Clearing Customs


I am leaving a country I inhabited for a year. As I depart I have a few things to declare. I am probably forgetting a few things.

Deadlines Work. Having a Thursday afternoon deadline worked for me. I have always responded well to deadlines, but this self-imposed weekly deadline at first worried me if I did not have the recording and mixing completed by Tuesday. Within a few months I realized I could push the process to within an hour or two of the release time. This gave me confidence that even if I was sick or if I had to complete two recordings in a week because I would be traveling the following week, I would not falter.

Focus Improves with Repetition. As the weeks rolled along, I became more efficient in how I played, sang, recorded, and mixed. For example, the number of vocal takes for each song steadily declined during the year. I learned how to focus my attention on the immediate task at hand, rather than thinking about the things that lay ahead of me.

A Small Set of Tools Works Best. Over the years I have acquired numerous instruments, microphones, recording equipment, and software tools. I wasted a lot of time trying different recording chains and effects. The first six or seven recordings followed this pattern until I resolved to use one microphone for my vocals, guitars, and mandolin. (The tube condenser microphone pictured above.) Then I chose to use one preamplifier for the microphone. Finally, I selected a set of software effects (five or six at most on the recordings) that I used on every song the remainder of the year. By narrowing my palette I learned how to use these tools to shape the sound on a consistent basis. Each week I pulled up the same tool set, knowing I could dial in the sounds quickly.

You Never Can Tell. I am a great list maker. Early on I wrote down which songs I would record over six or eight weeks. I quickly discovered that my mind rebelled at such an orderly process. I found that I would instinctively “know” which song I needed to record that week. By mid-year I prepared a list of over 50 songs I might want to record. On Friday or Saturday I would wake up and choose a tune.

Time Flies. Looking back, this project reshaped my life and redirected my energy to one task. For the first time in 40 years I did not write a song. I made a conscious decision not to do so, knowing that writing would throw me off track. I would occasionally scribble a line or two but nothing more than that.

Whose Project Was it Anyway? I did this for me. Not just to document 52 of my songs but to prove to myself that I could pull it off. There were weeks, when I got very few listens or responses, which made me question whether I should go on. When I got to feeling sorry for myself, Theresa would tell me to get back to work. And I did.

Expectations are Fool’s Gold. From week to week, I was rarely correct on what to expect from listeners. I received wonderful responses to songs I thought might be too weird or too dark, while “sure thing” tunes got the ho-hum treatment. This has taught me not to prejudge a song or a listener’s response.

Heading for the Exit. For you that have listened, liked, shared, and commented on the songs, I thank you. I treasure so many of the things you have written about how a song moved you. Those types of connections mean the world to a writer.

Clearing Customs

Track 52 Almost Made it Home Last Night

Photo by Sam Grittner

Recording and Mixing Dates: Recorded December 22 and 27, 2016. Mixed December 27, 2016.


Genesis: I wrote the music in November 2001 and was intrigued with the chord structure. I wrote the lyrics on November 16, 2001 and revised them on September 2, 2002.

This is a song about a lost soul, struggling to get back to the safety of some type of home. I was battling depression at the time and looking back I can see how bleak things looked for me. The imagery of a dried creek bed, a shipwreck, and dead broke rivers confirms this impression.However, things can get better. Hopefully, the lost soul will eventually find his way home.

I have recorded numerous versions of this song. I have gone back and forth between rock and folk arrangements. For this week, I settled on a hard rock version. If I were to record it next week, you would probably hear a banjo and a fiddle….

Production: Bass Guitar, Electric Guitars, Organ, Drums, and a Drum Loop.


Almost Made it Home Last Night

First a left turn

Then a right turn

Then a rough patch of corduroy road

Through the darkness

Past the creek bed

Where the waters of spring once had flowed

It was quiet

Oh so quiet

But the silence didn’t suit me right

I almost

I almost

I almost made it home last night

From a shipwreck

Into dry dock

Missing persons in the shipping news

All these arrivals

And departures

Wholesale feelings retail blues

Shadow memories

Shadow boxing

Split decisions in the candlelight

I almost

I almost

I almost made it home last night

Dead broke rivers

Bare-boned bridges

Blackened hills meet an oatmeal sky

Out of nowhere

Into nothing

What might have beens chasing alibis

On a long lane

That has no turning

I stumble in the failing light

I almost

I almost

I almost made it home last night.

Copyright 2016 Fred Grittner All Rights Reserved

Track 52 Almost Made it Home Last Night

Track 51 Unless


Recording and Mixing Dates: Recorded December 16 and 18, 2016. Mixed December 18, 2016.



Genesis: On February 22, 2009, Theresa and I were enjoying a getaway to the North Shore of Lake Superior. I brought my laptop to check email and one message appeared that morning from Jan Hauenstein, my songwriting collaborator in Germany. He sent me a song fragment with each line beginning with “Ain’t no,” followed by noun, followed by the word “unless,” followed by a verb, and concluding with the word “it.” I sent him back a verse based on this structure. He in turn responded with more verses. Then I wrote two bridges to break up the monotony. In the course of four emails we wrote the lyrics to “Unless.” (I made a few changes before recording it.) I suggested Jan write some bouncy, ragtime music to fit the words and he came up with a cool set of chords.

There is nothing profound in the song but it was fun to write and now record.

Jan released his version on his 2009 CD, Late Bloomer. For my version I decided on a classic jazz piano quartet sound.

 Production: Acoustic Bass, Acoustic Guitar, Piano, and Brush Drums.



Ain´t no beard unless you grow it

Ain´t no seed unless you sow it

Ain´t no lawn unless you mow it

Ain´t no row unless you hoe it

Ain´t no beauty ‘less you show it


Ain’t no snow unless you flake it

Ain’t no sin unless you snake it

Ain’t no stop unless you brake it

Ain’t no rouge unless you cake it

Ain´t no time unless you take it


With a stockpile of abuses

Hiding in your drawer

Not taking your excuses

You gotta check them at the door


Ain´t no boat unless you row it

Ain´t no nose unless you blow it

Ain´t no line unless you toe it

Ain´t no debt unless you owe it

Ain’t no truth unless you know it


Ain´t no bread unless you bake it

Ain´t no beast unless you wake it

Ain’t no dance unless you shake it

Ain´t no love unless you make it

Ain´t no time unless you take it


I came looking for some comfort

And the chance that I might find

Shelter from the winds of change

That strut and cut across my mind


Ain´t no knowledge ´less you stow it

Ain´t no boast ´less you crow it

Ain´t no earth unless you quake it

Ain´t no lie unless you fake it

Ain´t no song unless you make it

Copyright 2016 Jan Hauenstein and Fred Grittner All Rights Reserved




Track 51 Unless

Track 50 It Don’t Feel Much Like Christmas This Year


Recording and Mixing Dates: Recorded December 8 and 14, 2016. Mixed December 14, 2016.



Genesis: I wrote this song in early December of 2011. St. Paul, Minnesota was indeed brown—no snow. I had lost my father in March of that year and the family circle had contracted: parents gone and my sisters out of state. It was definitely a period of adjustment for me. Throw in the commercialization of Christmas and the song was written in about 30 minutes. I quickly recorded a vocal/guitar demo using one microphone and posted it on Facebook. Some listeners expressed concerns about my emotional state. I laughed them off, but in retrospect they were on the mark.

The family circle has since been enlarged with the presence of a granddaughter and grandson. And there is snow on the ground this year and subzero temperatures. The Christmas holiday is still a tricky emotional rollercoaster for many people and I have to admit that I still have my off days at that amusement park.

 Production: Bass Guitar, Acoustic Guitars, Resonator Guitar, Mandolin, and Drums.


It Don’t Feel Much Like Christmas This Year

The trees are bare

The ground is brown

Ain’t no snow coming round

It don’t feel much like Christmas this year

The neighborhood is brightly wrapped

With front yards full of plastic crap

But it don’t feel much like Christmas this year



The family circle has shrunken down

Not much left in this northern town

Silent nights in front of me

I just might torch this Christmas tree


Where’s the joy

The peace the hope

The world keeps playing rope-a-dope

It don’t feel much like Christmas this year


The baby savior

Has left his crib

To grab a Micky D’s McRib

It don’t feel much like Christmas this year

Living in this ho ho hell

Waiting for the last noel

It don’t feel much like Christmas this year

Copyright 2016 Fred Grittner All Rights Reserved


Track 50 It Don’t Feel Much Like Christmas This Year

Track 49 West of Everything


Recording and Mixing Dates: Recorded December 2 and 6, 2016. Mixed December 6, 2016.


Genesis: I came up with the song based on the title of a 1993 book written by Jane Tompkins. It examines the American West as portrayed in Western novels and films. I never read the book but loved the suggestiveness of the title. I use it as a metaphor of escape, a fantasy about leaving disappointing daily lives for a supposed better existence. In short, a rewrite of the bromide, “the grass is always greener on the other side.”

I wrote the song in 1993 and over the years I tried different arrangements. Most of them evoked Glen Frey ballads, such as the Eagles “Tequila Sunrise.” They never felt right. Last week I played around with the tune again and came up with the idea of changing the feel from straight time to swing time. Once I found that this worked, I develop an arrangement that reminds me of some the mellower tunes that Mark Knopfler has recorded over the years. While rehearsing the song I realized that some of the lyrics could stand editing or replacement.

Production: Acoustic Bass, Acoustic Guitars, Electric Guitar, and Brush Snare Drum.



I see you’ve grown tired

From the daily wear and tear

I’ve got to admit I’m feeling just the same

We need to get out of here

Find some breathing room

The simple joys in life are there to reclaim


West of Everything

West of the heartaches

Way past the morning blues

West of Everything

West of the bad luck

Far from these broken schemes

West of our foolish dreams


You’ve tried to be patient

While we worked to get ahead

The way things stand we’re only marking time

The look in your eyes tonight

Says things have got to change

We both know we’ve been waiting for this sign



We’ve come to a crossroads

I’m shifting my sights

Above the horizon

My heart is taking flight


Copyright 2016 Fred Grittner All Rights Reserved

Track 49 West of Everything

Track 48 Saying Doesn’t Make it So


Recording and Mixing Dates: Recorded November 26 and December 1, 2016. Mixed December 1, 2016.



Genesis: I wrote the music, in a strange guitar tuning, in the summer of 1979. I wrote the lyrics on New Year’s Day, 1980.   I liked the title line as the hook and built out the verses to support it. I gave a shout out to The Band and Tony Joe White in the opening lines. I dreamed of Levon Helm singing the song.

I am guessing that many of the promises given by the President-Elect during his campaign will be abandoned or will be impossible to keep. Some of his supporters may end up singing the chorus a few times….

Production: Bass Guitar, Electric Guitars, Organ, and Drums.


Saying Doesn’t Make it So

Took a load off Fanny

And Polk Salad Annie

I’m tired and I wanna go home

Always ready

Always rock steady

I’m tired and I wanna go home

One of these days

I’m gonna leave it all behind

It’s not a lack of resolve

But only a question of time


Saying doesn’t make it

Saying doesn’t make it

Saying doesn’t make it so

Saying doesn’t make it

Saying doesn’t make it

Saying doesn’t make it so


A rumor just hit me

A second thought bit me

I’ve been in this storm too long

Nonsense impressions

Extracting concessions

The way shape and form are all wrong

Slumbering judgment

Has opened its eyes to see

A crazy old fool

Spouting some dirt about me



I’m no hero

At ground level zero

Love is such a killing thing

Degrees of honor

Man I’m a gonner

Living by dead reckoning

After careful contemplation

I’ve settled on this bottle of wine

It was put or shut up

As she told me for the very last time


Copyright 2016 Fred Grittner All Rights Reserved

Track 48 Saying Doesn’t Make it So

Track 47 After is Always Before


Recording and Mixing Dates: Recorded June 3, 2014, August 10, 2014, June 30, 2016, November 17 and 22, 2016. Mixed November 22, 2016.


Genesis: I wrote this song on April 7, 2010. I revised the lyrics on May 25, 2015. The song was inspired by a dream. The first verse describes how I dreamed that I was walking an endless hallway, looking for a number I could never find. The hopelessness of the cause permeates the other verses. The last verse clearly is based on my last few years of employment.

The chorus is built on the concept of time, always a favorite with writers. The title comes from a phrase that the German author Gunter Grass wrote in his 2008 memoir, Peeling the Onion. The phrase suggests the elasticity of time and the possibility that some of our actions are preordained.

Leonard Cohen died last week. The mordant lyrics, melancholy music, and lush arrangement point back to the master.

 Production: Bass Guitar, Electric Guitars, Piano, Organ, String Quartet, Tenor Sax, and Drums.


After is Always Before

I’ve been down this hallway before

Looking for a number on a door

Never found it, though I’ve tried

Someone tricked me someone lied


But I’ll try try try once again

In my book perseverance is no sin

Though the outcome’s not in doubt

I’ll take these cards and play them out



Time is gold

Time is lead

Time is what you love

And what you dread

Time at peace

Time at war


Is always before


I squint hard to place that face

Fighting words in a very quiet place

Turn your back they soon will leave

The hardest part unweave the weave



I walk this hall with a broken key

No longer care what they think of me

I’m a lost cause go write me off

I’m out of touch I’ve gone soft


Copyright 2016 Fred Grittner All Rights Reserved

Track 47 After is Always Before

Track 46 Before Night Falls


Recording and Mixing Dates: Recorded November 3 and 17, 2016. Mixed November 17, 2016.


Genesis: I wrote this song during the 2008 FAWM (February Album Writing Month) and revised some of the words and music in December 2015.

As some of my previous songs show, I am drawn to film noir of the 1940s and 1950s, as well as books by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain. The lyrics document the interaction between a hardboiled detective and a suspect who has been threatened with the third degree. This takes place long before the reading of a suspect’s Fifth Amendment rights became a Supreme Court edict.

I particularly like this arrangement. The pedal steel guitar is a counterpoint to the distorted rhythm guitars. It reminds me of some of Neil Young’s darker albums from the mid-1970s.

Production: Bass Guitar, Electric Guitars, Pedal Steel Guitar, and Drums.


Before Night Falls

You dance around my questions

You hitch and then you slide

Your story keeps on changing

How much you have to hide

I’ve watched you picking fruit

From those poisoned trees.

You grift and lift and always drift

Doing as you please.


I’ll have the truth

Before Night Falls

You’ll give it up

Before Night Falls


You’ve heard about my methods

This ain’t no spelling bee

Patience is no virtue

When it comes to me

To get along you’ll go along

Be my finger man

Point me to the others

Mixed up in this plan



Take it on the heel and toe

Find me what I need

With lots of ground to cover

Best show you’re up to speed

Failure is no option

Here on Curfew Street

I’ll watch what’s coming down

From my ringside seat


Copyright 2016 Fred Grittner All Rights Reserved

Track 46 Before Night Falls

Track 45 Don’t Need a Woman Like You


Recording and Mixing Dates: Recorded November 3 and 5, 2016. Mixed November 5, 2016.


Genesis: I don’t have the year I wrote this song. I can’t locate a lyric sheet or a demo tape. I believe I wrote it in 1978 or 1979. I do recall that the words and music came together quickly. I performed it like a Hank Williams song from the 1950s. In 1981, John Plomondon turned it into a rollicking country rocker. He played electric guitars, bass, and fiddle. This new recording has a rockabilly edge with the driving guitar and piano.

I was trying to write a commercial country song. A song publisher told me that I should change “woman” to “lover,” as women are a large demographic in country listenership and wouldn’t cotton to me telling off a cheating woman. I briefly acquiesced but have restored “woman” to the title and verses.

Production: Bass Guitar, Electric Guitars, Pedal Steel Guitar, Piano, and Drums.


Don’t Need A Woman Like You

Honey I don’t like lying

Though lying’s all you do

Honey now don’t deny it

I watched your rendezvous

And that is why

Our love is through

Honey I don’t need a woman like you


Honey we had some good times

But the good times are all gone

You gambled with our future

With all your carrying on

And that is why

I’m feeling blue

Honey I don’t need a woman like you



I’m not the kid that I was when

You first laid eyes on me

I’m a little more wise and worldly

And you won’t take advantage of me

Oh no


Honey I don’t like lying

Though lying’s all you do

Honey now don’t deny it

I watched your rendezvous

And that is why

Our love is through

Honey I don’t need a woman like you

Copyright 2016 Fred Grittner All Rights Reserved


Track 45 Don’t Need a Woman Like You

Track 44 West of Baghdad (Remixing History)


Recording and Mixing Dates: October 29 and November 1, 2016. Mixed November 1, 2016.


Genesis: I wrote the lyrics on February 28, 2008. It was the last song I wrote for the FAWM (February Album Writing Month). The chorus is strangely prescient of the European refugee crisis of the past two years generated by the wars and atrocities in the Middle East.

I wanted to write an apocalyptic song, filled with the thoughts and lines I had been collecting for many years. I dispensed with narrative and let these random associations carry the day. The idea of “remixing history” is an update on how the victors get to rewrite history.   The key line for me is “Of the old world learn to say goodbye. “

I tried to assemble multiple music, percussion, and sound effect loops for the musical bed, hoping I could wed the idea of remixing in the lyrics with the musical accompaniment. I got close (I still have the track and it is oddly compelling) but I eventually abandoned the song.

I gave the lyrics to Jan Hauenstein, in hopes he could come up with a tune. He did and he did a great job. Jan composed the music in 2014 and released it that same year on his Dreams and Nightmares CD. For my version, I made several minor tweaks in the arrangement and changed a couple of words.

 Production: Bass Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitars, Piano, and Drums.



Northwest Passage melting through

Empty heaven residue

Shadow bands across the morning sky

Dark shops selling damaged goods

Snipers nests out in the woods

Network failure we ask you to stand by


Kill the clock we’re quitting time

Behind each fortune stands a crime

Reason sleeps up in the old hotel

The price of culture is a lie

Sovereign tears shed for Versailles

The best revenge in life is living well



West of Baghdad, East of Rome

All God’s children are heading home

Past the point of no return they come

Remix history and change the sound

Turn things up and bring things down

Shift the weight of what’s been said and done


Countries of the shallow grave

Scorching earth and tidal wave

Elder statesman cross a strange terrain

Lost patrols without command

Unmarked cars in shakedown land

Pharaoh’s army rides the circus train


The house of cards has been foreclosed

The books were cooked and then exposed

Bite down hard on that poison pill

Yes I want it do you have some pull

Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full

The coup de grace came in a coupe de Ville



Sacred precincts under guard

Admission with an ID card

Start looking for the Old Man in the Sky

Disregard what’s wrong or right

Download Babylon tonight

Of the old world learn to say goodbye


So I sit here mind ajar

Strumming on my moon guitar

Getting squeezed by the hands of time

All my life’s a shakedown cruise

What I found out I rarely use

I learned as much from a nursery rhyme


Copyright 2016 Fred Grittner and Jan Hauenstein All Rights Reserved


Track 44 West of Baghdad (Remixing History)