A ROMANTIC HEART

ME & MARY SMELLIE AT DANCE 1964

(It’s 1964. And my young romantic heart is already out of control. Here I am, on the left, dancing with my girlfriend Mary at a junior high school dance, probably to “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Cryin”. Poor girl. I know I drove her crazy with my intensity.)

A romantic heart. There just ain’t no stopping it.

If you’re born with one, chances are you will do things like fall in love extra-super-crazy deep, write poems, songs and long love letters, defend your chosen causes with the stubbornness of a lion, identify with heroic guys like Odysseus, writers like James Joyce, William Faulkner and Dylan Thomas, activists like John Muir, Russell Means, Martin Luther King and actors like James Dean, Robert DeNiro and Marlon Brando. In other words, you usually go over the top with things.

GRAYSON EASY RIDER MOPED DUDE ON BLOCK ISLAND 1978 copy 3

(And here I am, in 1978, channeling Marlon Brando in “The Wild Ones”.)

I remember, at the tender age of 14, when I was in pain after my girlfriend broke up with me, my mom telling me “Grayson, you need to develop a lighter touch.”

“Huh? A lighter touch? What the heck is that, and how do you do it?”

It was always all or nothing with me. Full steam ahead or don’t even go there. The down side of this is, of course, a tendency to either suffocate or ignore people, to be so stubborn as to be oblivious to those around you.  I like to think that, with age, I have tempered this tendency somewhat. My wife would be able give a more honest opinion about whether or not I have succeeded.

One good thing about an intense, romantic heart is, if you’re an artist, it gives you a tremendous amount of inspiration, imagination and concentration to work on whatever is obsessing you at any one given time.

And I was really very fortunate, blessed really, to have parents that encouraged my musical aspirations from an early age. I think that was because both of them were involved in the arts themselves. When I chose to leave high school early and get my G.E.D. they only insisted I get a day job to support myself, which I did, in addition to making money in my various bands at night.

In 1986, before I was signed to RCA, living part time in Manhattan and Hartford, Connecticut, I was writing songs in earnest, determined to get a record deal. One night I had an interesting and very vivid dream. I dreamt I was playing what looked like an African mallet instrument called a balafon, but the sound coming out of it was the “plucked organ” sound I had created on my Korg Poly 61 synthesizer. The notes exploded in the air like seed pods, releasing percussive bombs of chords. And the chords were just rolling out, already composed.

There was also a background harmony part being sung by some woman, unseen but heard distinctly. When I woke I knew that music was a middle-of-the-verse section.

Excited, I got out of bed and rushed over to my Korg synth that was set up with a small amp in the hallway. On my primitive little boombox, with no microphone, I recorded what I had dreamt onto a cassette tape. The first line “Father said to the son, boy, what is your intention?” appeared in my mind immediately and the rest of the song wrote itself very quickly, probably in about an hour.

Little did I know that song would lead off my RCA album “Blind To Reason” that would be released over a year later.

GRAYSON HUGH AND THE WILDTONES (with Polly) 1983 copy 2

(1982, Grayson Hugh & The Wild Tones, in front of the building in Hartford CT where I had that “Romantic Heart” dream. Coincidentally – or was it? – standing next to me is my future wife Polly Messer, who now loves to sing those harmonies of “Romantic Heart” when we perform it!)

In place of that dream African instrument I used my Korg Poly 61 plucked organ sound. I also played piano. The backup harmony part from the dream was sung not by a woman, but by a guy with a great falsetto, Joe Adams of The Flames (who later went out on tour with me). We beefed up those backgrounds with the other members of the Flames: Donald Richardson, John Sykes and Nate Burgess. On bass we used the incomparable Fernando Saunders, whose tuned-down nimble fingers and muted-thumping runs were such a wonderful effect for the choruses. On guitar we had the equally masterful Ira Siegel. I asked my good friend Joey Cardello to add some timbales. With Axel Kroell (who co-produced with Michael Baker) programming the drums and some other sounds, we had a record!

GRAYSON HUGH RCA PRESS PHOTO bigger copy

(RCA 1988, Promo shot for “Blind To Reason”. Doing my best Elvis impression.)

One of the reasons I managed to get signed to RCA Records in the first place, was because I would not “settle for nothing less than the dream”. I followed my soul’s trail stubbornly and tenaciously, camping out on army cots in basements and on people’s couches, with barely enough money for a subway ride and a cup of coffee, for a good two years before the right set of ears was put in my path.

So I’m here to tell you, it’s true, and it’s a good thing. There just ain’t no stopping a romantic heart.

And if they try to make you stop it, don’t listen.

Follow your dream.

To hear “Romantic Heart” click HERE.

••• words & music by Grayson Hugh •••

Father said to the son
boy what is your intention
boy says I don’t know
but it’s my invention
all these years hanging around here
now it’s high time
and I wish you’d make it clear
what you’re going to do with your life
and I know you want to make it right
father, it’s not the usual road
that I’ve taken

Man said to a woman
I want to share my life with you
that’s the way that I feel
ain’t nothing else left to do
it’s so real, it’s so true
words of old, when you say them you make them new
and be there for each other
always love one another
baby, that’s the way true love should be

Don’t you know it’s black or white
there ain’t no in between
I don’t want to settle for
nothing less than the dream
no such thing as halfway baby
you knew it from the start
there just ain’t no stopping a romantic heart

Might take a while
might take a lifetime too
to figure out what it was
you were put here to do
some people never know
if you only let the seed inside of you grow
what you were dreaming of
I know you’ll get there soon enough
baby that’s the way true love should be

Don’t you know it’s black or white
there ain’t no in between
I don’t want to settle for
nothing less than the dream
no such thing as halfway baby
you knew it from the start
there just ain’t no stopping a romantic heart

© 1988, 2009 Swamp Yankee Music/ASCAP

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