Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Most Unusual Recording Experience; magic

So, Cliff, one of my Copper Creek bandmates from up here on Ballistic mountain, knows a guy who has let another guy we know set up some analog recording equipment in a giant log house which is not yet finished on the inside. I mean giant logs as well as big house. Huge timbers from Canada. Beautiful stuff.

The property is home to old lawn mowers, motor homes which tilt sideways, sheds, and just stuff that tends to bring out the sculptor of unusual things in me when I survey it. It is owned by a character sort of guy who knows more famous music gurus than I can remember to do the name dropping any justice, so I won't drop too many. I know Charlie Musselwhite, quintessential blues harp player has hung out there. Various bands and musicians have played and enjoyed cookouts there on his property. Another I remember is Doors keyboard player, Ray Manzarek.

Anyway, we needed some kind of demo CD if we want to hustle more gigs. The analog guy, who I knew to be an ace of a soundman from some other situations, was hot to record using his vintage, but primo, equipment and methods. If you'd have described it to me ahead of time, I would have been skeptical of the result.

We arrived before noon, were ushered inside and up the roughed in, temporary stairs to the top, unfinished floor. The bottom floor is mostly filled with wood working and construction equipment being used to gradually get the place built. This is a different world; the kind you only find in rural mountains and foothills. Of course there were a couple of mixed breed dogs, Sasha and Zox. I was pleased that they understood every word I said, and that they seemed interested. They remained outside.

There was no special sound padding or other obvious acoustical treatment in the area where we played, but for some reason the place worked very well. Maybe the shape of the ceiling or just the residual energy of those who'd been on the property in years gone by. All the buildings burned in the famous "Cedar fires" a few years ago. This log structure is built where once stood a large house.

John, the recording anomaly, was pleased that we were cooperative, and that we were prepared to play. He only had two microphones set up, with one actually doing most of the work. When he played back the first tune we played I was pleasantly surprised. The two acoustic guitars blended well and the vocals were stellar. The harp was not too bad either. I played it very conservatively but stepped up on instrumental breaks. This is more country/folk/semi-gospel, not in that order and only sometimes all at the same time.

The sound of this set up with John at the sound board is robust, and warm. I don't think I'd do an acoustic group any other way now if I wanted to record live, with everyone playing. I actually like to record that way at least as well as laying down separate tracks. Depends on what you are doing I guess.

It was really worth the 12 mile trip just to see the log house and the craftsmanship involved in this structure. And the size of the timbers. Huge. One main beam is something like 60'. Each end sticks out a ways and has an eagle head carved in it. It was hand chiseled by an Inuit Indian, I believe, up in British Columbia. A guy who makes real deal totem poles.

Dan, the colorful character who owns the place, has more stories than you can imagine. He's actually not that much older than I am. It was all spell binding.

We recorded 14 tunes. Only one or two did we re-record after first take. This stuff was going to an old reel to reel tape. Everything was tube driven. I have no idea what most of it was, but a sound board is a sound board, so that much was familiar. The main mic was a giant RCA thing that John calls his Bing Crosby mic. The other one he had just to catch the ambient room sound or something is what he called the Patsy Kline mic. Wonder if Patsy is K Kline or C Cline? I could look it up, but no, I won't. Both these microphones are definitely old school and expensive to buy today. That I know. Ribbon mics, he said.

I'm still stunned at the majestic sound. He put in a bit of echo I think. Not too much. It worked. This is pure 50's style sound recording, I'm pretty sure. Whatever it is, I enjoyed it. It took a little bit of adjustment to figure out when you'd be picked up and how much. I still can't believe the blend that was achieved. I'm all about the blend on things like this. The harmonies and vocals from Kevin, Lauren and Cliff were really on it. This will serve well as a demo to get a gig or two, or just so I have a solid representation of this adventure in my harmonica wanderings.

I guess we played a good five hours without much of a break. Not sure what took so long but I guess getting set up and acclimated took a bit; things like that. Laying down 14 tunes in a recording environment, in one day, and having anything half way worth a listen for a prospective venue is pretty good.

This is by far the most unusual recording circumstance I've experienced. It was also very pleasant. Can't wait to get my hands on the finished product. This is the 7th recording studio sort of situation I've played. For me, as little as I've pushed things, that is a lot. I've been lucky to play Sun and Ardent, and I can't remember the names of the others in Memphis--except one was at a school that had a nice fully equipped studio. Ardent and --maybe it is called Young avenue--or it is on Young avenue, or both--are the most cutting edge. I kind of liked Sun and the old studio which generally works with Black artists. Forget the name.

The other recording environment I liked very much was my first experience. That good friend in Greensboro, Joel, got me that gig. He may have done me a better turn than he knew b referring me to them.

A guy paid me to lay down harp on his unusual tunes. An engineer by day, and soundman at heart, had a basement made into a studio and it was pretty nice. I liked the people there, and the experience was truly a breath of fresh air and a relief during a time of stress domestically. A woman is to blame, of course.

Oh well, what can you do. Live and learn. And going forth learn to weigh the value of certain talents against the dearth of other, more important, qualities in a more rational way. Still, how could I trade that time of proving to myself that I could be a decent father to a little girl I loved dearly?

Ok, enough of that.

Thanks, Joel, for recommending me for that first recording opportunity.

They called me back in to play on their annual Christmas album that they used to make with musicians who had recorded there during the year. It was one of the few things (maybe one of only two) that I did for three years that wasn't related to caring for the woman-to-blame and her little girl. Believe me, I did not have the blessing and support of the lovely malcontent, even though I actually got paid some money.

I said enough of that. Sorry.

Well, I was told by Dan, the log house on forty acres owner, that I am welcome back any time, and that I can record on my own or with Copper Creek, or just come by for no reason. Someone is giving him a grand piano which will be in there before long. It won't likely being going up stairs.

There are so many instruments and things floating around there. I saw a pile of effects pedals, so maybe I'll see if I can experiment some time.

Here's the view of one end. I only had a minute to capture a little bit. I ended up on the junk side. On the other side is a swimming pool, a small cottage, a stage by the pool, and to the left it goes down to a creek and there are more trees and vegetation. The property used to be abundant with trees but the fire did them in.

Much gardening goes on there. It used to be zoned agricultural. The change up of zoning classifications is another matter altogether, and it hasn't worked well for Dan. You buy a place, work it, and plan your life based on the rules of the day. Then they change and can radically impede the progress of reasonably laid life plans. He seems to roll with the punches.

We played right behind those two windows on the top floor, at this end. You don't get much sense of the logs and such from this video. You can see one of the eagle heads to the right, atop all that scaffolding.

The place is actually more hospitable than I portrayed, and the things due to go in are going to make it a great jam house. He's tearing down the stage by the pool, "That's a fire hazard!", and laying one down out of concrete, slightly up the hill, to mention just one item. It is coming together a bit at a time.

Guess I just keep playing even though I always wonder why. This Saturday, if you are in the area, head over to Crest Community center because we'll be playing there. It ain't really rock n roll, and it ain't really not rock n roll. I'm sure I'll do at least a few minutes of some kind riffraff jazz.

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Ballistic Mountain, CA, United States
Like spring on a summer's day


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