As you know, almost all of the songs we write tell stories. We want to share those stories with you. Just as we did for the songs on our first CD 13, we’ll post the story behind each song on our new CD Again here for you to read. The plan is to feature one song each week for the next 11 weeks.
Here is the story behind Scarlet at Midnight as related by Clark Hansbarger.
The song “Scarlet at Midnight”
Ginger and I found ourselves down in the Delta last year, driving back from an art show in Jackson, Mississippi. We swung over to Vicksburg to talk to folks there about booking the Civil War show, then headed up river to Clarksdale looking for some blues. We booked a room in this place we’d heard about called the Shack Up Inn and arrived there after dark.
The Shack Up Inn is a group of sharecropper shacks spread out around a cotton mill that’s been refurbished as a blues bar. Each shack is outfitted with old everything, from the bed to the washstands, kind of like staying in some crazy old uncle’s hunting cabin. Very cool indeed.
Clarksdale is ground zero for the blues. At the outskirts of town are the crossroads where Robert Johnson reputedly sold his soul to the devil in exchange for guitar picking talents. We spent a few days driving around the country, checking out the old plantations and dancing at Red’s—a notoriously ragged roadhouse where rain pours through holes in the roof and you’d rather pee outside than use what passes for the bathroom.
We had fun; and the catfish was delicious.
The Delta has a strange third-world feel—a dark energy that stays with you, sort of dangerous and haunting. Something about the heat and the proximity to the Gulf and the music and knowing that a huge river crouches like a beast just on the other side of the levee leaves you with a sense of bad possibilities. Anyway, that’s what prompted this song.
Scarlet at Midnight is a lost man’s fantasy. It’s a self-apocalyptic journey full of ominous longing. Let me get this one thing straight: it’s not my fantasy; I found my Scarlet a while ago. But this guy is driving south, looking for something we all doubt he’ll find.
When we first tried Scarlet out, we struggled until Gary came up with the poly-rhythm. I strum the song in a straight four beat—1,2,3,4. Gary thought if Mike played the conga in threes up against the four—1,2,3 (tri-ple-it)—the song would take on a tribal feel, which it does. Once Mike and I locked into the counter rhythms, Gary and Allen then dance around the vocals, accenting and echoing, giving the song lots of room to breath and develop toward its rather raucous come hell or high water ending.
I’m not sure what all of the lyrics mean. They arrived as many of my songs do as a stream of consciousness. The lyrics trace a series of sensations and observations our singer experiences as he gets closer to that muddy strange land at the end of the Mississippi.