Beneath a “Welcome to Muscle Shoals” sign hanging on the walls of the Nutthouse Studio, Eric Erdman recorded his songs of death and murder, the struggles of a wounded veteran, and love stronger than addiction for his new album, Not Slowing Down, released on January 13. From the loose, relaxed atmosphere in the studio where musicians added jazz piano solos or played bass with a river rock, to background vocals and instrumentals recorded by musical friends from Mobile to Australia, Not Slowing Down is a reflection of Erdman’s personality and his joy in making music.
“This is the first album that I had the time and resources to make the songs like I hear them in my head,” says Erdman. “We went big and the quality is what I have always hoped for, getting the songs right and not just approximations. They are eclectic, but everything I’ve ever done is like that. I don’t want to hear the same songs over and over or be pigeonholed into a sound or I will get bored. This album is a mix of pop rock, ballads, a reggae murder mystery, and a Mardi Gras parade song. These songs are exciting to me.”
The title song, “Not Slowing Down,” is about living life so vividly that it seems like a dream. A survivor of childhood cancer, Erdman lives his life with his foot on the gas, driven by music and the songs he wants to write. Growing up on Mobile Bay, he sailed around Gaillard Island during the day and played guitar and wrote songs with his brother and friends at the end of his mama’s pier at night (they wrote almost 40 songs by the time he was 14 years old). Erdman later worked for six years as a songwriter at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals where he met producer Jimmy Nutt and became inspired by the roots and history of the small north Alabama town known as “The Hit Recording Capital of the World.”
Erdman is more than a singer/songwriter. He co-produced the album, recorded some of the background vocals in the recording studio in his home, and worked for weeks adjusting and cleaning tracks before sending them to mixing and mastering.
“Being the singer, artist, writer, and producer is a lot and it is hard to wear all of those hats at once, but Eric is one of the few people that can do it,” says Nutt, owner of The Nutthouse and co-producer of the album. “My job was to be Eric’s ears in the control room and give him a fresh perspective to get the best tracks that fit his vision for the album. He has great ideas and he is easy to work with.”
“I have to create music. It is what comes naturally to me and where I get my energy,” Erdman says. “Not Slowing Down started because I had a catalog of 30 songs that I hadn’t recorded and it was time to do something with them. I already have plans for two more albums after this.”
Erdman picked the songs that fit the funky, gritty Shoals sound and fattened them with horns, drums, cowbells, backup singers, saxophone and guitar solos, bluegrass and mandolin. “The album has a subconscious retro style because I grew up listening to ‘70’s music with horns and big, lush harmonies,” he says. “There is not a cohesive, sonic sound on the album, but the band gives it uniformity.”
Erdman’s band for Not Slowing Down is: Chris Spies (piano, keyboard, and organ); John Milham (drums); Chris Clifton (electric guitar); Dave Pomeroy from Nashville and Bob Wray from Muscle Shoals (bass). “I first played with John, Chris Spies and Chris Clifton this summer at the book release party for Suzanne Hudson and felt the power and chemistry in the group,” he says. “I knew they had to be the band for this collection of songs and added Dave and Bob on bass. They all learned to read my mind and not my charts.”
“I have been in a lot of high-stress recording sessions, and being in the studio with Eric was very relaxed,” says Clifton, who has toured with James Taylor and Delbert McClinton. “This album is a great piece of work. These songs are Eric, and you hear him in each one. The songs are fun because Eric is fun and the band had a good time playing together.”
Erdman is one of Mobile’s favorite songwriters, loved for his personality almost as much as his music. His family, friends, and fans donated $22,000 to his Kickstarter campaign to fund the album, 146 percent of his goal. “That support not only gave me money to record, but it gave me time to experiment with ideas to bring out the potential in every song,” he says. “I am so thankful for each person who donated and gave me the chance to do these songs the right way.
“We support Eric because we love his music, his humor, and how he reaches out and connects to each member of the audience,” says local music fan Jeff Zimmer who donated to Erdman’s Kickstarter campaign. “We love his witty lyrical take on the human condition. We believe that his music is as good as we have heard and that he should have the chance to be on a big stage.”
In music, Erdman found the career that channels the voices in his head and for fifteen years he was the lead singer of the funk/rock/hip-hop band the Ugli Stick and got to “jump around and get loud and rowdy and rap.” Today he wears a hat, vest, and tie to every gig. He sits on a stool and plays songs of love and heartache but the alternating tapping of the left toe and right heal of his boots or the drumming of his fingers against his guitar reveals there is a different beat inside his head. Beneath the hat is a fun loving, quick thinker who can play almost any request and still throw out a spontaneous rap.
“Eric’s voice is smooth as leather,” says good friend Sally Taylor, daughter of James Taylor and Carly Simon. “The honesty of his lyric writing and the integrity of his spirit combine with his mischievous sense of humor to form the most heartwarming and intriguing songs. Eric is a great, compelling and authentic voice in today’s music scene.”
A prolific songwriter, Erdman creates songs that have their own personalities from simplistic to eccentric. “Each song wants to stand on its own and be recognized,” he says. “When I write, I pay attention to what the song is trying to do. I follow the pull of the lyric or melody, even if it veers out and wants to get weird. If it wants three key changes and a bridge in a different time signature, that is what it is going to have. “
“Can’t Fill It” is based on a friend who is in constant pain in a body that was ripped and broken by shrapnel in Iraq and stitched back together. “Spending time with him allowed me to see deeper into the sacrifices the military makes when they come home,” says Erdman. “He has to choose between being in so much pain that he can barely function or being on heavy medications that leave him a zombie. He allowed me to write this song as a metaphor for all wounded warriors. The music is frantic and moving instead of somber and sad because military heroes are strong and resilient and I wanted to respect that by matching the feeling to the music.”
Like a red white and blue
On a day without wind
Sergeant First Class Lloyd’s shirtsleeve hangs
His right arm
Never made it aboard
That homebound plane
His flight arrives
And my heart fills with pride
But I know that can’t
Fill the sleeve at his side
“The songwriters I look up to, such as James Taylor and David Wilcox, are open channels for the emotion that comes to them,” Erdman says. “I write about what I feel and not every song has to be sad. Sometimes the songs will come out as silly, cute, or clever because that day it made me laugh. That is OK because laughter is part of the human condition, too.
“I feel like sometimes I am frowned upon because I am not serious in every song or that I am too eclectic,” he says. “To me being a true artist is starting with whatever affects you or whatever inspires you. As a writer, I try to open myself up to be affected by everything that is serious, sad, happy, funky or quirky. Some of these grow into songs that I like enough to record, and some of these end with ‘never mind.’ Experimenting with all types of music is fun and freeing to me, but keeping up is always hurry, hurry, run, run, run. It is the crazy things going on in my head that keep me from slowing down.”
Buy Not Slowing Down at his CD release show on Tuesday, January 13 at the Soul Kitchen, or through his website at www.EricErdmanMusic.com.