Mindy McCready's final album was partially recorded at the Blasting Room in Fort Collins
design/illustration by Jeff Livak
Country singer Mindy McCready is thought to have taken her own life this past weekend, on the front porch of her home in Arkansas. That part of her story has been widely reported. What you may not know, however, is that toward the end of her career and, ultimately, her life, the 37-year-old artist had strong ties to the local scene. Her final album, 2010's I'm Still Here, was at least partially recorded at the Blasting Room in Fort Collins by Andrew Berlin (and later mixed and mastered by Jason Livermore). The bulk of that record was steered by Christopher Jak (Heyday, Northern Way), with whom we've spoken, and features performances by Jak and Jeremy Lawton of Big Head Todd and the Monsters. The cover art above, meanwhile, was even fashioned by a Nashville-by-way-of-Denver artist/graphic designer named Jeff Livak.
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We caught up with Jak yesterday and spoke with the lauded local producer about his time working with McCready. He gave us some insight into their sessions, and he also shared with us how he came to work with her on what ended up being her final album. Many had hoped it would ultimately mark her comeback, a batch of songs that would return the controversial country singer to prominence. Our full conversation with Jak is posted below. But first, a little background:
McCready's greatest acclaim came early on with the release of Ten Thousand Angels, her well-received mid-'90s debut. As solid as that record was, though, if you're a casual music fan and you recognize McCready's name, it may not necessarily be because of the music she produced, but rather the sensationalistic headlines she generated with her seemingly tumultuous personal life, from the turmoil of her estranged relationships to her ongoing legal problems and her well-publicized struggles with addiction.
But while the notoriety McCready attracted over the years has threatened to overshadow the acclaim she garnered, she was a talented artist and a tenacious singer with a story most would consider inspirational. She got her start in Nashville as an aspiring transplant from Florida; after gaining some notice singing karaoke in her home state, the precocious and especially driven then-eighteen-year-old made her way to Music City in pursuit of a music career. As the story goes, she gave herself exactly one year to make that happen, and in some sort of deal she made with her mother, if she wasn't successful, she'd move in a different direction. Sometime toward the end of her self-imposed deadline, one week shy of a full year, reportedly, she earned a recording contract.
With the release of Ten Thousand Angels in 1996, McCready generated a decent amount of momentum. Her growing renown was bolstered by the release of her 1997 followup, If I Don't Stay the Night, but the shine eventually began to wear off by the time she issued I'm Not So Tough in 1999, at which point McCready suffered a minor setback when she parted ways with her label. A few years later, she landed another deal in time to issue a self-titled album, but that record also failed to connect, and McCready was a free agent once again.
It was shortly after this that things in McCready's personal life began to unravel. A fellow musician she was involved with was later arrested for attempted murder as a result of manhandling McCready. That high-profile domestic-violence episode was followed by a string of other incidents (and alleged incidents) that kept her in the news, including an alleged youthful tryst with Roger Clemens, the emergence of a sex tape with another man, multiple arrests for various infractions, surviving several unsuccessful suicide attempts, and even being hospitalized at one point for a presumed overdose.
Toward the end of the decade, McCready sought help for her addiction and appeared on the VH1 reality series Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew. Around this time, McCready and her team had started working on a comeback, and that's when Christopher Jak came into the picture. Having already worked on some other projects with her co-manager, Jak was looking for something he and the manager could work on together, and McCready's project seemed a good fit. So Jak and McCready convened for what ended up being McCready's final album, I'm Still Here, and worked on it for the better part of a year.
There's some speculation now that McCready left a farewell message of sorts. She reportedly sent a clip of a song she'd been working on with her late boyfriend ("I'll See You Yesterday"), producer David Wilson, who also took his own life recently, to a private investigator she'd been in contact with. The investigator, Danno Hanks, assumed the message was in reference to Wilson's death and didn't think much of it until after McCready passed. Hanks, who took to Facebook after her death, says he now considers the gesture to be a "video suicide note."
Certainly seems plausible. Listening to "Wrong Again," the opening track on I'm Still Here, a song which Jak says they finally found after an exhaustive search, it's clear she was attempting to make a statement. Even though, like "I'll See You Yesterday," she didn't write the words, she sang them with an expressiveness that made them her own ("I've come to terms/I've made amends/Asked forgiveness for my sins/
Loneliness is not my friend/Been wrong before/I'll be wrong again"). It was a poignant tune, as was the title track, which she co-wrote, and cuts like "Songs About You."
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