When it finally hit Nashville bluesman Shane Dwight, it hit him harder than a ton of bricks.
Deep into the tracking for his latest album, A Hundred White Lies (R-Tist Records), Dwight was so overcome with emotion that he just couldn’t keep the floodgates closed any longer and they burst wide open, right there in the middle of Rock House Studio.
“On one of the songs, I broke down and just cried like a baby. And my producer, Kevin (McKendree) went, ‘Jesus, man. About time.’ Because he’d listened to all these lyrics and said, ‘this is the most personal stuff I’ve ever heard someone record. For you not to get choked up this whole time … it’s about time. Thank you!’” said Dwight.
One of the hardest things to do has to be when artists cut themselves wide open and stand there exposed, letting the whole wide world take a gander at things a lot of us would never dare discuss privately, much less display in a public forum.
In Dwight’s case, his soul-baring was centered around a nasty divorce he went through with his wife of 13 years.
“Yeah, I was with the same girl for 13 years – we were both barely out of high school when we married – and if you listen to the record, you can pretty much hear what happened in its entirety,” he said. “The whole story. The big, convoluted, dramatic, could-have-been-a-television story detail of the events that led to my divorce. It was really horrible. I know that’s not the first time something like that has happened to somebody, but if you listen to the lyrics of the songs, you can see what I went through. It was really just a circle of pain.”
The nature of those raw lyrics couldn’t help but have a profound impact on McKendree, as well. Not only did he produce and play keyboards on A Hundred White Lies, he was also Dwight’s next door neighbor and had a ring-side seat as much of the material on the album was being birthed in real life.
“We lived right next door to them. We had dinner with them, spent Christmas with them, and they (the McKendrees) loved my wife,” Dwight said. “So when it all came down … it was really hard.”
While the nature of such material must be uncomfortable to put down into words on a piece of paper, for Dwight, writing about personal business is just the nature of the beast.
“There’s a double-edged sword there. On one hand, it’s easy to write about things like that because you know what happened – you’re not making it up,” he said. “On the other hand, it’s hard to write about such painful things because they really did happen to you. But I’m not a very good storyteller in the sense that I have a hard time making things up. I tend to write about what I know about, stuff from personal experiences, whether it’s about having a good time or about heartbreak. I envy artists that can completely create a scenario and write about that. I kind of speak more about stuff that happens to me, or around me.”
Dwight first crossed paths with McKendree when he relocated to Nashville from California, although it was a couple of months before the two actually met, even though they were living right next door to one another.
“I had lived there about four months and one of my other neighbors said, ‘there’s another musician that lives right next door to you. He plays with some guy named “Delbert.’” I go, ‘Kevin McKendree is my next-door neighbor? You gotta be kidding me,’” laughed Dwight. “And so we ended up meeting and becoming friends.”
The “Delbert” in question is of course Delbert McClinton, McKendree’s longtime employer.
In addition to McKendree on keyboards, the rest of Dick 50 – Rob McNelley (guitar), Lynn Williams (drums) and Stephen Mackey (bass), also play on A Hundred White Lies.
And according to Dwight, those cats sure know their way around the inside of a recording studio.
“Well, Delbert’s band has been playing together for years and they have their own way of doing things. The joke of the sessions became, ‘what are YOU going to play? Ha, Ha.’ We just kind of drew up the songs, talked about the feel of the song and then said, ‘1-2-3, go,’” he said. “We literally didn’t do more than one or two takes of each song. It’s mostly just the band playing live and then I went back and did vocal and lead guitar takes. It’s a very spontaneous, very reactionary recording. No one planned anything, really.”
And it’s obvious that Dwight is extremely happy with the end results of those sessions, no matter how personal and painful they may have been.
“It’s probably my best-sounding record, because they’re such great musicians,” he said. “But what’s really a pleasure to hear, is that it still sounds like one of my CDs. I just trip out – completely different cast of players, completely different vibe, but yet it still sounds like one of my CDs, it still sounds like me. It didn’t sound like me superimposed over something else; it really sounded like me, which was a pleasant surprise. I’m really proud of it. I did all my early demos for this project with Malcolm Bruce – Jack Bruce’s son. He was living in Nashville, too. The group of people that was involved in this project was really amazing when you think about it. Malcolm Bruce, Bekka Bramlett, the McCrary (Ann, Regina, Alfreda) Sisters … Kevin, Dick 50 … everybody. Really cool.”
Over the course of the past decade, Dwight has earned the reputation of being a first-rate guitar player and has spent a good chuck of that time on the road, playing anywhere and everywhere he could. He’s also issued six albums and one DVD, Live from the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise, during that span of time, meaning that you’ve got to be on the ball to keep up with the ever-busy Shane Dwight.
Born in San Jose and raised in nearby Morgan Hill, Ca., Dwight’s journey to the altar of the blues started out fairly innocently.
“What’s funny is I fell in love with the blues without really knowing the stuff I liked was the blues,” he said. “My parents listened to a lot of country and blues and old rock-n-roll, so I heard a lot of that as a kid. When I started listening to my own kind of music – harder rock and even metal – when I was about 17 years old, I started to realize that the stuff I liked was the bluesier side of that music. Even the metal. And when I started playing guitar, I started digging deeper and doing the research that everyone does and came to the realization that everyone does – all this music came from the blues. So I started delving deeper and deeper into the blues.”
That archeological expedition led Dwight straight to the doorstep of Bay Area legend John Garcia.
“Before I knew it, I was studying (guitar) with John Garcia who lived in the small town of Gilroy, not far from when I grew up in Morgan Hills. And he had played with (John Lee) Hooker for about 10 years. Matter of fact, when all the big stars like Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry would come to California, his band backed them up. He played with a lot of greats – everybody,” Dwight said. “So I started taking guitar lessons from him and he started feeding me all the good stuff. He’d go, ‘oh, if you like that, then you’ll like this.’ I’d show up for a half-hour lesson and would end up hanging out for two hours. He made me all these great mix tapes with all these wonderful blues recordings. He showed me the ropes of what the real-good blues were.”
Dwight took that knowledge and ran, crafting together the Shane Dwight Blues Band, quickly developing into one of the West Coast’s hottest purveyors of the blues. In a nod to Garcia’s old boss, the group’s first album was titled Boogie King, with the title track serving as a tribute to the late, great Hook.
Paying back what Garcia had gifted to him, Dwight soon became a sought-after guitar instructor himself, showing a whole new generation of young players where the likes of Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix got their inspirations from.
“It was awesome, man. When they get it, they really get it,” he said. “It was amazing to see some of them at such a young age, sponge it up so quickly.”
While he immensely enjoyed teaching guitar at the School of Blues in San Jose, after a while, that workload also began to take its toll on Dwight.
“There was a moment when I touring, doing shows and had 40 students,” he said. “And I was working seven days a week. I did that for about three years straight and I just burnt myself up real bad. So when I got to Nashville, I just decided to concentrate on being an artist for awhile. I was just a little too wound-up working all the time, so I had to kind of back off. But I really miss the kids.”
Dwight’s move from the Bay Area to Music City wasn’t part of some grand scheme – rather, it just happened kind of naturally.
“I just kind of fell in love with the city, to be honest,” he said. “I was just ready to live somewhere else for awhile. And I was talking to Rick Booth at Intrepid (Artists International), who I’d just signed with and he said, ‘if you’re going to move anywhere, you should check out Nashville.’ So I went there and I was hooked. I just loved the music scene and the house prices, especially compared to Silicon Valley. But I just fell in love with the place. So we just picked up and went – never looked back. There’s just a great community of music people here.”
With each album he releases, Shane Dwight inches one small step closer to carving out his own identify, his own niche, within the world of the blues.
And if things go according to plan, A Hundred White Lies may turn out to forgo those small steps for a giant leap forward, with Dwight having no plans to slow down anytime soon.
“I spent a lot of time learning how to play Albert King and Albert Collins and Son House and Robert Johnson and Muddy and Hubert and Stevie Ray note-for-note. I wanted to understand how they got their sound … I was just so enthralled with all the blues greats,” he said. “And now, I’ve kind of taken that influence and the country influence and the rock-n-roll influence, the R&B – I’ve taken all that stuff and tried to infuse those into my own thing. I’m just trying to play the stuff that comes to me – I’m not trying to be this or that. For me at this point, I’m trying not to mimic what people have done in the past, like I was in the beginning. I’m trying to trust my instincts and I hope that people will dig that.”
For Dwight, the absolute bottom line is all about crafting the songs that he plays.
“I love writing music, that’s probably my favorite thing to do,” he said. “I love to perform and will always be a junkie for getting up on stage, but I really love writing music. I hope that starts to shine through and people will come to be aware of my writing. I’d love to write for other people, as well as write my own hit songs. I’d really like a Gold record. At one point in my life, I’d like to be able to sit back and look at that thing (gold record). And I want that only because that means that I’ve affected that many people in a good way. That way I could look back and say, ‘I had the same affect on people that all those great artists that I listened to had on me.’ That would make me happy.”