It was sometime around 1997, I’m pretty sure, I was contacted via telephone by a guy named Jack Ball. (No, I didn’t yet have an email account.) He was putting together this massive project consisting of 50 bands from around the county. The idea was to have one band from each state and each band would record their state song. He had already confirmed participation from a band from Georgia (I can’t remember who) but they had dropped off the project and somehow he found out my contact info and got in touch to see if my old band A Mercy Union was interested. We had been around in various incarnations for about 5 years at that point, and counted among our alumni Henry Owings and Ryan Lewis, and I was the only original member left. But the line-up circa 1997 was me, Dave Gerow and Dan Pahl and this was really the only time the group felt totally solid and actually gelled.
Anyway, we readily agreed to do it and got Greg Harmelink to lug his recording equipment across town to the now-demolished Ultramod Compound so we could record our version of the Stuart Gorell/Hoagy Carmichael classic “Georgia On My Mind”.
The thing was, we didn’t really know the song. We sorts-kinda knew the tune a little bit and perhaps a smattering of the lyrics but once we had committed to recording it we knew we had to actually learn it. Then we realized that none of us even owned a copy of the song. I distinctly remember us listening repeatedly to the version from Willie Nelson’s Stardust album that belonged to Dan’s father. So we figured it out and made our own version of it.
Our take on “Georgia on My Mind” is pretty far away from the moon-June-spoon, sleepy Spanish moss, front-porch whimsicality of any other version I’ve heard. We played it as if the Civil War were still raging and we were hunkered down inside some Yankee stronghold wondering if we were ever going to drink sweet tea again.
The double CD was eventually released the next year and when I look at it today it’s kind of cool how many bands from that era I actually remember (Fun Size, Boris The Sprinkler, Pee-Tanks, Doc Hopper, Royal Pendeltons, Pezz, Sicko, Haggis) and still kind of amazed that Bunnygrunt is on it, too. The album was named Coolidge 50 and you can follow that link to learn more about it but don’t go sending your money there. The site was last updated in 2004.
Jack Ball wound up sending copies to the then-governors of each state and the then-president of the United States. Here’s a sampling of the responses he received:
-Governor Zell Miller, Georgia: “I appreciate your thinking of me and extend my best wishes for its success. With kindest regards, I remain.”
-Governor Mike Huckabee, Arkansas: “The CD is great! I can tell a lot of hard work and dedication went into this project. This will make a wonderful addition to my audio library.”
-Governor Jesse Ventura, Minnesota: “Minnesota is sure to succeed with your involvement.”
-Governor Tommy G. Thompson, Wisconsin: “I am thrilled to have this for Wisconsin is celebrating it’s 150th Anniversary this year and how appropriate that we have this CD now with our State song.”
-Governor George W. Bush, Texas: “Thank you for the thoughtful gesture. It was kind of you to think of me.”
-Governor Tom Ridge, Pennsylvania: “You can be certain that I will enjoy listening to the bands from each state performing their state song.”
-President Bill Clinton, United States President: “Thank you so much for your kind gift. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and generosity. You have my best wishes.”
Although I have no doubt that almost none of them actually listened to the record I am equally confident that this is the only time anything I ever recorded wound up in the White House mail room.
So, here it is.
MP3: A Mercy Union-Georgia On My Mind
(PS: Yes, that’s the old Georgia flag. The one this song was recorded under. )