The Arrow You Want
Writer: Mark Bittner
Mark Bittner: vocal
Chris Doering: electric rhythm and lead guitars, song arranger
Bruce Gordon: keyboard
John Lee Sanders: alto and tenor saxes, sax arrangement
John Quell: baritone sax
Paul Olguin: bass
John Hanes: drums
“The Arrow You Want” is a highly compressed retelling of my book Street Song, through a particular lens—the movement away from the failure of romanticism toward real love.
My original version of the song was quite different from what we ended up recording. I wrote it as an exercise in melody with what was for me a slightly more advanced chord structure. It was “jazzish,” but in a “folky” way—sort of like James Taylor. Because the chords were difficult for me to play smoothly, I asked an accomplished, guitar-playing friend, Chris Doering, to come up with a part, while I focused on singing. Chris put a lot more work into the song than I was anticipating, coming up with two parts—a strum pattern and a rhythm chop—both on electric guitar. He’d changed the song considerably, transforming it into what I heard as a nightclub blues. Nightclub blues was about as far from my singing experience as you could get, and it made me feel uneasy. But he’d put so much work into it, adding a passing chord that, to my ears, made the song extraordinary. So, I resigned myself to tackling this new approach. He recorded the two parts, added some solo lines, and then we moved on.
I figured a busy, melodic piano part and active, syncopated drumming would bring back some of what I’d originally composed—a recreation of my acoustic guitar strumming—but when it came time to record the bass and drums, the drummer, John Hanes, refused to play it as anything other than a dirge. When I tried to explain what I wanted, he told me “the song doesn’t go like that.” It was near the end of a long session, and I was too tired to argue. So now, I really had a nightclub blues on my hands. At that point, the piano didn’t work in my mind, so I had Bruce Gordon play it on the organ. Might as well go all the way. But I didn’t have the vocal chops to sing that kind of a song. Listening to the track, it sounded like a band in a bar at 1:30 am with maybe three people left in the audience. Bleak. I wanted something more alive, so Bruce Kaphan and I turned to John Lee Sanders for horns. He recorded and sent us a section consisting of alto, tenor, and baritone sax along with some solos. John had used a synth patch for the baritone part, and Bruce Kaphan wanted a real baritone. So I hunted for a baritone player who could read and found John Quell. John Lee sent us a chart and John Quell read it perfectly.
When it came time to record my bluesy vocal I was dissatisfied with what I came up with. I asked for advice from a Facebook friend, Kim Nalley, a professional singer and vocal teacher. I sent her the unfinished track, and she heard exactly what I was doing and what my difficulty was. Kim told me something that saved the song: It’s not a nightclub blues; it’s a film noir microphone song. I understood immediately what she meant and thought her insight was brilliant. I knew then what to do: use my own voice. I’m grateful now to everyone who pushed the song in a direction that I never would have thought to take.