How My Dog Became My Uncredited Co-writer on "Ice Cream"
"Recently I learned that a song of mine, “Ice Cream,” won a Silver Award in the Vocal Jazz/Blues category of the 2020 Mid-Atlantic Song Contest. I have already prattled on about that. But listening to the song again caused me to recall this “Behind the Music” story of why my dearly departed dog, Maceo Parker, is an uncredited co-writer on “Ice Cream.” I’m not that saying she was the inspiration for the song or anything like that. I’m saying that she imposed her will, forcing me to make a lyric change.
“Ice Cream” is a swing tune with a kind of a loungey upbeat jazz standard feel. In the song, the protagonist, a man, is trying to persuade a woman to make up with him -- trying to get her to go for a walk and have an ice cream cone. He has apparently done something to anger the woman. (As this was, and is, out of the realm of my experience, I had to really use my imagination on this song.) “Ice Cream” is on my website and all the streaming platforms if you are interested in checking it out.
I cut the track in DC and brought it back to Nashville. I put some sweat into writing it. And I had to put some sweat into singing it. Tony Bennett, I am not... I was cutting my vocals on this particular record myself for the first time. My engineering ineptitude was helped along by a recording setup that involved me having to start the recording from a computer and then dash around a ladder and a couple of boxes to the mic in time to come in singing at the right place.
But the real obstacle to getting the vocal on “Ice Cream” was my wannabe co-writer, my faithful canine companion, Maceo Parker. Maceo was a girl, despite the fact that I had renamed her after the real Maceo Parker, who, of course, is most famous for being James Brown’s sax man and bandleader. (“Take it to the bridge, Maceo.”) My Maceo Parker was a black, mixed breed, small but portly female dog. When acquired, her name was Masie. But I started calling her Maceo Parker, and it stuck. Unfortunately, Maceo, who lived to be 13, took it to the bridge in early 2020. She is missed.
While I was cutting the vocal on “Ice Cream,” Maceo was getting old, but still enjoying life. Recording anything, particularly vocals, involved negotiation with her. My first solution to her barking during recording was to place a bowl of food in the part of the house farthest away. Then I’d race to my recording setup, start the recording, and try to get a take or two in before Maceo finished her bowl of food. The problem was, she was a real fast eater, and she usually wanted seconds. I also realized that I had become Pavlov’s Owner. My dog had trained me to run out of my recording room and give it a bowl of food every time it barked while I was singing.
I finally figured out that if I left the door open to the recording room, and let Maceo come check on me, she was usually cool. Then, only incidental barking occurred -- probably aimed at defending the manor from a stray cat in the yard. Maybe one out of ten times, I’d lose a take, or part of one, to her random barking. Since I wasn’t paying for studio time, I just lived with it and did another take. The great compromise between Maceo and myself. Door open, occasional barks tolerated and worked around.
But I was having a hell of a time getting the vocal for “Ice Cream.” Four takes in a row with barking all over them. The door to the room was open, and I had waited until her usual afternoon nap time to record. What was getting Maceo so agitated? She was barking a lot more than usual. I finally decided to take a break and wait out whatever was bugging her. I let about an hour pass. Maceo was snoozing on the living room floor. Went back in and took another run at the vocal. The same thing happened. Barking all over the takes. Then a light bulb went on in the rusty old warehouse of my brain. I noticed that Maceo seemed to be barking in the same place each time. A clue!
The first bit of the lyric goes like this:
“This long, hot summer has been grinding my gears
Seems like I ain’t seen your smile in years
I’m tired of this computer
And my dumb smartphone
I was thinking maybe we could go for a walk
By the lake or the park,
Or just around your block
And after that, I could buy you an ice cream cone”
The next part, or “B” Section of the song originally had this lyric
“Chocolate or pistachio
The whole thing, it's on me
You can have a scoop, with sprinkles and jimmies
Or let down your hair, and have two or three”
Maceo was barking on the first line of the B section: “Chocolate or Pistachio.” But why?
Then it hit me. She was barking at Pistachio. While I was singing, Pistachio, she was hearing “Maceo,” and barking back at me. What does the expedient writer do in such a situation?
I changed the lyric from “chocolate or pistachio” to “strawberry or vanilla.”
At first, I thought “chocolate and pistachio” had a more romantic ring to it. Eventually, I came to agree with Maceo that “strawberry and vanilla,” better allowed for the legato phrasing the song called for, and therefore was actually a better choice. And that’s how my dog, Maceo Parker, became an uncredited co-writer on my tune, “Ice Cream.”