Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sowing Oates

Last week, uber-famous singer/songwriter John Oates came into town to record an album. Since I was his guitar tech a few years ago and since he supposed I had made a few contacts here in Nashville in the 10 years I have lived here, he had me coordinate the project. I guess he figured a guy on the ground was good to have, even though I had never done any album coordinating before, unless placing the Capitol Beatles albums in chronological order or putting my hippest LPs where my friends could see them counts.

Anyways, I made a few suggestions, which lead to other suggestions and eventually a crew of supporting players was assembled, cast and contracted to play on the record. With some great help from the the trans-capable Anthony Aquilato, we got the guitars in tune, the drums in tune, and a bunch of great Nashville players assembled. Of course, John brought a ringer in the form of the fabulous T-Bone Wolk, bass legend and current Music Row trend setter. (Producer Note: If studio cat Steve Mackie is scheduled to play on any of your sessions in the next two weeks, Wolk's evangelizing of the Gibson Ripper has caused Mackie to take it out of the closet and put it to use on all of his recent session work. You have been warned.)

T-Bone Wolk and Steve Mackie

Roots Bass icon Paul Slivka loaned us his trusty B-15 bass amp, and it was used by all of the guys: T-Bone, Tim Marks and Michael Rhodes. It sounded great - and different - in the hands of every one of them. You can hear it's owner on Tuesdays at The Family Wash and any of a number of N-ville clubs the rest of the week. Thanks, Slivvy!!

John and Tim Marks

Acoustic music specialist Bil VornDick was engineer on the project. You can Google the All Music Guide for his credits, but make a sandwich and get a drink before you do. I know him as a kind and generous soul who can make broken hard drives better and make the sound of a particular guitar appear to be coming from above and beyond the speakers. He makes great things sound better and good things sound great. Nobody worried about getting their true "tone on tape" - or digitized into 1s and 0s... as was the case. (Note to self: We need new metaphors that are as alliterative and alluring as their analog ancestors).

Bil VornDick

Ace keyboardist, songwriter, producer, Red Bull fanatic Jed Leiber played keyboards and co-wrote and co-produced some of the tracks. An amazing guy, and owner of Nightbird Studio in Los Angeles.

Jed Leiber

Drum tech guru Anthony Aquilato was on hand for tuning and tweaking the kits. He and John go way back to the Hall and Oates heyday, and I met Anthony on the Christmas tour we both did with H&O. We now both work for LeAnn Rimes, he's the Production Manager, I'm tuning guitars.

Aq tunes the drums

The songs are excellent. John believes them to be the best he has written to date, and they are uniformly top notch, inspired and appropriate. They ring true, do not suffer from the common Music Row tendencies and above all, they are soulful. Having a voice like his to sing them with must be quite an advantage from a songwriting standpoint. John's demos were cool enough to listen to for enjoyment and instruction. Recorded in Garageband, no less.

Drummers Doug Belote, Shannon Forrest and Chad Cromwell delivered the necessary drive and groove with various amounts of grease, and guitarists Tom and Bob Britt did their Sibling Brothers vibe-acious tag-team on an uptempo Stonesy rocker with vocals from Bekka Bramlett. Funky but Hick. Oates noted that they seem to use the same instruments and tunings most of us mortal guitar players use, and that he did recognize all of the chord shapes and scale positions being massaged, but was confounded by the resulting sound versus his own six-string efforts. Welcome to Nashville, Mr. Oates! Though it must be noted that JO has mad guitar skills and will be featured throughout the record.

Overdubs for the acoustic masters - Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas and Sam Bush start next week. I'll be busy in LeAnn rehearsals, but I'l try to get some photos to add to this post.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Dust in The Fins

So, the computer problem. The one that put the kibosh on my recording plans for a few days. The one that had me uninstalling everything I could think of. The one that had me drive to Circuit City and buy a new keyboard and mouse, thinking that they were the possible cause of the shutdown. Nope, still crashing in intervals: turn it on, works for 30 minutes, crashes. Reboots, maybe good for 15 minutes. Reboot, 5 minutes. Hang up on reboot.

I typed a question using the above description of my problem on an audio engineering forum called "Gearslutz" that I frequent. In a few hours, I had several guesses, a few diagnosis, and a solution. My CPU was overheating due to excessive dust.

I have blown the dust out of the studio computer several times in the past, not knowing that there was an internal fan, sitting on a heatsink, cooling off the processor. You have to take the fan off the heatsink and then you see dozens of heat fins coated like a fur blanket with dust. Like a sleeping bag. Like a fur coat. Like a big pink roll of Corning's finest.

A quick trip to Radio Shack for an $8.00 can of compressed air, a thorough cleaning of the whole casing and my core temp dropped from 51C to 38C. I think I can get it even lower by reseating the heatsink with a conductive heatsink paste, and is sending some my way as we speak.



Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Mr. Smith Goes To Heaven

Norman Smith, Abbey Road audio engineer for the first half of The Beatles' career, died last night. He was 83 years old.

More to come when I get some time...I'm busy engineering my self at the moment. This mix is for you,"Normal".

UPDATE: Well, that mix turned out great...until the computer crashed. Still trying to get it back up. IS digital really better than tape? Sometimes I wonder...

UPDATE II: I have it back up and running, tentatively. I was able to back up all of the work I have been doing the past few weeks...something I should be better at, I admit. All is safe at the moment, and I burned the mixes I needed. Yay. Thanks, Norm!!!

Back to the Norman Smith post...a quick Google search turns up this interesting page, a recent (2006) interview with Mr. Smith.

"Rubber Soul" was the last record he engineered for The Beatles, before becoming an EMI staff producer and heading up the first three Pink Floyd albums. He also produced the influential LP "S.F. Sorrow" by The Pretty Things.

He had a vaudevillian music act, singing under the name "Hurricane Smith". His song "Oh, Babe What Would You Say" was a #1 U.S. hit.

This is the guy who got the sound of the young Beatles on tape. "She Loves You", "Twist and Shout", "A Hard Day's Night". "Help!", "Norwegian Wood". Smith was present at and partly responsible for all of the music that initially made the Beatles famous. He was replaced by the legendary Geoff Emerick for the "Revolver" sessions.

Thanks for taking the care to get the recordings right, Norm. All of our lives would be different if you had not been as big a fan of The Beatles as the rest of us.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Era Parent

My brother, sister-in-law and I were discussing the Generations at dinner a while back. My brother was born in 1951, ten years before me, so we are the front and back of the boomer generation, mostly. He has two kids, both boys (men, actually), one Gen X and one Millennial.

Very different generations. The oldest brother had Hip-Hop and Rap, Pixar and teen movies, Nintendo video games ...and his class does not seem to hang together. The younger is in college, still close with all of his high school classmates, listens to The Allman Brothers and Led Zeppelin, plays guitar.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The First Three Cuts... Are The Deepest (Grooves)

Well maybe not the deepest, but it's really great to get a new project going - and they do groove nicely.

UPDATE March 5, 2008: Marco assures me they do groove deeply, so strike that first line.

We started on (my fab wife) Donna Beasley's next album a couple of nights ago. It's tentatively titled "Under The Rushes".

While "Good Samaritan" is just now starting to sell and we have recently secured European distribution through Proper records, the time is ripe to get the next project moving. Tim Carroll and I have finished mixing his next record, "Rants and Musings" with just a bit more casual listening and a few more minor tweaks (I expect) before it finally goes out for replication. We even began work on his next next record...he's quite prolific.

Donna's first three tracks that we recorded were "Heart Like A Wound", "You Wouldn't Know Love", and "This Love Won't Die". We had a full demo of "Heart Like A Wound" already, but we recut it with Marco Giovino and Steve Mackey on drums and bass, respectively. My buddy Anthony Aquilato engineered and I produced and played a little scratch guitar, none of which we will keep.

Anthony brought over a nice selection of top end gear. We tracked the drums through 5 Amek C.I.B. mic pres, using the Glynn Johns "3-mic method" for the kit, with two Room mics in addition to the Kick and Kit Left, Kit Right mics. We took the bass through a Universal Audio 6176 and the vocals through an Avalon 737. Nice and good.

No sneak peeks or advance listens this time out...I learned that you only show things when they are done. Most people can't "listen past" the sound of a rough mix or an unfinished song. As far as the general public is concerned, there only IS finished product. Rarely do we see uncut and unedited music or film...for good reason.

I have about 6 weeks until I begin this Summer's tour, so I am under the gun to get Tim, Donna and Cole Slivka to a place in their projects so that my limited access won't be too much of a factor.

I have my Mac laptop tricked out with more plugins and the Digidesign Strike drum machine. I have been writing a lot of instrumentals lately, so I may try to squeeze in an album of my own stuff while on the road.

Lots to do, so few days to get it done. All this and a regular exercise program, too?

Life is good.