BO MENART "OUT OF THE WOODSHED"
Bo Menart’s roots-infused debut solo album Out of the Woodshed -- now available on iTunes and other online music platforms -- is the culmination of a lifetime spent as a player, singer, songwriter, record producer, and studio engineer. Co-produced by Menart and veteran producer-engineer-guitarist Simon Higgs, the collection features six original songs written or co-written by Menart and seven covers heard in brilliantly imaginative and unexpected arrangements.
Menart recruited a host of notable musicians active on Los Angeles stages and in local studios – many of whom he has collaborated with over the course of his career – to lend their talents. He says, “Over the years I’ve worked with all of these players at some time, so I knew who the good people were.” The core rhythm section includes bassist Larry Antonino (Jeff Beck, Ronnie Laws, Pablo Cruise), drummer Anastasios “Toss” Panos (Sting, Steven Stills, Paul Rodgers), and keyboardist Arlan Schierbaum (Joe Bonamassa, Mandrill). Guest stars include guitarist Elliott Randall (Steely Dan, the Doobie Brothers, Peter Frampton, and many more); pedal steel guitarists Jay Dee Maness (the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo, Buck Owens Buckaroos) and Greg Leisz (Lucinda Williams, Dave Alvin, kd. lang); drummer Stacey Lamont Sydnor (Jacksons, Mandrill); fiddler/violinist Lisa Haley (The Zydekats); accordionist Eddie Baytos (Annie Lennox, ZZ Top), and Latin percussionist Luis Conte (Madonna, James Taylor, Phil Collins).
“I think it’s unique,” Menart says of the album, much of which he recorded in an eight-by-twelve-foot shack (seen on the record’s cover) behind his home in Shadow Hills, CA. “I took advantage of the fact that I could do pretty much anything I wanted. If I heard something, I put it in there.”
The Cleveland-born musician and technician began working in studios in his teens, when he aided his father, a Slovenian refugee, at a local radio station where he aired foreign-language programming. After moving to Los Angeles following high school, Menart landed a job at a studio where his father worked.
He became active as a recording and mastering engineer in several L.A. facilities, most notably North Hollywood’s Fidelity Recording, where Menart met the legendary producer Phil Spector. He served as the engineer on the Spector-produced Ramones album End of the Century and on sessions with the Canadian superstar Celine Dion. “At the point I got involved with Phil,” Menart recalls, “I had mastered the Steely Dan cleanliness was the best way to go in the studio thing, and he taught me how to make it more magical.” As an engineer and producer, Menart went on to work with such acts as the funk bands Mandrill (including their new album Back in Town) and the Gap Band; tracks with Mandrill and Kenny Vance appeared on the soundtrack to the cult movie The Warriors.
As a musician, he was a member of Amigo (with writing collaborator Fred Guerra) and the African Highlife/Reggae unit Kadara, led by Jerri Jheto. In the ‘90s and early ‘00s he headed the independent label Terra Nova Records. But a life event led him to apply himself seriously to his own music. “Back in 2005, I had a minor heart attack,” Menart says. “As I was lying in the hospital, I thought, ‘I’ve been helping everybody else with their music, and I’ve never made any of my own.’ So I began to focus on that. I basically did woodshed – just playing at home for a couple of years, working on arrangements and my guitar playing. I started recording the album in 2009. I started out with six songs, and then I added a few more, and then a few more as it went along.” He adds with a laugh, “It took a long time – Barack Obama served two terms as president and I recorded an album.”
Leading off, appropriately enough, with the countrified Bo Diddley beat of “6 Pack 2 Go,” Out of the Woodshed features a brace of original songs that range through a variety of styles: honky tonk (“What Can I Do”) Menart and Guerra’s “Dancing With a Rose”, roots reggae (“Born in Babylon”), old-school soul (Menart and Higgs’ “Gonna Fly Away”), and a touch of country rockin’ gospel (“I’m Goin’ Up”). The latter features a blazing solo by Elliott Randall. Menart says of the latter number, “I had the track, and I had another guy playing the guitar parts, but I though, ‘I really need someone to rip out a nice guitar solo.’ I was driving in my car and ‘Reeling in the Years’ came on the radio and I thought, ‘That’s the kind of thing I need.’ And I said, ‘Wait a minute, I know that guy!’ So I tracked Elliott down. He lives in London now, and I sent him the track and he did his parts and emailed them back to me.”
The album’s smartly reimagined covers include the leadoff single, a stirring take on John Prine’s “Paradise”; a ballad version of the Beatles’ rocker “She Loves You” (with a melodic lift from the Fab Four’s “It’s Only Love”); a surprising Dixieland reading of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s blissful “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind”; a countrified take on the Otis Redding/Aretha Franklin soul masterwork “Respect”; a string-infused reading of David Allan Coe’s “Chapel Bells”; and (in a masterful play on the Blind Boys of Alabama’s Grammy-winning 2001 version of “Amazing Grace”) a reconfigured rendition of the blues ballad “House of the Rising Sun,” sung to the tune of the gospel standard.
Now Out of the Woodshedonce and for all with this highly original and soulful offering, Bo Menart is already contemplating his future solo projects. “I’ve already conceptualized my next three or four albums in my head,” he says. “I have material done for my second album, which is going to be a band record.”
BO MENART notes and comments on songs from “OUT OF THE WOODSHED”
“6 Pack 2 Go”
I can’t remember writing this song. It just appeared sometime in the early 70’s. The drums, electric guitars and vocal were actually recorded in 1977, with all the other instruments added more recently. Mark Goldberg, who plays bass on this song, introduced me to a lot of great musicians who play on this album including Lisa Haley, Jay Dee Maness and David Fraser.
“Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?”
This song began with the chord progression and originally I was singing this in church with lyrics from an Andre Crouch song. Then I heard a funky version of John Sebastian’s “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?” on an album by Curtis Stigers (on which he butchered the lyrics!) and thought that might work with these chords. I guess I could have written my own lyrics and had an original composition, but I was a Lovin’ Spoonful fan and I really like singing this song.
“What Can I Do”
When I was a kid, the Byrds were one of my favorite bands from the moment I heard those opening notes of “Mr. Tambourine Man” on McGuinn’s 12 string guitar. They were one of the most influential bands at the time and I faithfully bought every one of their albums over the next few years. In 1968, David Crosby had been kicked out of the group and was replaced by Gram Parsons, who convinced them to get into Country music, which resulted in the ground-breaking album “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”. Like a lot of young people at the time, I covertly liked Country music but kept it to myself because it was uncool. “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” was liberating for so many Rock musicians and changed the course of music for years to come. I was just beginning to write songs and thought maybe I could write a Country song. So, one day I sat down and wrote a song called “Sad Letter”. The next day, I thought that was pretty good but maybe I can do better and I wrote “What Can I Do”. I had some friends in Cleveland who had a band called Eli Radish, who had all been in hard rock bands but were influenced by the Byrds to follow their hearts into a fusion of Country and Rock. I gave a demo reel of some of my songs to guitarist Gary Dixon and he took a liking to “What Can I Do” and brought the song to the band and it became a regular part of their repertoire. It was cool to go to their gigs and hear them play my song. Their drummer, Skip Heil, plays on this track as well.
When I was recording “What Can I Do” for this album, I went to another Mark Goldberg gig and Jay Dee Maness was sitting in on pedal steel guitar. Jay Dee is one of the best pedal steel players in the world. He had been a Buck Owens Buckaroo and had played on many classic records by a variety of artists. But most importantly to me, he had played on “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”. I immediately asked him to play on some of my songs and he graciously agreed. On “What Can I Do”, I had recorded a guitar part that was directly influenced by his playing on “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”. I’m sure when he heard it, he recognized that and proceeded to play a part that sounded like it could have been on that album. It’s funny how some things can go around in a really big circle.
“House of the Rising Sun (Amazing Grace)”
In the 90’s, a lot of church worship groups began singing “Amazing Grace” to the chord progression from “House of the Rising Sun”. After I heard a great recorded version by the Blind Boys of Alabama, I figured I’d try to reverse the 2 elements and it worked for me.
One of the first projects I became involved in as a producer was a band called Amigo, which was led by a very talented singer and guitarist named Fred Guerra. The first album we recorded in the early 70’s was released by Vee Jay Records. After that, Fred and I began writing songs together and I became a member of Amigo. One day, Freddy and I were standing in a gravel parking lot and he began singing acapella, “When I was a child, my family would travel down to western Kentucky where my parents were born...” I said, “Whoa, did you write that?” and he said, “No that’s by John Prine.” I said, “Well, we’ve got to record that song.” John Prine originally wrote this song in ¾ time but Freddy taught it to me in 4/4, which is how we arranged it. I didn’t hear Prine’s version until many years later. After Freddy passed away tragically, I realized it was up to me to record this song and is one of the primary reasons I recorded this album.
“She Cries a Lot Like You”
Soon after I first I arrived in Los Angeles, I began working with several musicians who lived in Echo Park. I kept hearing them talk about this great songwriter named David Bennett, who was a bit of an enigmatic Echo Park legend. He later took the name Beaudry from a downtown LA street. We became lifelong friends and I worked with him on several of his projects. David was married and divorced around 5 times, which gave him a lot of material for writing songs. I distinctly remember the people he wrote this song about. After I decided to record this, it took me about 6 months of practice to get through this song without breaking into tears.
Another song that began with a guitar part which could have been an original song but is much better as an arrangement of this Otis Redding classic. I first heard this song by a Michigan group called The Rationals, which was a hit in the Midwest. About a year later, Aretha recorded her version, which has got to be one of the 5 greatest records ever made. I didn’t hear Otis’ version until a couple years later. I took a little bit from all of these and mixed in my own stuff. Originally, this was going to be a more laid back country version with dobro and a harmonica solo. Then I asked Simon Higgs to play a jazzy kind of rhythm guitar part. Instead, he cranked up his guitar and started rocking out! I imagined this might have been what Donovan felt like when Jimmy Page added electric guitar to his gentle folk songs. Needless to say, I had to adjust my approach to this song. This was a lot of fun to record and still a lot of fun to listen to.
“Born in Babylon”
This song was written around 1984 in about 20 minutes while I was in the bathroom because I’ve always liked the acoustics in bathrooms. The fact that it came to me so quickly convinced me that this was a gift from God because it ministered to me first. The song relates to the Jews who were taken into slavery in Babylon. Although they assimilated to life in Babylon, they never felt like they were at home. As a child born of refugees, I am nothing but an American but sometimes I’ve felt the same way.
“She Loves You”
I’ve had this arrangement in the back of my mind for a while and figured someday I would find the right artist to record it. When the Beatles originally released this song, it became the epitome of mindless “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” Beatlemania, but I felt that at its core, it was a very substantial song. A few years ago, I was mastering an album by Jose Felciano and he had a ballad version of “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, which was not a very substantial song and I thought, “You recorded the wrong song!” When I decided to record this album, I figured I was the right artist to record this song.
“Dancing With a Rose”
In the 80’s, Fred Guerra and I were writing and recording songs for a new Amigo album. This was one of our most collaborative efforts. I remember sitting on the couch as we each added lines to the song. Due to Freddy’s vagabond lifestyle, we were never able to complete that project. Again, after his tragic death, it became vital for me to record this song for this album.
One day shortly before I moved to California, I was at Gary Dixon’s house in Ohio and he said Eli Radish met this odd guy the night before called David Allen Coe, who proposed that they be his backing band. I had heard of Coe because I used to read Billboard magazine and there was a feature article about this guy who had been released from Ohio State Penitentiary and just recorded an album for Shelby Singleton’s SSS International label. Eli Radish backed David Allen Coe for the next few years and bassist Danny Sheridan maintained a personal and professional relationship with Coe over the years. Later in the 70’s, Danny also moved to California and we would occasionally work on projects together.
A few years ago, Danny came to me with a project David Allen Coe had recorded just after he had a near fatal auto accident and asked me to help him mix it. “Just As I Am” was a 24 minute song cycle documenting his recovery from the accident and I added some guitar, vocals and harmonica, as well as mixing the project. There was another song, “Chapel Bells”, which was very sloppy and seemed to be kind of a throwaway track. I got into the core of the song and began constructing a new arrangement. After a while, it became apparent to me that this was not a David Allen Coe record and more of a Bo Menart track, so I decided to record it on my own. This was the last song recorded for this album and is one of my favorites because it was so enlightening to me as an arranger and vocalist.
Gary Dixon also had moved to Los Angeles in the 70’s and had a band called The Hollywood Hillbillies. While he was living in Austin, he said the last time David Allen Coe was in town, he played “What Can I Do” because he had learned it from his time with Eli Radish. So, it’s fitting that these songs are both on this album. Full circle again.
“Gonna Fly Away”
I had first recorded this basic track with an acoustic guitar and Stacey Lamont Sydnor playing drums. It was a very different song at that time. It seems like everything I play on the guitar sounds kind of country. While in the studio, I removed the guitar part and said to Simon, “Listen to how powerful these drums are. This could be a better song.” He said, “Leave this with me for a few days” and he came up with the bass part that became the core of the new song.
I decided to write a tribute to a friend, Lou Wilson, who recently passed away suddenly. Lou was a member of the band Mandrill, who I have worked with for many years. If you know Lou, you might recognize the personal and musical references. But, in the end, I realized this song had a broader meaning for me and may also have a personal meaning to others who listen to it.
In addition to Lou, this song is dedicated to my brothers and sisters in music who passed on too soon:
Fred Guerra, David Beaudry, Gashouse Dave Shorey, Danny Sheridan, Gary Dixon, Tom Foster, Gib Guilbeau, Doris Troy
"I’m Goin’ Up”
This was a song I wrote a long time ago and always thought I needed to make the lyrics a little more substantial. Then I thought about songs like “Hot Blooded” and “All Right Now” and figured if they could continue to get airplay every day for over 40 years, then these lyrics might be okay. It’s just a feel-good rocker. When the recording was nearly complete, it only needed a great guitar solo on the end. One day I was driving in my car and heard Steely Dan’s “Reeling In The Years” on the radio, and I thought, “That’s the kind of solo I need!” Then I remembered that solo was played by Elliot Randall. “I know Elliot Randall! I should see if he would play this guitar part for me.” I hadn’t seen him for years, so I Googled him, hoping not to find an obituary, and found he was living in London. So, I contacted him and he was more than happy to play guitar on my song. So, I emailed him the track and he emailed me back his parts. That’s the world I live in.