Fred Wickham’s “I Don’t Have to Like It,” from forthcoming solo debut Mariosa Delta, is a tantalizing tale of loss. It’s also the bittersweet end of a Midwestern alt-country staple’s career, following the 2014 death of producer Lou Whitney.
The song tells of regretful farewells and emotional vulnerabilities, with each gut-wrenching verse punctuated by barroom piano riffs. At its core sits a songwriter, strumming his acoustic guitar while spilling his heart for all who might listen.
“I Don’t Have to Like It” is one of my favorite cuts on the record,” Wickham tells Wide Open Country. “The rhythm section paces the song perfectly—its dramatic without sounding melodramatic. I like the way the band exercises the restraint the singer is pretending to have, when in fact, unlike the musicians, he’s actually falling apart. This song owes a lot to producer Lou Whitney. He was the best.”
Although such lines as “I don’t mind saying it, I hate to see you go,” work as lamentations of a shunned lover, they took on new meaning after Whitney’s death.
Whitney died at age 71 following a battle with terminal cancer. The veteran Missouri musician’s production and engineering credits include releases by Wilco and Robbie Fulks. Whitney also produced both albums by Wickham’s prior band, Hadacol.
“He was a huge name among all those dedicated people who love Americana music,” says Wickham. “He was just an incredible character. If you met him and spent any time with him, you would say, ‘That’s one of the most interesting people I’ve ever been around.’”
Wickham’s solo debut comes 16 years after the dissolution of Hadacol, an alt-country band that also featured his brother Greg. That’s a mighty long stretch of living for a songwriter with a talent for basing narratives on triumphs and sorrows. For instance, Wickham became a new father recently, adding a heightened sense of joy to his life and songs. He’s also wrestling with a late-life admission by his deceased grandmother, whose shocking tale of her brother-in-law’s murder at a family-owned club inspired the title track.