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Hadacol’s Greg Wickham returns to the world of recording after almost 16 years

Greg Wickham was encouraged by his wife, Sara, to record his first solo album, “If I Left This World,” more than 15 years after his band, Hadacol, broke up.
Greg Wickham was encouraged by his wife, Sara, to record his first solo album, “If I Left This World,” more than 15 years after his band, Hadacol, broke up.

Family heavily influenced the first solo recording by Greg Wickham.

For starters, his wife, Sara, encouraged him to pursue the project.

“I was on a walk with Sara,” Wickham said, “and she asked me, ‘Is there anything you haven’t done that you would regret not doing if you knew your life was going to end?’ I said the only regret I had was never recording a solo project. She said, ‘Do it.’ And it started from there.”

Saturday, Wickham will celebrate the release of “If I Left This World,” his first recording since his former band, Hadacol, broke up in 2001. (Hadacol was a 24-proof elixir, a patent medicine sold as a dietary supplement in the early 1950s.)

“Primarily, I looked at this project as this,” Wickham said. “What songs would I want to leave behind, mostly for my kids, after I’m gone, to get an idea of what their dad was like when they were young?”

“World” comprises 14 songs, including two dedicated to Wickham’s two older children: “Angel of Mercy (Song for Sophie)” and “Elsie’s Lullaby.”

It also includes “Waterfall,” which has a sentimental history: “I played it on acoustic guitar for Sara before I proposed to her.”

Wickham started recording “World” in 2015 in the studio of Kristie Stremel, a Kansas City singer/songwriter. He’d worked with Stremel before, recording a version of “Elsie’s Lullaby” for a project she curated, “Wildflowers: Original Songs and Poems for and About Children.”

“I had such a great time recording that and making music again with other musicians, it really inspired me and awakened something in me,” he said.

Before the “Wildflowers” project, Wickham hadn’t been in a studio for almost 15 years, when he and his brother, Fred, recorded a few acoustic demos for Hadacol, the band he and Fred founded in the mid-1990s.

In 1999, Hadacol released its debut album, “Better Than This,” on Checkered Past Records, a Chicago label. The album received praise in all the right places, including No Depression magazine, where Kansas City writer David Cantwell wrote in a review: “The results are some uncommonly good songs peppered with lyrical images of stunning clarity.”

Hadacol hit the road relentlessly, but the travel and the business and all the other obligations and aggravations took their toll. When drummer Brian Baker moved to Virginia, the band was forced to make a decision: Fill the position or move on. Slowly, they chose the latter.

“As the months went by and turned into a couple of years,” Greg Wickham said, “I think we all realized that we were going in different directions. Our lives took different paths.”

Those paths included marriage and children. And occasional flings with other bands. All the while, at home, away from everyone, Wickham continued to write songs, like the ode to his first-born child, Elsie. But it wasn’t until he contributed to Stremel’s “Wildflowers” project that he realized how much he missed being a part of a band.

“That’s what got the adrenaline going again: being in the studio with musicians who were really putting something together,” he said. And when his wife posed her do-it-now-or-never proposition, Wickham was determined.

He returned to Stremel’s studio to lay down the basic tracks.

“We worked side-by-side through the whole process,” he said. “She had so much enthusiasm. She really pushed me hard do this. She was crucial to this project.

“Then she and I went and worked with Paul Malinowski at Massive (Sound Studios) to lay all the drum parts, all the vocal parts, some horns and some of the guitar overdubs. So we finished it there. It was great working with him, too.”

For Stremel, the mission was to follow the advice of Lou Whitney, her former producer and mentor, who died in October 2014.

“This was my first time co-producing a record that wasn’t mine,” she said. “When in doubt, I would ask myself WWLD: What would Lou do?

“Lou always told me ‘a good song is a good song, no matter how it’s recorded,’ so my mission as co-producer was to get Greg to fine-tune his songs and sing them to the best of his ability.”

“World” features an array of guest musicians, including Stremel, Kasey Rausch, Marco Pascolini and Wickham’s nephew Fred Wickham Jr., plus a four-piece horn section comprising Kyle Dahlquist, Chad Boyston, Joe Athon and Ben Ruth. It also features Hadacol alums Fred Wickham and Richard Burgess, which aroused some long-gone good-time feelings.

“We had an enormous amount of fun,” Greg Wickham said.

Hadacol will perform a set at Saturday’s CD release show. Nearly everyone who contributed to the recording will also be on hand to perform, as will several opening acts, including Betse & Clarke, Country Duo (Rausch and Pascolini), the Hardship Letters and the Naughty Pines.

For Wickham, the show will be an opportunity to celebrate more than his inaugural solo record. It will also provide a chance to revive and celebrate the band he and his brother started nearly 20 years ago, a band that is an important part of his music family.

“I couldn’t be any closer to two people,” he said of his brother and Burgess. “Whatever chemistry issues we might have had under the strain of that four- to five-year run with Hadacol, all that’s behind us. … With those two guys, there’s something about the chemistry and the energy between the three of us — it’s hard to duplicate or even understand where it comes from. But it’s still there. It’s great to feel that again.”

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

Saturday

Greg Wickham will celebrate the release of “If I Left This World” Saturday at RecordBar, 1520 Grand Blvd. Also on the bill: Hadacol, the Hardship Letters, Betse & Clarke, Country Duo and the Naughty Pines. Show time is 8 p.m. Admission to the 18-and-older show is $10. therecordbar.com

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