Radio Nowhere


Day 3 - Sister Rosa 

Welcome to Day 3, and welcome to beautiful San Francisco! This is a great town, really all it’s cracked up to be (although that includes the weather, which is as chilly as advertised too much of the time). Right now we’re cruising in from the south on Highway 1, taking the 5th Street offramp and pulling up into the loading zone right outside one of my favorite bars, the Hotel Utah. 

What’s happening here, and who’s the sulfurous little man saving us a seat at the bar? Keep reading to find out…


Click the big orange Play button to get the song rolling, then read on for more about the song, lyrics, and extras...

About The Song

So yeah, the Hotel Utah - one of my favorite bars in the City, and it comes with one of the most intimate stages in town. It’s the kind of place that’s great to see singer/songwriters or relatively quiet bands, and for a long time it had the best Open Mic night in the Bay Area.

I rolled in with my guitar one night,
prepared to meet some friends and to try a new song or two on the Utah’s usually receptive crowd. In fact, I think this might have been the first time I played “Cortez & Pizarro” in public. 

One person I had not expected to see was my friend T.
, and I definitely was not prepared for his attire. He was dressed all in red, with a black tie, and the crimson neon light down at his end of the bar only heightened the satanic vibe. T. was also acting very strange, with behavior that I couldn’t quite place. Before I could figure things out, though, it was my turn to hop up onstage and play.

My mini-set went well, and I got invited back for my own night sometime in the future, which was great.
Then I went back to my seat next to T., and things got weird. He was talking a mile a minute, rambling very far afield and generally just not making much sense at all. He also kept ordering drinks, and not too long after I sat down, he had a martini in each hand and a half-drunk gimlet in front of him on the bar.

Parsing his continual stream of mumbo jumbo, it gradually became reasonably clear that, in addition to his heroic alcohol intake, he had also taken a bunch of mushrooms, and was visiting a plane altogether different from the one the rest of the bar was on. Looked like things were pretty fun there, though. 

In the meantime, the Open Mic night rolled on in the background, with the usual alternation between hopeless rookies and brilliant, seasoned performers. Then a bunch of people next to me at the bar started whistling and hooting; one of their friends had taken the stage, and she needed a LOT of encouragement. She had apparently gotten drunk and decided to do an a capella version of “Moon River” for the assembled.

Once onstage, she froze up, and despite the supportive crowd, she just couldn’t seem to get started
. We’d given up hope when she closed her eyes and belted the first three notes of “Moon River” in an incredible voice. Seriously, everyone’s jaws just dropped. She went on to just slay that song, and stumbled offstage to a standing O

Back at the bar, T. thought that her act was just great. 
He also noticed me noticing the singer, and launched into a complicated rationale for why I should call my longtime girlfriend and dump her then and there, and hook up with Ms. Moon River. He bought me another martini and kept talking me through it, until it started to seem like a good idea. 

Then he announced that it was time for him to go home, and pulled out his car keys. Uh oh. I walked him around the block a few times but could not dissuade him, and the last I saw of the Devil of Hotel Utah, he was driving off at a stately pace in his convertible Jaguar, weaving only slightly.

By the time I finally made it out of my bed the next morning,
the story of the night was already beginning to coalesce into a song - as I almost knew it would. I was listening to a lot of Lyle Lovett at the time, and something about the blues/gospel vibe of some of his non-country songs was really stuck in my head. So when “Sister Rosa” started coming together in a similar vein, it wasn’t too much of a surprise. 

About The Recording

We tracked basics - bass, handclaps and rhythm guitar - for “Sister Rosa" at Studio D in San Rafael, California (where everyone from Santana to Aretha Franklin to Soundgarden has recorded). Steve the drummer told us dirty stories about Huey Lewis, and I’ll always remember tracking the claps, where we had everyone in the building ranged around one mic clapping sloppily, including the receptionist and the guy running the hot dog cart outside on the street.
I played my Blue Ridge, the first guitar I ever got,
which was given to me by my mom for Christmas when I was 16. Especially for a student guitar, it sounds pretty sweet on this song. Thanks, Mom!

Lila Sklar and her magical violin grabbed this song by the scruff of the neck and just did not let go.
She really understood what this track needed the first time she heard it, and came up with a great part right away. I think she was out of the building within an hour; if the mic she was playing into hadn’t cost $10,000, she would’ve dropped it

It took us a while to find the right part for the bass on this song.
It initially seemed to call for walking quarter notes, like an old-time jazz tune, but any time we tried it that way, the whole song just sounded busy and overstuffed. Then the bassist, the great Paul Olguin (who’s played with Mazzy Star, Mary Wells, Chuck Prophet…), suggested a more minimal approach. Paul’s the king of less-is-more, so we went with it…and sure enough, the whole track just opened up and started to breathe. There’s no substitute for great musicians.

Get The Audio

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well her name was Rosa / she sang Moon River / she sang it like nobody else

she stood by the microphone / but not too close / and she filled up that stage / all by herself

well outside they were towing cars / inside they were drinking

and they had all brought their scars/gonna bleed their way to fame

well she wore a cheap dress but she was / no damsel in distress / she opened her mouth and i lost track of my name

Sister Rosa/sing so sweet and high

pull me into your Moon River/as you go sailing by

well the devil sat next to me, he had a martini in each hand / and he was buying but i just don't drink gin

and he poured his honey words out like water in the desert / said it's been way too long since i had a swim, and he said son i don't see no ring / let go of your good thing / settle the bill with your wages of sin

don't know whether to run or hide or take this ride / i don't see no one by her side

and when that Moon River came rollin' i jumped my body in

Sister Rosa/sing so sweet and high

pull me into your Moon River/as you go sailing by

and she said/i don't know the words / well that's all right/and she said i can't carry a tune/well don't get uptight

and then she closed her eyes and we were all out of sight

and she sang like a whole choir of angels all through the night

whoa Rosa keep on singin'

ooh yeah

well it was last call for alcohol and all the model citizens had gone home

i was left with the devil and man he was sauced / so we took a walk around the block and i got my soul back outta hock and he

left in a cloud of brimstone and exhaust and i

don't know if i won or if i lost

Sister Rosa/sing so sweet and high

pull me into your Moon River/as you go sailing by

Today's Bonuses!

Sister Rosa - Original Demo

Check out the original demo for "Sister Rosa". Obviously, this one lacks the polish & zing of the final version, as well as the handclaps and Lila Sklar's killer violin, but the acoustic guitar fills & soloing add a little spunk here. Another one where the final version didn't drift too far from the original demo. 

Sister Rosa - Mini Concert

"Sister Rosa" is always a fun one to play just on acoustic guitar. Of course I miss the violin, the gospel choir and all the hand clapping, but I like swinging into the groove acoustically too. 

I tried to lean in to the low notes in the (almost) a capella bridge, but the mic didn't pick them up all that well. Earbuds recommended. 

What Do YouThink?

Ever taken any bad relationship advice when you knew better? Let's hear it - drop a comment below!