Behind the Strings: The story of "Playin' With Firewater"
Updated: Feb 12, 2018
Often, I like to hear the story about how great songs were written. Sometimes they're written in a moment in time, sometimes they take years. Playin' With Firewater was an idea that incubated in my head for over four years until it was done. Grandad's Vinyl was written in two days. Highland Heaven took 20 minutes. As a writer, you never choose how long it takes to create something, especially something that makes another person feel something. So, for those that want to know, here are the stories behind these songs, in my own words. These songs probably won't go far, I recognize that. But, hopefully these stories inspire someone else to write an iconic song that can change the world.
"Highland Heaven" cabin and the Cody Tyler Tour Truck
Highland Heaven - I wrote this song in west Maryland, about five miles from West Virginia, while staying in a cabin called Highland Heaven, which sat high above Deep Creek Lake. We played an open mic at the Black Bear Tavern, down by the lake. The cabin sat about 2,100 feet above sea level, thus the line “half a mile high.” The “two miles gone” line kind of explains itself, as we spent half the week drinking. It’s a song about a week spent with a good buddy of mine, his family, and Sammy-Jo.
My little brother, the inspiration for "Eagle Tattoo"
Eagle Tattoo - This song is about as true a story as it gets. Spring break, a few years ago, I got a tattoo of an Eagle on my right arm with dog tags initialed “PEB” and “IRP” for my grandad and great uncle. My grandfather, the man who “Grandad’s Vinyl” is about, was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army National Guard. He suffered a heart attack during drill in Camp Drum, NY in the 1980s. My great uncle was a paratrooper in WWII, and jumped with the 82nd Airborne Division on D-Day. He was KIA on 7 June 1944, and is buried in the American cemetery in Normandy. My grandmother and my little brother both visited his grave over the years. Which leads me to the true meaning behind this song: my little brother recently joined the Army, and I wrote this song while he was in basic training at Fort Jackson, SC. The song is me talking to him, telling him that he better not give me a reason to add to my tattoo. I hope the day never comes that I’d have to put his initials on my arm.
The driveway to my family's hideaway in Potter County, PA. This place was the inspiration for "Playin' With Firewater."
Playin’ With Firewater - My family owns twenty-plus acres in the northern tier of Pennsylvania, by the “Grand Canyon” of Pennsylvania. It is so far removed from anything, it’s nearly impossible to find. This song reminisces times spent and times to be spent in the back country, while also being mindful that things can go to shit if you can’t handle your whiskey. I wrote it on a cold day hunting whitetails, sitting at the base of a tree as old as the hills.
Fraulein - This is the only cover on the album. I first heard it when it was covered by Colter Wall and Tyler Childers, two men who were heavily influential for me. It is a German folk song, and since my family came from Germany before this country came to be, I figured I would give a nod to the land of my ancestors with this tune.
My grandparents and their turntable, the inspiration for "Grandad's Vinyl."
Grandad’s Vinyl - This one is about the same grandfather from Eagle Tattoo. I never knew him, he passed before I was born. A few years ago, I started to become a vinyl nut. I rummaged through my grandmother’s crawl space and attic, looking for my mother’s Led Zeppelin and Allman Brothers records, and found Waylon & Willie among some other outlaw country gems from the 1970s. I got to know him through listening to those records. The words of wisdom that Waylon, Willie, Merle, and others sang were like words of wisdom that a grandfather would pass on to his grandson.
Sammy-Jo - Sammy-Jo is my girlfriend, and someday, maybe my wife. She is the reason this record exists. She is the reason I began writing good music in the first place. I say “good” music because I started writing in college, but they were pretty bad. They got better once she came into my life. She shoots all my photos. She designs everything visual that I need. She edits my videos. And she convinced me to take my music to the bars and dives all over eastern Pennsylvania and beyond. Hell, she even made me a book to keep my lyrics in as a Christmas present, even though we’d only been dating a month. She saw something in me from the start and tapped into it. I first put the song to music and did a rough recording while I was sitting in a hotel room in L.A. and missed her terribly. It’s not a typical love song. She was named after Sam Malone, from Cheers. Therefore, I figured the best song to write for her would be a swaying, Celtic bar tune. I almost didn’t put it on this record, because the song belongs to her, but she wanted me to share it. So here we are.
I hope you enjoy this record as much as I enjoyed writing it for you. I hope you can relate to it in some way. If it makes you feel something, I've done my job. Cheers.