|"The Wabash" compilation album
In the autumn of 2012, I was invited to contribute a song to a compilation album commemorating the Wabash River. The record is intended to raise money for a statue honoring Paul Dresser in Fairbanks Park in Terre Haute, Indiana. Figuring the world could use another statue of a songwriter, I contributed "The Terre Haute Waltz" and hoped it was a fitting tribute to Dresser and his birthplace.
Dresser was a complex character, to say the least; a songwriter, minstrel performer, jailbird, businessman, etc. In 1897, he wrote "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away," a song in which the protagonist reminisces about his childhood and a lost love back home in the Hoosier state. I love the chorus:
Dresser became an immensely popular songwriter and after he published "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away," critics compared him to Stephen Foster. Back then, the music industry gauged popularity in terms of sheet music sales, and during the 1800s, the only song that sold more sheet music than "Wabash" was Foster's "Suwannee River." Put another way, Dresser had the No. 2 hit of an entire century.
And of course he died penniless. Between failed/bad business deals, giving money away and his own free spending in saloons and brothels, he burned through everything he earned. When he died, there wasn't even enough money for a tombstone so he was buried in an unmarked grave in Chicago. Finally, in 1923, the Indiana Society of Chicago hauled a boulder from the banks of the Wabash to use as a grave marker.
All of us on the compilation album have roots in the Wabash Valley. I'm from Casey, Illinois, 32 miles to the west of Terre Haute, and attended Indiana State University, just a few blocks from the river. I'm proud to have been asked to contribute to the record, and writing the song brought back memories. On "The Terre Haute Waltz" I was joined by Ric Lee (The Roe Family Singers) on fiddle, Bob Nordquist (The Intangibles) on harmonica and the great Amy Brockman on vocals. All three played on "The Traveler's Burden" and they came through again and brought just the right "lilt" to the song. We recorded the tune at Studio Damocles in Minneapolis, and Ric did the recording and production on our end. Then we sent the thing off to Don Arney, a fine producer and engineer at Quantum Productions in Terre Haute, and he did the final tweaking and mastering on the song and the rest of the contributions.
There are some darn fine people on "The Wabash," including Yearbook Committee (a SXSW showcase band), up-and-coming Nashville performer Roxie Randle (whose hometown of Hutsonville, Illinois, is 30 miles southwest of my hometown), internationally touring bluegrass outfit Diamond Hill Station and Justin Hoeppner, Will Foraker, Dicky James and the Blue Flames, Tom Roznowski, Crow Cannons, Brent McPike & Solly Burton, Judson Hill, Faron Glenn & the Midwest Playboys, and Extrachordinary. The acts range from folk to Americana to country to bluegrass to rock to even a barbershop quartet.
It is an honor to be part of the record, and if you have any interest in the Wabash River, Paul Dresser, preserving our natural resources or supporting the arts, I'd ask that you follow the link, learn more and buy the record.