Saturday, July 20, 2013

I Can't Make You Love Me

Turn down the lights, turn down the bed 
Turn down these voices inside my head 
Lay down with me, tell me no lies 
Just hold me close, don't patronize - don't patronize me 

Cause I can't make you love me if you don't 
You can't make your heart feel something it won't 
Here in the dark, in these final hours 
I will lay down my heart and I'll feel the power 
But you won't, no you won't 
'Cause I can't make you love me, if you don't 

I'll close my eyes, then I won't see 
The love you don't feel when you're holding me 
Morning will come and I'll do what's right 
Just give me till then to give up this fight 
And I will give up this fight 

Cause I can't make you love me if you don't 
You can't make your heart feel something it won't 
Here in the dark, in these lonely hours 
I will lay down my heart and I'll feel the power 
But you won't, no you won't 
'Cause I can't make you love me, if you don't

Earlier this summer,  our family was treated to a wonderful roughly-annual gathering of family and friends in Bloomsburg Pennsylvania that we call the "Bloom in June" party.  This is an outdoor blowout on the banks of the Susquehanna river that lasts all weekend.  Drinks are a big part of the event, food is sometimes an afterthought,  but the star of the show is the music.  There are musicians far and wide:  professionals, amateurs, and those who will get up the nerve after a few drinks.   This year the music was exceptionally good.

We were treated to the headlining efforts of the up and coming band from North Carolina named  New Sweat.   Please check out their web site if you get a chance.  You'll be blown away.

At one point during the weekend,  I had the pleasure of playing an R&B slow jams set with two of the members of New Sweat.  It was Doug McCullough on vocals and Fender Rhodes (sound),  me on jazz guitar,  and Taylor Cummings on drums.  That was a blast!

One of the songs that we did that really stuck with me was I Can't Make You Love Me.   This, of course, is one of the most popular songs ever,  and is described by many song writers as the song that they wish they had written.   The song was written in 1991 by Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin, and immortalized by Bonnie Raitt on her Luck of the Draw album. I don't play guitar much anymore, but I will tell you... that song sounded sooo sweet as an R&B slow jam with jazz soloing.

It got me to wondering whether it was possible to do that song completely as a jazz-influenced instrumental.
In my mind you could not do the normal jazz cover things with this song.   With a normal jazz cover,  you would choose a song that was interesting harmonically to start with, and then make more interesting chord substitutions.  Then you would use the first verse to expose the melody,  while launching into improvisation directions that might make the song difficult to identify in subsequent verses.   All the while, the rhythmic motif is most likely radically different than the original.

Well,  none of that will work here.  This song is defined by the beauty of the lyrics and how the rising and falling dynamics flow with the simple melody and harmony.  It is all in one key with little differentiation.  If you are going to make it work,  the listener has to be singing it in her/his head the entire time.   The (unsung) lyrics and the essential dynamics have to be there otherwise it is lost.

So here is what I set out to do:

Use the piano as the lead vocalist.  The piano part needed to stay true to the melody throughout,  while also playing the role of the traditional piano comp part.  There were some additional new voicings thrown in but not much.

The drums and bass  kept to a country flavored rhythm that was pretty similar to the original Bonnie Raitt version.

The guitar part needed to act as the background singer,  providing harmony on the "vocals".   I heard this done to great effect by instrumentalists on a cut of this tune by Kevin Mahogany.  The background singer also doubled the "vocals" in many instances.    I also needed to provide some additional backing color by noodling around so that some sections didn't get too boring (not sure if I succeeded).

Then I needed to play the big guitar solo in the middle.   This was quite a technical trial.  I have never figured out how to record my guitar.  I have been recording the piano with a cheap plastic Zoom H2  recorder all of this time,  and it has done the job OK.  It just does not work for the guitar,  however.  There is always noise,  cracks, clipping,  fading and just generally poor sound quality.  So I was determined to actually figure out how to record directly into the computer.    It was not easy,  I will tell you that!

The first thing that I figured out is that I already had an incredible piece of software called Amplitube,  that came with Band-In-a-Box.  If you can actually get your guitar recorded  with a good clean signal,  you can digitally add almost any kind of amps/pedals/effects to it,  as though you had the equipment.

For this recording,  I am using my DeAngelico New Yorker jazz guitar with all Country audio hardware for the "Country Quarter Pulse" sound that you see depicted below.        

That is all well and good,  except I had no way to get a clean recording into the computer in the first place.  For this I had to get something called a Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 Audio interface.   I plug the guitar into it and it plugs into the computer via a USB cable.   I then had to figure out how to get this to work with the Realband product,  the Amplitube plugin and all of the various drivers.  I wanted to hang myself!  The irony is that after days of being able to spend a couple of minutes at a time,  when I finally figured it out,  the guitar solo was a one-take-wonder.  Maybe I should have spent more time on that part of it :-)

Bonnie Raitt

Kevin Mahogany

Geek Alert

Yes,  I know the song is kind of long.   It is only twice through,  but I did find four bars here and there to remove from  my arrangement.   Eight  bars are removed in total.  You may also notice that the drum beat changes just during the solo.   In order to make sure that the song dynamics hit home, I added cymbal rolls and bell trees in the appropriate spots.   As usual, dogs and people slamming doors can always be heard if you listen closely :-)

Final Update 

Here is a head-scratcher.  I have been hosting my MP3 files on Dropbox for this blog.  When I upload my cover of I Can't Make You Love Me,  the public link only work for a couple of hours and then just seems to be disabled.  Even if I rename the song to something unrecognizable, the same thing happens.   I have a feeling that Dropbox is programmatically searching  for songs ripped from CDs and then shared to the public.  Then disabling the links that it finds.   I can still download and play it privately, just not publicly. Maybe I should be honored that they mistook my song for the real thing!  I switched to another hosting site and hopefully this works.  


  1. Ken,
    You achieved your desired result!
    The piano is now providing the lead and the guitar solo provides beautiful contrast.
    The cymbal roles, guitar supportive passages, and solid band background combine to make a cohesive whole.
    Now that you have a way to make the guitar sound so good, you may want to include it in some of your future jazz recordings.
    Keep up the great work!!!

    1. Simply put that was great, production, arrangement and playing.

  2. Thank you so much Russ and Ed for your encouraging comments!