Fran (The LJETPRO) Allen-Leake
Danny (The URBAN G) Leake
John (The Eye) Christy
Volume 27, Number 5-6 • May/June, 2012
John Hardy, REDUX
Tuesday. June 26, 2012 @ 6:30pm.
1728 Brummel Street, Evanston, IL
The illustrious and always-entertaining John Hardy, longtime EARS friend, member, and owner of world- renowned John Hardy Audio Products has once again generously opened his manufacturing facility to EARS for a fascinating and educational evening.
Some of the finest mic pre-amps in the world are created here: the M-1, M-2, and the Jensen Twin Servo mic pre-amps, all meticulously hand built and wired using only the finest components available and thoroughly tested through each stage of the manufacturing process.
At the heart of many of John Hardy's creations is the 990C discreet op-amp he designed for his own products. Configured with Jensen input and output transformers, and a well-shielded toroidal transformer power supply, the 990C yields an amazingly transparent yet musical, low noise signal.
But the story goes much deeper than the creation of the 990 discreet op-amp and M-1 microphone pre-amp for which Hardy is so well known. John has been designing and building electronics for tape machines and mixing boards for decades and presents a very entertaining visual history of his products and philosophy.
When EARS first met at John's in 2010, he was in the early design phase to create high performance audio card upgrades for Sony/MCI consoles, MCI JH series tape machines, and 500 series versions of his acclaimed mic pre-amps. EARS will get to witness -- firsthand -- the progress of these new creations.
EARS BACKYARD BBQ BASH
According to weather.com, the forecast for Tuesday June 26th predicts there is a 100% chance of some fun grilling at the John Hardy Company starting at 6:30pm...and so EARS will be toting the grill out along with the coolers for a fun and down home BBQ bash in Hardy's backyard. EARS will provide some of your BBQ favorites as well as adult beverages, but feel free to bring your own to toss on the grill. All are welcome....members and non-members alike.
After the BBQ, we'll get down to business starting with a personalized tour of Hardy's facilities followed by Hardy's own presentation in the 2nd floor theater.
This event is open to Non-Members and Members alike, but if you are not currently a member of EARS and have considered joining, this is an excellent opportunity. For students and those new to Chicago, EARS is a great way to network and meet studio owners, engineers, and producers. We could use a few good sound guys and gals like you. You can join at the meeting itself or by clicking here:
RECAP – MAY 2012
On May 3On May 3rd, 2012, EARS (in collaboration with Columbia College) was delighted to present UP CLOSE AND UP FRONT WITH THE INCOMPARABLE PHIL RAMONE at Shure Incorporated. For the stellar presentation, EARS President Eric Roth first greeted the crowd; EARS co-founder Michael Freeman served as emcee, and V.P. Blaise Barton interviewed the legendary producer/engineer on the stage of Shure’s beautifully-appointed S.N. Theater. Perched atop a royal blue couch, Mr. Ramone enthralled the more than 150 attendees with his recollections of artists, sessions, and engineering tips & tricks. The turnout was an enthusiastic and diverse collective comprised of colleagues from EARS, AES, The Recording Academy, and Columbia College; made even more special due to its intimate nature (complete with Blaise and Phil seated atop a comfortable royal blue couch like old friends).
Phil Ramone has won more than 15 Grammy Awards with most of his records receiving Gold and Platinum distinction. Mr. Ramone has produced some of the greatest hits of all time, working with artists such as Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin, Amy Winehouse, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Barbara Streisand, Dionne Warwick, Ray Charles, and countless others. This year (2012), Mr. Ramone won three Grammy Awards for producing Tony Bennett's "Duets II".
Not content with just producing and engineering, he has played a large role in the advancement of music technology. He helped Ray Dolby of Dolby Laboratories to configure the first surround sound system for the 1976 remake of the film, A Star is Born. Prior to Dolby Sound, the film was unsuccessful at the box office. Ramone and Dolby began with five cinemas, each man investing $50,000 to configure surround sound. Like any venture, it was a gamble as to whether the new technology would attract a greater audience. Success was obvious however, when the film was billed with the Dolby name at the top of the marquee.
Phil Ramone also produced the first album ever commercially released on CD in the U.S. It was Billy Joel’s 52nd Street in 1982. He pushed the CD format into radio stations, demonstrating the quality of sound on his CD player. Stations gave it a try and listeners called in noticing the difference (though he’s still not sure how big of a difference they actually heard over the compression of FM radio).
We listened to samples of “Uncle Phil’s” work on a turntable passed down to Blaise Barton from Mike Rasfield (who founded EARS 25 years ago and passed away in 1989). Mr. Ramone shared his memories from the recordings. One record I especially enjoyed (having grown up with the song) was Mr. Ramone’s remake of God Bless the Child, with Billie Holiday and Tony Bennett. Mr. Ramone took the original recording (with only Billie Holiday), isolated Holiday’s voice, and recreated the accompaniment note for note. This allowed him to alternate between the two vocalists, creating the illusion of them singing together.
I found it intriguing that Mr. Ramone never looks at charts. Friends call to let him know where he stands, to which he responds, “Good.” He also has such a lengthy resume that he sometimes forgets notable details of his projects. It was fun to see the audience chime in with the information.
As a beginner in his first studios in New York (Decca and RCA) in his early 20’s, Uncle Phil learned the engineer’s dilemma of whether to put a personal thumbprint on a record or stay away from it. In any case, he learned the importance of befriending musicians enough to gain their trust in his engineering. The importance of efficiency and speed was also an early lesson. One of his first pop bands was in a time crunch, so they agreed on a consistent overhead microphone and conducted speedy sound checks.
Phil Ramone is a big fan of understanding the history of music and how techniques and technology have changed over time. We were privileged to see the trailer of his documentary, Recording: The History of Recorded Music, which will be released at a yet undisclosed date. The film interviews producers, engineers and musicians on the last 130 years of American music. The trailer was engaging and Eminem’s Lose Yourself was beautifully fitting as part of the soundtrack… a video producer after my own heart!
At the conclusion of the evening, EARS President Eric Roth presented Mr. Ramone with the inaugural EARS Black Diamond Lifetime Achievement Award to commemorate his five-plus decades of contribution to the music industry.
We would like to give many thanks to Shure, Inc., and Columbia College for helping host this event. We are grateful to all who attended!
(photos for this story courtesy of Rob Benetti Photography)
I’ve had a few really storied influences in my eclectic career. Thom Bell (more of an influence through his music…I wouldn’t actually meet him until 1998); and Phil Ramone (I would meet him in the late 80s as I struggled to become a competent vocal producer). For some inexplicable reason, Phil took pity on an inexperienced – albeit passionate – me. My mentor, my wise Uncle Phil: who initially answered my questions, then, taught me how to think through those questions on my own. He taught me – not so much the technical stuff that I could/would inevitably absorb, but the importance of musically -- and yes –spiritually and organically getting to the heart of the project. He taught me to think “outside of the box.” He taught me the finesse of dealing with a “skittish” or problem artist. He taught me to remember that as the Producer, I am the 1st line of defense against all the craziness that can happen during a session. He taught me to listen first, and then to act. Most importantly, he taught me to never forget it is the artist’s vision – not my own – that I am responsible for bringing to light. For this invaluable training and so much more, I Thank You, Uncle Phil!
Fran Allen-Leake EARDRUM Co-Editor
EARS held a listening party at Rax Trax Recording on May 29, 2012. Our sizeable turnout gathered in the live room as Oliver Archut and Joe Hauck of AMI, Inc. spoke to us about the development of their products and company. Later in the evening, we listened to the full line of Blackspade microphones, designed and built by AMI. Oliver’s story is the classic “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. Working for AEG, the parent company of Telefunken, he saw them throw away Telefunken schematics, spec sheets and manufacturing manuals they deemed obsolete. Obtaining permission from his supervisor, Oliver took them home and studied them as a hobby. While at AEG, he developed friendships with engineers at Telefunken, who taught him about the development of tubes and transformer technology not found in books.
In 2010, AMI partnered with the Swiss company Blackspade Acoustics to build a line of mics. Blackspade sought help in creating a line of mics to sell in Europe. Today, Blackspade sells to the European, Middle Eastern, African, Australian and Oceanic markets while AMI distributes the mics in North America, South America and Asia.
The Blackspade microphones use transformers manufactured by AMI, in the US. The T14 used in both the UM25 and UM25C is a recreation of the Hiller-style T14 that was used in the first AKG C12’s and Telefunken Ela M250/251’s. The buffer amp is a reworking of the Ela M251 to support the NOS Telefunken tube used in the mic. The UM25C uses Tim Campbell’s famous CT12 capsule.
The Blackspade UM17 and UM17R use an AMI made BV8LP transformer based on the historic Neumann BV8 design used in the U47. The buffer amp uses the Philips 5840 tube, the “little brother” to the Telefunken AC701 used in the Neumann M49. The circuit blends elements of the historic U47 and M49 sounding like a blend of the two. The UM17R uses the highly regarded Thiersch Mylar M7 capsule.
Oliver and Mike Tholen of Rax Trax have known each other for over 12 years as Oliver has made numerous pieces for the studios where Mike has worked. Since Mike has a lot of experience working with historic Ela M250’s Oliver wanted him to try out the Blackspade UM25 to get his impression. As Mike attests, he was “blown away” when he heard its sound quality. Rax Trax then tried the entire Blackspade line and suggested to EARS that we invite Oliver and Joe up for a meeting to show off these mics.
Being in the intimate studio setting with Oliver Archut was a privilege for all. Many of us also got to try his homemade salami. It was delicious! He makes it on his farm in Kansas as a hobby. He appears to enjoy complex hobbies.
Thank you to Rick Barnes (owner of Rax Trax), Mike Tholen and the rest of the staff of Rax Trax for hosting this wonderful evening!
In the words of Rihanna, please don’t stop the music…
For more information, check out
Special Contributor: Joe Hauck
Last month I got a call from Stevie Wonder’s people asking, “Are you available for a “Rock in Rio” concert in Lisbon, Portugal……and ”Oh By The Way” can you also can you also do Stevie at Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee Concert Celebration in London?” As much as I love Great Britain? You’d better believe it!
Rock in Rio is one of the biggest music festivals in the World covering three cities (Rio- Brazil, Lisbon- Portugal, and Madrid-Spain on two continents while entertaining around 1.5 million people with artists
like Metallica, Rhianna, Brian Adams, Lenny Kravitz, Maroon 5, Stevie Wonder and the Boss….Bruce Springsteen. We have done Rock in Rio in Brazil and Lisbon. I’ll go into detail about the technical aspects of that concert in another issue because the main focus here is the Queen’s bash.
Our Rock in Rio concert started at 12:30am so, as you have probably guessed, we ended way late and got up way early to make a flight to London the next day. (Oh, the life of a roadie) We descended from a bright sunny day at 30,000 feet into a raging rainstorm.
Our hotel was on Park Lane which was within walking distance of the concert site, so Dave Wright (The Production Manager), Bill Barnett (Monitors) and I walked over to check the site, to see if our gear arrived and if the consoles we spec’d on our tech rider met our specifications.
The concert stage was built in a circle around the statue of Queen Victoria in the Memorial located on the mall in front of Buckingham Palace. Because of this there wasn’t a lot of backline space as the stage had to accommodate the house band (which consisted of a full rhythm section, background singers, a choir and an orchestra) and Stevie’s, Sir Paul’s, and Sir Elton’s personal bands. Very small rolling risers had to be used. The monitor positions could not have “Line of sight” with the artists so they had to be located behind the stage. All of the monitor consoles except for one were digital. There were two Midas Pro9s, a Digico SD7 and an Analog Midas H3000.
The Front of House (FOH) mixing position was just as bad; it was in a four story tower at the rear of one of the seated sections where, as you can see below, we couldn't really hear the main arrays as we didn't have "Line of Sight" of the mains. Because production didn't want to see the technology we were sort of hidden as were the speakers.
Britannia Row's managing director Bryan Grant, explained: "Our brief was to provide an 'invisible' PA - no towers, no flown arrays, but of course it had to sound perfect! We therefore decided on a small, powerful, distributed system and our Outline Butterfly was the obvious choice. We provided six inner Butterfly arrays each stacked four high in the moat to stage height, with a further eight units arranged as in-fills on and under the forestage. The main delays consisted of eight stacks; each six high on platforms in front of the bleachers, with another sixteen Butterfly located as secondary delays in the entrance of The Mall. A ring of Subtechs around the outside of the moat and beneath each delay stack provided the low end, which I have to say was very impressive."
The system also had to cover the full length of The Mall, St James's Park, Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park (where an Outline GTO system was used on the Commonwealth Stage). For the main concert area Britannia Row had designed and deployed a system comprised of 96 Outline Butterfly enclosures, with 48 Outline Subtech subwoofers for the audience of 20,000 invited guests standing in front of and seated in tribunes around the temporary stage.
All of the FOH consoles were Digital: an Avid Profile (Sir Paul), a Midas Pro9 (Sir Elton), a Digico SD7 (Stevie Wonder) and a Midas Pro9 for everyone else. We had a couple of Yamaha nearfield speakers on a delay to throw a little treble in our faces as we couldn't really hear the high end of the mains.
We did soundchecks in the drizzling rain during the day and came back later for the show. It was broadcast live in the UK and recorded by the BBC for rebroadcast to the US and the World.
Because of the presence of the Royals, the security got really crazy. I almost didn't get to my mix position because of the security checks even though I had all the right credentials. (Maybe it was the dreads?)
And let me tell you, it was seriously cold. To stop bass build up at the back of the FOH they didn't install a backwall. The way the wind was whipping through there I thought I was ducking the "Hawk" standing on the corner of Madison and State (In Chicago) in the middle of winter. I mixed in two coats and two t- shirts.
The rain stopped and the concert came off beautifully. There were great performances by Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Cliff Richard, Sir Tom Jones, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, Sir Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Dame Shirley Bassey, Alfie Boe, Grace “Hula Hoop” Jones, Kylie Minogue, Robbie Williams, Madness (who performed on the roof of Buckingham Palace) and many more. I even got the Royals “Up” during Stevie’s set.
It was physically taxing for the crew but we were proud to have pulled it off. Prince Charles even asked the crowd to “cheer the 100+ technicians without whom there would not have been a concert”. (As a roadie I haven’t had that happen in a while.) We entertained at least 20,000 people at the mall, another 400- or 500,000 at St James’s Park, Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park and that’s not counting the millions who watched the broadcasts in the UK and America.
On-ward to the next challenge….
Those of you who know me know I have been working on a project close to my heart. Six Generations of the Blues from Mississippi to Chicago is a documentary series that traces the diverse and deep roots of the African American migration and the transformation of the music industry from the Delta to Chicago.
In the '20s, Alberta Hunter, Cow Cow (Charles) Davenport, and Blind Lemon Jefferson were among the first blues artists to record locally, under the supervision of J. Mayo "Ink" Williams of Paramount Records. In the '40s it was the wartime emergence of local labels such as Bluebird which put Chicago as a national center for blues recordings. In the '50s new labels emerged with a new amplified sound: Chess, Vee-Jay (which coincidentally would release The Beatle's Please, Please, Please and Love Me Do a few years later), Cobra and Delmark Records. And in the '60s, Chicago Soul was being recorded at Brunswick and OKeh Records. Alligator and Earwig came onto the scene in the '70s and, along wth Delmark, are still the pulse of recording in our city. Rooster Records, Sirens Records and Blind Pig Records all have great releases recorded in Chicago. Recordings are the preservation of generations of the past, present and the future.
The week in the Blues kicked off at the clubs. The Recording Academy (The Grammys¨) Blues extravaganza at Buddy Guy's Legends featured The Brooks Dynasty (Lonnie, Ronnie & Wayne); Matthew Skoller & Lurie Bell (playing a collection of acoustic blues and gospel songs from their new CD on Aria BF Records, 'The Devil Ain't Got No Music'; Billy Branch, Sharon Lewis, Deitra Farr, Nellie Travis and Shemekia Copeland.
SPACE in Evanston featured Dave Specter with John Primer, “An Evening with Charlie Musselwhite”, and an Alligator Release party for Joe Louis Walker. A CD Release party for Bob Corritore & Taildragger at B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted, 'Longtime Friends In The Blues on the Delta Groove label,, an harmonica blow- out at Smoke Daddys and Salute to Women in the Blues at Reggies.
There were also some powerful studio sessions going on …
At Delmark Records, producer Michael Freeman was at the helm with Mississippi Heat working on their 20th anniversary recording, 'Delta Bound', engineered by Steve Wagner and featuring Carl Witherspoon on guitar, Kenny Smith on drums, Billy Flynn on harp, Inetta Visor on vocals and special guest vocalist, Deitra Farr. And then it was on to Blade Studios in Louisiana where Michael brought in Chubby Carrier & Keith Blair.
At Joyride Studios, Blaise Barton's studio was kickin' the Blues as it did two years ago with Pinetop Perkins, Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith and the legendary Chicago Blues band that recorded, 'Joined At The Hip' (the Grammy Award winning record produced by Michael Freeman.) The joint was jumpin' during Blues Fest Week with a recording session planned by Delta Groove recording artist Bob Corritore (Chicago native, harp man & Blues impresario) along with John Primer, Billy Flynn, Barrelhouse Chuck, Bob Stroger and Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith. The studio was also home to Blind Pig Records for some post production by Jerry Del Giudice (co-owner of Blind Pig Records) who was there for some post production on the Magic Slim release, "Bad Boy".
Celebrating the Blues Past & Present was the theme of the 29th Annual Chicago Blues Festival in Grant Park. Three days of stellar performances on five stages recognized up and coming artists, icons, legends and honored our Blues family who we lost this year: David 'Honeyboy' Edwards, Hubert Sumlin, Pinetop Perkins and Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith.
The Petrillo Music Shell opened the festival main stage with a Tribute to Lightnin' Hopkins by Rev. KM Williams, Jeff Stone & Washboard Jackson from Texas.
A Special Tribute to Hubert Sumlin featuring Steady Rollin' Bob Margolin, Eddie Shaw, Dave Specter, Bob Corritore, Johnny Iguana, Kenny 'Beedy Eyes' Smith and Bob Stroger on the Pepsi Front Porch Stage honored the significant musical contributions of one of our most beloved lead guitarists.
Hubert and Honeyboy had both been scheduled to perform at the festival last year, but due health issues were unable to attend. Honeyboy was honored by Paul Kaye on the main stage on Saturday evening.
The Celebration of Muddy Waters Disciples: Pinetop Perkins, Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith and Mojo Buford Tribute on the Main Stage at Petrillo Music Shell was an all-star lineup that included Muddy Waters' son, Mud Morganfield, and Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith's son, Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith (who put down his sticks, handed them to Jimmi Mayes, and sang two songs in honor of his father!). Bob Margolin, Barrelhouse Chuck, Lil’ Frank, Bob Stroger and Joe Filisko 'played' homage to their mentors.
Other tributes at the Petrillo Music Shell included: 'Celebrating Women In The Blues' in tribute to Koko Taylor by the return of powerhouse Blues Divas, Melvia 'Chick' Rodgers, Jackie Scott, Deitra Farr and Nora Jean Brusco. Chicago's treasure, Mavis Staples slayed our hearts with her soulful Blues & Gospel rooted vocals and emotional call to action in support of America. She embraced our hearts with at Tribute to Levon Helm with a cover of 'The Weight' with Pops’ (her late Dad) vocals from ‘The Last Waltz' sung by her bandmate, Donny Gerrard. 'Freedom Highway' was a special moment as Mavis looked to the sky and dedicated the song to her father and mentor, Pops Staples. She said, “we heard Martin Luther King preach and we said ‘If he can preach this, we can sing it’". According to the Mayor’s Office of Special Events, over 500,000 people attended the three-day Chicago Blues Festival. It was one of the most memorable, beautiful weekends in the 15 years I have been attending. In 29 years the festival has brought together musicians and fans from around the world to hear the Blues, embracing the past while hearing groundbreaking new music. It is an evolution and it should be a revolution. I think Larry Skoller and his brother Matthew certainly found the right name for their award-winning, Grammy nominated, historical projects: CHICAGO BLUES A LIVING HISTORY - It certainly is!
I dedicate this Blues column to all of my Blues family who are now in Blues Heaven with special thoughts for Alligator Recording artist, Michael Burks whose warm smile and heart will embrace us always.
There is a hell of a Blues Band in Heaven!
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Lynn Orman Weiss is a Multi-Media journalist, producer and photographer. A passionate supporter of Chicago Blues and its creators and players, she produces & hosts the Blues Show with an amazing group of DJs on WNUR Radio, Sundays - 2:00 - 4:30 pm on 89.3 FM www.wnur.org
A longtime EARS member & supporter, Lynn's Blues Spotlight will be a periodic feature appearing in the EARDRUM.
Spring and summer are always heavy reading months for me (even more so this year as I near the end of my recuperation.) June is Black Music Month – the time traditionally reserved to honor music art forms like jazz, gospel & Blues (the bedrock of most modern music, including rock, r&b, pop, and rap). So, rather than physically travel to my beloved New Orleans, Memphis or Greenwood, MS., I elected to take a trip (a mental one!) along the “blues highway”. My cerebral journey was aided by several books, including two co-authored by the venerable David Ritz and about two of my favorite musical subjects: Etta James and Buddy Guy. Both works are fascinating studies that delve into the lives, times, and “against all odds” triumphs of 2 of America’s greatest music-makers.
Rage to Survive: The Etta James Story opens with the story of Jamesetta Hawkins (Etta’s birth name) and unimaginably fractured existence: an emotionally and physically distant mother, the not-so-well-kept secret of her parentage, survival instincts that no child should have, skirmishes with men at an early age, and loving parental figures that were, unfortunately, merely intermittent at best in her young life. Through it all, little Jamesetta (musically, a child wunderkind) managed to find and hold on to two constants: a God-given voice, and – with little musical training–the ability to create songs and lyrics. From this, a grown-up Etta James would be born and would stun the music world with that “huge voice for such a little girl”; a voice that would give way to some of the best blues and r&b tunes of the 20th century (‘At Last’, ‘All I Could Do Was Cry’, ‘Tell Mama’); a voice and existence that would – for a good deal of her life -- be compromised by hard times and even harder drugs. A cadre of influential characters, including Leonard Chess, James Brown, Ray Charles with appearances by Billie Holiday and Minnesota Fats; and a healthy dose of snapshots from Etta’s ‘Chicago Years’ make this a great read. Written unapologetically with brass, candor and in Etta’s own voice (17 years before her January 2012 death), Rage to Survive, is – at its heart – a poignant, triumphant and often humorous look at the business and life of music from one of its chief protagonists.
Similarly, When I Left Home: My Story (by Buddy Guy with David Ritz) is a first-person account of the master Bluesman's early life in rural Louisiana, his struggles to make it in the music business to his present standing as one of the world's most prolific living Blues legends. Now 75 years young, Buddy (as was Etta) is honest and full of candor in relating his foibles, his personal failures, and his triumphs & and tragedies -- as he travelled the "blues highway" and eventually made it his very own. This tome is so very real: it's like Guy is holding an intimate conversation with you in his kitchen over a steaming hot plate of crayfish, okra, greens and cornbread. Buddy learning to play on a two-stringed instrument, his first Strat, the emergence of his big "electric" sound, the Chicago venues, and the Personalities (Muddy, B.B., Willie Dixon, T-Bone Walker, Little Walter, Leonard Chess, and Junior Wells) make for a touching & and often hysterically funny - read. (Warning! A few of the stories are a bit "blue"?) From his opening in the Preface to his final "goodbye", the gentleman known as Buddy Guy comes off just as he is in life: simply a bluesman (albeit an enormously talented one!) who loves what does--giving the gift of music to hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. From both books, one comes away with the certainty that no matter what--the music is the sustaining force in the life of any Blues artist. Or, as Buddy Guy says, "...the Blues makes life better wherever it goes...even when the Blues is sad, it turns your sadness to joy. And, ain't that a beautiful thing?"
I’m a serious reader and I love books. Nothing was better to me than to go to a bookstore, browse around, and go home with a pile of books. As “Brick and Mortar” bookstores are going the way of the dodo, now I spend the majority of my time on Amazon.com and it’s sort of like Crack……you buy one book and a window comes up, “People who chose _ _ _ _ _ _ also chose _ _ _ _ _ “. Yes, I know it’s a trap but it’s a trap I fall into a lot. As a child of the Sixties and a former session guitarist, I was interested in the history of great players like the Funk Brothers of Motown, The Stax players, The Muscle Shoales boys, Stuff in New York City, and, one of the greatest hitmakers of the Rock era, The Wrecking Crew of Los Angeles. Having read books on the other groups I concentrated on the Wrecking Crew. The first book I came upon, believe it or not, was The Wrecking Crew by Kent Hartmann (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press – 2012). And of the course the “Crack” window led me to Hal Blaine & The Wrecking Crew by Blaine & Bonzai edited by David M. Schwartz (Rebeats Publications – 2010) which led me to Don Kirshner, The Man With The Golden Ear and How He Changed The Face of Rock and Roll by Rich Podolsky (Hal Leonard Books – 2012) which, in turn, led me to Carole King, A Natural Woman (Grand Central Publishing – 2012).
The exodus of The Wrecking Crew started with the author giving the group Bread’s bass player a lift 100 miles to their next gig. In making conversation he found out his “co-pilot” was none other than Larry Knechtel who had played Bass, Guitar or piano on some of the greatest hits of the Sixties and Seventies. I mean hits like The Beach Boys “Good Vibrations”, The Bass on “Light My Fire”, that killer barrelhouse piano on “Rockin Pneumonia and The Boogie Woogie Flu”, and, unbelievably, that classic gospel piano beginning on Simon and Garfunkels “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”…..who was this guy?? Turns out he was a member of a gang of LA players known as “The Wrecking Crew”. So named because the old session players said they were “wrecking the studio business by playing Rock & Roll”. These people played on just about EVERY hit coming out of LA from 1959 through to the 80s. They supplied the studio backup for most of the Seminole hit groups coming out of LA in the 60’s. Hit groups like The Byrds (Mr. Tamborine Man, Turn Turn Turn), The Beach Boys (Every hit of the Sixties), The Mamas & the Papas, The 5th Dimension, Neil Diamond, The Righteous Brothers, The Association, The Carpenters, Paul Revere and The Raiders, Sonny and Cher, and The Monkees among others. I could go on for another four pages plus but I have three other books to review. Rocks bands signed to major labels in LA were usually sent to get coffee while the “Wrecking Crew” created the tracks they would sing on and would later have to learn in order to play their hit live. . Let it also be said that Larry Knechtel, Carol Kaye, Tony Tedesco, Glen Campbell (Yes, he was a guitar ace in the ”crew”), Leon Russell, Mac “Dr. John” Rebenack, Earl Palmer, and Hal Blaine among others were the players that helped create Phil Spector’s ”Wall of Sound”. This is a very entertaining read in addition to being informative. If you want to know about what the Wrecking Crew did and why they are important to Music History then this is the book for you.
Another more personal chapter in this story is told in Hal Blaine & The Wrecking Crew. Hal, with Earl Palmer (An African-American) was the drummer and pulse of the Wrecking Crew. He came up with the massive multi tom studio kits that became the norm in recording studios and live. He started out in New York in the 40s playing Jazz. He fell into Rock later on and after moving to LA hooked up with Phil Spector—the rest is history. I loved reading how he persevered through Army duty and touring until settling into a lucrative life playing the hits in the studio. It has great personal stories on some of the great artists he worked with and the hits he played on. Hal still plays today and can be found at the NAMM shows endorsing drums.
Both of the Wrecking crew books cover a lot of the technical aspects of what they did. (Studios, production techniques, in some cases the type of mikes used.) You can’t go wrong checking these out.
The Amazon “Crack” window then pointed me to Don Kirshner, The Man With The Golden Ear. For those of you who don’t know, Don Kirshner was the primary mover in Aldon Music, one of the main Brill Building Music publishers. In his day he had some of the strongest writers of the sixties. I mean writers like Carole King & Gerry Goffin, Neil Sedaka, Bobby Darin, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil to name a few. Aldon published over 200 hits. Don later sold Aldon to Screen-Gems Music where he was put in charge of finding music for The Monkees. (You have to read the back stories in this book concerning how the band hated him.) He also created “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert” a live TV concert show. He definitely had a knack for picking the hits. Just about everything he picked hit. After he was fired by the Monkees he was involved in cutting a hit record (“Sugar,Sugar”) on the Archies, a cartoon group (sort of make believe like the Monkees) He really helped to build up the power of music publishers in the 60s. This is an interesting book on a very complex character in the formation of the Music Industry as we know It today.
After hitting “buy it” on Don’s book of course the window came on again, “People who liked Don Kirshner also liked Carole King, A Natural Woman. Carole King’s biography covers her Aldon years, The “Tapestry” years and beyond. This is a very personal account. Having met Carole years ago I found it fascinating. It went into how she came up with some of her greatest hits and how, technically, she made things happen. (Often hit producers would copy her demos note for note or just use her demos for the record.) It showed how her musical relationship with James Taylor came about and how she didn’t always make the right decisions where men were involved…..even moving into the wilderness without modern accoutrements. It is a fascinating study of a complex, creative woman struggling to make it in the overly male-orientated misogynistic arena that the Music Business was in the late Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies….and how she conquered it. An important read for anyone serious about this business.
Well, that’s about it for now. I actually read another four books but I’ll save those for the next time. (Gotta watch out for those Amazon “Crack” windows)
THE BEAT: IN & AROUND CHICAGO’S AUDIO SCENE
From Harry"s Sonic Bistro II (Milwaukee):
While the fire tempered and oil seasoned tools in the Gurnee Bistro remain the same (vintage?), I have moved a Pyramix Native Music System into the Bistro II, running on Win7 Pro 64bit via a HP Elitebook quad-core. All clocking is from Black Lion Audio and Weiss; converters are from Black Lion Audio, RME, and Eventide (yes, Eventide - fuckers - they ROCK!). Adjuncting the huge sound of the B&W 808's, a lovely set of Quested S7R powered monitors repose on Sound Anchor stands.
Hot-rodded by Millennia Media, my TCL-2 is now joined by an Inward Connections DEQ-1, sn #26 of only 45 built. This SIX BAND stereo EQ features stepped settings on ALL controls, dedicated high and low shelving, and selectable shelving on two of the remaining four bands. Naturally, all bands may be independently bypassed.
Leake Settles In With SADiE 6
Chicago, IL (May 10, 2012)-- Across his 40-plus year career in recording, mastering and live sound, veteran engineer Danny Leake has worked with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Kanye West, Destiny's Child, Placido Domingo, Janet Jackson, Lupe Fiasco, Whitney Houston, Diana Ross and The Police--to name a few. Recently, Leake upgraded the editing system at his Urban Guerrilla Engineers mastering facility in Chicago to incorporate the latest SADiE 6 software.
Leake has been a SADiE user since 1996 and says that, despite owning other digital audio workstations, it remains his favorite. "For me, it is one of the fastest and most accurate editing systems out there", he explains. "It is equally good for classical and pop music editing, and the CD Mastering section is excellent. With the new SADiE 6 software, editing and PQ coding CDs is probably three times as fast as most systems out there and sonically it is beyond accurate. Also, the VST implementation is bulletproof. With SADiE 6, project revisions become non-problematic, while making radio and clean versions from album versions has become much easier."
As well as upgrading to SADiE 6, Urban Guerrilla Engineers has also invested in a Prism Sound/Maselec MEA-2 stereo mastering equalizer.
"The MEA-2 is doing a magnificent job and providing a range of features that I really like", Leake says. "The frequency selection is great. I haven't found anything I can't do with it. I am also using it during mixing to add some weight to the drums or anything else that needs it. It has already been used on a number of projects, including mastering Styx's Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight Live DVD."
From JOYRIDE STUDIO
Chicago Blues Living History "The (R)evolution Continues" wins Blues Music Award
for 2012 Best Traditional Blues Album of the Year
Following in the heels of a Grammy Nomination for their first record in 2010, Chicago Blues Living History won Best Traditional Blues Album at the 2012 Blues Music Awards in Memphis for their latest release "The (R)evolution Continues". The album features guest artists Buddy Guy, James Cotton, Magic Slim, Zora Young, and Michael Avery. The group also has the distinction of headlining the Montreaux Jazz Festival in Switzerland on July 8th where they will share the stage with none other than Bob Dylan who passed over Van Morrison to open for CBLH. The album was produced by Larry Skoller and recorded, mixed, and mastered at JOYRIDE STUDIO by Blaise Barton.
MICHAEL "IRON MAN" BURKS...1957 - 2012 RIP
(From Bruce Iglauer of Alligator Records...)
It's almost impossible to believe that this will be the last album from Michael Burks, the Iron Man of the blues. The final mixes had just been completed while he was on a European tour, and they were waiting for him at his home. He never got a chance to hear them; this gentle giant died suddenly of heart failure on May 6, 2012, at the age of 54.
Michael was so proud of this album, his fourth for Alligator. He and I both believed that it would be the one that finally propelled him into the top echelon of blues musicians, where he certainly deserved to be. He had been poised for that position for almost a decade, earning ever-increasing fame with his blistering gigs and soulful recordings. He might have gotten there a lot sooner, but in his 20s he had chosen family over career. He had put away his guitar for years while he raised his beloved daughter Brittney in their southern Arkansas hometown of Camden. It was only when she was a teenager that he returned to his music and hit the long, dues-paying highway toward what passes for stardom in the blues world. From local and regional gigs to national and international club and festival stages, Michael's reputation and fan following was built one sweaty, hours-long gig at a time.
(Michael Burks new album "SHOW OF STRENGTH" recorded and mixed at JoyRide Studio).
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