You’re still here beside me every day
‘Cause I know you by heart…
Some songs are universal, some are personal, and a very special few are both at the same time. “I Know You By Heart” is one of those magical songs, a valentine of love and loss. Without any specific reference to gender or age, it could be about any close relationship, that might have ended in a variety of ways.
“I Know You By Heart” was written by Diane Scanlon and Eve Nelson. Eva Cassidy recorded it at Chris Biondo’s studio, where her brother Dan later added a violin solo, only a few weeks before Eva’s death. The song was used as the opening track of the album EVA BY HEART, and it was later chosen to be part of the anthology album SONGBIRD, which has earned a gold record in the United States, among other honors. In 2011, the album SIMPLY EVA closes with Eva singing the song without accompaniment.
Webmaster Laura Bligh spoke with several of the people involved in “I Know You By Heart” in 2002:
Diane Scanlon, Lyricist
Question: How did you come to write “I Know You By Heart”? The song is so emotionally intense — was it written with a special, personal loss in mind?
Diane Scanlon: I wrote “I Know You By Heart” at a time of great loss in my life. My father was dying and we were in a long process of pulling him off life support, so I spent a lot of quiet time in my father’s hospital room by his side with my mother. It was also a time in my life where my own relationship with my partner was in trouble and I felt as though I was losing a lot. I was writing not only from the place of losing a lover but also watching my mom lose a relationship through death. These two events made me realize the importance of finding love in one’s life and, even more importantly, being conscious of time spent with the people you love.
Question: How did you and your co-writer put the lyrics and the music together?
Diane Scanlon: When I sit down to write with Eve Nelson I usually have a lyrical idea in mind. Eve is a brilliant pianist and when we begin, I describe the mood of the piece and show her the rough lyrics. Nine times out of ten, she takes me right to where I want to go. We usually hammer out the melody together, after which I write the lyrics and she writes the music.
Question: Did you realize when you finished writing the song that it was something really special?
Diane Scanlon: We both knew we had something very special but, as usual, when we presented the finished demo to our prospective publishers they said they didn’t know what to do with it as they felt it didn’t fit into any easy category.
Question: What did you think of Eva Cassidy’s recording of “I Know You By Heart”?
“Eva not only had a wonderful vocal instrument but she also understood what I was trying to say.”
Diane Scanlon: Both Eve and I love Eva’s version of “I Know You By Heart”. As a matter of fact very recently we finished another song we feel strongly about and we both turned to each other and said at the same time, “I wish Eva could sing this”. I know that Greg Smith also feels the same way as I do about “Time Is A Healer”. Eva not only had a wonderful vocal instrument but she also understood what I was trying to say.
Question: The Eva Cassidy CD SONGBIRD has been a tremendous success, selling millions of copies worldwide. You are responsible for two outstanding compositions on it. How has this success affected your life?
Diane Scanlon: The success of “Songbird” has been great for me as a writer. This is not so much financially but more importantly because I am so proud of those songs. I wrote them from my heart because I had to write them as an artist. I write many songs and I have a very strong catalog but I must admit that sometimes I write from a “craft” perspective. I’ve been writing songs for a long time; when a record company asks me to come up with something I can do it. But those two songs were conceived in a truly honest and human way.
Question: Did you write the song for any particular artist to perform?
Diane Scanlon: I knew those songs had to be sung by an artist with range in their voice and compassion in their hearts, but I didn’t have any one artist in mind. Although I did feel that “Time Is A Healer” needed a singer with some gospel background.
Question: How old were you when you wrote those lyrics?
Diane Scanlon: I was forty. Yes, I’m one of the elders.
Question: Have other artists recorded “I Know You By Heart”? What do you think of the various versions?
Diane Scanlon: Yes, other artists have recorded it. This includes an instrumental version by Nina Gerber. But I still love Eva’s version best.
Question: You released the album DEVOTION in 1992 and you are currently working on another album. Some of Eva’s fans may not have heard DEVOTION yet. Can you tell us something about your albums? Is there any chance we might get to hear your own versions of “Time Is A Healer” and “I Know You By Heart”?
Diane Scanlon: My first record was electric and high energy. The record I am finishing up now is more acoustic. They are both very blues-based. DEVOTION has a lot of rock influences. I’m thinking of putting those two songs on my new record but I’m not sure how they will work with the rest of the songs.
“It also gives me faith that the listening public does want to hear real music and not what radio shoves down their throats.”
Question: Was this your first gold record?
Diane Scanlon: Yes, it is my first Gold record, and I thank my lucky stars that my current limelight came with those two songs on Eva’s record. I’m very proud of them and it also gives me faith that the listening public does want to hear real music and not what radio shoves down their throats.
Chris Biondo, Producer and Bassist
Question: How did Eva come across the song “I Know You By Heart”?
Chris Biondo: Eva’s manager, Al Dale, got a tape from a publishing company that had four songs on it. Two of them were “Time is a Healer” and “I Know You By Heart.” The tape was piano and a singer and a drum machine. We listened to them in the car driving up to Pennsylvania, where she was going to rehearse with Pieces of a Dream.
When we decided to record the song “I Know You By Heart,” I took the tape and played it over and over in the studio. Eva played along with her guitar until she learned the song. Then I set her up with a click track and we worked out an arrangement, based on the arrangement on the demo tape. Before she went in to sing it, she said “You know, I don’t like the line ‘I see your profile,’ I think I’m going to sing ‘I see your sweet smile.'” That was the only change she made.
“She loved constructing background vocals that had fairly complicated harmonies and textures to them.”
Question: What do you remember about making the recording?
Chris Biondo: At that time, what we did with that song was just her guitar and vocals, the other stuff we added after she got sick. Eva sang the lead vocal, she sang the background vocals, and then that middle part, the kind of choir thing, we were just doing it on the fly. Some of the vocals are pretty complex. If you listen to it when the second verse comes in,
there’s a wash of “Ooh-oohs” coming in, that was hard to do, it took a long time, that is probably eight vocals. You hear little shadows in the background, there are lots of tiny backups that are kind of subtle in there, the line “We were like children,” that’s pretty complicated. I think that Eva’s favorite thing in the world to do musically was to record, and she loved constructing background vocals that had fairly complicated harmonies and textures to them, that was her way of enjoying a song.
Question: What was the next step?
Chris Biondo: We put those string parts in. That is a cello sample from an Akai S-900, and the high strings are from a Korg 01W, I put them together so that when you played a note, both things played at the same time. Eva played the right hand, I played the left hand.
While we were working on it, Niki Lee stopped by at the studio. I remember Niki stood next to me and was listening to it, I saw something move and it was a tear falling out of her eye. It showed me how good the song was, she had just walked in and the song really got to her. Eva thought that Niki crying was nice, but I don’t think she understood how powerful the song and the recording were. “Anniversary Song” is another example, if there were four people in a room listening to it, three of them would have tears in their eyes and the fourth person who wasn’t crying would be Eva.
Question: When did you put in the bass part?
Chris Biondo: A long time later, a couple of days before Dan [Cassidy] came to do the violin parts. I set the song in a loop and played bass with it for a couple of hours, until I felt good with it. The hardest part with the bass part was trying to time it right with the “You left in autumn.” There’s a long rest before the last chorus comes in, it was out of tempo. I kept missing it, it took a lot of tries. If I was doing digital it wouldn’t have mattered!
Question: Then Eva’s brother did the fiddle part. How did that come about?
Chris Biondo: He called me up, I knew he was coming to visit, I asked him if he would come over. I knew Eva wanted him to play violin on “How Can I Keep From Singing.” It already had some parts from him, that he had recorded before, but we had decided to put fiddle on both choruses. There was no bigger fan of Dan Cassidy than Eva! So while he was there doing that, I put him on “I Know You By Heart.” He pretty much had a good feel for what to do, I remember that the part where he adds the second harmony at the end was all his idea. The only thing that I specifically asked him to do, was the answering part at the end, where the lyrics are “I know you by heart,” and the violin plays the same melody, then the voice comes back in. The rest of it was what Dan worked out.
Dan Cassidy, Violinist
Question: Tell us about recording the violin part to “I Know You By Heart.”
“As we listened to the final mix, Chris pointed out the vocal lines, ‘You left in autumn, The leaves were turning,’ as we both sat there misty-eyed.”
Dan Cassidy: I had flown back to see Eva for the last time in October, 1996. At that time I was gathering material for my debut solo CD, DAN CASSIDY – ON THE FIDDLE. Both Eva and Chris [Biondo] had suggested that I overdub some violin on ‘I Know You By Heart.’ I went into Chris’s studio on a crystal clear day with the autumn foliage at its peak. As we started the recording process, I was a bit alarmed that the song was in the difficult key of A-flat, so I re-tuned my violin up a half step so I could play in the much more comfortable and ‘fiddlistic’ key of G. I had to come up with my own violin parts in the song and Eva’s beautiful vocals inspired me to create on a higher level than usual. Chris, who was engineering this session, was helpful in making some musical suggestions to guide me along. The session went smoothly and Chris and I were both pleased at the result. As we listened to the final mix, Chris pointed out the vocal lines, “You left in autumn, The leaves were turning” as we both sat there misty-eyed.
Later that evening, I returned to my parents’ home to play the recording to Eva, who was not able to get out of bed anymore. After listening, I asked her what she thought and she humbly said, ‘Your part was good.’ I was delighted to take the track back to Iceland with me as a parting gift to include on my CD.
Copyright 2002 – Laura Claire Bligh. Thank you to Diane Scanlon, Chris Biondo, and Dan Cassidy for your wonderful insights into the origin of one of my favorite songs.
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