Oddly enough, the title track of the Almost There album was originally sparked by a song it sounds nothing like: "You Really Got Me," by the Kinks. I love figuring out fresh, unusual arrangements of classic songs, and I'd done that with "You Really Got Me"—instead of the speedy, sliding power chords that Dave Davies played with the Kinks, I worked out an alternate version in dropped-D tuning that was a blast to play on acoustic guitar. One day I was fooling around with the riff from my Kinks arrangement and wound up slowing it way down and totally changing the rhythm, and suddenly I had a new groove that became the starting point for "Almost There." (By the way, messing around with another song is a great way to spark ideas for your own songs. In fact I wrote a lesson for Acoustic Guitar about this subject. Here's an excerpt.) Anyway, I started singing over my new guitar groove, and something like the opening lines popped out: "Almost certain that I'm almost there / Almost across the line." I liked the repetition of almost and began collecting phrases with the word: almost heaven, almost cut my hair, almost famous, almost fine, etc., with no idea how or why I might use them. Having no idea is key—at this initial stage, the cardinal rule of songwriting, for me, is to avoid having any ideas or judgments about what I'm doing. As I like to tell my students: Write first, think later. Eventually a character began to emerge in these lyrics, a well-meaning guy who keeps trying but doesn't fully deliver on anything (isn't he a bit like you and me?). A story was forming. At this point I shared what I had with Wendy Ramsay, my partner in crime, and she came up with the chorus melody, which brought a kind of '60s grooviness to the song that I loved. She also had the idea of overlaying a bit of the melody of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," played on the flute, over my rhythm guitar; live, we sometimes perform the song this way. In terms of the songwriting, the last piece to fit in was the bridge ("The time is coming..."), which takes a number of unexpected harmonic leaps. I have no clue where those came from—they are purely instinctual. It was a fun, sort of mathematical challenge figuring out how to navigate back to the chorus and the original key from this twisty interlude. The core album track was recorded live in the studio, with me on acoustic guitar and vocal, Josh Dekaney on percussion, John Dancks on upright bass, and Wendy singing and playing flute. Later, back in my home studio, Wendy layered a couple of clarinet parts to create the sweet instrumental harmonies on the bridge and ending. We often open shows with this song, and the groove never fails to make me smile. Ooh yeah. ALMOST THERE Words by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers, music by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers and Wendy Ramsay I am almost certain that I’m almost there Almost across the line I am almost wishing that I cut my hair Guess I’m looking almost fine Check it If this is almost heaven, then I’m almost dead Off to a better place I could be almost famous for the life I led Or vanish without a trace Check it Ooh yeah Anytime you call me you will find me standing by Any situation I will almost be your guy Check it Almost told you how I almost feel Almost every night Sang my confession on a reel-to-reel Almost got it right Check it Ooh yeah Anytime you call me you will find me standing by Any situation I will almost be your guy The time is coming when I’ll cross that line With the banners waving, the sun will shine As I raise the cup, celebrating the day Balloons are rising in the azure sky In the blur of faces I catch your eye and then All the other voices fade away Away Anytime you call me you will find me standing by Any situation I will almost be your guy Any way you want me I will try to satisfy Anything you ask me You know this is my reply Ooh yeah