In December of 2015, I was contacted by Lillian Cunningham about creating some original music for a podcast she was going to do for the Washington Post called “Presidential Podcast”. I quote from their website: “In 44 episodes leading up to Election Day 2016, this podcast explores the character and legacy of each of the American presidents. Hosted by Lillian Cunningham, Presidential features Pulitzer Prize-winning historians like David McCullough and journalists like Bob Woodward. A new episode lands each Sunday. ”
What Lillian was looking for was “Hail to the Chief” done in several different styles that would correspond with the various eras of US history in which the presidents lived (does that make sense?).
We decided on 5 or 6 different styles. For the early presidents, a kind of a Mozart style string quartet. For the mid 19th century, what we called the “Ken Burns style”, with mandolin, viola and guitar. For the turn of the 20th century, we did a bit of a bluegrass take on it, with upright bass, guitar, mandolin, viola and some percussion. For the mid 20th century, a bit of a jazzy version, as if Jimmy Smith had played it with organ, bass and drums. Then there was a bit of a rocker, with rock and roll drums, bass, heavy guitars. I also tried to do a techno type of version, but frankly, it was awful, so it was thrown in the trash!
After all of the various versions were recorded and mixed, Lillian asked me if I could do a mashup of all of the styles. Great idea, except that I had recorded each version in different keys and tempos so that when they were all played together, the keys and tempos rose for dramatic effect. So I had to figure out a way to make them all work together (and quickly, as the podcast was hours away from going live). I took the drums from the rock version, added the string quartet, pitched down with some effects, dropped in a few mandolin parts and some organ and hoped for the best. Somehow, it worked out.
A lot of the parts on these, I played myself. Bass, drums, guitar, some keyboards. But I couldn’t have done it alone. I had lots of help from Liz Westner (viola), Jimmy Ryan (mandolin), and Brooks Milgate (organ).
The music isn’t available to listen to on it’s own at this point, but it may be released after they wrap up the podcast in November.
Check out the podcast here