Once upon a time in the west III

A Monday morning in Studio C.

Hollywood 1995.

Spring clouds and humid heat.

Coffee from The Fish Lounge.

Shitty everday rocket fuel.

Go from control room to control room stealing patch cables and XLR connectors for the outboard gear.

Steal the goddamn outboard gear.

Standard methodolgy is to show up a day or two before and hoard as many mics and as much gear not bolted down as possible. Pile it on one of the ubiquitous grey plastic gurneys with shopping cart wheels, tape it off, attach a sign warning of death for trespass and park it in the room we’d be tracking in the next day or hide it somewhere, depending on the budget.

If Bill Kennedy was booked, steal everything from his stash. Prick bastard hoarder once used forty seven mics on a drumkit. It took two days for him to sort out phase. Prick bastard. Fucking Tazmanian Devil. I was trying to make a fucking record and he was jerking off back in Studio D with Motley Crue on a demo no one would ever hear.

I did loves me some Kill, however.

He’s dead now.

Crazy prick bastard.

We pulled Neve 1066’s and 1073’s, Focusrite pre’s, GML pre’s and Eq’s, Nueman U47’s 49’s, a C12, fet 47’s and every 87 we had. Plenty of 57’s, 421’s and 414’s.

I was gonna need everything for this band I made stupid promises to.

I raped and pillaged.

I was desperate.

Alex and I requisitioned gear. We um, hid it. We had secret stashes and by then we’d begun to buy and own our own. At a studio like A&M, in it’s heyday, an engineer never lacked equipment. Still, we were sluts for gear. Ask Al about his goddamn Panscan. I wish I could buy it now and give it to him for his birthday.

Same day as mine.

Next, assessment of strategy and tactics with co-consprator Al.  Poor bastard had no idea what I’d gotten him into but I did. Map it out, figure out where to put what musician where for basic tracks and then overdubs.  Figure out what performances we could keep and what what we’d have to do over.

A big band with complex arrangements and long songs.

Studio C was one goddamn tiny livingroom.

Fresh white tape above and beside each fader.

I liked doing that.

A Zen before the clouds burst.

Check messages at the front desk.

Leave a list of who will be arriving.

Thirteen guys in shitty cars or vans or trucks.

Remind the techs you’re first up and you need the machines aligned. Ampex456 +3. Agfa 468 on the half inch +5. Couldn’t always get good stereo buss compression so we’d learned to run the half inch hot.

Remind the runners you’re first up and there’s still no coffee or fruit. We’ll need one of you to help with setup. Who’s game? Were they to ask you to get permission for them, their vaginas became obvious.  Just do it.  Just fucking help us.

Choose one. Talk to the others, thank them for picking up the slack and we’ll return the favor next time you’re ballsy enough to volunteer.

Pussies.

Studio C was designed for demos and overdubs, never intended for anything on this scale.

But we have this room inside of the greatest recording studio in the world and we are going to kill this.

Scramble, scramble, scramble.

Feed them a click?

I didn’t think we’d need to.

I ended up being wrong on at least one song.

We were shooting for four or five songs in as many days complete, save for mixes. No time and no budget to lock up two multitracks, the whole project would be done on twenty four track two inch.

Tall order for a production so elaborate.

We always bit off more than we could chew.

She requests a double pirouette. I ask with or without skates.

The architecture of studio C was of particular challenge to this project. One live room, maybe twelve by twenty feet. Eight foot ceiling. No iso booths, the only other airlocked room was the machine room, barely real estate enough for an amp and cabinet.

There were varieties of closets and a tiled room with a prominent sixty cycle hum behind studio C we called The Dancehall. Some sort of ancient power grid in there. Blue and black tile. Part of an historical landmark. An honest to god chickenwire cage. Fuck me.

Crazy wierd shit everywhere.

If you recorded anything in the Dancehall, it better be fucking loud. Good place for a bass cabinet because you could always fuck with polarity between it and and a direct box to defeat the ground hum.

We didn’t care. We ran cables out to the street or the guard shack at the rear entrance. I used the public bathroom at least twice that I remember.

The console was a thirty two input, sixteen buss API with a twenty four input monitor section that was patchable and sounded wonderful. The desk itself was the best sounding one in the place. It smoked the SSL’s and even the custom Neve across the hall.

That API was my goddamn training wheels.

There was an eight channel self mix headphone system, a dozen real EMT plates and six live echo chambers accessible from the patch bay. We had Pultecs, Fairchilds, 1176’s, DBX 160’s, LA2A’s, H3000’s, API 560’s, Rev 5, Rev 7, SPX 90’s, AMS, an ETM, Eventide Harmonizer, two Studer A800 MKIII’s, Studer half inch, two DATs and two cassettes already in the walls.

Fresh fruit, coffee and water every morning. Half & half and milk in an ice chest with mustard, ketchup and mayonnaise

Allegedly.

About ten, the band loaded in. It was awkward. We hadn’t seen each other for a while, they didn’t know Al and asked after Rick. I told them he was dead.

I had killed him but he’d most likely be around after six.

We were lucky enough to have a little bit of a reputation at that point and they’d studied us.

They got we weren’t fucking around.

Still, they expected a bigger room.

They were recording at A&M fucking Studios fer fuck’s sake.

Buss assignments, cross patching and track sheet info shouted at a boy named Sperger. Over and over. He was new. Over and over. The chosen runner.

Enough mutual trust to allow us all to dive in.

So we did.

What we ended up with was gorgeous.

They played. That’s what they did. Fire and fucking brimstone. They gave us their very best.

It took about six months to finish after that first five days of furious activity. Despite some glaring flaws, it’s among the best work  I ever did. I believe I mixed “Insecurity Mishap” on my own in studio A.  Otherwise, Al was there. over my shoulder for most of it.

Al brings a difference to every table he sits at. He brought his genius and good sense to this record with a disappearing nuance and intuition.

We were lucky enough, and I don’t remember how, to track two more songs in Studio B. Best sounding tracks on the record. B was the best sounding room in the place if you bypassed the SSL and ran every thing through Neve and API mic pre’s.

We did that.

“Desert Flower” was a song that was new to us as the band hadn’t written it. It was beautiful but there was a problem with the horn arrangement. Al and I clocked it early on. There was an obvious hook they were ignoring. I had no idea what to do, but we understood the chart didn’t work as was.

Al had made his case.

What Al did was wake me up at about four a.m. and make me stay awake while he and G worked it out. Then, we had to record it. Two men put their hemispheres together and G translated it to staff paper. G, bari sax, shining light in a chandelier and writer of all horns, solved it. Gave us what we were looking for.

It worked. The album opens with it.

It’s an example of what Al really did and the musical prowess of Double G.

Al was always subtle in an overt way.

Over and over again I hear him on the records we made. A bridge or an outro that he would assume responsibility for. He would take a section, a chunk of a song, and shine a light on it. Exploit it shamelessly. Whether it was the melody or the lyrics or the music, he’d grab the vital visceral part and put it in your face with an understanding that often dictated the rest of the entire mix.

The record is a bit of a masterpiece because of him.

It’s flawed for sure.

That would be my fault.

I’d hoped to floor them the way they floored me the first time I saw them play.

Drinks for my friends.

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