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Album release cycles can be hectic under normal conditions, but Maggie McClure and Shane Henry, the married duo at the core of The Imaginaries, have a next-level story to tell.

In 2018, Henry and McClure, the blues guitarist and vocalist-pianist who celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary this year, found a dream location for recording their self-titled debut. They appeared on a YouTube show hosted by John Cuniberti called The OneMic Series, in which musicians travel to the famed Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama to do a one-take performance. 

Their recording of “Revival,” a humid piece of elemental Southern rock, felt like lightning in a bottle. McClure and Henry’s chemistry with the “Swampers,” the famed session musicians who backed The Imaginaries on the video, was worth replicating, so they went all-in with the studio that recorded The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Street Survivors, and The Black Keys’ Brothers. 

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McClure said the Muscle Shoals recording methods — the musicians record all the instruments together — fit what she and Henry wanted for their album: warmth, spontaneity and humanity. 

“It was really important for us to all record at the same time, because we have always missed out on that due to budgetary constraints or logistics of the studio, etc, etc, and you know it can be done,” McClure said. 

“I mean, the only overdubbing that was done was things that couldn’t be cut live, like acoustic guitars and vocals,” Henry said. “So, this record has much more of a live feel to it. Overall, I think it’s a little bit more authentic because of that.”

With such a successful recording session banked and all-around enthusiasm from their team, McClure and Henry set about recording those overdubs back at his mother’s home near Chickasha. But on June 20, 2019, during one of those sessions, Henry felt a sharp pain in his abdomen. 

“Just kind of dismissed it like most dudes will do, you know?” Henry said. “Like, ‘Oh well, just an upset stomach or whatever.’ And it just persisted and persisted. And so that evening we were working. I hadn’t really said anything all day about it I just kind of ignored it and I just told Maggie, I was like, ‘I think I need to go to the emergency room — like, right now.’”

Henry was taken to a rural hospital and underwent an emergency appendectomy. Henry’s appendix was dangerously close to bursting before the surgery, but he made it through with what the doctors and The Imaginaries thought were only minor complications. 

Instead, Henry received a secondary infection from the surgery, one that could have killed him. 

He spent months recovering, enduring several rounds of antibiotics while he waited for his body to catch up with his desire to play again. Henry took a chance and played a pick-up gig in August, but it was too much, too soon. 

“Okay, I made it through one set,” he said. “I went to the bathroom on set break and I was bleeding from my wound. “I thought, ‘Holy shit, I’ve got to get to the hospital.’ I was at the emergency room again. It’s crazy, because here I am now two years after the surgery, and I still have stomach pain. Whatever they did inside there, you know, they screwed me up.”

As Henry continued his painful recovery, McClure began searching for holiday work that could offset their medical bills. 

One possibility was opening for the Brian Setzer Orchestra, the big band led by the founder of 1980s rockabilly trio Stray Cats. Nearly every holiday, Setzer embarks on a month-long holiday tour that usually sells out — a perfect way for The Imaginaries to recoup their losses.

“It wasn’t until the very beginning of October,” McClure said. “We got a call from Brian’s management, and they officially offered us the entire 25-day tour. As an independent band without a booking agent, landing something like that is a huge deal.”

Four days before the opening gig in Minneapolis, Setzer canceled the tour due to tinnitus. The Imaginaries purchased thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise for the tour, having been told that they would sell out of everything. 

Exhausted by 2019 and everything the year threw at them, The Imaginaries celebrated a quiet and fairly broke Christmas, released a holiday single, “Hometown Christmas,” and hoped to get things restarted and release The Imaginaries in 2020. There were thoughts of a tour and a release date, but then McClure had to undergo surgery on her gums in January 2020, pushing any kind of live dates back to March 2020.

“So, we had booked a ton of shows, starting literally March 14, 2020,” McClure said. “And I remember we were so excited; we hadn’t played yet all year because I had the surgery, And so, literally it was the first day to get canceled because of COVID. And then all of the other days, Every single one was canceled. And so it’s just been, you know, one thing after another, so I mean we’ve really learned to go with the flow and also just to be resilient, and not give up and continue to get up and go at it again and keep on keeping on.”

To their credit, The Imaginaries overcame the kind of historic awfulness that would have broken up so many other bands, but not that many bands are bonded by marriage. They made it through, and now The Imaginaries will release to stores and streaming services March 26 unless a meteor crashes into Earth. 

With theaters around the country beginning to book shows for late spring, The Imaginaries are beginning to imagine a post-COVID-19, post-appendectomy life of playing songs like “Revival,” “Thinking ‘Bout You” and “Walking On a Wire” in front of real, live people. 

And if all goes well, they will return to Muscle Shoals to record an Imaginaries follow-up album.  

“I think we’ll be going down during the summer, and right now we are putting our song lists together,” McClure said. “So, it’s in motion. It’s in its infancy stage, but it is in motion.”

What’s going on?

NOT-SO OBSCURA. Thanks to COVID-19 numbers moving in the right direction Factory Obscura, 25 NW Ninth St., hosts its Future of Sound Fest from 3 to 9 p.m. Saturday, featuring music from Kashlee Banx, Maddie Razook, Tony Foster Jr., Changing FrEQuencies, Endocrine Twins and Stephen Salewon. The outdoor event is free. Visit factoryobscura.com. Look for Dev Awasthi’s coverage of that event in Free Press later this weekend.

Last Updated March 19, 2021, 10:49 AM by Brett Dickerson – Editor