Monthly Archives: January 2007

“Rumours” Yesterday, Vegas today

Producer Richard Dashut, best known for his work with Fleetwood Mac, Lindsey Buckingham, and several others, is up in Las Vegas now working with a few indie rock bands. He and a few partners started Ifymm Records recently, and named local band Fletch as their first signee. The band is already getting some serious attention up in Vegas, and deservedly so…they rock! Expect to hear more from these guys real soon. Their producer, Dashut, made L.A. his home base for many years, though he did get up to the Bay Area on many occasions. One of his most memorable took place in 1977, when a relatively new band called Fleetwood Mac made the pilgrimage North to record their classic best-selling album Rumours.

Below is a little bit about the recording of Rumours, culled from (where else!) my book, “If These Halls Could Talk: A Historical Tour Through San Francisco’s Recording Studios.” Enjoy! – Hj

…John and Christine McVie faced divorce, and the relationship between Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks’ was unraveling. Mick Fleetwood’s marriage was on the verge of collapse as well. Personally, the group was falling apart, but professionally, they were at the height of their career. “Rhiannon,” the second single from the band’s self-titled 1975 album, sprinted up the charts as the Rumours sessions got underway. They were on a roll and didn’t want to screw it up. But the strained male-female relationships created a tense studio environment, even at the party studio by the Bay. “It took two months for everyone to adjust to one another,” Dashut said in the band’s biography, The Fleetwood Mac Story: Rumours and Lies by Bob Brunning. “Defenses were wearing thin and they were quick to open up their feelings. Instead of going to friends to talk it out, their feelings were vented through their music. The album was about the only thing they had left.”

To take the edge off, they did what any pressured musician would do: They partied. A typical day would start around 7 p.m. with a big feast, then party until 1 or 2 in the morning, and somewhere down the line, they would start recording. Van Morrison, Rufus and Chaka Khan, Jackson Browne, and Warren Zevon oft en hung out, some of them working down the hall. Sometimes the band would listen back to what they thought was last night’s masterpiece, only to find that it sound terrible, so they’d start all over again. “It was the craziest period of our lives,” Mick Fleetwood told Brunning. “We went four or five weeks without sleep, doing a lot of drugs. I’m talking about cocaine in such quantities that, at one point, I thought I was really going insane.” Fleetwood tried to keep everyone happy and even took the clocks off the wall so that no one would worry about how much time had passed. They entered the studio with no demos; the album happened in the studio. After a long drought, McVie wrote continuously one day; resulting in four and a half songs on the album. Continue reading

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Free Play Dance Crew benefit show

Switching gears from all of the historical tidbits, I thought I’d tip ya’ll off to a cool benefit happening at Vertigo on Feb. 1. Free Play Dance Crew, a hip-hop dance troupe co-founded by pop artist Joshua Klipp, will host a fundraiser for their upcoming show, L1FE (one life). Expect go-go dancers, performances from the Cal State East Bay dance team Electric Pulse and Sarah Bush Dance Project, and a special music performance. The festivities start at 8 p.m. at Vertigo, 1160 Polk Street, in SF. Cover is $5.

<>Heads Up: The L1FE show will happen on March 16 – 18 at Dance Mission Theater. It’s a full-on, thematic production that combines the talents of both Free Play and Sarah Bush dance.

<>Fun, fun!

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“Steppin'” Into Wally Heider’s

Hi,

Here’s another studio story, this one circa 1975 at Wally Heider Recording, now Hyde Street Studios. The Pointer Sisters recorded some of their first few albums with producer David Rubinson. This one, Steppin’, was recorded at Hyde Street just before Rubinson launched The Automatt in the old Columbia Studios spot (see first two posts). It’s kind of a neat example of spontaneous events coming together to create something better than anyone could have imagined. — Heather

<><> Rubinson and Catero continued to hold court in Studio A. In 1975, the Pointer Sisters returned for Steppin’, recording a fine mix of danceable funk and R&B with a stellar team of guest players, including Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, Taj Mahal, guitarist Wah Wah Watson, and some of Hancock’s touring band. “It shows everything these talented artists could do,” says Rubinson of the album, which reached Number 3 on the R&B charts. Just as the album featured an amalgam of funk, jazz, R&B, and blues, it also benefited from a variety of production and studio techniques.

“At Heider’s, we laid down a very simple track for ‘How Long (Betcha Got a Chick on the Side)’: drums, bass, maybe rhythm guitar, very spare,” Rubinson says. “The Sisters sang live in the studio with the band. I always did this on vocal records, and even with jazz records. The synergy was the most crucial element. We laid simple tracks to give them as much room as possible to create, plus to make sure we had tons of space for interactive background vocal parts and room for leads and background parts to expand and synergize. Anita sang the lead, the others sang backgrounds, and we had a blast with it. The recorded version went on for maybe 10 to 15 minutes! We never did repeated takes. We’d rehearse, get comfortable, and go. It was free and open. Then I would edit the track for the best creative parts, and then we’d go back in and re-do the lead and background vocals where needed. After that we would think about adding things, if at all.”

“Sleeping Alone” would not have happened in such a special way if it weren’t for some very efficient people in Rubinson’s office. He was down in L.A. with Hancock when he received a message from his San Francisco office that Stevie Wonder had called. When he returned his call, Wonder said that he wanted to come up to S.F. to record some songs he had written for the Pointer Sisters. “When?” Rubinson asked. Wonder replied, “How about three o’clock?”
“You mean today?”
“Yeah.”

“I grabbed Herbie,” Rubinson recalls, “and we flew up to S.F. My office people got the studio and the other musicians and the Sisters together, and we had tape rolling by five p.m. What a session! We had Stevie and Herbie on keyboards together! Standing in the studio in the middle of this was one of my most memorable moments.” After all of that rushing around to accommodate Wonder, he didn’t actually have complete songs written when he showed up; just a hodge-podge of riff s, ideas, and a few bass lines and chords. “He would start playing a groove, or a melody or a riff, Herbie would check it out, and something would start happening,” says Rubinson. “But for some reason, Stevie’s ’phones went out. This was common then. So he yells out, ‘Hey, I can’t hear my piano in my ’phones!’ I couldn’t hear him, and the engineers in the booth didn’t, either. So he says louder, ‘Hey, I can’t hear my piano in my ’phones!’ Again, we couldn’t hear him. So then he says, ‘Well, I’ll just pretend that I can.’ Such a profound statement, really. It says, ‘The hell with letting the technical shit become crutches instead of tools. We run the technology.’ And, most crucially, ‘I know what the hell I’m playing, and I can hear it in my head anyway.’

We cut three tracks, but they had no titles, no lyrics, no real form, they were just tracks of music. So, we had to get a basic concept for the title and create a song form from the fragments and pieces we had. That meant we had to experiment with rough stereo mixes of all the music and with different forms. Then we spliced it for hours into a few plausible song forms. The Sisters wrote a song that fit the track, called ‘Sleeping Alone.’ So then I had to splice the 2-inch multi-track tape to re-create the song form we used on the multi. Then we could record vocals. Every splice was tedious, but we got it done, finally. And the synergy is still terrific. Not precisely simultaneous, but palpable.”

<><>The Pointer Sisters continued with Rubinson through Having a Party, recorded in L.A. in 1975 and released in 1977. At that point, the group’s new attorney, Jim Walsh, fired Rubinson. The next Pointer Sisters album, Energy, out in 1978 and produced by Richard Perry, gave them another Top Ten album and the Number Two hit “Fire,” which finally put them over the edge into pop’s mainstream…

<>
<><>For the full tour, visit www.out-word-bound.com.

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Dead Gear

My friend and colleague, Mix senior editor Blair Jackson, recently authored Grateful Dead Gear: The Band’s Instruments, Sound Systems and Recording Sessions From 1965 to 1995 (Backbeat Books). The SF Chronicle published an excerpt from the book that covers part of the lengthy making of their “difficult” second album, Anthem of the Sun. Take a read, here.

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Columbia Pt. 2: Mysterious gonks and reigning loonies

Hello! In the spirit of, I dunno, organization, here is the rest of Columbia Studios’ brief San Francisco story, all the way to their exit from the city, which left the door open for The Automatt, the beloved studio owned by producer David Rubinson. I have a splitting headache at the moment, so I’ll be brief. But the blog, again, is long. Future entries will be shorter. Happy reading — Heather J.

…To make matters worse as far as Segal’s blood pressure was concerned, Santana had secured a special contract that granted them free studio time after selling a certain number of records, which meant the studio turned into their second home. “They used to book the studio by the year!” Kolotkin recalls. “They’d just book the studio until they went on tour, move in a refrigerator and stock it every day, and we’d record all the time.”

But maybe one reason for the ongoing studio lockout stemmed from Carlos Santana’s recording style. He was, and still is, the polar opposite of a one-take guy. “We’d punch in a lot and we might work on a solo of his for hours at a time, maybe a day,” Kolotkin recalls. “He just wanted to get everything perfect. I like to record live, get the best feel, and not plan out each solo, but Carlos would learn those solos and play them identical each time they were on the road—the exact solo—because he had perfected them in the studio.”

One day, Santana got a bit of competition from young guitarist Neal Schon, then relatively new to the group. The song “Toussaint L’Overture” became a contest between Schon and Santana. “We were working with Carlos’s guitar solos and Neal comes in and says, ‘Oh let me try one!’ So Carlos let him try one, and it was great! Then Carlos would do a solo, and Neal would come in the next day and try to better it. We had 16 tracks back then, and we were just about filled up when one night, Neal came in with a bunch of his friends and wanted to do his solo over. I said, ‘Are you kidding? That solo was incredible!’ He really wanted to do it, but in order to [re-record his solo] we had to erase the original, so that’s what we did. To this day, I think we erased the best solo he had on that album. But it’s my word against his, and he swears the new one’s better.” Kolotkin continued working with Santana as he explored his spiritual path and a jazz-fusion direction, beginning with Caravanserai.

When the original lineup disbanded in 1973, Santana collaborated with guitar virtuoso John McLaughlin on Love Devotion Surrender. The guitarists shared Sri Chinmoy as a guru but possessed very different recording styles. “John did all of his solos in 45 minutes,” Kolotkin says of the album, recorded in New York and San Francisco. “John played thousands of notes, and then when it came time for Carlos to record, it took him three days! But when we were mixing, we listened to John’s solos, and at the end of each one there’d be this ‘gonk.’ Carlos said, ‘Well we can’t leave those gonks in there.’ So we spent two more days hand-erasing the gonks! So John might have done all of his solos in 45 minutes, but it still took us three days to work on his parts.”

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My debut blog: Columbia Records/Studios, SF

ifthesehallscvr.jpg

Hi! This is my first attempt at a blog, so bear with me. I started this thing to share info from my book, “If These Halls Could Talk: A Historical Tour through San Francisco Recording Studios,” as well as other random musings related to the San Francisco recording scene: news, interviews, pics, commentary, and whatever else comes to be. This first l-o-n-g piece of text is about CBS/Columbia Records; who, for a blip in time, thought it wise to open offices and a studio here. After about five years, they thought otherwise. Enjoy the read, feel free to comment, save, forward, and whatever else people do with these things. I will do my best to be consistent with updates. Hopefully soon I will learn how to make this look prettier, too. — Heather

Columbia Studios

While David Rubinson and Fred Catero went about their business as
one of the top producer-engineer teams of the late 1960s and early
1970s, Columbia Records, the label they had severed contractual
ties with in New York, had a change of heart about San Francisco.
Columbia realized that former “company freak” Rubinson had been
right about San Francisco all along. Columbia president Clive Davis,
already enamored by the city and the top-draw artists he had signed
from the area..Santana, Janis Joplin, Herbie Hancock, Taj Mahal,
Boz Scaggs, and Sly Stone..spearheaded a mission to shake up the
local scene by opening studios and A&R offices in San Francisco.
With the studio, Davis hoped to create a facility less regulated by
the union rules that stifled so many artists and engineers. The e A&R
office would not only handle the administrative tasks for its exist-
ing local roster, but sign new acts as well. George Daly ran the A&R
office initially, later replaced by Ellen Bernstein. They achieved these
goals with only minimal success.

Record industry mogul Clive Davis (center) with earmuffs

Is record industry mogul Clive Davis (pictured, right) wearing earmuffs?

On March 3, 1971, Columbia Studios celebrated its “official” opening with a
grand party, which was attended by Bill Graham, Mike Bloomfield,
Rolling Stone‘s Jann Wenner, and several Columbia staff members,
including Davis. Under the long-term lease agreement, Columbia
gained exclusive use of Studios A and B, the mastering room,
maintenance shops, and offices. Coast then converted some of the
building’s unused space into a quadraphonic ..dubdown.. room, new
offices, and work areas. As much as Coast tried, with its “groovy” murals and dimmer switches and all, it had little luck attracting the
San Francisco Sound crowd—the large converted warehouse just
wasn’t bringing in the business Putnam had hoped it would. Coast’s
broadcasting business did well, but Coast-on-Folsom as a hip rock
studio would not come to be.

“We were always doing advertising; our expertise was commercials,” says Steve Atkins, who would later manage Coast Recorders. “We tried to get the San Francisco bands…it was a period where everyone wanted the San Francisco sound.” Not everyone got it.

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