With cameos by Little Big Town, Carrie Underwood and Western swing supergroup the Time Jumpers, Miranda Lambert’s Platinum isn’t hurting for star power. When it came time to record “Old Shit,” though, Lambert — along with longtime producer Frank Liddell — looked for a different kind of guest musician, someone whose voice could suit the song’s raw, rootsy stomp. They found the right duet partner in W.B. Givens, a 24 year-old Americana singer from East Nashville.
Liddell, who runs the publishing company Carnival Music, was looking for artists to potentially join his roster earlier this year. At the recommendation of a mutual friend, he and Givens made plans to grab coffee, although recording sessions for Lambert’s album kept getting in the way. By the time Liddell and Givens did manage to get together, Platinum was nearly finished… except for one song.
“Mastering was scheduled for Wednesday, and we were gonna mix the last song, which was ‘Old Shit,’ on Tuesday,” Liddell remembers. “By Monday morning, we still didn’t have a background vocal on it. I wasn’t panicking, but I knew it needed to be something special. W.B. and I were supposed to get together that day, so I rescheduled the meeting for my office, where I could be across the street from the studio.”
Understandably, Liddell didn’t have much time to talk that afternoon. Things changed, though, once Givens picked up an acoustic guitar and ripped into one of his own songs, singing with a voice that reminded Liddell of “a country-er Grateful Dead.”
“When I was done playing that song,” Givens says, “Frank said, ‘Play another one.’ So I did. Then he said ‘Play another one,’ so I did. Then he said, ‘Man, can you sing harmony?’ and took my guitar and started singing ‘Old Shit’ in a high, falsetto voice.”
That was all it took. Givens, who’d grown up harmonizing in bluegrass bands, had the sort of brassy, Southern-steeped baritone that couldn’t be faked. Liddell invited him to the studio the following day, where Givens laid down the harmony vocals for “Old Shit” in 30 minutes.
“When I recorded my last album,” Givens says, “we tracked it in my friend’s house. The vocals were cut in a walk-in closet. Going to Music Row and doing ‘Old Shit’ for Miranda’s album was different. It was a bizarre experience to walk into this giant live room, where you’ve got a Grammy-winning producer and audio engineer, and people are offering you room-temperature water for your voice.”
Months after that half-hour recording session, Platinum is the Number One album on the Billboard 200. Even so, not much has changed for Givens, who received a basic sideman’s fee for his work. He won’t earn another dime, even if Platinum sells five million copies — and that suits him just fine. Some things are worth more than cash.
“I was just honored to be there, to be able to turn her voice up in my headphone mix,” he says.