That’s Been Fifty Years Ago… 50 Years of the CDB Part 10: Million Mile Reflections
The album ‘Reflections’ was the CDB’s 9th album, the first with a new production team, consisting of 8 songs, the lead single was “Mississippi” followed by “Behind Your Eyes” and was another modest success for the band.
That very well could have been the case, but only one of those descriptions ended up being true in the end.
If the CDB had been signed today, they would have had a one-shot opportunity for success, and anything short of major success would not guarantee that there would be a second album. Thankfully record labels were a little more patient back then.
CBS/Epic Records was still behind the CDB 100%, but they felt that the old ways that the band brought with them from the Kama Sutra Records days weren’t going to be what propelled the band to the heights they were capable of.
Enter John Boylan.
He was brought in by the label to try to get the band to the next level. John worked in the LA offices of CBS Records and produced Michael Martin Murphy, co-produced Boston’s debut album, managed Linda Ronstadt and helped put together a pretty decent backup band which later had some success of their own called The Eagles.
Not too shabby of a resumé.
He watched the band perform a few times, wanting to try to capture the essence of the CDB live shows, and his philosophy was that he was there to help his artists deliver their brainchild.
In those days, dad would often write the music first and then finish the lyrics while they were recording which was the polar opposite of the way that John was used to working.
And before I forget, the CDB added a new drummer, Jim Marshall, to the lineup who replaced Don Murray who left in the summer of 1978. Jim stepped in and played right next to Freddie Edwards in the two-drummer setup they used at the time, and never missed a beat – no pun intended. He had a chart next to him for the first several shows, and I was mesmerized that he could just play while looking at sheets of paper
In November of 1978, the band went in to start recording what was originally going to be called ‘Reflections’ after one of the songs, but there was a problem. Country artist Gene Watson released an album called ‘Reflections’ in 1978 and that complicated matters.
The band walked that southern rock/country fine line and having two albums called ‘Reflections’ out at the same time could prove to be a problem.
But dad had calculated that he had likely put his one-millionth mile on the road around that time, so the decision was made to rename the album, ‘Million Mile Reflections.’
Then as they finished recording the project in early December, another issue popped up. Inexplicably, dad had not included a fiddle tune in his songs for the project.
With the possible exception of his self-titled Capitol album back in 1970, every album had a fiddle on it in some form or fashion.
So, the decision was made to halt production, move the band’s gear into a rehearsal studio and try to quickly come up with a decent fiddle song to finish out the album.
There’s an old saying, necessity is the mother of invention, and this mother paid major dividends.
Dad had an inkling of an idea… a story, and he and the band worked up the music and had a kickin’ arrangement. As he had done previously, he finished up the lyrics after the music was complete, and they headed back into the studio, not knowing that a song that was a complete afterthought would turn into the band’s signature song and blast them into superstardom.
So, let’s get on to the music.
The album kicks off in a big way with the rockin’ “Passing Lane.” It’s a funky tune about a Carolina boy – sound familiar? – who got the itch to leave town to play music for a living, so he hits the road… first to Kansas City, then later to Dallas where he ends up staying for a year playing every kind of music imaginable - at least from the late 70s - to the point where he’s burnt out and wants to get back on the highway, presumably to play other towns.
This song featured Taz on an instrument called a clavinet, which looks similar to a small electric piano but with a very distinct sound, and there’s a section of the song where pretty much everybody in the band gets a short solo, and Taz’s mini-solo always stands out to me.
Next up is “Blue Star” a song about a man who has lost the woman of his dreams who broke his heart, and he wishes he had never learned the games she played, never listened when she told him lies, and never seen her walk away.
Taz is featured on “Jitterbug” a swingin’ song about a loan shark/gangster in the 1930s – wears a zoot suit and everything - who “drinks beer and eats bennies and chases ‘em down with Thunderbird wine.”
He later gets gunned down stepping out of his ’36 Cord from a “bullet spittin’ Ford” - either by a rival hustler or an irate husband.
The song features a full horn section, and backup singers which adds to the feel of the era in which the song is set.
It’s one of my favorite Taz tunes.
“Behind Your Eyes” was the only song not written by a CDB member, in fact, it was written by the producer, John Boylan.
It’s a bit different from anything the band had previously recorded. It’s kind of poppy and has lots of Taz’s electric piano. Its theme is similar to “Blue Star” in that it’s about a man infatuated with a woman who has him under a spell, and has a tendency to lie to her man (or men) but he’s drawn to her mind, “When everything I could ever want is there behind your eyes.” No matter how hard he tries to get away, he keeps getting drawn to what’s behind her eyes.
Next is the semi-title song, “Reflections.” It’s about three artists who died before their time, Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin and dad’s friend and original Lynyrd Skynyrd frontman, Ronnie Van Zant.
I think dad started with Ronnie and worked backwards, then decided to concentrate on three distinct eras of music, the 50s with Elvis, the 60s with Janis – although some early drafts of lyrics I saw he considered Jimi Hendrix as well – and Ronnie for the 70s.
It’s a haunting song in a minor key which gives it a bit of a funeral feel, with very heartfelt lyrics about his friend, Ronnie which were drawn from real life when he heard that the Skynyrd plane had gone down in 1977.
“It was October in St. Louis town
When we heard that the Free Bird had fell to the ground
We all said a prayer before we went down to play.”
It’s a powerful tribute to his buddy, Ronnie.
The next song you may possibly have heard of, it’s called “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” It’s one of dad’s best story songs, and it has stood the test of time. It continues to get radio airplay and millions of streams every month.
Dad said he thinks the basic idea of a fiddle contest came from a poem about a fiddling contest he read in school called “The Mountain Whippoorwill,” but that the title just came to him.
Also, there were three overdubbed fiddles on Johnny’s part, and seven overdubbed fiddles on the devil’s part, including an eight-stringed fiddle.
Some people think the devil actually should have won, but dad maintained that Johnny played better because the devil’s part was just a bunch of noise and Johnny actually had skill to play real music.
But it became a phenomenon and elevated the CDB to new heights.
“Mississippi” is another slow song, an ode to the beautiful state. It gives the impression that the singer has been away a long time, but still recalls growing up there fondly.
It’s a beautiful song.
Tommy Crain’s song “Blind Man” is extremely cool. You could almost call it a tragic take on Skynyrd’s “The Ballad of Curtis Loew,” both are about an old black guitar picker who plays in town, but in “Blind Man” the nameless old man lost his eyes when the KKK took a branding iron to them.
He was known around town for always playing his old guitar and the same bunch of tunes. When he finally dies, he’s put in a knotty pine box, and his epitaph was simply… “Play.”
There’s also some mighty fine dobro picking at the end of the song by Tommy. It’s one of my favorite TC songs.
Both Tommy and Taz had killer songs on this album
The final song on ‘Million Mile Reflections’ is “Rainbow Ride.” It’s probably one of the more jazz-influenced songs that the CDB ever did.
The first part is very haunting and melancholy and filled with Spanish guitar. It describes a vision of a burning bridge across a river leading to a place called yesterday.
There are a lot of distinct tempo changes in the song
The next verse is a little more upbeat and lighter, encouraging a crowd that has come to watch the band to “relax and get loose” and that the band plans on taking them on a “rainbow ride.”
There’s a long instrumental section in which the jazz influence runs high, and the third verse describes the journey of and encourages the listener to take a “rainbow ride” with him.
It’s not really clear what a “rainbow ride” is… maybe it’s a musical journey, but that’s just a guess.
The album’s dedication is special. It was what dad released as a statement to the press after Skynyrd’s 1977 plane crash.
“Dedication to our friend Ronnie Van Zant
A brief candle, both ends burning
An endless mile, a bus wheel turning
A friend to share a lonesome time
A handshake and a sip of wine
Say it loud and let it ring
That we're all part of everything
The future, present and the past
Fly on proud bird, you’re free at last”
That poem is also on a marble bench next to Ronnie’s grave. It went missing for many years, but was finally returned.
And one last little tidbit, on the original pressings of the vinyl, if you look between the grooves and the label, on one side you’ll see etched into that section, “Dedicated to Ronnie My Buddy” and on the other side, “Fly on proud bird, you’re free at last.”
This was the album that hit the big time for the CDB, and the next album that followed continued that momentum.
What do you think?
Let’s all make the day count!
Pray for our troops, our police, the Peace of Jerusalem and our nation.
God Bless America!
— Charlie Daniels, Jr.
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