Being in a recording studio instead of on the mound leaves Adam Wainwright feeling like a rookie again; details on concert at Boondocks

UPDATE:

 

 

 

 

 

 


Original Article Dec. 7

By Rob Rains

MUSCLE SHOALS, Ala. – For the first time in 17 years, Adam Wainwright was a rookie again.

The feelings of wondering if he was good enough to succeed at his craft returned. So too did the reality that he was surrounded by a lot of people with more experience, more knowledge and  more confidence in what they were doing.

“I’m as green as the grass,” Wainwright said.

 

Wainwright felt that way because for three days last week, he found himself not on a baseball field but in The Nutthouse Recording Studio as a group of seven talented musicians based in Nashville, plus his close friend Gary Baker, began the process of taking 17 songs that Wainwright, Baker and Greg Barnhill had written over the last two years and turn them into an album.

It’s a process that left Wainwright “blown away.”

“I came in with no expectations,” he said. “I didn’t want to have any expectations. I wanted to come in and let them mold me.

“These people are in a room working on your stuff. That’s pretty neat and is very cool. … This is on a whole different level than anything I ever knew about.

“You want to talk about a humbling experience. For me to play guitar in a hotel room or in the locker room, I’m pretty good. But here they won’t even let me play. Gary told me, ‘Don’t even bring your guitar. Trust me, you don’t want it on the album.’

“What I know about this is almost nothing. I have put a lot of trust in these guys who know what they are doing… At the end of the day I know I’m a good pitcher. I don’t know anything about music just yet. I don’t know what people think.

“I’ve got 17 years of telling me I can get a lot of people out. I don’t have 17 years of music to tell me I can get up and command a stage or whatever. It’s all part of the learning process.”

“It’s funny how things work”

The journey that has brought Wainwright to Muscle Shoals, a famous town in the music industry, began, as many similar stories do, with a stroke of good luck and timing.

Several years ago, Baker’s son, Ryan, lived in Jupiter, Fla. His next-door neighbor, and now one of his best friends, was Matt Holliday.

The two families were usually together in the evening during spring training, and often times Wainwright would be there, sometimes bringing his guitar. One night, the elder Baker happened to be there visiting his son from his home in Muscle Shoals.

“We had a fire going, and I played a couple of song, and Gary asked if I had written any songs,” Wainwright said. “I said I had some ideas. I asked if he had written any songs and he said, ‘Yeah, a couple.’

“I didn’t know who he was. He said we should write some songs together. Then I found out he was a Hall of Famer and wrote ‘I Swear,’ ‘I’m Already There,’ and ‘Once Upon A Lifetime,’ all number one hits, and many others. I said, ‘Yeah we should make some songs together.’”

At the time Baker didn’t know what Wainwright wanted to do in the music world. He encouraged Wainwright to send him anything he wrote, even it was simply an idea and not a complete song.

“It wasn’t until about a year and a half ago that I got really interested in writing,” said Wainwright, who first was drawn to music when he was about 10 years old and his older brother Trey gave him a mix tape that included “The Thunder Rolls” and “The Dance” by Garth Brooks, among other songs. That was about the same time he played Paul McCartney in a grade-school play.

“I sent Gary ‘One Day They Won’t,’ one of the first songs I wrote about my girls and he cleaned it up and sent it back as a real song and I was like, ‘Holy crap.’ Gary said he thought he was going to help me do a couple of songs for my family and it’s just taken on a whole new life. It’s funny how things work.”

Baker’s interest increased when he started to get more songs from Wainwright, and realized there might be a chance to take the project to a different level.

“At the beginning I thought I was just going to help him out with a couple of things and he would be able to sing them with his family and they would love it,” Baker said. “Then it turned into this whole big deal. It has really exceeded my thoughts on what it was going to be.

“It’s all about his life. It’s his family, his kids, his wife big time. It’s all good stuff. It’s all about making the world a better place and leaving it a better place. That’s why I love doing it too.”

When the two had enough songs ready to be recorded for an album, it was time for Baker to ask Wainwright a question about the next step.

Most studio sessions of this type have a five-piece band, but Baker needed to know what Wainwright wanted.

“He said, ‘Do you want me to get one or two players and we can have it for you and the kids and your teammates?’” Wainwright said. “I said, ‘Gary, I’ve been in the big leagues for 17-plus years. I’m not going back to the minor leagues. How do we keep this big league?’ He said, ‘I know what you need.’”

Wainwright’s only other request was to go beyond the traditional five-piece band. He wanted to add a fiddle player and a steel guitarist to make it a seven-piece band.

Baker, one of the most respected producers and writers in the industry, began to make a few phone calls and soon the band was in place.

The level of talent Baker assembled was a major surprise for Wainwright.

“I’ve known Gary for a long time,” said Tammy Rogers, hired on as the fiddle and mandolin player. “He’s always doing really interesting projects. He’s a tremendous songwriter himself. I trusted him that whatever he was involved with would be really good and really fun and it has been.

“Adam obviously has talent and a gift for the lyrics and for telling a story. … If I didn’t know that he was a professional baseball player and we were just hired to record songs, these are every bit as good as any other session I’ve ever been on.”

Rogers is part of the Grammy-winning bluegrass band The SteelDrivers. Her husband Jeff King, the lead guitar in the band Baker put together, was one of two members of the band who had to leave after this assignment to go on tour with Reba McEntire. He also tours with Brooks and Dunn.

The band had different keyboard players because of schedule conflicts. Jason Webb worked the first day, then left to go play with Vince Gill. He was replaced by Blair Masters, who plays with Garth Brooks.

They were joined by Mike Johnson on the steel guitar, Greg Morrow on drums, Mike Waldron  on acoustic guitar and Mark Hill on bass guitar.

Of all the band members, the only one who was a Cardinals’ fan was Hill, who grew up in southern  Illinois. He made certain to tell Baker he wanted to be part of the band.

“All of these people have major acts they are playing with when they are not in the studio,” Wainwright said. “These guys are the best.”

While the other band members didn’t know Wainwright, and he didn’t know of their backgrounds until arriving in town, by the end of the first day of recording they had formed a mutual admiration society.

“I knew he was going to be excited,” Baker said. “I told him, ‘You have no clue what’s going to happen to you.’ The first song went down and I remember that Jenny (Wainwright’s wife) had told Adam to tell me not to make this great (wanting to make sure he was going to be staying home). After we were done with the first song I said, ‘You’d better give Jenny a call. This is going to be great.’”

The band members agreed.

“The songs are from his heart,” Johnson said. “Those are always the best songs. We go in with an open mind, but I tell you what, some of the stuff has just been phenomenal.

“It holds up with anything. He’s doing stuff that kind of leans back to ‘90s country, which is what he loves. We didn’t know anything about him until we got here. We came because Gary called.”

Said Baker, “I surrounded Adam with players that have the same values. Everyone out there has the same values as I have and Adam has. We don’t have any problems. We all get along. We joke all the time.”

At one point during a break between recordings, Wainwright asked Morrow if there was anything he needed to do.

“Just keep writing great songs,” Morrow said.

“A breath of fresh air”

Baker, sitting next to Wainwright in the control room and wearing his favorite light blue Cardinals’ cap as he produces the songs, is having as much fun as Wainwright and the band members.

“Most of my success came in the mid ‘90s and 2000’s,” said Baker, who just finished producing an album for the Backstreet Boys. “This record has allowed me and these players to get to do it again. It’s coming back anyway. He (Wainwright) reminds  me of a George Strait guy. He’s a really good singer and I felt as we started writing that it leaned to that even more. It pleased me more that we are headed that way.

“I think it’s going to be a breath of fresh air for everybody when they hear it. I think they are going to be shocked when they hear Adam Wainwright when this is done. He’s got a gift. I can teach him to sing, but you can’t teach tone. You either have it or you don’t. He has tone.”

That likely also can be said about the ability to write songs. Baker believes Wainwright has that too.

“The most important line in a song is the line before the hook that delivers the hook,” Baker said. “He’s got a knack for doing that like nobody I’ve ever seen. It’s crazy. I don’t want to toot his horn too big because he’s already 6-foot-7. He’s wonderful to work with.”

What Baker found the most appealing aspect of Wainwright’s lyrics were that they dealt with real-life experiences. They were topics that he could relate to, and he believes listeners will too.

“I know what it feels like to love somebody,” Baker said. “I know what it feels like to raise a child. He writes about the same thing.”

One of the songs the two wrote, “If You Would’ve Stayed,” is about their shared stories of having a father that was not part of their life, leaving their families when both were young boys.

“His father and my father, they were the same story,” Baker said. “All of it.”

Wainwright had written his thoughts about his father leaving, but it was Baker and Greg Barnhill who suggested they flip the lyrics to focus the song on what it would have been like had their fathers stayed and been involved in their life.

“I would never have written that song if he hadn’t given it to me,” Baker said. “He just wrote a bunch of things about how he felt about his father leaving him. I twisted it around; let’s tell the guy what it would have been like had he stayed.”

Said Wainwright, “It’s one of my best ones. It’s super deep. Every time I play it I cry. Our doctors in the clubhouse, three of them, cried.”

That song, other than Wainwright’s first notes, was developed during a 45-minute telephone conversation when Wainwright was stuck in a hotel room in San Francisco because of Covid.

“Sometimes I don’t even know if you can decide what to write,” Wainwright said. “He tells me to send him everything I get. Songs have come out of driving over a bridge, getting off an airplane from a flight and driving home with a bunch of kids in the car, walking down the stairs and seeing marks on the wall. It just happens.”

The marks on the wall led to “One Day They Won’t,” about what Wainwright thinks it will be like when his daughters are grown.

Another song, “Show ‘em All” came to Wainwright while he was sitting in an airport in Florida waiting for his wife and children to arrive.

“I will just be sitting there and something will come in my mind and I’m like, ‘Oh that’s a good idea. Write it down,’” Wainwright said.

When Wainwright started a game against the Braves on Aug. 28, he did an interview with ESPN while warming up in the bullpen. They aired a song he had written one day earlier, “Sounds Real Good to Me.”

“I recorded it on my I-phone and sent it to them,” Wainwright said. “I thought they were going to play like 10 seconds of it and they played the whole thing.”

Wainwright watched as the band took the raw cut of that song, and 16 others, and changed them, sometimes tweaking a line here or there or cutting or adding to the intro – changes he has approved of and realized made the songs better.

“I wrote a song called ‘Hit the Ground Running’ as a ballad, and they turned it into my most up-tempo song,” Wainwright said. “The first line was, ‘I’ve got the best night planned, just wait and see.’ They saw the words and said, ‘That’s not a ballad.’”

Another song, “A Good Story,” actually contains lines about former teammates Holliday, Skip Schumaker and Matt Carpenter.

The song, “I’m Sure Thankful for Today,” came to Wainwright after one of his daughters gave him a big kiss before going to bed one night.

“All I can do is make what I am writing,” Wainwright said. “This is what came naturally. It’s what is happening in my life. All of these songs are real.”

After finishing the three-day recording session, the band members packed up their instruments and went onto their next assignments. Each left with a souvenir, a baseball autographed by Wainwright, who collected each of their autographs in return.

For Wainwright, the next step in the process will be to record the final vocals, which he will do with Baker as both of their schedules allow in the next few months.

It’s what happens when that is done, and the album is finished, that Wainwright can’t predict or answer.

“I think he’s got a chance”

Wainwright knows 2023 will be the final season of his baseball playing career, but could it also mark the beginning of his singing career?

“We will see what happens,” Wainwright said. “I have no expectations because I don’t want to get my hopes up or down. I just want to have fun.

“I told Gary, ‘I don’t know how good I can be, but I promise you I’m a competitor and I’m going to compete to be really good at it. Anything you want to be good at in life you have to work at.

“I know this – we’ve written great songs. We’ve got a great band. If the singer doesn’t screw it up it could be something.”

Wainwright doesn’t see himself going out on tour, playing one concert followed the next night by another concert in another city. He knows that he wants his post-playing career life to include broadcasting baseball games, on a limited schedule. He knows his wife wants him to stay home.

He is just going to see how the music will fit into his life.

“There’s definitely something there,” Wainwright said. “If the finished product comes out the way Gary says it’s going to come out then something needs to happen. The very first thing I have to do is makr sure I’m honoring my wife and our life together and our kids. I want to honor these guys too (the band) for their time and their effort.

“Gary said that the worst-case scenario might be that a couple of bands call and say they want this song or that song. I’m saying that could be the best-case scenario. What I would really like to do is play writer’s nights and play when I want to play but not have to do anything.”

It was almost a year ago, last January, when Wainwright performed one of his songs in front of an audience for the first time. He sang, “One Day They Won’t,” as part of a fundraiser for his Big League Impact charity in Springfield, Ill.

It was an experience unlike any he has ever had before.

“Playing in front of 700 people was the most nervous I had ever been in my life,” Wainwright said. “I can stand in front of a billion people and pitch. I wouldn’t care how big it was. I don’t even see them. I feel them, and I use that, the bigger the better. It doesn’t matter because that’s my element.”

When Wainwright performed last year, he hadn’t even memorized the words to his song. He had to read them off his cell phone, balanced on his knee, as he sang and played the guitar.

Wainwright might be more prepared when he – this time accompanied by Baker and Barnhill – returns to Boondocks for another event on Jan. 16.

He still likely will be nervous as he takes the stage.

“Playing a writer’s night for 15 people? I’m nervous. What are they going to think?” Wainwright said.

“It’s country music. Some people like it and some don’t. That’s probably how it’s going to be.”

The opinion that matters the most to Wainwright is what Baker thinks of the songs.

“That guy in the blue hat (Baker) is not going to let me put anything out that’s not great,” he said. “It’s his name on it too.”

And what does Baker think about the raw rookie and a future music career?

“I think he’s got a chance,” Baker said. “I think he’s going to take this as far as he can take it.”

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter@RobRains  

 

If this is your first visit to STLSportsPage.com subscribe to our free STLSpirts Blast Newsletter: CLICK HERE.

About stlsportspage 1948 Articles
For the latest news and features in St. Louis Sports check out STLSportsPage.com. Rob Rains, Editor.