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“Bob Cavallo called him and said, ‘T Bone, you owe me 25 bucks.’ He was referring to a golf match they’d had like 20 years ago. How funny is that?”
——Grace Potter
T BONE GOES NOCTURNAL
Burnett in the Studio With Hollywood Records' Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
T Bone Burnett is the most in-demand producer in rock, and he’s famously picky about the acts he chooses to work with. So Vermont-based up-and-comers Grace Potter and the Nocturnals were thrilled when Burnett agreed to produce the band’s third album for Hollywood Records.

On April 20, Potter and her band, which now includes a female bass player and a second guitarist, went into The Village in West L.A. to begin tracking the Vermont-based group’s third album with T Bone and his gifted engineer/mixer, Mike Piersante. Among the recent projects recorded by the longtime partners are Robert Plant & Alison Krauss’ multiple Grammy-winner and modern-day classic Raising Sand, B.B. King's One Kind FavorJohn Mellencamp’s Life Death Love and Freedom and Elvis Costello’s upcoming Secret, Profane and Sugarcane. Augmenting Grace and her cohorts are drummer Jim Keltner, guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist Dennis Crouch and keyboard player Keefus Ciancia, all of them among Burnett’s regular go-to guys.

“T Bone’s a legend but also a genuinely effervescent personality, which is what I look for in anybody, especially a producer,” says Grace, who explains that Burnett’s name has been at the top of the band’s wish list since it formed in 2002. “We’d been putting out feelers for a while,” she says. “In the end, it was [Disney Music Group Chairman] Bob Cavallo who called him and said, ‘T Bone, you owe me 25 bucks.’ He was referring to a golf match they’d had like 20 years ago. How funny is that?”

Soon thereafter, Burnett, Cavallo and Potter got together for breakfast. “They both have such spectacular histories, and for the first 45 minutes they just traded stories,” she continues. “I thought it would just be a ‘getting to know you’ meeting, but at the end, T Bone said, ‘Let’s go make a record.’”

Soon thereafter, the new collaborators started going through the 50 songs Grace and The Nocturnals had written in the last two years, which range from “feel-good to salty Americana to swaggering soul with a backbeat,” as she puts it. “T Bone put the project in cinematic terms,” says Grace. “He told me, ‘You and your voice and your songs are the movie; I’m just gonna score the movie.’ Since then we’ve been riffing back and forth: I’ll shoot a song demo to him on MP3, and he’ll get me notes back within a few hours. He has a really interesting sense of the big picture, but has an acute sense of subtle detail. It’s such a huge relief to find a producer of T Bone’s caliber we can totally put our trust in, not just because of the records he’s made, but because of the person he is.”

In between recording and mixing the new album, which Hollywood plans to release this fall, the band will be on the road playing a handful of dates previewing songs from their upcoming album. The first is this Saturday (5/16) at the Doheny Blues Fest in Dana Point.

Potter is also featured in the story “Getting Paid,” which appears in the May issue of Mix, penned by our own Bud Scoppa. He points out that Hollywood has exhibited remarkable patience during an era that prioritizes immediate results, and that they never would’ve ended up working with Bone Burnett if Potter and her crew were still on their own. But they don’t rely on subsidies from Hollywood to cover their overhead. They do it by “touring our faces off,” Grace tells Bud.

“That’s not the only solution, but it’s what we know,” she explains. “Sometimes you just can’t get over what you were born to do. No matter what happens, we can always go back to ground zero and pack ourselves into the van we pooled our money to buy in 2003, as long as we can scrape together 40 bucks for gas and get ourselves dinner. And hopefully by the end of the week we’ll be able to pay the rent. We’re not selling a lot of records—I hope someday we can be that band. But we’re lucky to be on a label that can sweat it out with us. You can’t wait for the tide to turn; you have to turn it yourself.”

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