Songwriters devote album to baseball
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Dusk is setting on a cool evening at Yankee Stadium, as Yankee pitcher Andy Pettitte sets down the San Diego Padres. Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey, two songwriters behind new band The Baseball Project, are doing what they love: sipping beer and talking baseball and music.
The Baseball Project is celebrating the release of its first album, “Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails,” on Yep Roc Records earlier this month. It is a record solely about baseball, which is not a subject people might associate with veteran rockers like McCaughey and Wynn.
The subject turns to “walk-on” music — music baseball players select to be played on stadium loudspeakers when they come up to bat — that McCaughey and Wynn might select for themselves if they were ball players.
Wynn says, “Maybe ‘Waiting For My Man,” a song by the Velvet Underground about a dope addict and his dealer.
Scott McCaughey quips, “All right, I’ll pick ‘Sister Ray,”‘ referring to a 17-minute Velvet Underground song consisting primarily of abrasive white noise and off color lyrics.
McCaughey is a founding member of the Young Fresh Fellows and currently a sideman with R.E.M. Wynn is an original member of the Dream Syndicate, who helped pioneer the so-called Paisley Underground sound in Los Angeles in the early 1980s.
Other Baseball Project band members include drummer Linda Pitmon, who also plays with the likes of Freedy Johnston and John Wesley Harding. R.E.M.’s Peter Buck plays guitar throughout the album.
Wynn and McCaughey knew of each other’s bands throughout the 1980s, but didn’t actually meet until Wynn passed through McCaughey’s home town of Seattle.
“According to Steve, we met in a rock club. Probably in the urinal in a rock club where all the great summits occur,” McCaughey said. “But I was a fan and had seen him play many times, and we have plenty of mutual friends, so it was just a matter of time.”
Wynn recalls, “The funny thing is we didn’t talk much about baseball until last year. We were at R.E.M.’s Hall of Fame induction party. And we talked about baseball for hours. Somewhere in that conversation we both mentioned that we wanted to do a record about baseball.”
Wynn found himself talking about the album with friends incessantly, until Pitmon said, “You better stop talking about this record and actually make it before someone else does.”
McCaughey sent Wynn three songs: “Sometimes I Dream Of Willie Mays,” “Past Time,” and “Satchel Paige.” Three days later, Wynn completed five songs of his own.
Rather than trafficking in sports cliches, the album sets its sights on lesser known stories and players such as pitcher Jack McDowell, who won the Cy Young award in 1993, but who is perhaps better known for making an obscene gesture to a Yankee Stadium crowd after they booed him in 1995.
Wynn believes his songs are as autobiographical as anything he’s ever written. In particular, he points to “Gratitude,” a paean to Curt Flood, whose legal challenge to the reserve clause helped usher in the age of free agency. The reserve clause bound a player to his team, even after his contract expired, until he was traded or released.
“The song is about how difficult it is to be the sacrificial lamb — the one that paves the way for something that is not an easy cause. Everybody else benefits from what you did,” Wynn said.
“These are things that could be felt as if someone who started in indie rock in 1982, playing in all the punk rock clubs in the 1980s,” he added. “I wrote about it from a place I could understand.”
Both Wynn and McCaughey already are stockpiling songs for Volume 2. Wynn has a song in the works about Cal Ripken, the Hall of Fame shortstop who holds the record for consecutive games played.
The thrust of the song? “The guy’s greatest accomplishment is that he went to work every day,” Wynn laughs. “What’s so great about that?”
Songwriters devote album to baseball