The House of Mercy Band recorded several albums from 1999 to 2010. We were the host band at the House of Mercy church in Saint Paul. I don’t think I’m overstating things to claim that the band would not have made any records at all, and maybe never started a record label, if I hadn’t wandered into the church one evening in the fall of 1996, then again in the summer of 1997. There’s a good origin story for how Chris Larson and I met, and how I got Peter Rasmussen involved, and how one thing led to another until we found ourselves setting up mics in the church baptistry on a cold Saturday in the winter of 1998/99. A good origin story I’ll tell another time. I will mention Heidi Olson and her beautiful violin playing on that first record, which we called the white album because it originally had no art or title, just a white cardboard sleeve. Heidi and I met through our mutual friend Heidi Van Schooten. Heidi O and I played music together at Heidi VS’s wedding in the late summer of 1998, and it was so magical that we tried to play together several more times before life logistics intervened. One such time was that original recording session at the First Baptist church building in Lowertown Saint Paul, and I’m forever grateful she made it there.
I wrote the lyrics to “Sunny Georgia” in the autumn of 1998 and gave them to Chris. I think Chris and Doug Trail-Johnson worked up the melody/chords together, and I remember them playing it for the band at Chris’s house at a practice night. It must not have been solid enough to make it on to that first record, but it was the lead-off tune on the next record, “Too Many Treasures“. I wrote lyrics for four of the 11 songs on that record, but “Sunny Georgia” was always my favorite to play. I told Chris once that it was one of the few songs I never got tired of.
The walking bass line in the song is ripped straight from “Stray Cat Strut“. It’s one of Chris’s genius attributes that he does not realize he’s borrowing from other songs, which is what frees him up to write familiar sounding melodies and chord progressions. I’m always afraid to sound too much like other, more famous songs. Chris once told me that Hank Williams Sr was the same way, borrowing music freely from other songs and adapting his own lyrics. It’s a freedom I’ve never felt and sort of envy. I suspect that one of the reasons I don’t get tired of playing “Sunny Georgia” is that I always really liked the lyrical construction and the music feels like an old friend.
Since I stopped playing in bands my cheap little classical guitar has been a source of comfort, and I often pick it up in the evenings and play old songs, my own but mostly others’. So when Russell Rathbun reached out in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic to ask if I would contribute some songs to his podcast, I was glad to set up a mic and just play like I often do in the evenings, one old friend after another. They were all first-takes with no overdubs, which is my eternal bias for recording anything. I did go back and take out some of the hiss and add a little reverb, but otherwise it’s just me and my nylon string guitar (the same one that appeared on the first Brett Larson record) and a microphone.