Visual of the Week
The great Sister Rosetta documentary was shown again on BBC 4. Any chance to run these lovely Terry Cryer photos – taken in the Studio 51 Club on Great Newport Street in 1957, of Rosetta playing with my uncle’s band – cannot be turned down. A woman with an amazing voice, an electrifying style and great, great taste in guitars. Check out the wild solo two minutes into the film.
A fascinating snippet from Laura Barton’s Buena Vista piece in The Guardian:
[Nick] Gold and [Ry] Cooder felt a similar a sense of care and responsibility for the recordings they made. “Each morning, we played what we had recorded the day before,” Gold says. “We knew it was wonderful. When you listen to it, you’re right there.” This was partly due to the positioning of a pair of microphones high in the studio to capture the ambience of the room. “The studio [Egrem] has this one fantastic large room. It just has this lovely feel.” But when the pair took the recordings to California to be mixed, they immediately stumbled. “We weren’t hearing that special something,” says Gold. “There was a clarity missing.” They began a frantic search for a mixing desk that resembled the one used in Havana, eventually locating the same model in a Christian recording studio in Los Angeles. “And there it was – that sound back in all its clarity! Ry said, ‘It’s like someone’s wiped the windows clear.’”
Gary Katz in Conversation
An engaging Q&A with the bone-dry Brooklynite, in which his deep love of music and musicians shines across the orchestra pit at the Bloomsbury Theatre. It was organised by the London Song Company, and its founder Julian Marshall (who has worked with Mr Katz) led the questions. Lots to enjoy, but the heart of it was how much Katz loved working on these great songs with most of America’s greatest musicians a phone call away. It was interesting to note that Katz’s working relationship with Donald Fagen ended after Nightfly because of Fagen’s insistence on using Wendell, the prototype drum machine that engineer Roger Nicholls built by hand on Fagen’s command, instead of the mere humans (aka America’s finest drummers) who had done service on all the Steely Dan records up to Gaucho. One thing that resonated was how many of the great solos on Steely Dan tracks were done in one take, considering the Dan’s penchant for taking months fretting about the placing of one beat. Phil Woods on “Dr Wu”, Wayne Shorter on “Aja”, Jay Graydon on “Peg” – all one pass at the track, pack away the instrument, go home.
Perhaps the most astonishing of all was Steve Gadd’s drumming on “Aja”. Apparently, Becker and Fagen (and Katz) always talked about using him, but every time they came close, one of them would say, “I don’t really love his backbeat…” (laughter) and they wouldn’t call him. Having problems with the drum track (and extended solo) on “Aja”, Katz told us:
“Someone said, ‘Maybe this would be a good time to try Gadd’. [At this time] Steve had a distinct problem with drugs. When he came into the room he said, ‘Let me put the score up…’ It was a very long score, because of the eight minutes, so they set up a semi-circle of music stands. He said, ‘Can we just run it down so I can mark it?’ So Chuck Rainey, Victor Feldman, great musicians, ran it down, Gadd marks it. Said ‘Okay, I’m ready’. Walter and I were in the control room, Donald was outside with his back to us, doing the scratch vocal. He only played it once. The only time he played it, is what you hear (sounds of incredulity from audience). Walter says, ‘You know, we may have made a mistake about Gadd’. (laughter)
“So six months go by, as they usually do on our records, we went back to New York to mix, and we were just about finished mixing the song, and someone said, ‘You know Gadd’s down the hall working on a Michael Franks record’, and Don says, ‘Go get him, and let him hear this.’ So we go down, say we want to play him something – he was a mess… he sat in front of the console and we played it really loud, really good sound. The track is over, he goes ‘Wow… who’s playing drums?’ We just look at each other, ’cause he wasn’t kidding. I said, ‘You did, Steve’. He said, ‘I’m a motherfucker’ (audience collapses)”.
“We skipped the light fandango/Turned cartwheels ’cross the floor…”
Mick Gold comments on my mention of the King Curtis album “Live At The Fillmore West”. “I was watching Withnail & I for the 987th time late night on TV and was suddenly seized by curiosity. What was the opening piece of music which plays over shots of Paul McGann’s horrified face contemplating the squalor of their flat in Camden Town, 1969? A bit of a search revealed it was King Curtis performing “A Whiter Shade of Pale” from the album you mentioned. What does that honking full-bodied tenor sax solo over washes of organ fills have to do with the domestic chaos and anguish we’re seeing? It’s totally counter-intuitive yet it works…”
You are so right, Mick. Funnily enough I too had caught 15 minutes of W&I recently, and had to force myself not to watch it all (it’s one of those films that, no matter how many times you’ve seen it and wherever into the film you come in, it’s almost impossible not to continue to the end, or 2am, whichever comes first). So I re-bought it, as my copy is in storage. It’s such a great record. There’s something about the balance of the players. You can hear everything that everyone is doing – each one’s frequency seems to be perfectly sonically placed. Curtis is up high on sax, higher when he puts his soprano through a wah-wah pedal, Cornell Dupree is sliding delta just below him (his performance is a fantastic all-encompassing lesson in soul guitar by itself), the Memphis horns add glorious punctuation, Billy Preston is between them and the Rhythm Section, sometimes soaring up, sometimes grinding down, with Jerry Jemmott on the bass at the base, and Bernard Purdie is operating in some Purdie-world, all over everything without stepping on anyone’s toes. It’s such a fantastic recording. (Oh, and by the by, if you’ve never seen this short sample of Purdie doing a 16th note shuffle, it’s priceless: “Whoa! I like it very much!”)
This Week’s Homework
…consists of Courtney Barnett (courtesy of Oscar). Great so far – imagine if Patty Donahue of The Waitresses was born in Australia, grew up and married Reg Presley of The Troggs, with Aimee Mann as the maid of honour and Nirvana, fronted by Elvis Costello, as the wedding band. Great lyrics and titles, too, often ripped from regular life – “Don’t Apply Compression Gently”, “Pedestrian at Best”,“Avant Gardener” and “History Eraser” (for all you Photoshoppers out there). Great to hear an Aussie accent in song. Every Record Tells A Story thinks you should hear this album…
Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly (courtesy of Richard). I’m just getting to grips with this and I’m already excited. It demands listening to, a complex sonic experience crammed with ideas, asides and seventies jazz samples. The refrain “I remember you was conflicted/mis-using your influence” runs through it like a river. Report next week.
And with a final word from Stephen Collins in his wonderful Guardian strip, I’m off to watch the Godmother of Rock ’n’ Roll again…
My oldest, dearest friend died last week. I’ve known Sam Charters since I was four, and he, along with his wife Ann, left a musical impression on my life that isn’t even quantifiable. I’m not sure that I can find what I want to say about him yet, so I’ll leave it for a while, but I couldn’t let the week go by with no mention of its importance to me. I’m happy that I got to Stockholm in January so that we could sit and talk and drink Martinis – and listen to James Cleveland and Willie Nelson, one more time.