Q&A: Tom Gray of Delta Moon
By Matt Wake
February 10, 2010
Delta Moon’s Tom Gray offers this analogy to explain how he had Mark Johnson keep their dual slide guitars from becoming a wank-fest. “It’s kind of like driving in traffic. You can go where you’re going, but you have to watch where the other guy’s going, too.”
Based in Decatur, Ga., Delta Moon’s blues-tinged song began in the parking lot of Midtown Music, a now-defunct Atlanta retailer. That’s where Gray, a lap steel specialist, and Johnson, a Ry Cooder devotee, first met. Drummer Darren Stanley and bassist Franher Joseph joined the fold in 2007.
Red Parlor Records will drop the band’s latest album, Hellbound Train, April 6. Dirt-road vocals and firefly bottleneck highlight the title track. “Room 429” sounds like an outtake from the Keith Richards solo albums of the late-80s and early-90s, while the plaintive ballad “Plantation Boy” ponders race issues.
Tom, you wrote the song “Money Changes Everything,” which was a hit for Cyndi Lauper. Did you ever kick it with her any back in the day?
She’s a great writer herself. Went up to New York, co-wrote a few songs that were on later albums and hung out for a while. This is back in the ’80s when she was on top of the world. She was writing in a loft she had at that time downtown in Manhattan. It was touching in a way…she didn’t want anyone to find out where she lived because there would be crowds around her house. We went out to a bar together and I turned around and there were faces all pressed against the windows of the bar, looking at us in there. It was kind of strange…another world.
Who would be your dream artist, dead or alive, to cover one of your tunes?
Wouldn’t it be fun to have Elvis do one? Especially in one of his movies, dancing by the swimming pool and singing my song.
Because you started as a keyboard player, did that make learning lap steel, another horizontally oriented instrument, easier?
That’s it exactly, I think. I always enjoyed playing guitar but never got really good at it. It just never really connected with me, but when I started playing the lap steel it seemed so natural to me. It was like, “Where has this been all my life?”
What’s the story behind your song “Stuck in Carolina?”
The idea is a guy’s gone up to the Cherokee casino and lost all his money. Everybody loved him the first day he was there, and now it’s the second and third day, and he’s got no money, can’t get home, all the people he thought loved him are gone and he’s stuck there.
You covered Fred McDowell’s track “You Got to Move,” which the Stones made famous with their version on their classic “Sticky Fingers” album, for “Hell Bound Train.” What do you think made Fred’s music so powerful?
It’s simple and direct and honest, and I think that’s always powerful.
What’s a big lesson you learned from your major label days on Mercury Records?
When we signed to the label, we had an A&R person who signed who was very much behind the band, the president of the label was very much behind the band, and we went into the studio to record with Steve Lillywhite producing…
And by the time we finished, everyone at the label was gone. Phillips had bought Polygram, and Mercury got folded into Polygram. They fired everyone from the president to the receptionist. All brand new people and nobody knew who we were. Steve told me it was the first time he’d ever made a record and nobody from the label even bothered to come by the studio.
Steve had worked with The Stones by then, right?
Yeah, he had done a Stones record. At the time he came to us he had just done a Peter Gabriel record. After he did our first album, he said, “I’m going to work with a bunch of kids from Ireland, a band called U2.” They were all 17-years-old. That was 1980.
Delta Moon plays Gottrocks Feb. 12. For more information, call 864-235-5519 or visit www.deltamoon.com.