David Egan is Louisiana's most accomplished contemporary blues songwriter. He wrote the anthemic "Sing It," the title track of the Marcia Ball/Irma Thomas/Tracy Nelson album, plus two other tracks on that album.
Etta James just recorded his "Please No More" on her new album, "Let's Roll." Johnny Adams cut "Even Now" on his final album, "Man of My Word." John Mayall, Mavis Staples, Percy Sledge, Joe Cocker and a host of others have covered Egan's songs.
Now, with "20 Years of Trouble," Egan is striking out on his own. The album is a retrospective of Egan's songwriting career dating back to 1978.
"For me going in to make two or three demos was like making my version of 'The White Album,'" he explained. "I always took it really seriously. In making demos in pursuit of seeking covers I made some performances that would have been hard to top. Luckily I made them on ADAT so I was able to go back and Pro-Tool them, doctor them up a little bit, re-do some vocals, freshen things up. Then I had an idea for the song '20 Years of Trouble.' When I completed that song I knew I had the title cut that could tie all these songs together because they're all about trouble and betrayal, heartache and all that good stuff. That's not the only kind of song I write but I used all of these songs because they fit that theme.
"My wife and I have put every resource we have into this album," Egan notes. "We sold the whole pig. We had already sold an ear and a tail but this time we sold the whole pig. We sold the net. We're working without a net now.
"There are so many revelations that came together putting out this album. I had been a team player, a sideman, doing everything by vote and by committee throughout my whole career and I finally felt it was time to do something on my own terms, where I didn't have to suffer through the vote of the dumbest guy in the band. If it's a mistake it's my mistake, I'm calling the shots this time. I'm going to have my own band in addition to Little Band of Gold. Charles Adcock, who put Little Band of Gold together, he's got his own band, and Steve Riley has his own band."
When you write as well as Egan does, you might as well be making your own records.
"I would call my original material contemporary blues," he said. "It's blues that generally has more than three chords. I rely heavily on folk ideas, folk themes, myth and all that kind of good stuff, I draw on that heavily. I just try to put a few more chords to it rather than just do the same 12 bar blues over and over. I don't know if I do one original 12 bar blues."
Egan probably wouldn't have gotten the idea to go out on his own if it wasn't for the success of "Sing It."
"I had a big charge writing three songs for the 'Sing It!' record, which was Marcia Ball, Irma Thomas and Tracy Nelson, three women who I admire very much," he said. "It was a huge home run and an honor to be their little darling songwriter on that album. They sang my praises from coast to coast. Marcia with her band sang my song 'Sing It' at the White House for President Clinton."
So how do you write a great blues song?
"I don't have a regular regimen," he admits. "At one time I was working out of that book 'The Artist's Way' and I was doing my morning pages pretty regularly for a while and I thought that it really helped. I think I had a good creative period while I was doing that and I know it's there for me to do that discipline again. Just like I know that meditation and yoga is there for me if I would only do it, but right now I've got a 2 1-2 year old and I'm 49 years old and I'm gigging and I'm trying to build a solo career and remember to say sweet things to my life. It's a crazy life.
"I write when the spirit moves me and often times that happens when I'm behind the wheel. I'm thinking mainly words and rhythm, almost like rap. Words and rhythm and melody seem to come all at once. I do lose some lyrics if I don't get to write 'em down pretty quickly. I'll kind of keep plotting it out in my head, I might be on the periphery of a band conversation, then when I get to a room I'll get it down. When I get to a piano I'll start fleshing it out harmonically, playing the chords and singing the melody the way I was hearing it. Usually I'll have some happy accidents and I'll find a new harmonic aspect of it that I can use to the betterment of the song."