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Gary Husband on City Nights (from Secrets)

Gary Husband & Vinnie Colaiuta
(unknown source)
Gary Husband describes the genesis of "City Nights" from the Allan Holdsworth's 1989 album Secrets (from personal correspondence):

     City Nights was written on piano, yeah, actually as far back as around 1984. Actually maybe earlier. Anyway around ‘85 or so I’d got some time in a studio and made a demo if that song plus a number of other things I had. I’d used kind of a of a classic ‘80s rather static drum machine groove to perform it to on purpose. It just kind of plodded at a moderate tempo. The basic theme consisted of awkwardly placed but essentially “happy sounding” harmonic modulations, and by the time the solo section hit it was strictly folky / country-ish vibe. Y’know, sweet chords. So the groove was fairly unobtrusive throughout, although it was actually upside down, and you had this sunshine “happy” chord progression coming at you. I then felt to play a really intense, kind of obtuse and aggressive acoustic piano solo over the changes … really full on, reaching, crazy and furious. So there was a curious blend about it - sweet but turbulent.

     I played that demo to Allan and this is actually one of three occasions I made a particularly strong impact upon him though music of my own. He really liked the blistering approach thing on sweet sounding chords idea. Come much later on, he’s getting into compiling things - I guess for “Secrets” - and he asks me if I still have that piece around. So we’re there - I think on Walnut and Culver, near Tustin, at his first home studio there - and I got a good tempo for it, put just a straight beat up for it and I played in the entire structure of it, including a good predetermined length solo section. All the same as my original demo pretty much. From his Oberheim stuff we found a nice sound to support him playing the top of the chords of the “melody” section and then almost a kind of warm “trombone section” type of patch, plus bells and stuff, for the repeated solo section. So I built up the entire piece and built it up in his studio. It became the template for the whole album track.

     Next thing I know, sessions for “Secrets” are occurring, and I’m hearing from brother Vinnie, and Jimmy in a very excited mood! That was great to hear! So then I get to hear what they did with it and, wow! It was something! Vinnie was jumping up and down, feeling it was among his most proud of things he felt he’d ever done, and on hearing it I understood why! Those two were stellar on it, of course, everybody knows. Allan then does his guitar and it’s stellar throughout from him too! All in all a pretty eventful take! I still may not have earned a penny from it (as a composer) since it’s original release(!), but hey, this was the realm of Allan. In the scheme of things, the achievement of all they did on the session with that song is the single most amazing reward, in retrospect. So, I buy a copy of Guitar World magazine (I think it might have been). There’s a transcription of the whole City Nights song - melody section chords, the timing of it all (and all of this, complete rubbish), and maybe they then gave a transcription of Allan’s solo, I don’t know, too long ago. But looking at it I can’t believe how wrong it is! So I phone the magazine, okay!? They give me the extension or whatever of whoever has done this transcription. I get through to the guy, tell him I’m the composer and ask him if he’d like to see an accurate chart of actually what it really is!? The guy says to me, “Who the hell are you!? Never heard of you, and whoever you are this is not your piece. It’s Allan Holdsworth’s!”

     So I’m getting to this. City Nights is in 4/4 from the beginning of the song, throughout the whole song right through to the end. It’s only the sound of the beer bottle opening at the very end that’s not in 4/4!

     For beat one, here it is. The first thing you here is a fill from Vinnie. There are two rapid (ghost) 32nd note bass drum notes leading straight to Vinnie’s first snare drum beat of the tune. That very snare drum beat, that’s beat 1. If you can hang with it … and it’s a slow groove count… start counting from that first snare hit, bearing in mind the first chords you hear occur on the 2nd and 4th sixteenth notes of beat 2. If you’re correct the first chord of the solo section occurs right on beat 1.

     It’s confounding to me so many feel this so wrongly! All to be done is follow the solo section through, which obviously moves throughout in 4/4 and keep the foot tapping back into the head melody at the end. It’s completely evident by that where the beat is and where the chords are placed. The very last chord of the whole piece lands on the very last 16th note of the bar.

 - Thanks to Gary Husband, 2017.08.29

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  1. Thanks so much for this. I have always wondered what Vinnie thought of his playing with Allan Holdsworth. It means a lot to know that it touched him as deeply as it has me....Scotty D

  2. It's very good to read about the genesis of this piece. To have a window into the mind of the composer. I only know it as the recorded version on "Secrets." What an amazing, beautiful and complex piece that comes on like gangbusters and blisters through it's rather short 2:14 minute span (less the Beer bottle).

  3. oh man, the urge to 'educate' the transcriber :) "You know nothing, Jon Snow"