Terry Manning is mostly known as a producer and engineer, having worked behind the glass for everybody from Led Zeppelin and ZZ Top to Al Green and the Staples Singers. Home Sweet Home is the only album he ever made on his own account, and that was almost completely by accident. The story goes that Manning was engineering a 1968 recording session for Alex Chilton’s Box Tops, when one night he decided to stay overtime and play a joke on songwriter Eddie Hinton. Hinton had brought in a song for the Box Tops called “Choo Choo Train”, a hard chugging, Southern boogie song that he thought would be perfect for Chilton. Manning felt that Hinton was taking himself a little too seriously. So late one night, he recorded his own version of “Choo Choo Train”, purposely accenting the cut’s hard psychedelia. The next day he played his way-over-the-top version of the song for producer Dan Penn, Chilton and Hinton, and everyone had a good laugh. But later, when Manning brought the cut to Al Bell at Stax, the joke was on him. Bell asked him how long it would take to record an entire album of similar material, and the seeds of Home Sweet Home were sown.
Not that Manning ever took the record too seriously. He decided to make every song represent a different style, each, like “Choo Choo Train” pursued a little harder than normal. As a result, nearly every track will remind you of other artists…artists taking the piss at their own worst excesses. For instance, there’s a long, freaked out, solo-laced version of George Harrison’s “Savoy Truffle” to kick things off, an Elvis-strutting Johnny Cash cover called “Guess Thing Happen that Way”, and a slinky, organ-pulsing Booker T and the MGs tribute titled “Sour Mash.” Somewhere between pastiche and parody and genuine rock achievement, Home Sweet Home is a fascinating inside joke that nonetheless works as music.
Part of the reason it works is, obviously, the musicians Manning was able to rally. You can hear a very young Chris Bell (soon to be of Big Star) trying out his Memphis soul leads in cuts like “Trashy Dog” and “Guess Things Happen That Way”. Robert Moog, inventor of his eponymous synthesizer, sits in on the sublimely excessive “Savoy Truffle”. And the Hi Hat Rhythm section, a band of southern soul vets who had backed Al Green and the Staples Singers, puts an irresistible groove under the live-recorded Ann Peebles cover “I Can’t Stand the Rain”. This last cut is one of three bonus cuts, not included on the original vinyl. Manning recorded it at Memphis State University, substituting at the last minute for George Thoroughgood’s opening act.
The other two bonus tracks have similarly interesting back stories. A Beatles cover—“One After 909”—was one of Manning’s earliest efforts. He did it after receiving a demo of the Beatles version, before they had even recorded their more famous rendition. The demo was so raw, though, that it didn’t have all the words or guitar parts on it, and Manning filled in the best he could. It wasn’t until 2003 that he edited the cut, adding a guitar bridge that was originally missing, and finally finishing it. And “Talk Talk” by the Music Machine and Sean Boniwell was originally intended as the first cut on a follow-up album which was, sadly, never made.
Home Sweet Home‘s first side (“Savoy Truffle”, “Guess Things Happen That Way”, “Trashy Dog” and “Wild Wild Rocker”) is stronger than its second, where the goofiness begins to overwhelm the music. Still, the bonus tracks indicate that Manning might have had more in him, given time and resources. He was successful for the rest of his life, but he never made another record, and this one, given Stax’s difficulties in promoting pop, never reached a wide audience. Now, 40 years later, Home Sweet Home is a time capsule, with its aggressive psychedelic riffs and hard-edged soul rhythms. It’s also an oddity, an artifact, a sly joke ... but that doesn’t make the music any less fun.