Tender Mercies Had 20 Years Of Timing Just Right
By Mike Duffy
Even though Tender Mercies had a box of songs that essentially sat dormant for 20 years, the band’s eponymous debut album feels both vintage and fresh at the same time.
Perhaps that’s what happens when a group traces its beginnings to the thriving music scene of the early 1990s coupled with perspective that only maturation can bring.
“What I love about music are the timeless songs, those that can live in any era,” guitarist Dan Vickrey told Fender.com.
But to fully understand the sensibilities behind the band and record, one must look backwards.
Beginning in San Francisco’s Hotel Utah, Vickrey was an aspiring musician when he hooked up with venue promoter and fellow musician Patrick Winningham.
|Tender Mercies’ debut album|
Through Winningham, Vickrey joined a lineup that included keyboard player Charlie Gillingham, who was in several bands throughout the Bay Area, and bass player Kurt Stevenson.
During their early sessions, the shape of Tender Mercies began to form, but music would not see wax before Gillingham’s life would change – and Vickrey’s shortly thereafter.
A year or two after the quartet got together, Gillingham left to join a new band called Counting Crows.
Fast forward to 1993, when the Crows were looking for another guitarist. Gillingham called Vickrey and asked him to audition, and the rest is history.
Smash hit “Mr. Jones” helped drive August and Everything After to become the fastest selling album since Nirvana’s Nevermind, and Tender Mercies was now the band in need of another axe-man.
Over the next 10 years of solid touring, Vickrey continued to play several of those Winningham collaborations with Counting Crows, occasionally working them into their live show.
“I’ve played that song ‘Safe and Sound’ for Gil Martin for the making of Recovering the Sattelites, and our producer, who did the Pixies as well, was like, ‘That’s great man. You’ve always got that.’ That kind of stayed with me,” Vickrey said. “They were always going to be there. ‘Four White Stallions’ and ‘Mercy’ made it into the Crows live shows.
“Last summer, I was playing ‘Safe and Sound’ at the Crows live shows.”
As the Crows’ schedule slowed down, Vickrey finally reconnected with Winningham and Stevenson, adding Crows drummer Jim Bogios to play clubs as a resurrected band.
The next step was to actually start recording, and Vickrey noted that it only took eight sessions at his place to achieve the final product.
“We just said, ‘Man, we should start playing clubs again.’ So, that’s what we did,” said Vickrey. “Next thing you know, I thought we should put these songs out. I bought a Pro Tools rig and recorded them basically live in one of the rooms in my house.
“There was something about this session where we were thinking, ‘Oh, this is a record.’ We were just putting them down in one or two takes. They’re basically live. We just played them, and that was it. As a guitar player, it’s some of my favorite playing.”
The result is a record that is a mix of honest blues, twangy alt-country and emotional harmonies informed by the band’s pastiche of musical interests.
“Kurt’s very much into gospel and traditional music,” laughed Vickrey. “Patrick is a huge Dylan/Band fan, and I’m kind of all over the map. We’re all big music fans in general. That’s always going to creep in.”
In a sense, Vickrey believe the band’s patience paid off. After years of sitting on them, the timing was somehow just right.
“I do think that the songs could have benefitted of the timing,” Vickrey said. “I listen to them now and say, ‘You know what? I can’t imagine a better version. What would it be?’ Usually, you do a record and wish you would have done something else.
“This time, I’m asking, ‘Man, how and why did I do that? Thank God I did.’ It’s fun and it fits the music in a great way.”