Paul L. Clark & The Smirky Waters Band are caught between heaven and hell on their new single and video The Purgatory Blues — premiering exclusively on Tinnitist.
An infectious mix of timeless R&B, soul-jazz and funky reggae infused with the classic stylings of Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone’s I Put A Spell On You and a dash of St. James Infirmary Blues, The Purgatory Blues is cool as an ice-pack and catchy as a sneeze. But it’s also a song that’s unafraid to ask the eternal existential question: ‘Why am I still here and what have I learned?’
It was something Peterborough musician Clark pondered while sitting on the edge of a hospital bed at 3 a.m., physically and mentally drained as he recovered from a severe chronic illness that left him gaunt and exhausted, and brought him to the brink of death.
“I kept hearing an earworm,” he recalls. “I smiled as I realized what I was hearing wasn’t any existing music. I buzzed my nurse and asked for a piece of paper and a pen and the words that fit the tune in my head poured out of me. The entire song flowed out all in one shot: ‘The devil doesn’t want me / And the Lord won’t take me / What’s a poor soul to do? / They keep throwing me back / For one more time / To sing the purgatory blues.’ ”
With the track, Clark has taken his strong conviction that creativity is anchored in energy and frequency to another level. “Everything is moving all of the time. How do you move with it? I’ve learned to trust my gut. I’ve found people — or maybe they found me — that showed me that even more is possible.”
One of those people was Don Skuce, the longtime owner of Ed’s Music Workshop in Peterborough. Clark met that “gentle soul” at a weekly breakfast that saw a number of musicians get together to swap tales over eggs and bacon. Both were ill, Skuce in the final stages of a tough battle with cancer and Clark on the cusp of his own debilitating illness.
“It was obvious that both of us were rapidly losing weight but our dark humour begged us to ask the question ‘So who is going to die first?’ We’d laugh and often I told him ‘The devil doesn’t want me and the Lord won’t take you, so what are we going to do.’ ”
Skuce passed in June 2018 but Clark’s memory of their special relationship never faded. When he found himself critically ill facing his own death, Clark discovered strength in their bond. But more to the point, the poignant words he shared with his friend never left his head, eventually forming the basis of one very special song.
Back home recuperating, Clark brought The Purgatory Blues to life. After recording his percussion tracks, he enlisted “some of my favourite musicians” — vocalists Bridget Foley and Lindsay Barr, guitarist Brandon Humphrey, and bassist Rob Foreman — to round out what he had been hearing in his head.
The result is a song that draws from multiple influences but refuses to be pigeonholed. “I don’t write and play genres…I write and play moods,” says Clark, noting “unorthodox” is a descriptor that has been applied to him, and his creative approach, since he can remember. “I’ve learned to go with the flow as opposed to thinking so much you wreck it. Surpass any fears or nervousness. When you trust, you’re on a different foundation and it takes you to another level. The verses are what I learned — laugh at the noise, your dreams know the way. The Purgatory Blues is a very personal piece that pays homage to my friendship with Don and each of my fellow travelers.”
Watch videos for and about The Purgatory Blues above, find it on your preferred DSP HERE, buy it on Bandcamp below, and get more from Paul L. Clark & The Smirky Waters Band on their website, Facebook and Twitter.