Posted: July 30, 2015
I’m no fan of making music without others or recording only myself playing, or attempting to play all parts, so it was never my intention to record a solo album. There was the intention to complete the New White Trash trilogy with a third album, to be recorded with Mike (Ruppert) and Kristen (Vigard) over the winter of 2013/14. Almost immediately after completing Age Of Authority, I spent that summer of 2013 with the music and twenty-two song sketches formed into enough of a tangible and themed semi-whole to become the final chapter of that trilogy.
These were written at Red Cloud Ranch in Southern Colorado, a place at the far north end of the great San Luis Valley and a stone’s throw west of the Sangre de Cristo’s, known locally as the ‘east range’. Red Cloud Ranch falls between Moffat and the upward rise of Poncha Pass to the north where the Sangre’s meet and merge into a triad with the San Juan range in the west and the Collegiate range due north.
This is big country. At over eight thousand feet, you can kiss the sky. Standing at Red cloud, the fourteen thousand foot peaks of the San Juan’s curve like a backbone trailing off and away to the southwest passing within 10 miles of the ranch at its closest then well beyond a hundred as it diminishes into the lower highlands of north New Mexico. Looking east is a whole other trip. The main thrust of the Sangre de Cristo’s, literally and visually, occurs between Poncha Pass and Mt. Blanca, on a long and jarring outline of almost always snow-capped 14 thousand foot peaks. The range continues south-south-east through New Mexico and flattens south of ABQ, New Mexico. Red Cloud occupies ground on the valley floor and west of Highway 17, or the ‘Cosmic Highway’ as it is known locally. The view from Poncha Pass to Mt. Blanca is unbroken. The peaks at dawn are like sharks teeth sharpening the sun.
There would be no merry music-making that winter. I was away from Colorado in the Bay Area tending to my mother for much of November and December, and when Mike Ruppert departed Red Cloud Ranch in late February of 2014, those twenty-two songs were put aside then buried when he was, in April of that same year after his fatal and self-inflicted gunshot to the head took him down, marking his passing as indelible, his blood-ink drying in a California field somewhere north of San Francisco, a world away from the music we made together and away from the Colorado el rancho we inhabited for that eighteen month frame out on the vast plateau of the San Luis Valley, overlooked by native spirit.
I did then what I have always done, buried the dead and began again, restrung the six-string and searched for the muse of music and sound. There were few visitors that spring and early summer, so time and memory were on my side, moments and scenes that had been, imprints of Mike and of Squishy and Rags, outlines now aligned with some intangible force and muse, hell-bent and insistent.
It was not my intention to record a solo album, or maybe not record at all. But out in the high desert, late at night, stars get struck and demand their say. Another twenty-two songs came from that place and unwound over the summer and through the fall then into winter, 2014. Throughout the making of Clutches, Mike was in and out of thought, a loose association of chemistry, character and disembodied being.
Where we arrive at is never where we’re going. I was shocked but not surprised to hear he did it…pulled the trigger on his own life, ending what for him was a painful odyssey. The hero’s journey is never pretty; it is mostly messy business.
Doug E. Lewis