Many Rivers I Crossed….
Updated: Sep 2
Frankie Keane performing "Many Rivers To Cross" [Directed by Kevin Rhoades]
So, for many happy years, I sang in a number of clubs around Chicago….it didn’t come without some form of “hazing” …. just like in any other profession, there are always “newbies” coming up, looking for a place to land and I was one of them.
I worked a number of odd jobs to pay my bills, but my main focus was music and my theatre group (which had started as a wonderful acting class that developed into a company). I can thankfully say I have more good memories than bad, and maybe one day, I’ll delve into some of the stories that helped me become the person I am today, but this is another story. One of my jobs was compliments of my friend Justin who happened to work for a record label that was highly respected in the jingles arena and had also developed artists that had enjoyed some mainstream radio.
A great place to land…or so I thought….
The owner, Bobby, was a brilliant musician and very hands on with every aspect of the business. He knew I was one of Justin’s friends and knew I was reliable, if not eager, to get my feet wet on the inner workings of a record label as well as possibly be given a shot myself. He was a rather funny and very quick-witted Italian man (he still is, lol…he’s very much alive and well and to this day is one of my dearest friends) who was like a whirling dervish out of whirl! His wife Melanie worked at the company as well, a musician herself, she also handled quite a bit of the load a label can throw at you and did it very well…she was often referred to as, “Dr. Mel nuts” as she really had the answer for almost anything. So, the two of them had quite a bit on their hands to say the least.
I did a bit of everything. I had a small office in one of the bigger high rises in the city, The Time Warner building near the water. Every day, there was A LOT to do. I would work away in my tiny office, singing whatever was piping through our offices, some top 40 tune or some classic R & B number that was my happy place. Every time I would star humming or singing, I would hear a “SHUT UP!!!” from down the very long hallway to Bobby’s office; “I didn’t hire you to sing, I hired you to work!.
I would hear this often as for the time I would work there (insert a rolling of the eyes and just lowering the volume of my own concert in my office). There are SO MANY hysterical stories from my time working with this label it most certainly will be another blog, but for now, I’ll try and stay on point.
While working during the day, I would sing at night. The Cotton Club was my second home as well as The Underground WonderBar (where I met Vince Willis as mentioned in my other blog), Buddy Guy’s Legends, Milt Trenier’s, The Bernie Mac Show, The House of Blues, Isaac Haye’s Place among many others.
I had already worked with or opened for a number of well-known talents by this point, but Bobby could care less. I would hang around the studio (if allowed) to hear what was happening with the current group they were working with, “Youth Edition” a gospel group that had a great sound that had hot crossover potential to the urban radio market. So, in a nutshell, there was no interest in a pigmentary challenged girl from Chicago.
Fast forward to me getting a job as a talent scout, looking for actors/models and slowly weaned myself off of the record label days to working long hours but better pay. I was still dropping by the studio and hanging out so I was still in the loop and invited Bobby to a show I was doing at Dennis Rodman’s club in the city (a short lived club that hosted a number of top notch talent and parties). I told him he had no excuse since I didn’t work for him anymore. He initially said “no” he’d be too busy etc…but I guilted him into it and finally, he relented and agreed to go.
I was excited for this as I had backup singers this time and had done my own arrangement of one of my favorite songs, “Many Rivers to Cross” by the great Jimmy Cliff with insane background vocals combined with a mashup of another song, “Love Don’t live Here Anymore.” The band was some of the top talent in Chicago so even with the nerves, I was also confident that with the rehearsals my background artists had at my apartment, we were on point.
There were only a few on the bill, Danny Boy (from the Tupac Shakur days) was the draw and so I was very excited to have been asked to perform on the same bill. I saw Bobby from the stage and was certain he was checking his watch every 3 minutes, waiting for the time he could leave after I sang my first note. He stayed. Not only did he stay, but he uttered the words, “Holy shit…I was wrong. We need to start recording something immediately.”
Enter: “Many Rivers to Cross”.
Bobby had a full studio in his house in Glen Ellyn, Il. A beautiful suburb of Chicago where some of the movie , “Lucas” was filmed, literally in front of his house.
It was what everyone dreams of when they see their future. A beautiful, large home with a man-made lake in front and beautiful trees cocooning the entire town. It was Mayberry. I would pop out there to work on songs, feed their family of raccoons that had a condo under their porch, and enjoy their 2 daughters Kara and Rachel.
When I told Bobby, I had always wanted to record, “Many Rivers”, he recorded himself playing it before I got there and what you hear on the recording is Bobby’s version of what I had always wanted.
I was thrilled to be writing and working with such an amazingly talented man who was both brilliant and super funny so there was equal amount of laughing to singing and that was ok with me.
One day while I was there, enjoying a lovely lunch compliments of Melanie, as well as a lovely glass of wine, Bobby suggested we take a crack at the track. I was wary as I had just downed a glass of wine and didn’t feel I was at my optimum voice to do it justice, but Bobby had set up a microphone in the corner of their unused guest room and was already in the control room. There was no seat. No booth. Nothing but the floor, the wall, the mic, the cans and me. I sat on the floor, facing the wall (like a musical “time out”), and sang.
We did a rough take and once we got the sound right in my headphones, we did one more take. That is the one we kept. 2 takes and it was over. That’s the power of a great song.
Fast forward to the music video. In my illustrious, unknown career, I had done a small, independent film “Resurrection Mary” (another blog). The director of that film, Kevin Rhodes had become a dear friend and had sent the song to a friend of his at Clear Channel. They heard it and offered to fund for the music video. Who was I to say no? Lol… within a short amount of time, a schedule was put together and I was flown to Indiana to start shooting with Kevin directing. The producers had decided to use a quaint theatre belonging to a university and they had hired a makeup artist who also did hair…or at least that’s what he said. When I sat down in his “Chair”, he confessed he had never really done hair and I could do whatever I wanted with it....WTF! He did my makeup and I ended up doing it all over in the bathroom after he left the room. Thus, the cringe-worthy, Tammy Wynette hair that sadly graces that little silver screen of the video, I apologize.
Clearly, I brought my own wardrobe. My favorite was the red leather trench coat-out of sheer nostalgia, I have everything I wore…including the hair, lol!!
It was fun, lots of work, but incredibly rewarding and memories to last forever. It took a many river to cross, but it was worth every drop.
Thanks to Bobby Francavillo, Melanie Francavillo, Kevin Rhoades, Clear Channel and the University for hosting us that day.