Damned if this isn’t the story that rock ’n’ roll dreams are almost made of. In 1973, Wilson, an unknown 26-year-old Indiana native, had a batch of songs he’d written and wanted to record. Being a Dylan fan, he decided to knock on the door of Bob Johnston, producer of several Dylan albums as well as seminal Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash albums, and ask him to make a record.
Although having no idea who Wilson was, Johnston put common sense aside and asked Wilson to play one of his songs on the spot; that same evening, Bill Wilson was in Ray Stevens Sound Lab Studio in Nashville, and Johnston producing his first album! There with him was a selection of Johnston’s “go to” Nashville session players – Kenny Buttrey (drums), Charlie Daniels and Jerry Reed (guitars), Charlie McCoy (harmonica), Mac Gayden (slide), Pete Drake (pedal steel), singer Cissy Houston, and Bob Wilson on piano. It has the makings of a fairy tale of Disney proportions.
What is beyond argument is that Bill Wilson was an extraordinarily gifted songwriter and recording artist just waiting for the “big break.” Although recorded in Nashville, the 11 songs are more steeped in the influences of Austin’s outlaw country with a faint Southern tinge; there are echoes of Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Mickey Newbury, and even Mike Nesmith’s 1st National Band (check out the exhilarating opener ‘Rainy Day Resolution’).
As is usual, the lyrics are about the themes that generally run through the genre – heartbreak, social commentary, tales of drifters and lost love (the abject pain in ‘Long Gone Lady’ is palpable). There’s even some country gospel thrown in for good measure, Cissy Houston harmonising gloriously on ‘Following My Lord’ and ‘Father Let Your Light Shine Down’. Gayden’s slide playing is sublime throughout, particularly on ‘Ballad Of Cody’ and ‘Pay Day Give Away’; neither would be out of place on an Allman Brothers album. All that’s needed is the “happily ever after” flashing neon and the fairy tale is complete.
Sadly, that never transpired. Wilson took his album to Columbia where it sank almost without trace; Wilson himself struggled to actually find a copy of his own album. As he somewhat prophetically sings in the title track: “another crazy dream had come undone.” Josh Rosenthal (Tompkins Square founder) stumbled across the album in a vinyl bargain bin at a San Francisco record fair in January and bought it for 25 cents, purely on the strength of the producer’s name.
When contacted by Rosenthal, Johnston recalled that he never saw or spoke with Wilson again after the recording session, but “the fucker could really write.” Bill Wilson died from a heart attack in 1993, aged 46, having made less than $100 from his record and never seeing its resurrection. Not all fairy tales have happy endings.
by Trevor J. Leeden
1. Rainy Day Resolution - 3:33
2. Pay Day Give Away - 4:00
3. To Rebecca - 5:54
4. Black Cat Blues - 5:13
5. Father Let Your Light Shine Down - 2:58
6. Long Gone Lady - 3:33
7. Following My Lord - 4:13
8. Ballad Of Cody - 4:27
9. The Good Ship Society - 2:59
10.Ever Changing Minstrel - 3:06
11.Monday Morning Strangers - 3:50
Words and Music by Bill Wilson
*Bill Wilson - Vocals Guitar
*Mac Gayden - Slide Guitar
*Charlie Daniels - Guitar
*Bob Wilson - Piano
*Charlie McCoy - Harmonica
*Kenny Buttrey - Drums
*Jerry Reed - Guitar
*Pete Drake - Steel Guitar
*Cissy Houston - Vocals