Jay Ward (aka "dogbrain")
Jay Ward was a collaborator who, more often than not, found his own voice and wrote his best songs on his own.
The first song we wrote together was "Apartment 8". I heard a groove he threw my way, and the song spilled out. Everett Bradley did the first version, Jay ended up singing it on his "dogbrain: Nest" album ten years later. And from thereon, we collaborated on a boatload of songs, we scrapped up some commissions and film or theater placements. At first, I pretty much took the reigns on concept and lyrics because I loved his grooves so much, and he had so many of them--they always triggered new ideas--and no matter how "out there" they were (aka, the chorus for "My Reprieve" that hit me within 2 minutes of hearing the groove), he rarely flinched.
However, at some point, maybe ten years into ducking in and out of writing together, he asked me a question, since, at that point just with our songs, I was more or less steering the lyric concepts. He asked me, with a trace of the stutter that he had struggled with all his life (and that we made use of in Apartment 8, without me barely thinking about it embracing something painful to him), 'Don, have you ever considered writing about... yourself?"
Now, just because I set songs in an execution chamber ("My Reprieve") or a oFrankenstein-like studio/laboratory ("Wreck"), didn't necessarily mean I wasn't writing about myself. But Jay, on his own, built his songs in a different way. He had been a cabinet maker, and then slowly and surely built his own studio, and he was one who would slowly but surely try his best (despite my manic efforts) to build a song from the ground (or grounded) up.
The proof of that was his album "dogbrain: Nest", an album that he thankfully kept me out of writing-wise (I tried to co-write a few, but they fell flat). He did run about 50 versions of each song by me for opinions, and generally took in about maybe 8 percent of what I suggested.
He made "dogbrain: Nest", an EP, in 2015. He never played out/toured and there weren't many tools to promote the album, but a few months in to the release, Robert Christgau lent his ears on it, and gave it a review that finally put Jay on at least some kind of map---a place I thought I'd have, by championing his talent, helped put him on a decade before.
Jay died a year after
dogbrain: Nest was released.
Below are some songs we wrote together. But the last bunch of them include three songs from his album "dogbrain: Nest" that he wrote on his own, and then the full "dogbrain: Blue Dog" album, all his, Jay at his finest--writing, producing, his national steel, bass, him writing about his life.
(coming... in prog. 3.3.2020).