We're back with Black 47's Larry Kirwan. Check with IrishCentral every second Sunday as we cover the history of the iconic band album by album. 

In the coming weeks and months, Kirwan and IrishCentral will look back album by album on the history of Black 47 and their rise to fame. Below is the fourth installment of the series about the creation of "Home of the Brave."

But first, an intro from Larry: 

I've just finished reading my account of the making of Home of the Brave.  Even 25 years later it makes for a disturbing read. 

However, I will say it's an honest account of a very turbulent time.  We had just had a lot of success with Fire of Freedom, and Funky Ceili was already a standard when EMI decided to put us back in the studio.  We had been playing non-stop for four years and continued to play two or three gigs a week while recording. 

Despite all the pain and turmoil that went into its making, Home of the Brave is one of my favorite Black 47 CDs.  The songs are the product of so many influences and capture the essence of that era.  From The Big Fellah through to American Wake it's a testament to joy, hope, and not a little tragedy that was already in motion towards us. 

Here's to the band members and the many people who loved and supported us in that crazy time!   

- Larry Kirwan

Read the first three installments of this series here:

"Home of the Brave:" The most difficult album I've ever been involved with 

Black 47: Home of the Brave album cover

Black 47: Home of the Brave album cover

Well, writing songs was never a problem for me. I had already completed some new ones anyway, just to be on the safe side. Still, I didn't want to let the grass grow beneath our feet - I went into overdrive and we began including new songs in the set nightly. How brave we were too!

I recently came across some old set lists from Reilly's. Of our usual 15 song set, 7 or 8 were fresh from the oven - and this, at a time when Fire of Freedom was a national favorite.

I can safely say that Home of the Brave was the most difficult album I have ever been involved with - and possibly, my most difficult creative endeavor (when you include a number of plays with super-neurotic actors, etc. that is really saying something).

To me, the songs on HOB are some of the best I have written. It's probably the most eclectic of our CDs. All sorts of styles, storylines - and Chris' great Time To Go - mixed and meshed together. No, it wasn't the songs that were the problem. But there were other factors.

My old friend and comrade from Chill Faction, David Conrad, had become a full-time member of Black 47 during the recording of Fire of Freedom and had gone out on the road with us. But David had been very ill, some years previously, and had grown tired of the rock & roll lifestyle.

On top of that, he wanted to pursue a literary career. So David opted out.

We worked with a number of bassists and though all were good players, none could totally fit into the incestuous world of Black 47.

Now, it had become obvious that, because of the varying styles of the new songs, a kit drummer would be essential for the next CD. Hammy was the obvious choice. Remember, up until this point we had been using drum machines with Hammy adding an array of percussion to great effect. But things had changed and we needed to deliver a very punchy, funky rhythm section to drive these new tunes.

And we needed a great producer to pull the whole shebang together.

Out of loyalty, and because I felt he had done a great job, I would have preferred Ric. But the band was strongly against him. Although it wasn't totally articulated, at least to me, I think they disliked the claustrophobic nature of his studio/home, his focus on the singer/songwriter and his sometimes curtness to musicians. I could have insisted and probably should have but the feeling was pretty strong.

Surprisingly, EMI felt the same but for different reasons. The music business has little patience with producers who don't deliver million sellers and Fire of Freedom has still to reach that lofty goal.

I must have received 50 different tapes from producers. Remember, we were hot, critical favorites and, more importantly, EMI had a budget of $250,000 with which to make the CD and pay the band. An awful lot of money and, oh, how it was frittered away.

After burning my ears out listening to producers' reels and endless phone proposals and suggestions, I proposed Steve Van Zandt (Little Steven). He was familiar and empathized with us, had plenty of experience and played with the best live band in the world.

All the members of Black 47 were in agreement. Steven is, after all, quite the guy.

We went into big-time rehearsal but just before we were about to settle on studio dates, he had to bow out. (He was trying to put together a label of his own and needed to spend time in Japan nailing down financing - a great person though, he just didn't want to hold us up and EMI was chomping at the bit for new "product.")

So, it was back to the drawing board. Jerry Harrison's name had surfaced a few times and I gave him a call. A true gentleman, Jerry flew in from wherever he was - Jerry was always flying in from somewhere. I told him we were changing over to a full rhythm section and we were a little afraid of it. No big deal to Jerry! He had been a member of Talking Heads - The Heads had a great rhythm section, so what was the problem?

We assembled the band in a studio in Little Italy and played the full set. Jerry's eyes lit up at the songs. Then he asked me to reconvene the next day with just the rhythm section. We played the songs again and he taped them. Then he took me out for a drink and said: "we've got problems."

Oh no! What now? The rhythm section wasn't clicking. Then he played me the tapes and it was obvious.

Our bassist of the time was a fine player but the magic just wasn't there. And so it fell to me to tell him he was out. To which he gave me the very witty reply, "people usually take me out to dinner before I'm fucked!" A great line and fair play to the guy but such is life in the fast lane. And, Jesus, it was only beginning to heat up!

I knew who I wanted. I had seen Kevin Jenkins play around town and also with my old friend, Cyndi Lauper. One of the most in-the-groove players I'd ever heard. He signed on straight away and immediately the section locked. With his rock steady bass kicking our arses, Hammy and I got tighter than we'd ever been before. Jerry had solved a great problem. The section was grooving, Hammy had become a full kit drummer again and we were away in a canter, or were we?

I don't know what it was about that record. Maybe, it was all the playing, the fatigue - we'd be in the studio until 6 pm and then drive to Boston for a gig, play, drive home and be back in the studio the next afternoon.

Then again, maybe, it was our own faults too. Had we become a little too big for our britches? Up until now, we had managed to bulldoze our way through any problem. But a malaise seemed to have set in. What should have been easy songs to play - after all, we were performing them every night and had done a wonderful set of them live on the Vin Scelsa show - became nightmares in the studio.

Worst of all, we began to doubt our own ability to play exactly in tune. That might seem like an obvious thing but it's not when you lose confidence. This was a new age of ProTools (a computerized recording system) and other such techniques.

Jerry had come from a platinum double album with The Crash Test Dummies where every instrument had been treated through protools - down to the snare drum being placed exactly on the beat. Take a listen. Not a bad album but so technically perfect that a lot of the balls has been squeezed from it. But, I digress, back to the tuning issue! I'll only deal with my own problems.

For that CD, I was usually adding 3 or 4 guitar tracks to every song - a Fender rhythm, power chords on a Marshall, often an acoustic and some kind of electric lead line or other. After about 8 songs being completed in that manner, Jerry and I listened to the last track I'd done. He thought he heard something out of tune. I listened and had to agree.

By the time we'd finished analyzing every track, I wasn't sure myself what was in tune and what wasn't. Remember, I was co-producing the CD. For the first time in my life, I felt that I couldn't trust my own ears. Was I in tune or not? But then I would remind myself, this is not Chopin, it's rock & roll. And still, did I want something to be blatantly out of tune on this record from which so much was expected?

I went back, got out my tuner, checked my guitars and my fingering. In tune or not? Fuck it! I told the engineer to scrap everything I'd done. I went outside bought a six-pack, turned up to 11 and played like a maniac. Three days later, I was finished. The playing was powerful, choppy and, by Christ, was it in tune!

I won't speak for the rest of the band but these were not happy sessions. For months after I couldn't listen to any recording without noticing how many were out of tune. CDs that I loved were unlistenable. (Take a listen to the first chords of "Should I Stay Or Should I Go." I know, it's only rock 'n roll.)

All I can say now is that I personally went through a dark night of the soul, but came through it - a better musician. Who was to blame for the malaise that occurred? I don't know. Probably everyone concerned with the making of HOB! Then again, if you want to get Freudian, tuning was probably only the surface of deeper ills and tensions amongst us.

The recording ground on - time and money being used up indiscriminately. And yet what was I to do? Throw my hands up in the air, have the ultimate temper tantrum, stalk out and give up? No fucking way!

I knew that the songs on Home of the Brave were very strong and if we only persevered, the end result would be great. And yet, the whole process was unbelievably soul-draining. A sense that things were out of control.

At times, I felt like I was hacking away at Mount Rushmore with a hammer and chisel. And why? Too many cooks! The record company, managers, producers, engineers, myself, band members! The whole kitchen sink was thrown in and in the midst of it all, gigs and more gigs.

Of course, looking back at it from this vantage point, all these factors were ingredients for a disaster and this is more often the case than the exception with major record company productions.

And yet, there were inspiring moments - like the night we recorded the audience in Reilly's singing the outro of American Wake. The empathy with the song and the love for the band still leak through. And listen to the intro to Big Fellah! The passion of Paul Robeson, the sensuality of Blood Wedding, the mayhem of Black Rose. In fact, listen to any track. There's a drive, maybe even desperation on them all. As Little Steven remarked, "there's a lot of carnage on that album." And he wasn't just talking about the songs.

Eventually, the time had run out - the money too. But now, instead of Jerry and I doing the mixing, the tracks were to be handed over to an experienced and well known "mixer" - Tom Lord-Alge. This was mind-boggling to me. As yet, we hadn't done one rough mix of the tracks. In fact, we had barely finished the recording. Now the tracks were to be handed over to this guy, I'd never even met, to be soldered back into songs.

I raised the simple objection, how was Tom to know what the soul of each song was? After all, we had something like 36 tracks for each song. How was he to discover the guts of each song, let alone come up with a finished product?

Everyone said, "don't worry, that's the way Tom works!" Don't worry, my arse! I'd seen enough prophets at work. But I held my peace. The only thing I insisted on was that I was going to be there for each mix. Record company execs, Jerry, management, everyone was appalled - a right old recipe for disaster - and Tom just didn't work that way! But I insisted.

And so, the great day arrived. I met Tom in the lobby where he was downing mugs of coffee at a ferocious rate. By this time, I had familiarized myself with Tom's rep. He had recently done a big CD for Stevie Winwood amongst others. Great! I loved Stevie - but with Traffic and Spencer Davis - back when he was playing a Hammond B3 and screaming his heart out!

The song Tom choose to begin with was "Too Late To Turn Back." I had a copy of the original version from the Home of the Brave cassette in my pocket. I thought, maybe I should play this for him, clue him in, like. But, Tom was a huge, formidable man and, as he attacked the mixing board like a maniac, I got caught up in his whole performance. And performance it was! He ranged over the board like a caffeinated King Kong, never sitting down, shouting to himself, treating each instrument with an array of effects - compressing and caressing the recording until it sounded like the pig's mickey.

Jesus, it was a tour de force! I sat there mesmerized. The track wasn't just coming to life; it was jumping out of the trembling speakers at full volume, pinning me to the back wall.

And then it was finished. The man was pleased and it sounded mighty to me. He tossed me a cassette, told me to go home and listen to it, then hopped into his souped-up jalopy and roared off to New Jersey leaving me ossified and out of my head on the midtown street corner. I took home the tape, thrilled with myself, sure that we had a hit single with the very first song the big man had worked on.

But in the quietness of home, it very slowly dawned on me that while the song sounded like Sgt. Pepper and A Whole Lotta Love rolled up in one, it wasn't Too Late To Turn Back. I listened to it over and over and the more I listened the more I realized that it was just a wonderful big piece of confectionery without an iota of soul underneath. But what to tell Tom?

The next day, he was there with Jerry, downing his coffee and about to get stuck into the next track. He looked at me expectantly, awaiting my approval. I quickly downed two cups of black myself with my back turned to him. Then girding my loins, I gave him my considered, heart-racing opinion.

His eyes bugged out. He half dragged me back into the control room. Played back the track at full volume and asked me how I could be so stupid? He was a terrifying sight - like Jehovah on speed - but I remembered the early days in the Bronx facing down a crowd of drunken construction workers. I swallowed, told him that he was right, I'd never heard the beatings of this recording but it still wasn't the song I'd written.

Then I produced the original cassette of Home of the Brave and waited, my heart almost pumping out of my chest, as he contemptuously put in the player. After his Jaguar version, ours sounded like a 30-year-old Morris Minor badly in need of an oil change and a coat of paint. He sneered at me for the first verse but, when the chorus kicked in, his ear cocked up.

True, it still sounded creaky but the soul of the song now beamed through. He looked a bit worried. Then came the second verse and he perked up a bit, the confidence and the caffeine rising in him again. Then, the second chorus beamed out again and he knew. He put his head in his hands, let forth a string of oaths that surely shook the Almighty in his heavens, then marched out downed another quart of Maxwell House, raced in, stripped the board and, in a couple of hours, produced the great version of Too Late To Turn Back that you now hear on Home of the Brave.

We had some arguments after that, most of which he won, and rightly so - the guy is a genius of sound, after all - but from that point on, he unerringly focused on the soul of the song. He was an inspiration to watch and I learned so much from him.

Within two weeks, the album was, as they say, in the can. I'm still very proud of it. There were so many times we could have given up, tossed our hands in the air; instead, we persevered and finished it. But at a cost.

The money was all spent. As band members, we may have received a pittance - if so, a bare fraction of what we deserved. Even weeks later the bills were still pouring in. It was a costly lesson and one which created a great deal of bitterness.

And rightly so! Who was to blame? I suppose everyone - to some degree or other. But I blame myself. There was not the hint of a discrepancy in the figures or dishonesty on anyone's part. But, even with all the messing around, this album should have been done for $100,000 or $150,000, at the outside, with the balance going to the band who badly needed it.

I was the one person who had access to all the parties concerned but I let things spin out of control. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure, given the circumstances, that anything I could have done would have made any difference. But that's beside the point. Whatever innocence that was left in the band was destroyed by the making of that album. My only consolation is that I still stand behind what I said at the time - that Home of the Brave, song for song, is one of the best albums released in 1994 and it still stands up. Listen to it!

EMI Records was thrilled with Home of the Brave. They were, of course, well used to situations like what we had endured. Every recording, to them, goes through the same process, more or less. Lots of money spent (wasted), no big deal as long as no one's been fired. "Onwards and upwards, dude! You made a masterpiece, now let's market the mother..."

Time to let the brains trust take over. Things had changed in the intervening years. Alternative radio had taken a heavier edge. Guitar bands were in. So were angst, flannel shirts, Seattle, moping and groping. What was to be the first "emphasis" track? Singles being a thing of the past for white people.

Which of these songs would break us through on radio? It seemed like every track got some consideration. But, at last, it was down to three, with Black Rose and Road To Ruin falling by the wayside - Big Fellah (my choice and John Cohen's, EMI's alternative radio guru.)

Jon felt that the big guitar intro would be a natural - we could edit Mary Martello's voice from the front. I favored it because of its politics. (Also, I didn't want us to get pigeon-holed into a Funky Ceili, comedy type group).

The second track was Different Drummer (favored by those who felt that it sounded in the same ballpark as Funky Céilí and thus would give us more instant recognition - I have to say now that I opposed this for the reasons I've just given - what a stupid mistake!) The third track was Losin' It (this was favored by those who had no favorite or felt that this up-tempo song could play all formats - Alternative, AOR and Top 40.)

In the end, after much discussion the CEO of EMI, Daniel Glass, a great supporter of the band, said let's go with Losin' It and release it to all formats at the same time. Cohen and I were both doubtful but management and record company solidified as if by magic, (you have no idea what this is like - everyone is afraid to make a decision individually because if it's wrong, then blame can be pinpointed; so when it looks as though a unanimous choice is being made, then everyone jumps aboard, because cover is afforded) and the die was cast. Losin' It was the one.

Home of the Brave was released on a Tuesday and Daniel Glass was fired on the following Friday. Despite the master plan, Losin' It only went out to Alternative. Cohen worked his ass off but a state of paralysis set in at EMI with everyone fearing for their jobs and no money being allocated for independent radio promotion - an absolute necessity for a breakthrough. The record was finished before it even started.

Some weeks later, the new CEO took over. His name was Davitt Sigerson. Chris and I were summoned to a meeting with him. His first words, before our arses hit the seats, were, "I want you to know that I don't have the least problem in dropping bands from any company I am in charge of." It was downhill from there.

He said we were off to a bad start and things weren't looking so good. (No fucking kidding - they pay you a half a million a year to divine that?) Of course, we tried to tell him Daniel Glass' promotional ideas, etc, etc, But he was obviously a guy with a new broom - as are they all. If your point man in the company gets fired, it's essentially all over, as the new guy doesn't want the old guy getting posthumous credit. Davitt wasn't a bad person; I think he even "got" the band, in an odd way, but this was business, he had about a year to prove himself and the clock was ticking furiously. He told us he was going to cut the EMI roster in half and start from scratch! He neglected to inform us as to which half we figured in.

Well, Losin' It was actually getting played those first few weeks in Boston, Cincinnati and some other cities whose names escape me now. Of course, when these stations found out that EMI was not about to put any money behind the CD, their interest began to wane. We, however, had little idea about this state of affairs. Odd too, when you think of it; because bad news travels like the wind in record companies. And so we set off on "the tour." As usual, we got great crowds and the people loved the CD but when we'd visit the radio stations, the refrain was, "gee, you guys are great and we all loved Funky Céilí and we're giving Losin' It as many spins as we can but we can't add it right now because...."

Oh well ... The tour, or what I remember of it, was great anyway and Losin' It rocked the Conan O'Brien Show. George Kornienko, our old buddy was driving the van and doing merch. For some reason or other, we have always got good airplay in Salt Lake City. Our Mormon brothers and sisters seem to think that this bunch of New York Paddies is very exotic.

So, we decided that we would take one of our days off in SLC. Accordingly, we set off from Boulder, Co. for the scenic, if slippery, drive through the Rockies (a somewhat late start because of the previous night's festivities). We didn't reach Salt Lake until late that Sunday night and decided to straight away hit the local bars and fleshpots. But, lo and behold, there didn't seem to be any bars, let alone fleshpots. It was a cold night and a blizzard was heading in but we decided to hang out on a corner and await inspiration from the Lord. (Mormon or Whomever, you get very open-minded when the thirst settles in).

And lo and behold, The Lord was moved by our piety to send unto us two revelers whom we followed to the unlit door of an unprepossessing-looking building. We were informed that it was a private club but Nico, our intrepid road manager, proceeded to inform them of the importance of their soon-to-be guests. The Keeper of the Gates was one big formidable Archangel and he listened impassively until he heard our name. "Black 47," this Servant of the Lord sayeth unto us, "my favorite godamn - excuse the language - band!" No charge, special guests and inside every party animal and drunk in SLC ready to down pints with us. Chris Byrne's search for cigarettes the next day, I might add, was also epic in its own way.

We finished up in San Francisco at Slim's, one of our favorite clubs. I was suffering from bad bronchitis that Saturday night. But, according to Galigula who had given up on London and relocated to the Bay Area, it was one of our best shows ever.

Then the word came through from EMI that we had been invited to take part in a special radio show at Bogard's in Cincinnati on the following Wednesday. Thus followed the Trail of Tears. I retired to bed in the Phoenix Hotel and the band set out, on the Southern route for Cincinnati, driving day and night to play 3 songs with a dozen other groups. I seem to remember sharing a dressing room with a band called the Ass Ponies - a more appropriate name for us - as our last shred of innocence disappeared into the ozone of Southern Ohio. (Richard Nixon said elections are about one thing - Ohio! And we seem to know every acre of that state. God bless it!).

And so, fittingly ended the official promotion for Home of the Brave - in Ohio. We were informed by EMI that the record was "over." No more singles, bye bye Home of the Brave! But, if I cared to submit some songs to the company, they would consider them for a new album.

As far as songwriting goes, I don't care to submit anything to anyone. I told them that, in no short terms. And so we were at an impasse. But I continued to write.

Finally, the penny dropped. I went to Davitt with the proposal that since Home of the Brave had cost over a quarter of a million dollars, why couldn't he give me a budget of $15 to 20 thousand to make "demos" of the new songs. If he liked them, we'd make an album, if he didn't, we could walk with the "demos." To my surprise, Davitt, a sporting man to the end, agreed.

Now, I hadn't the least intention of making "demos" - a complete waste of time, in my book. I had been down that road before courtesy of CBS/Epic Records in the early 80' with the Major Thinkers. We did some wonderful "demos," then spent a year trying to duplicate them as a record. You live and learn.

And so I contacted Ian Bryant, to assist us in making the new CD (as of then, untitled). After laying down the basic tracks in a couple of days out at Waterfront Studios in Hoboken, we did some very rough basic mixes and submitted them to EMI.

Very soon, the word came back that not alone were they unacceptable but Davitt now felt that there was a great degree of hypocrisy in Black 47 - despite all our political principles, with which he agreed wholeheartedly, he found that we had a very strong strain of sexism in our songs that he found highly offensive.

I wasn't granted an interview with the man, so he never got to specify which were the offending ditties. That will probably remain a mystery as Davitt himself got the boot some months later.

In retrospect, he was probably alluding to Afterglow, a song on the "demo" that had the temerity to suggest that women might have as strong or even, dare I say it, a stronger sexual drive than men. Who knows? It wasn't one of my better songs and we never released it. Whatever! We were free of EMI and had the full rights to the "demo" which soon thereafter was to become Green Suede Shoes.

— Larry Kirwan

Do you have any photos of going to see Black 47 or any memories of their shows that you'd like to share with us? Send them to editors@irishcentral.com with "Black 47" in the subject and we'll include them in Larry Kirwan's collected history. 

Read the first three installments of this series here:

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