Thursday, September 22, 1994

Making an album with Blue Willow

Getting ready to lay down some bed tracks with David James and Omar Tunnoch.

Street Brothers Rehearsal Studio. Blue Willow is about to begin recording a full blown CD. The girls have invited me to play on the CD but another guitar player is being brought in to do some other stuff. Lorraine is quite intent on having my sound as part of the Blue Willow sound (Dawn too, I guess) so I’m going into this playing my little heart out. I shouldn’t expect to get any second chances, so I want to be cautious but I don’t expect to play the song the same way each time.

Drummer Dave James had arrived from Halifax the night before, and had obviously been on such a bender that he couldn’t play – he literally fell of the drum stool and all he could say was “I feel so sad”, “I’m hurting”. When he was sent off in a cab, he stood in the doorway saying “You know what?. . . (long pause) I feel so sad”.

Day 2: Rehearsal with horns: Dave shows up bright, alert and apologetic. He hands out apples to everyone – apples that he picked himself in Nova Scotia. Except for a scab on his face from some kind of scrap – he was not playing his best, and his playing was so aggressive the cymbal stands were always teetering and sometimes crashing down on the floor. The horn players have joined us but we only run over the songs that they’ll be playing on – which turn out to be the songs we had run over the previous day. And I’m very surprised to hear that the studio is too small to allow sufficient separation between the drums and the piano, so the piano tracks will all have to be done over.

Day 3 – 5: The sessions start and Linda arrives in town – (I don’t see her till the Wednesday night). We recorded the beds with a guide vocal (and what turned out to be a guide piano). The guitar bass and drums are the only thing recorded live – the rest is overdubs. Bed tracks go down great, everything sounds good – no wasted time with this engineer, Ed Stone. Michael sets himself up with his fixins and every night when we’re out getting food, he’s on another search.

Day 6: Piano and Guitar overdubs. I went into the bed tracks assuming I’d by living with whatever I did so I took my solos then and there and when I could see time was pressing I just said we might as well just keep them. I did two overdubs, one solo and one chinky chink on a tune that isn’t going to be used. The solo guitar sound good (I think because I had the amp in the same room as me – whereas it was isolated during the recording of the bed tracks). Maybe I should have pushed for more time to do solos (first mistake). Carlos Del Junco comes to play on some tracks but he arrives late and has to leave early – he plays great and as usual if he plays it through one time without a boo-boo, they grab it. That evening Joe Mavety is scheduled to come and do some guitar parts, but I don’t hang around for that.

Day 6: earmarked for horns and vocals. The horns came in very well prepared, I gather. They probably stayed for 3 – 4 hours – then they were supposed to do some vocals.

Day 7: Boyfriends Night. Clint and Robbie are in the studio when I get there – a little subdued. And when it came time for them to sing they tried to do some interesting things but nothing worked out. In the end, to get some “hops” that were in tune they had to sample a good one and then Michael knelt on the floor tapping it in at all the other spots.

Day 12: We finished the album last night. I had dropped in a couple of times for the mixing and last night was the final sequencing – the tunes had been mixed down to DAT and they used Sound Tools to record all the songs onto the hard-drive (totaling 630 meg. As I listen to the final mixes, I start to think I should have been around for the mixing – asking for the guitar to be turned up. Then again. . . harp made an entrance and didn’t appear again for a long time but Michael pointed out that the harp was there after his entrance doing low stuff – but I still can’t hear it. Then I realized they were giving prominence to the harp but they weren’t just losing the guitar, they still had it wailing in the background, and it really wasn’t working with the harp. And there was the guitar pick-up just before the harp came in and it just made you expect a guitar solo – instead you get an even greater harp solo – but that’s the problem with Michael's theory of getting everybody to do a solo and picking the best one! So I lost out on a couple of solos, but we made a pretty good record and we did it with a tighter budget than most:

Rehearsal Studio 12 Hrs @ 17.00
Recording Studio Booked Time: 10 days @ 10 hrs (noon – 10 pm)
Recording Studio Additional Time: 2hrs/day
Organ Rental: $225
Two Rolls of @” tape @ $280.

And it occurs to me that I should have insisted on more than just the one overdub. But it took me six takes, I think. More than you’re allowed in the studio. In fact, if you’re stepping into the studio you better be ready to play something perfectly great on the first take – and that’s what most of these folks did. Carlos played harp and did great.

Two weeks later, Lorraine gave me a cassette of the final mixes, though not in the final order, and I was able to sit back and listen at home. The standout track for me was “It Would Be Easy” – the only tune where I overdubbed my guitar and the only take where I get close to the “tone” that I’m able to get on stage. And I figured out why: That overdub was the only time the amp was in the same room with me. The unique sound is created by the loop between the speaker and the pick-up and when they are isolated from each other, it’s just not the same.

A week after that I get a call from Fazier Mohawk praising my solo in “that ballad”. He said it was the most soulful thing on the album, but not in those words. Michael Fonfara had dropped by and played him the tape. That night I was at the Montreal Bistro listening to a singer from Montreal, Ranee Lee. She was a great performer and her husband/guitarist Richard Ring was incredible. He’s playing things I would never attempt and which I could never even figure out. Nothing like a little perspective. . . but when I sat down with Fay Olson and Don Vickery, I told Don about the experience and he reminded me that we can only do what we do and give what we have – and that’s what people (some people) will like about you.