The Story Behind The Song ....
" Rock The Roadhouse Down "
It was 1988 and I was still a new kid in town here as far as trying to be a tunesmith, ( I arrived in April of 1987). I was sort of hanging around at a music row publishers office, having sort of gotten my foot in their door, but not much else. I had just brought in a new tune I wrote and demoed called "Cotton Eyed Moon". Wood Newton, who had written big hits for Kenny Rogers, Oak Ridge Boys, Steve Wariner etc, heard it and asked " That's really fresh, does this guy co-write with anyone?" They told him he probably does, though most of what we heard, he has written by himself.
Well my phone rings and Glenn Warren, who worked there said to me, "Hey man, Wood Newton heard one of your tunes and asked me if you want to get together and try and write." ..................................................................................... ( the sound of my phone dropping on the floor ) ..................................................................
'Glenn, I said you're kidding me right ?' "No man, I am not !, Wood, heard Cotton Eyed Moon and really liked it, here is his number, call him."
I made that call, we talked briefly and set up a date to get together at Wood's house the following week. I was home alone and went over to my turntable and put on my Kenny Roger's album They Don't Make Em Like They Used To .It was record I bought back in Florida before I moved to Nashville. I listened to one of the songs that inspired me to move here to try and write tunes. That song was Twenty Years Ago ! and Wood was one of the writers of it along with Dan Tyler, Mike Noble and Michael Spriggs.
You cannot imagine the thoughts and emotions that spun around inside of me that day as I listened. From the second that fantastic piano intro starts it up, Twenty Years Ago, is an emotional roller coaster by itself , couple in the stuff I had in my gut with the uprooting my family and moving to Nashville to pursue a dream and there was an F-5 Tornado going on right in my apartment. Not to mention some incredible irony, that harkened back to when I first arrived here.
A friend that we had stayed with, when we first arrived, while we looked for a place to live, had shown me one of her albums that a friend she had, cut for a an indy record label. Me, always being a fan of the fine print on labels recognized, Wood's name on one of the cuts and I asked her, Do you think your friend could put me in touch with this Wood Newton fellow? I got his number and called. but there was no answer that day. Then I made mention of it in passing a few days later, to a Nashville recording entertainer ( who shall remain nameless) that we had booked years before in our Florida music hall. I was told in no certain terms by him that "THAT IS A SERIOUS MISTAKE ... NEWBIES, DON'T CALL ESTABLISHED WRITERS , YOU WAIT, TILL THEY CALL YOU." ......okay okay .... I never tried to call Wood's number again.
Writing day arrived and I was jazzed, nervous, yet bolstered by the thought, Wood would not be wasting his time if he didn't think I had something to offer. I got to his house around 9:30 in the morning and he put me at ease right away. We talked a bit about our backgrounds, then he asked me if I had any ideas. I read him a few hooks I had in my notebook. Wood liked "Rock The Roadhouse Down", so we set to work on it straight away. Wood, who is from Arkansas, came up with the opening lines "Just a little south of Memphis..." and the basic feel on his guitar and we were off and running. By noon we had both the lyrics and music buttoned up. His wife Gloria made us a fine lunch, we talked about this and that and for my first time writing with a pro, it was more than I could of asked for. It was to me what co writing should be, a give and take with the end result, a stronger song because of the contributions of all involved.
Wood said he really liked my demo of Cotton Eyed Moon and left it up to me to produce it. I knew just who to call, after all I had already written him into the lyric of our song. " ....
"And when Milt The Maniac, Starts Honkin' On The Sax, There Goes Your Window and Walls."
I had met Jim Hoke, about a month after I moved to Nashville. We were both playing a writers night at the Bluebird Cafe. He was playing a clarinet that night, comping another writer and I was there with my 7 string archtop guitar. (Both sort of foreign instruments to the biz of country music, but we weren't from around here and no one told us we couldn't so... ) I have said this many times before (in print and in person ) "If you are recording something and Jim Hoke only gets to play, claves, maracas, cowbell or handclaps on it, you are still going to have a STRONGER cut than if he didn't. And if you use him on Sax, Clarinet, Flute, Guitar, Piano, Steel Guitar, Lap Steel, Full Drum Kit ,or even a Jews Harp .... STAND BACK !!! .... MUSIC comes out of Jim's pores like sulfer comes out of smoke stacks in Secaucus, New Jersey.
Jim had a little home studio in a spare bedroom at his house in Madison back then and I had cut several demos there. One of those demos of my song Behind The 8 Ball Again, had already put the wheels in motion for another newcomer, Joe Diffie in getting signed to Epic records. It was just a Tascam 388 porta studio, with a Shure 57 mic, a small drum machine and keyboard. No real outboard gear to speak of. But what it didn't have, it made up for in both Jim and the other folks I had the good sense to bring in there with me. The recorder pictured here used skinny 1/4 tape for 8 tracks and ran at half the speed commercial machines did. In laymans terms the sound gets kind of squished. Tascam 388 's to my ear always sounded brittle and there was no way to eq that away. But this is what we had and I have longed subscribed to the slogan Berry Gordy had on his Gordy label "It's what's in the grooves that counts"
The other players I brought in for our song were Dave Pomeroy on bass, Russ Pahl on a Tele electric guitar. Besides the killer horn parts Jim programmed his little Roland drum machine, played some piano on his Yamaha DX and I played rhythm on my Guild acoustic. And for the vocal I called in my favorite demo singer (and by then in 1988 the favorite of most every writer in town) Joe Diffie. Joe asked me if I thought a Rock & Roll singer would be better suited for this song. I said to him Joe Trust me you will be more than allright on it. Wood sang some harmony on it too.
In reminiscing with Wood yesterday ( May 31, 2013 ) we both got to listen to Roadhouse for the first time in a mighty long time. We both agree it has held up well over twenty some years ago. But that will happen, when you start out with a strong song, that could still be a hit for someone, somewhere today.
YOU CAN HEAR "ROCK THE ROADHOUSE DOWN" BY CLICKING
Rock The Roadhouse Down
Just A Little South Of Memphis You Don't Need A Compass
Just Across The Mississippi Line
You Bear Off To The Right, Till You See The Neon Light
The Band Starts Crankin' Round Nine
Forget About Your Blues, Bring Your Dancin' Shoes
Let The Music Bring You Around
Rejuvenate Your Soul With Some Good Ol Rock & Roll
And Honey Rock ... Rock The Roadhouse Down
Come on Rock, Rock The Roadhouse Down
There's A Heat In The Beat, There's Never Been A More Powerful Sound
It's One For The Money, It's Ready Or Not
It's Rattlin' The Gravel In The Parking Lot
Honey Rock...Rock The Roadhouse Down
When You Walk In Through The Door
You Feel The Shakin' In The Floor
The Building Bounces Man You Swear It's Alive
The "Smokin' Stokers" * Never Quit
And They Know Every Hit
From '54 To 1965
When The Plaster Starts In Peelin' You Keep Lookin' At The Ceiling"
Hoping That The Rafters Don't Fall
And When Milt The Maniac' Starts Honkin' On The Sax
There Goes Your Windows And Walls ......
Come On Rock, Rock The Roadhouse Down
There's A Heat In The Beat, There's Never Been A More Powerfull Sound
It's One For The Money, It's Boogie Full Tilt
Next Saturday Night, They'll Have The Whole Place Rebuilt
C'mon Rock ... Rock The Roadhouse Down
© 1988 Wood Newton & Ken Spooner
Postscript : "Smokin Stokers" was my tip of the hat to Gordon Stoker of The Jordanaires
Joe also sang another demo for me that same day. This one was a wee bit more country .
Actually it was Western Swing demo called
"IF THE DEVIL DANCED IN EMPTY POCKETS, HE'D HAVE A BALL IN MINE"
Two years later it hit # 1 On The Charts on May 31st 1991