The inspirations for songs can come from almost anywhere. And equally diverse is the length of time that it can take to complete a song. Some seem to write themselves in minutes while others can take years.
Sweet Ida is a mix of both.
I first got the idea for the song, the title anyway, probably 20 years ago. We were at the St Lawrence Market on a Saturday morning in the late summer as the season’s apple crop was just starting to come off the trees. I remember reviewing all the little green quart boxes and being in awe of the magical variety of names announcing their bounty. Fujis, Mutsus, Cortlands, Honey Crisps, Spys, Jonagolds. We had grown up on the Prairies far from the fruit belt so our annual diet of Spartans, Red Delicious, Macs and the occasional Golden Delicious seemed well, Spartan after a while.
There was one name and apple that really jumped out and I quickly wrote it down in my little lyric note book that many songwriters carry. I remember it as Sweet Ida but it was probably an Ida Red, the songwriter’s mind was already channeling possibilities! The name stayed in my notebook for years and endured several dead end writing attempts. I was missing the right inspiration.
That came many years later at a gig at the PAL Celebrity Club. That night, we had included the Travellers’ version of Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land’ in our set. Who should we meet at the break other than Sid Dolgay, one of the original Travellers. Sid introduced us to his wife Ida and as we became friends, we learned more about their wonderful and long relationship. Sid and I had a lot in common including that we both had lived on Machray Avenue in Winnipeg...30 years and 30 blocks apart!
I had finally met an Ida as sweet as the Ida Red and the lyrics quickly fell in to place. It was a simple love story based on Sid and Ida though I did change some details so that it became more historical fiction. I choose a very basic musical part so the song wasn’t cluttered with changes. This created a lot of space for the story to nest in and stand out. I also thought that a nice 3 /4 waltz time would create a nice nostalgic feel.
When we recorded it for the ‘For A Moment’ CD, we also kept the production simple, Sue and I on vocals, myself on guitar and accordion, Dave Lang on double bass and Kevin Quain on piano. I call it a grey wool socks by the fireplace production.
Best of all, I had the opportunity to play the song for Ida and Sid at the Celebrity Club bringing the song full circle!