Recently, singer/songwriter and Producer Scott Fisher released a cover of the Bob Marley song “She’s Gone” featuring bassist and Producer Tim Lefebvre (David Bowie, The Black Crowes, John Mayer, Elvis Costello). The project had an interesting twist in that Fisher brought guitar, vocals, and Wurtlizer piano to bear on a cover inspired by a much lesser known demo version of the original song. This meant that Fisher’s version included an introduction and B section that were later removed from Marley’s 1978 studio release. That brought to mind the question: Why, exactly, had he found the demo version compelling enough to record a new arrangement inspired by it?
Though Scott Fisher has a long history of recording original songs, in recent years his two latest albums have shown an exploration of songs by other writers, including 2019’s Songs of Jerry Garcia and Others and 2021’s 93 Million Miles, the latter of which deftly weaves arrangements of songs by Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan in among original tracks. I had never really managed to ask him about this wider development in his work, so when he released “She’s Gone”, I posed the question: “Why and how do you choose songs for arrangement?” I expected a pull quote that I might include when spreading the word about “She’s Gone”.
It turned out that this was a bigger question and a bigger answer for Scott Fisher than would fit into a soundbyte, and it was a story he was ready to tell. Wildfire is very pleased to print in full Scott Fisher’s autobiographical essay, “The Cover Song”, which you can read below.
The Cover Song
By Scott Fisher
Finding a cover song is an interesting question. I’ve never thought much about the process till recently.
As a younger man, “cover songs” as we call them, or reinterpreting another songwriter’s work, seemed out of the question for me at the time.
As adolescents, my musical friends and I were always clumsily dissecting famous tunes as we learned how to play our own instruments and began writing songs of our own. With the irrational confidence and bravado that only a young person can truly possess, we scribbled down the chords to classic and contemporary songs with the goal of making our own original music, eventually. Whether it was Hendrix, The Beatles, Curtis Mayfield, Bob Marley, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, Jeff Buckley or Ben Folds, soon enough these artists led us down the path to more sonically diverse and obscure musical artists.
For me as a young piano player, it was Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Thelonious Monk and all of the Jazz and fusion music that ensued from these lineages.
Young musicians tend to have a bit of a snobbery, certainty about what is relevant and meaningful to them, and they often project it outwards. Some embraced the melodies and sloppy charm of Pavement, others the incomparable originality and melancholy of Elliot Smith. In Portland, Oregon, in the early 1990’s, Alt country music was popular, gaining in relevance and possessing some cultural cachet.
From my perspective and in my teenage brain, it was all about the great improvisers. Only they could possess the “true musicianship” which could legitimize one as a “real” musician.
Oddly, or predictably, for me now, it’s exclusively about the heart and not the head. It’s about the emotion, the feel of music, not the technicality.
I grasp now, years later, what so many wise people had tried to tell me as young man. As with many things in life, we have to arrive at certain realizations in our own way, in our own time. The pressure from within and without as I was coming of age discouraged the remaking of other people’s songs; not to mention the financial disincentive for not owning the songwriting and publishing on a particular project.
As my ideas softened and my tastes evolved, I came to love the interpretation of other people’s work. My first cover song was released in 2019, on a record that consisted almost completely of other writers’ music. After so many recordings, I finally became extremely passionate about the cover song.
Not only was it a lovely learning process, but it also allowed my music to be heard by many who might otherwise never choose to listen.
I found the scaffolding of these amazing songs a wonderful way to be creative within the lines of a tried and true classic piece of music. There is freedom in working within the undeniable truth and beauty of others’ work that I greatly respect.
How did I come to chose a particular cover song? Fundamentally, I wanted to make something that I would be excited to hear and share with others. Whether it was adding a more modern groove and syncopation to Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” or unearthing an unreleased demo of Bob Marley’s “She’s Gone,” from which he had cut an intro and B section from his studio release. These songs spoke to me deeply through both their melodies and masterful lyricism.
In the case of “She’s Gone” I loved the slightly slower swinging feel that the demo had. The melancholy of the lyric spoke to me even more deeply through the demo version. On my latest LP of mostly originals 93 Million Miles, I fell in love with a version of Bob Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate.” As fans of Jerry Garcia noticed, I was seduced by Jerry’s live version of this track that he had re-arranged in a different key with several gospel influenced songwriting tricks.
This new melodic and harmonic arrangement combined with Dylan’s unparalleled lyrics and storytelling were what drew me to this particular track and I couldn’t resist recording it. It’s the emotional connection to a song that will draw me towards it and sometimes there is a special song that organically finds its way to my fingers and onto a record.
There is an unexpected connection that some listeners have to a cover song that I find very satisfying. This thread of connection between myself and the listener through our shared love of a given song with its emotional impact is yet another gift of the cover song.
To my surprise though, it hasn’t always been the most popular cover songs that have worked for me when recording.
On my 2019 LP, I did a somewhat obscure song by the great producer and songwriter Daniel Lanois called “The Maker.” The song, which was recorded for his debut solo album and released in 1989, has been covered by Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson and others. Still, my version of this beautiful and lesser-known track has been streamed almost 300,000 times on Spotify alone. I often wonder how many of the thousands of people who stream, save, and add “The Maker” to a playlist around the world have ever heard of Daniel Lanois.
Surely, I am most often the beneficiary of connecting myself to these talented artists by interpreting their work. But in rare cases, I am helping someone discover a song or artist that they might never have known without this lovely exercise of “The cover.”