jon-4The Making of … “Again and Again”

The making of this album was a huge culmination of a fifty-eight year musical love affair with the amazing catalog of songs from the legend we know as Brenda Lee. Her music changed my life as a six year old boy on Christmas Day in 1958. It was then that I heard my first record which was a song called “Jambalay,” a well-known tune written by the great Hank Williams. The black Decca vinyl 45 rpm record was labeled as “Little Brenda Lee (9 years old)” and thus propelled me into a love affair with the golden notes that created the sounds that changed my life forever on that day.


“Whoever long ago coined the old adage “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” couldn’t have imagined the honor I felt in hearing the finished CD Jon Nickell played for me here in Nashville a few months ago. To hear my music presented with such a breath of fresh creativity—and yes ‘love’— while still holding so true to the original production values that were the signature of my beloved producer, Owen Bradley—yes I must say I am flattered!

~ Brenda Lee.”



To be let down by love that meant something to you is a very hard reality to accept at the time it this happening and the pleading refrain from this song begs so sensitively for a delay of the pain that will soon encircle a broken heart. It was my first realization that the end of love can create an invisible wall so that no one will ever be allowed inside to break the heart again exemplifying the last words “I’ll never love again.”

The heights of love can envelope your heart yet it can also disappear in the blink of an eye. The haunting melodic energy of this song asks the questions that never seem to get an answer. I was always left wondering where did the love go and where is the person that once was there… Totally left alone with insurmountable questions and in an emotional quandary that remains unanswered.

Love truly is ignited in these words from Rodgers and Hart that is from the classic 1932 movie “Love Me Tonight”. This arrangement creates a fast paced confession of love that soars when lovers are together and giving in to the realization of surrendering the heart to the love that it now possesses. The bass and piano riffs jump the beat to a jazz like feel and creates an exciting rush of exhilaration.
The “Bond” like undertones grabbed me immediately and when I first heard the lyrics to this song I was lost in a mesmerizing mind fantasy. Offerings that are free for us to witness everyday, yet a wanton desire that they be given to an unaware love in the hope that the gifts will be enough to make them see love that emanates from a silent heart that is in a state of adoration from a distance.
This song “On the flip side” of a released A side charted single, with its Bossa Nova style orchestrating a tune virtually unheard by many except the multitude of Brenda Lee fans who would say the same thing about this song, is that it is simply great. While the lyrics may be about someone whose dreams never come true, I am happy to say that getting this song produced is proof that my dreams really do come true.
I saw this premier on the show “HULLABALLOO” circa 1965. The show was a sixties version of MTV. I sat watching the performance with my mother and the song moved me beyond emotions. At a time when the British music invasion conquered America, all things seemed restless with an unnecessary war and the term “God Is Dead” was a touted phrase in the world. This song asks for people to come back to church and worship and step out of the darkness and into the light. Yet still today, we need to reach out and love one another and stop the chaos and let the light guide us to peace and awareness.
There is no better way than to describe this upbeat song of heartbreaking pain than to state the title in its most succinct way because it comes on strong. Lyrics seem like a welcoming committee when the teardrops, pain and sorrow, invade a mind filled with fear that these unwanted visitors will be staying staying until the end is near. Little David Wilkins had great success with this song when Brenda Lee recorded it in 1966 which lead to a lot of great Nashville recording talent covering more of his country songs.
The title pretty much spells out the lyrics on this 1944 song written by Cecil Grant and Roosevelt Sykes. Aretha Franklin put sixties soul into it and Brenda’s version put the pop ballad over the top. The words keep you wondering as they move you thru the melodic trials of moving forward alone when your lover has moved on. The emotional ending to this song leaves you wanting to know the answers to all the questions that were lyrically asked.
The singer songwriter Jackie DeShannon was such an influence on the many hits that Brenda recorded. This song was another love ballad that really emoted the effects of assuming love had been wronged and finding out that a mistake had been made. The incredible interpretation of this song and with the pulse of the music feeling like a beating broken heart always moved me as if I was the one who had the wrong idea and stood there with my own heart in my hand.
An original composition from the Brit, Geoff Stephens. Covered by Dave Berry in the UK and recorded in 1965 by Brenda Lee. As the B flip side of the charted hit “Thanks A Lot”, this song caught my attention because the guitar solos whined in a crying way and the lyrics begged to tell all there was to know about crying and the game that was played to reach the final limit to being alone yet again.
Because of the British music scenes happening in America, Brenda was flown to England by Decca records to record a single exclusively for the U.K. At the helm of the sessions was the prolific Mickie Most and playing on the session was young studio musician by the name of Jimmy Page, aka the future “Led Zeppelin”. The catchy lyrics and the Page style of guitar made for a rockin’ hit that was recorded and within a day released into the English market. The repetition of the phrase “Is It True” captured the energy of the true rock and roll sound that was being played in the states everywhere. With changes to the original master Decca records released the song soon after its U.K. debut peaking at number 17 chart wise in the U.S. AND U.K.
The great guitarist Grady Martin and songwriter Alex Zanetis wrote this great pop song. With its “snappy” lyrics and horn section, it made this a big hit for singer Joe Henderson in 1962. It was one of the tracks on the album “Top Teen Hits” by Brenda Lee in 1965. The Owen Bradley production with the contagious horn section caught my ear and the words saying “I’ll be true take a chance on me” pleadingly left me wanting more.
This song was a written by a very young composer that became quite the chart topper himself. David Gates of the group Bread wrote this song and went on to be a major entertainer and racked up many number one hits. It is the ultimate break up song with lyrics of a realization of having had enough of lies and deceit and accepting the end of a relationship that had no boundaries and many infidelities.
The year was 1961 when I first heard this recording. Watching her premier song on the Perry Como show, it made me aware that once again I was even more smitten with Brenda Lee. The recitation on the record made me always felt like she was speaking to me and the sultry guitar moved thru the song and pulled every emotion of feeling with you. It was a huge success that had been resurrected from earlier interpretations with its compressed sixties love ballad sound.
This song was taken from the “Smokey and the Bandit” soundtrack album and is one of the most moving songs that really creates the emotional connection to one love that comes and goes then comes and goes again. Lyrically the dynamic words would connect to most anyone who has ever felt unrequited love yet continued to hope for the moment when it would no longer ebb and flow and just stay consistent. Not having the courage to disavow it, the love just keeps leaving and then appearing again and again.
This was another B side of a single which caught my attention by the dramatic chorus that grabs your listening ear from the moment that song starts. The strings lull you down to the lyric meaning that if you don’t want my love then I will find someone who will want it. It was mesmerizing to me because the background singers kept that pace of the song and the music emotions built the finale knowing that new love would never be the same …at least…”Not Like You.”

The Making of … “Again and Again”

jambalayaThe making of this album was a huge culmination of a fifty-eight year musical love affair with the amazing catalog of songs from the legend we know as Brenda Lee. Her music changed my life as a six year old boy on Christmas Day in 1958. It was then that I heard my first record which was a song called “Jambalaya,” a well-known tune written by the great Hank Williams. The black Decca vinyl 45 rpm record was labeled as “Little Brenda Lee (9 years old)” and thus propelled me into a love affair with the golden notes that created the sounds that changed my life forever on that day.

Brenda’s catalog of musical gifts is extremely extensive and all of those songs have interconnected my life to many wonderful memories and life experiences with her and personally.  Through her music I learned about life, love, the lessons that love teaches you, and of emotions that can send you to happiness as well as heartbreak. I learned to sing with her music as my guide and her friendship of many years always supplied the mentoring that led me to record this album that you are about to have in your hands.jon-1

Like Brenda still says to this day “I have been around the world and parts of Georgia” yet nothing compares to the joy of having such a powerful “dynamite” singing legend as a close friend and someone who has encouraged me on so many levels to take the risks that life can offer.  It is because of her talent and incredible voice that attached itself to my heart on that Christmas day of 1958, that there has not been a single day since without a Brenda Lee moment in my life.  Like so many of her fans, who also sang her hits songs countless times with some semblance of a microphone in hand, I am just one of millions of fans who have come to embrace her musical prowess and be moved by the many moments of listening pleasure that graced all of our lives with “emotions” that her voice gave us.

The tracks that I have recorded are some of her great hits and some original album cuts and a few that were flip sides of other hit singles.  I felt that I would never venture into the extreme number one hits that are so connected to Brenda as I know never to tamper with ultimate perfection.  Each one of these song choices were previously recorded indelibly by the great production genius of Owen Bradley.  It was imperative to me to recreate his magnificent production abilities that jon-3brought the ultimate best from Brenda and the connection that both created the Brenda Lee sound and deemed her a true legend in the music world.

For me, this has been a musical journey that created an even stronger acute awareness of the intricate bond between singer and producer. Like Brenda and Owen, my producer George Nardo, led my dream to reality and created the music that has been within my soul all these years and was recorded as a complete tribute to Brenda.  The intricate explanations and history that was needed in preparation for this record was amazing as it laid the groundwork for  the recording sessions and the overall aura of the past to the present.  It created a sense of what it must have been like to record in those old Decca studios in Nashville and all of the magic that once recorded some of the greatest voices of that time period.

This is my third album and for me, the singer, I can tell you that this album was a pure love-fest for the music and the awakening of a fantasy that is now reality.  This proves the adage that a dream is a wish your heart makes and that “My Dreams” really do come true.

Producer & Engineer George Nardo of Luna Recording Studio

Proper pre-production is key to saving time in the studio. Make sure everyone knows the start and stop points for all the songs. Recordings done today are to a click track, it is not meant to keep you rigid, but meant as a guide so you don’t lose the groove. Get the BPM’s (Beats Per Minute) in a rehearsal situation where you are comfortable playing the song. Bring the BPM’s to the studio, most times it will feel slow once you get in a studio setting. Trust that the song sounded good back in rehearsal and work on it at that tempo. Nine times out of ten it is the right tempo.

New strings, new heads and an accurate tuner are a must for a recording session. How good do you want to sound?

Now the philosophy we try to promote is to make each song sound the best we can. Sometimes that means looking at everything in detail. Is the kick drum and the bass locked in or are they fighting with each other. Sounds can get pretty muddy down there. Sometimes less is more. We can also tell when a band is locked in, and you don’t have to do a thing but press record. We love when that happens.

Album Credits

Lead Vocal – Jon Nickell
Drums – Daniel Thomas
Percussion – George Nardo
Piano – Duncan Stitt
Bass – George Nardo all songs except “Lover” Played by Santiago Cannon
Guitar – George Nardo
Saxophone – Jose Durazo
Trumpet – Glendon Gross
Trombone – Salvador Lopez
Backing Vocals – Rebecca Carlson
Backing Vocals – Jose Durazo
Orchestrations – Rob Resetar

Engineered and Produced by George Nardo at Luna Recording Studio, Tucson, AZ.
Mastered by Kevin Bartley at Capital Records, Los Angeles, Ca.