By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Even Todd Deatherage isn't sure how long it's been. Two years, maybe three. You don't keep track of these things when they're happening to you. Promises and projects come and go like an old man's memory, and years go by. These things happen, and if you're smart, you don't pay too much attention to them. You focus on the future, don't pay attention to the past, and try not to worry about the present. If you're smart, that's what you do.
What would you do if you were Deatherage? Think about it for a second: You get a record deal. Your band breaks up, or you break up the band, or however you want to think about it. You get a new record deal. You record an album. Your label disappears and so does your deal. You find someone else to put out the album, and you decide to re-record it. You finish it again. Kind of. You wait. You finish it for real. You wait some more. That's the picture Deatherage has been looking at, only in much broader strokes. The real thing has the kind of details that are almost excruciating to even think about, the little cuts that bleed you dry. What would you do? What can you do? You either move on, or you don't move at all.
For the most part, that's what Deatherage has been doing since 1999. Or maybe it was 1998. Sitting at a picnic table on the roof of the Dallas Observer's downtown office, squinting into the afternoon sun, he's not positive when it all began. Whatever, it's been a long time, that much is certain. Now, however, Deatherage's new album--Dream Upon a Fallen Star, his first solo effort--is finally in stores, and he can relax a little. As long as he doesn't think about what he had to go through to get Dream Upon a Fallen Star out of his hands and into yours. "Gotta remember to sound upbeat," he says.
"Everything that could go wrong..." Deatherage begins before trailing off. "This has been the hardest thing to put out, I swear. It's bounced from three different labels, recorded twice. We finished recording in October, then Matt went to Europe, so we couldn't mix it until February. It's been mixed and done since February. We sent it off to get mastered, and then the files were bad. Finally, it came back, and we sent the stuff off to Crystal Clear recently, and the artwork had to be fixed up." He laughs. "It's been a big ordeal."
Deatherage may not know exactly when the ordeal began, but it's safe to say it started when The Calways (the band Deatherage was fronting) began working on a new album, following up 1998's Starting at the End. The group made a deal with Pineapple Records to release the disc, but soon enough there was no group and, consequently, no deal. When Deatherage broke up The Calways in late 1999, Pineapple went with it. "That was not a good deal, to put it lightly. I realize I'm being recorded here," Deatherage says, laughing. "We got out of that, and I'm glad we did."
Breaking up the band made sense, if there was even a band to break up; by the end, The Calways were little more than another name for Deatherage. He was the only constant in the four years the group was in existence, and almost all of the songs were his anyway. The other Calways changed with almost every show, leading Deatherage to a decision: If he was already pretty much a solo act, then he might as well make it official.
"We'd gone through so many members," Deatherage says. "I think when I counted it was like 20-something members over a period of four years, just in and out and in and out. I was just like, 'This is ridiculous, because people are going to think it's a band, and every time they show up, someone else is different.' I figured I'd just start going under my name, and so I played solo for a while, then started playing again with a band. And you know that I'm gonna be there, so my name's there." He laughs. "That's a guarantee."
Of course, that doesn't mean Deatherage is working with a completely new cast these days. Dream Upon a Fallen Star reunites The Calways' original lineup, with bassist Todd Pertll and drummer Steve Visneau joining Deatherage on most songs, and both are usually onstage at Deatherage's shows (in addition to another former Calway, Danny Adair). But the new disc takes Deatherage even further back than the beginning of his former band, all the way back to when he first sat down with his guitar and tried to write a song.
At that time, Deatherage was just starting to decide what he wanted to do as a musician. He was a talented guitar player, studying at arts-magnet Booker T. Washington High School. It was there where he met two of his best friends, Matt Hillyer and Drew Flemming (now a member of Deatherage's band). They called themselves the Three Musketeers, Deatherage says, laughing a little at the memory of the trio. ("We'd get into so much trouble every day in school. We were like the teachers' worst nightmare.") Until then, Deatherage was content to stick to classical and jazz, maybe a little blues. He was happy to be a sideman, just another player. But watching Hillyer--who has fronted Lone Star Trio and Strap, and now does the same for Eleven Hundred Springs--gave Deatherage different ideas.