MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
A song about the tug of home has been playing in my head lately. It's from Nashville singer and songwriter Jon Randall. I've loved his harmonies for years; a sweet tenor floating behind Emmylou Harris and many other Nashville singers. A song he co-wrote, "Whiskey Lullaby," was named song of the year by the Country Music Association last month. But the song in my head is this one, "North Carolina Moon."
(Soundbite of "North Carolina Moon")
Mr. JON RANDALL: (Singing) Woke up this morning to the humming of the engines, hauling nature's finest from the Gulf of Mexico. Riding this old river is peaceful, but it's lonesome. It makes me wonder how the old folks are at home. Now the years have blown by me like the wind through the pines...
BLOCK: Jon Randall came by our studios to talk about that song, a song his father started writing when Jon was in high school. Jon's father was a Dallas police officer and played in bluegrass bands.
Mr. RANDALL: He had written the first half verse, I guess, or first verse maybe and the chorus, and I never worked on it. And then I graduated and moved to Nashville and, you know, was living my life. And a few years ago, I remembered that song and I was like, `Man, you know, I think that song's somewhere.' And then one day, I was kind of flipping through some old boxes of stuff and I found the initial scribblings of that song.
BLOCK: Of "North Carolina Moon"?
Mr. RANDALL: Yeah, of "North Carolina Moon." And so I started playing with it and I kind of--you know, the first verse he had was about waking up in a boxcar, you know, to the rattling of the boxcar and the train and the rain. And I love that; I grew up on that stuff. And I was thinking, `Man, I wonder how we could kind of modernize this story or make it a little different.' And I had a friend that was telling me that he had--when he was young, he had worked on some oil barges going up and down the Mississippi and he was telling all these great stories. And I think subconsciously, I took that right about the time I was writing this song, so I kind of wrote the verse about traveling the river, which is really weird to make that connection with growing up in North Carolina, but somehow they created this story. So...
BLOCK: The version that your father had written--you've brought your guitar in today. Can you play it a little bit? Do you remember what it was?
Mr. RANDALL: You know, I can try to remember--I'll tell you, I'll try to remember. (Singing) And now the years have blown by me like the wind through the pines, but the song of the South is ever sweet as homemade wine. I say, how I miss those mountains when the laurels are in bloom, and the Southern stars are dancing around a North Carolina moon.
And so--which is a beautiful melody and it's really cool, but after I had rewritten the structure and the verses, it felt better to do it the way that we recorded, which was--(Singing) Now the years have blown by me like the wind through the pines, but the song of the South is ever sweet as homemade wine. Oh, how I miss those mountains when the laurels are in bloom, and the Southern stars are dancing around a North Carolina moon.
And then it fell back into this little riff again, you know. So just a few changes.
BLOCK: Had your father gotten past that first boxcar verse and the chorus?
Mr. RANDALL: Yeah, but I'd have to find my notes to remember exactly how far it went. And the melody was different there. It was like...
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. RANDALL: It was almost like a Kristofferson thing. It was like this. (Singing) `Woke up early morning to the rattling of the boxcar in my brain,' you know. (Singing) Da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da-da, da, da in the rain. It was some kind of thing like that, you know, and it was kind of fun to try to take it to a new place.
BLOCK: Now the person telling this story in this song is thinking about North Carolina...
Mr. RANDALL: Right.
BLOCK: ...thinking about this magical season when the laurels are in bloom. And there's one verse where he's going through Memphis...
Mr. RANDALL: Yeah.
BLOCK: ...and it's just not the same. It's a great place, but it's not the same.
Mr. RANDALL: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And that was, you know, all tied into picturing this guy floating up the Mississippi on this barge, you know, just totally isolated.
BLOCK: Can you play that verse?
Mr. RANDALL: Yeah. (Singing) I just rode through Memphis; I can hear them guitars playin'. They had the blues so bad it almost broke my heart. But it don't sound nothing like a band of tree frogs singing, and never now and then they'd get into a grandpa's heart. 'Cause the years have blown by me like the wind through the pines, but the song of the South is ever sweet as homemade wine. Oh, how I miss those mountains when the laurels are in bloom, and the Southern stars are dancing around a North Carolina moon.
BLOCK: Now is your father from North Carolina?
Mr. RANDALL: No, he's from Louisiana.
BLOCK: Well, there you go.
Mr. RANDALL: So--you know, I think a lot of it is growing up. My dad grew up listening to bluegrass and old-school country, and I grew up listening to bluegrass. And there's a real mystique for us about North Carolina and Kentucky and Tennessee because all our heroes were from there, and they were all singing about those places. Really, it's just me kind of emulating what I grew up listening to.
BLOCK: How did your father first hear your version?
Mr. RANDALL: I think I played him the track. I think I surprised him.
BLOCK: Do you remember what he said when he heard it?
Mr. RANDALL: I think he cried a little bit, you know. Sorry, Dad. I think he felt it a little bit. So--which was neat. I mean, that's what it's about.
Mr. RANDALL: He's one of the hardest-working people I've ever known. You know, being a police officer doesn't pay an awful lot, and he worked a lot of extra jobs. And music was his passion, but he never really got to do it for a living, so I think this is kind of a nice little treat for him to be involved in the making of this record.
BLOCK: Jon Randall, thanks so much for coming in.
Mr. RANDALL: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
(Soundbite of "North Carolina Moon")
Mr. RANDALL: (Singing) Now when I die, boys, make me this promise. Just send my body back up North Carolina way. I don't want no tombstone, just lay me next to Mama. Let the honeysuckle grow out upon my grave. Now the years have blown by me like the wind through the pines, but the song of the South is ever sweet as homemade wine. Oh, how I miss those mountains when the laurels are in bloom, and the Southern stars are dancing around a North Carolina moon.
BLOCK: Jon Randall's song "North Carolina Moon" is on his new CD, "Walking Among the Living."
NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.