Tasting Blood and Seeing Stars

We have only eight copies left of Delta Moon’s CD Black Cat Oil. I’ve talked with Steven Goff, the head of Red Parlor Records, our American label for that 2012 release, and we’re not going to press any more. Of course, the album will live on in digital form, through downloads and streaming.

I’m glad it’s finally selling out. The reviews were good, but not everyone was a fan of Black Cat Oil. The band experimented with some different recording techniques, looking for a darker sound. When we turned in the album, Steven Goff thought it was way too dark, yet to his credit he still put it out. Even Mark Johnson said, “You’ve got to admit, your songwriting changed after you had cancer.”

Well, perhaps it did. That sort of thing will leave a mark. In October 2009 I came off an extraordinarily miserable flight from Copenhagen to Atlanta and went straight into the hospital to undergo emergency surgery for colon cancer. Just a few weeks later I was back on stage, sitting on a stool and wearing a plastic bag. Within a year I was able to get rid of both. Then the cancer came back. I checked into the hospital for a total colectomy the same day my friend Charles Wolff went into hospice with pancreatic cancer. The last thing he said to me was, “I hope I see you again.” Not long after that, twenty pounds lighter and with a belly full of staples, I played “I’ll Fly Away” on a dulcimer at Charles’s memorial service.

That was the time of Black Cat Oil. Maybe the songs did come out dark, although I tried to pack into the lyrics every ray of hope and sunshine I could clutch at. It’s an album of fighting, not whining —but of sometimes “tasting blood and seeing stars.”

Last summer at the Kitchener Blues Festival in Ontario I met a woman with her head wrapped in a kerchief. She was going through chemotherapy for breast cancer.  She told me that one thing that had helped her get through the experience was listening to Delta Moon’s Black Cat Oil. She said, “There’s something about that album that really speaks to me.”

I said, “You know, I was on chemo when I wrote a lot of those songs.”

“I can believe that,” she said. “Thank you for doing it.”

And that’s what it’s all about, right there. A musician’s life has many rewards, not all of them financial. We make our music and send it out into the world and rarely know how it may touch the lives of others. But every now and then, when we do hear back, it is both fulfilling and humbling.

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