Every time an artist records an album, they end up with just a little bit more than they need. Songs that, for one reason or another, don’t make it on to the full-length. People call them all sorts of things: Bonus tracks. Non-LP B-sides. Extras. Whatever you choose to call them, these songs are never purposely relegated to the dustbin of history. Whatever happens throughout the record-making process, the music that is left on the proverbial cutting room floor was made with the same care, emotion, dedication and commitment as the stuff that got labeled “master.” These songs do not deserve to be forgotten!
Enter, “Hits and Misses”, a new collection from that venerated progenitor of all things Soul, Rhythm and Blues and Americana, Eli Paperboy Reed. The Paperboy is eight albums deep in to a career that spans close to two decades. His bonus tracks could easily be another’s hits singles. From vividly reimagined covers spanning every genre to his own dance-or-cry originals, leftovers these are not.
“Hits and Misses” collects songs that, for the most part, were previously only available on 45 rpm singles at the merch table during Reed’s international touring career. The earliest of these were cut in 2009, right after the career-launching album “Roll With You” and the latest at the beginning of 2020, just before his critically acclaimed LP of Merle Haggard songs “Down Every Road.”
In fact, Reed takes his first crack at Haggard on “Hits and Misses” with the down and dirty “Break Every Heart I Can.” You’ll also hear Reed try his hand at songs by Bob Dylan, Steely Dan, Motörhead (!), The Violinaires, Latimore, Lee Moses and Jimmy Hughes. That’s quite a list. Pair these inspired covers with a trio of unheard Reed originals and you’ll agree that “Hits and Misses” rounds the bases for a home run.
Ace of Spades / Break Every Heart I Can / Bad Girl: After “Roll With You” came out in early 2008 we hit the road hard. These were the songs we started adding to the live set in order to break the monotony of playing the album night after night. “Bad Girl” we originally played behind Georgia Soul legend “Hermon Hitson” and it fit the energy of the band perfectly. My obsession with the idea of taking Merle Haggard songs in to the world of Rhythm & Blues was long established, but “Break Every Heart I Can” was my first try at making it happen in a real way. The way the audience reacted told me I was on to something. “Ace of Spades” basically happened by accident. My guitar player at the time started playing the iconic riff at a soundcheck and I, having never heard the original, started playing along. The band fell in and the arrangement wrote itself. Already skin tight from the road, we got in the studio on a quick tour break, cut all of these in less than a day and then got back in the van.
Steal Away / I Don’t Know What the World is Coming To: In 2013, my friend Rodney Hall (son of the legendary producer and owner of FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, AL) called me out of the blue. He was putting together a companion soundtrack to the documentary Muscle Shoals featuring new artists, like myself, recording some of the classics that came out of FAME. He wanted to put a band together featuring some of the original Swampers including David Hood on bass, Jimmy Johnson on guitar and Spooner Oldham on keys. Can you guess how fast I said yes? I came down to Alabama the first chance I got and we cut these two songs live on the floor of that legendary studio. The song “Steal Away”, originally recorded by Jimmy Hughes, was what we cut for the soundtrack, but the band was having so much fun that we couldn’t help but do another. I brought up the idea of doing one of my favorite Gospel songs, “I Don’t Know (What the World is Coming To), but in the style of the Staples Singers. David Hood (who played bass on “I’ll Take You There) and the rest of the guys knew exactly what I was after. How many takes was it? I’d say it was just the one.
Do It Again / Let’s Straighten it Out: Sometimes it pays when things don’t work out. From time to time, I get asked to do things for movies, television and commercials. In this instance, I was asked to put my spin on Steely Dan’s “Do It Again.” My concept (inspired by the sounds of my friend Nick Waterhouse), came fast. I took my Brooklyn crew in to my favorite all-analog studio at the time, Stockholm Street Sound and we got to work. The powers that be, however, didn’t like it. I knew, however, that my friend the legendary Soul DJ of WFMU’s Downtown Soulville, Mr. Finewine, would love it. What I didn’t know that he would love it so much as to put it out on a 45, a 45 which sold out almost immediately! Thankfully, as per usual, I took the second half of the session that fateful day and recorded what became the b-side. Harkening back to my days living in Clarksdale MS, I cut a downhome grits and grease version of Latimore’s Southern Soul anthem “Let’s Straighten It Out.” How many 45s do you know that have a Steely Dan song on one side and a Latimore song on the other?
Anytime You Want Me / That’s Love: Another phone call, another session with legends. This time the call was from producer Matt Ross-Spang who had just worked on my album “99 Cent Dreams”, cut at Sam Phillips Recording in Memphis. This session, however, would be different because it would be anchored by Charles Hodges on organ and Leroy Hodges on bass. The Hodges Brothers, for those who don’t know, are half of the legendary Hi Rhythm Section and they played on countless hits by the likes of Al Green, Otis Clay, Ann Peebles and O.V. Wright. I knew I had to put on my big boy pants for this one so I brought in a pair of original songs that they could sink their teeth into. The Hodges, with Charles doing most of the talking, quickly warmed up to me and we became fast friends. We even got the legendary Memphis vocal group The Masqueraders in to sing backgrounds and the atmosphere was as fun and relaxed as any session I’ve been a part of. Memphis is a magical place sometimes and, for me at least, that day at Sam Phillips Studio the magic was in full force.
I Came to Play (IDKWYCTD) / To Be Alone With You: In March of 2020, as the world began to shut down, I got an urgent request. A song of mine, one that only existed as a demo at that point, was going to be used in a new animated TV show, and they needed a finished version. Fast. As lockdowns set in across New York City, I convinced my good friend and the owner of Hive Mind Recording in Brooklyn, Vince Chiarito, to give me one day. We recorded “I Came to Play” with just the two of us playing, layering as we went. It turned out to be the last session either of us did for many months. I, for one, can hear the immediacy and outright fear of those early days listening back to the song now.