Canby man follows musical dream to Muscle Shoals
To the average person, Muscle Shoals is a town of about 14,000 residents in northwestern Alabama, far from the pop culture centers of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles where music stars, past and present, cluster as densely as stars at the core of Omega Centauri.
To musicians, Muscle Shoals is a musical Mecca of sorts — the place where dozens of hits were recorded, like Aretha Franklin's "Respect," where the live, in-studio performances were captured of Wilson Pickett romping through "In the Midnight Hour" and "Hey Jude" that sent his career skyrocketing, and where a 19-year-old Duane Allman, later of the Allman Bros. Band, showed up and pitched a tent in the FAME Studios parking lot in an attempt to break into the music business (he ended up performing on the aforementioned Pickett tracks, as well as Franklin's "Respect").
FAME Studios still stands today, and musicians looking to break into the business continue to make pilgrimages to the famous recording studio with the hope that some of Muscle Shoals' magic will rub off.
For local country musician and singer Trent Beaver, 29, a Molalla High School graduate and Canby resident whose day job is working at Canby Rental and Equipment, the siren call of Muscle Shoals was great enough that he and his wife, McKenzie, and their one-year-old daughter, Lennon, packed up everything and moved there last summer so Beaver could record an album of original songs with the hope that the magic of FAME Studios would take his fledging music career and propel him to the next level.
Beaver returned to the northern Willamette Valley about four months ago with his newly-minted CD "Ghost" in tow, and his hopes riding high that promoting it nationally in select places would "lead to it catching fire." He's not had much luck yet, by his own estimation, but if the infectious smile that swallows his face when he talks about his third album is any indication, he's not discouraged, either.
"I wanted to go to a place where it's proven that people know what they're doing," Beaver said. "You can go to any studio in Nashville that has some credits on records that were big, but I wanted to go to a place that churned out one hit after another after another. Mostly, I wanted to learn what it really took in the industry to be somebody. When you put something on a pedestal in your life you think it's a dream, then you go there and you realize all these people you look up to are human, just like you, the only difference is they worked and made something of themselves. It's easy to forget they are just creative people who took a chance, worked hard and, no matter what was thrown their way, persevered and made something happen."
A late start
Beaver was born in Oregon but his father, country singer Dan Beaver, a founder in the 1980s of Portland-based The Silver Dollar Band, moved his family to Nashville, Tenn.
when Beaver was about 5 years old following an invitation to work with Mickey Newbury, a Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee who wrote songs that helped Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Kenny Rogers score hits — among them Newbury penned the 1968 chart-topper "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)," which also is featured during the famous dream sequence from the cult-film classic "The Big Lebowski."
Beaver's parents eventually divorced and his mother, Roseann, moved him back to Molalla in the late 1990s, and even though he was exposed to music at such a young age Beaver never attempted to learn how to play guitar, let alone sing, until he was 18 years old.
"A friend of mine passed away in high school and he was always urging me to do something I hadn't done before," he said. "After his passing, I grabbed a guitar and found out I had a knack for it, started writing music and haven't looked back since."
Beaver said he tried taking music theory courses "a couple of times," and each attempt he would get a semester in before deciding the world of music in academia wasn't for him. He butted heads with his teachers, who tried to instill in him the idea that it's impossible to communicate with other musicians if you don't understand music theory and how to read music, or at least chord charts. But as Beaver says, plenty of famous musicians can't read music — Paul McCartney immediately comes to mind, as well as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Danny Elfman to name but a few.
"I didn't like the fact that they were trying to put my creativity in a box," Beaver said. "I understand the importance of (music theory) and I wish I would have paid attention more, especially as I was going into Muscle Shoals working with guys who go by the Nashville Number System (a method of transcribing music that denotes the scale degree on which a chord is built). I had no idea what that was or what key they were in. I would just listen and follow along using my Capo, which they were very against in Alabama."
Out of the gate
Before Muscle Shoals was on his horizon, Beaver formed the band Sawtell, writing and performing original compositions with them for several years before disbanding in 2011. He moved to Hawaii for one year and brought some musicians back to Oregon with him to reform Sawtell and found a bit of success, playing up to six nights a week and eventually opening for Art Alexakis of Portland-based 90s rockers Everclear, famous for songs like "Santa Monica" and "Wonderful."
But as so many musical groups do, Sawtell split again, leaving Beaver unsure what to do or what his future in music might hold. He took a job cleaning houses that were in foreclosure during The Great Recession in the early 2010s, and that's where he met Darren Bush, the owner of the company and a fan of music. Bush said he wanted to make a financial investment in Beaver's career and asked where he wanted to record his first truly solo album.
"He said Nashville and I said, 'Nope. Muscle Shoals,'" Beaver remembered. "He found some work down there for me while I was trying to figure out where and how to record. We just moved down there without any connections in the music business, or at all for that matter. McKenzie and I learned a lot about ourselves. When you decide to do something that's not guaranteed, to risk it all — being a struggling musician and having a family is kind of an abnormal life to begin with — and to have a wife willing to risk it all with me, and move there without any family or friends, to support me … I feel blessed."
Eventually, Beaver worked up the courage to walk through the front doors of FAME Studios and asked to record there, but not just by himself — he also wanted to hire some of the best recording musicians and sound engineers working in Muscle Shoals. FAME Studios producer Jogn Gifford III asked to hear some of his songs and a couple of months later Beaver found himself plugging in at FAME, along with a backing band that included Will McFarlane, who's performed with Bonnie Raitt, Neil Young and was one of the original musicians in the famed Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section along with Duane Allman.
He not only was recording in his dream scenario, Beaver was making music with one of the greats in McFarlane that he'd learned about through watching documentaries and hearing tales of the heydays of Muscle Shoals. The assembled group recorded for one week straight in 15-hour days for relatively inespensive — a heckuva deal considering the caliber of the studio and backing musicians — though Beaver declined on several occasions not to reveal how much it cost by the hour to rent sudio time in Muscle Shoals
Be happy with what you're doing
Once recording was complete, Beaver took his master tapes to San Diego to be mixed by Brian Scheuble, who's resume includes records by Cher, Don Henley, Jason Mraz and Dave Matthews, to name just aa few, and then on to New York to be mastered by Andy Wilson, former mastering engineer for the legendary multimedia company Masterdisk, whose clients included Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, U2 and countless others.
Now comes the hard part — as if mustering up the courage to walk into FAME Studios to begin with wasn't difficult enough — Beaver has his musical baby in "Ghost;" now he has to build awareness.
"Everything I've done so far has been DIY all the way, except for the friend that invested in me," Beaver said. "I'm thankful for the people around me who believe in what I'm doing. (The album) is getting some traction here and there, and it's definitely a record I am proud of."
He says he has no thoughts of ever giving up on music, no matter how his album ends up performing commercially.
"I have so many friends who went to college and have degrees that got them jobs they thought they would be good at and enjoy, but now they hate their career," Beaver said. "They have a nice house, nice car and lots of money but that's not what life's about. The whole point is to be happy and to promote happiness. A lot of people are scared to go out on a limb and pursue their dreams without having very much money. I couldn't live with myself doing a nine-to-five I hated every day. I guess that's my big message musically too — be happy with what you're doing. It sounds cliché but life is super short to not do what you love. It ain't worth it."