was conceived over a crackling fire there at the house of Steve and Martha, Kristina’s parents and my lifelong friends.
On the Highway (MacDonell, Sheils)
Every writer has a traveling song and this is mine. Wally had fun with the special effects!
Put Your Faith In Me (MacDonell, Browne)
This song was started in a flat just off Old Brompton Road in London in the summer of 1984 and finished with Severin Browne just in time for the record. Jim King’s slap bass and piano make the recording for me.
Years Ago (MacDonell)
I used to play a club in Manhattan Beach, California called Orville & Wilbur’s that was perched on a hill just above the ocean. One night years after I stopped playing there, I was driving past it and remembered an old girlfriend I’d met there. I called her when I got home and when she answered the phone, I could tell I’d woken her up. I was so startled that I hung up the phone without even saying hello, and this song came out fully formed in an hour. I’m not sure if it was written from her point of view, or mine, or both.
Nights Like These (MacDonell, Libbea)
During my two years on the road I made friends with a West Virginia University student who made a room for me at her house in Morgantown when I was in between gigs in that part of the country. I showed up at her house one night after a long, long drive and found the front door open but nobody home. I wrote the body of the song while waiting for her to return, and Steve helped me finish it when I got back to LA. When percussionist Michael Fisher was listening to the basic tracks of the song in the studio while setting up his gear to do over dubs, he said to me, in the way that only cool studio cats can say something like this: “Man, this sounds like your money tune!” If only he could pick hits as well as he played percussion!
Audrey (MacDonell, Robert Fisher, Jr.)
Bob “Boris” Fisher and I were college classmates and we wrote songs together by mail when he lived in NYC and I in LA after college. He wrote the lyrics and I set them to music. Bob said this lyric came to him in a dream and the only woman he knew named Audrey was the mother of one of his childhood friends! I still love Jim’s piano part.
Never Give It Up (MacDonell, Browne)
Another one we finished at the Abbey just before the sessions began. I’m still searching for just the right key for this song!
Epithalamium (Song for the Wedding Day) (MacDonell)
This song was written for my good buddy Jim McMeekin in the front yard of my house in Sherman Oaks at the same time I wrote “Old Ohio.” My mom the English Literature MA gave me the idea for the title. (A bass player I once worked with could never remember how to pronounce the title so he just called it “Ethyl’s A Maniac.” Indeed!)
I think the idea for this song was hatched out on the waters of Joe’s Pond in northern Vermont while canoeing with my college roommate John Richey in 1976. That’s John’s grandmother’s 1908 Martin mandolin that Chris is playing on “Old Ohio” and “Put Your Faith in Me.” John traded it to me for a one-way plane ticket from San Diego to Burlington in the summer of 1977!
I released this record in the fall of 1985 after I’d started graduate school in Connecticut. With no live shows to promote and sell it, I had few buyers for the record other than the people on my mailing list. The record was an artistic success but not the best business decision I ever made. Still, Mike Flynn played the song “Years Ago” on his nationally-syndicated NPR radio show “The Folk Sampler” and I’ve sometimes wondered how many of his listeners might have found the record if the Internet had been then what it is today.
I have no regrets about making these two records. It was great to have something tangible to hold in my hands after nine years of hard work. I listen to them today and hear all of the mistakes we did not have time to fix on the tiny budget we had to record and mix the records. I’m proud to play these songs to this day for my family and friends, and I hope you’ll enjoy them!
If you would like to give something back in exchange for having listened to these songs, please go to www.ciskids.org and consider making a donation of any size to this wonderful community organization in Columbus, Ohio. I have seen the employees of this organization work true miracles in the lives of children.