I wanted to get out of San Francisco in 1990, having left my girlfriend, my band, and now hanging out with Paul Collins, who was planning a long drive, relocating to New York. He’d just split with his wife, and was heading home after a long time living in Spain. We packed our guitars, not much else, and took the southern route.
We sweated to a swamp cooler in Tempe before going out to see the Gin Blossoms. We opened for Jimmy Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock at Threadgill’s in Austin, I sang my silly “Shakin’ Rice” for a very polite dinner crowd facing the stage, munching on fried okra. When Paul got up with the East Side Blues Band to sing “Kansas City” at TC's Lounge, the bandleader said, “Hey, just make sure you don’t swing your arms around and take out a trumpet player.” Thanksgiving in Houston was a feast with two turkeys and a crown roast. We actually did sing for our supper, before I was accused of stealing a camera. We finagled a cafe gig in Athens, GA for a couple hours, including dinner and drinks, before someone in the kitchen finally said, “Wait, no one arranged for any music tonight...who are you guys?”
When we got to New Orleans, we settled in. Paul drove while I navigated around that twisted city with my face in a map, calling out turns. I saw Willy DeVille at a guitar store, sporting some fur (did I imagine that?) and a hat. Rene Coman took us around to a few places, including Benny’s, and the Rock ‘n’ Bowl, to see the Iguanas, before he’d even joined the band. We crashed at an apartment in the French Quarter for a few days, and saw some for rent. “250 bucks a month? Let’s move here!” It nearly happened, but Paul had to get home. We stuck around for a few more late nights.
We met a lady named Jeune, a friend of Jonathan Postal, who got us a gig at The Maple Leaf. We were setting up to do a soundcheck, and I started playing something out of the blue, descending line from G down to E minor, C down to A minor...making up some words. I had to keep singing and playing, people were listening. Paul joined in before it fell apart, but that was the start of “Annalisa.” Later that week we returned to the Maple Leaf to see the Rebirth Brass Band, and some of them were young, taking over the whole dance floor with horns blasting the audience where they stood.
I got back to San Francisco in May 1991 after an interesting time in the East Village NYC, living in a converted (curtain and a bed) storefront on Avenue B. Like Paul, I too had to go home. “Annalisa” somehow remained in my memory in ‘92, and I wrote some lyrics. I was embarrassed with this song at first, I thought it came off as a cheesy white-blues-soul ballad. Thankfully, my bass player Pete Straus heard it and said it was the best thing I’d written. That night we went to see Robyn Hitchcock at the Great American Music Hall, he was touring with the Egyptians for the Respect album. It was an amazing show. I went home and wrote the bridge for the song. I can't say who was more of an influence, Hitchcock or the opener, Alex Chilton.
I have only met one person with the name Annalisa, and she worked at the sun country natural foods on Haight & Schrader, where the Cha Cha Cha is now. She was only a friend of a friend, hardly knew her, but the name worked perfectly!
I recorded three versions of the song, the first was erased by the second. By this time, I’d borrowed studio gear from friends. I had a portable Trident mixing board, some outboard gear, and this weird but nice looking AKAI 12-track machine that recorded on tape cartridges that were hard to find and very expensive. I played everything on the recording, very quickly, using the same battery-powered Sony ECM23F mic, just moving the RCA plug from one track to the next, adding guitars, bass, a snare and cymbal, and it was done. The few songs I recorded on that machine were all like that– fast and successful. Likely it was me and the song, but the sound of that machine might have contributed to it, with its slightly dulled high frequencies and narrow-format analog charm, acting like glue on all the sounds.
I’ve played this song live quite a bit. This is one tune that never works with drums; they weigh it down. It just wants to remain floating and moving.