A peak into the mind of John Hampton

The Model

It was probably fifteen (really?) years ago when I first encountered the concept of SOUND MODELING. A little thing called POD, weird looking little kidney bean shaped thing. You just plug your guitar into it and what came out the other end was … well, it was up to you. A clean, country music kinda sound, a giant, Jimi Hendryx kinda sound … even the forever HUGE Angus Young AC/DC metal music kinda sound. One small exception. KINDA. That was the rub.

But it was a breakthrough; For the first time ever, someone like me, who barely knew how to get even a good guitar sound could, within a minute, have a good enough guitar sound. Coupled with my “chord only” approach to the guitar, I was NIKKI dang SIXX ! And I used it a lot, when I HAD to have a power chord guitar part. but the band was in Moscow. As bad as I was, I could play on records!  And I DID!

That was a long time ago. In technologicalistic terms, it was an era ago.

Since then, I have seen a little of where it this … science … is today. And, as technology gets sooner or later, it has become relevant. Probably a little TOO relevant. Now I find myself, to my horror, guessing … is it REAL, or is it Photoshop. Or Melodyne, or ProTools, PitchAgent,  … there are literally hundreds of modeling programs out there now. And my head hurts.

But it makes sense, in an odd way. Think RockBand. Now you can be a Beatle. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to be a Beatle. But I can’t sing as good as Paul, or John, and I don’t have the charisma that only that particular foursome had. But I bet it won’t be long before there’s a John or a Paul model program.

But what about those magical mystery songs? No WAY I could write a song like “Yesterday”, or conjure up an “Imagine”, or George’s “Something” … even Ringo had a one of a kind way of drumming that no one can reproduce. But …

But nothing. That is my war, and I declare it again every single day.

Take a little program called “Beat Detector“. Sounds fairly innocuous. And I firmly believe these programs have a good use. The ABuse is my problem with them. Beat Detector has the ability to take offbeat, lousy drum playing and put it ON THE BEAT! Whoa. But to this day I insist that if a person was to take John Bonham, the most bestest drummer in … forever, and run the “Beat Detector” over his performance, you no longer have John Bonham playing. Congratulations, Mr. I love to abuse Beat Detective. You just gave rise to any-drummer-USA. HUrah!

I say give it up. We have to stop this tomfoolery of making bad into good and good into great. If that is the final frontier, it’s mediocre to start with. We are casting pearls. And meanwhile, the REAL music and the REAL performance is falling to the rear, trying to catch back up, but refusing to give in to The Model. The tuner. The on the beat-er. That is not what music is supposed to be. It is supposed to be a living, breathing spirit that is intangible and divine. Anyone can put paint on a wrecked car and try to sell it as more than it is, but it is still crap. Now and forever … crap. There is no model on earth that can keep you safe if you are unknowingly driving crap.

Next question …

The “W C” Modification

What better place than the ol’ porcelain throne to peruse the pages of the latest “Recording Today ” magazine, and read the latest. in-depth, nitty-gritty  articles on the workings of a modern recording session and the technical prowess involved in bringing these creative endeavors to the modern marketplace, where the second it comes out of the gate, it hits the world wide web.

And by mid afternoon, EVERYONE has heard it. AND HAS IT.

Now that’s progress. Oh, by the way, the check from iTunes for that one copy is in the mail.

What are we doing? And why are we doing it?

No wonder the modern recording studio comes fully eguipped for the cost of a good laptop and two wanna-be microphones. And a few hundred bucks in software and CDs. I mean, what else do you need?

How about, for one, an artist? Better yet, an artist that is talented. What the heck. An artist that is talented enough to draw a crowd and sell a record or two. It’s happened before, you know.

I was reading in an apparently revered mag about the intense session that went down for the latest Joe Beets record. They had to be en garde because the prima donna artist, who I promise you have NEVER heard of, is a really demanding dude, and you must have his favorite U-47 wanna be mic ($499 retail) and a  candle burning … for the mood.

Yeah. You just never know day to day where Joe’s whimsy is going to take you. So they were prepared. They had 2 (TWO!) … RED®  brand mics running to matched Babylon E535 mic preamps with the Billy Harrington “W C” modification. 5 weeks ago, Billy was moonlighting after his Circuit City job, ripping off old Neve mic pre-amp schematics, and if he couldn’t find the St. Ives Windings transformers,The old old St. Ives he took parts out of old, busted Shure 57s. They sounded fine. And that very first amp stage that Rupert Neve would have a table of old British ladies analyze on a curve tracer for noise and gain? And then they would put that tiny little dot of red fingernail polish on it as a mark of excellence? Well, Radio Shack has something similar, so Billy was using those. A real piece of work, that “W C” mod.

Billy's fab WC modIt’s absolutely amazing the depths that audio technology has sunk to to accommodate todays recording session.

“By the way, we have to break so I can get Spider from Day Care. 20 minutes MAX!” Just keep rehearsing that part.”

Most artists that I deal with come to me and our fine studio because they know they will get the highest level of co-operation in the pursuit of their sound. If it’s Jimmie Vaughan, I know what he expects and I provide it. Jack White and his lo-tech hi-tech vibe is catered to at the same time. We have learned to be chameleons and fit seamlessly into almost any situation you can dish up. Country music to the Cramps, Audio A to Z Z Top, Allman Brothers to the latest Euro-pop …I  / we have been there and forgotten NOTHING. Our Fairchild limiters have input transformers the size of a Babylon E535. And our Neumann mics are NOT the kind that have a single integrated circuit in them. These are tried and true tools of the trade still going strong fifty plus years after they were made.

And I’m sorry, but I STILL haven’t been impressed by that “WC” modification.

Next question …

Jack’s Record Store

I started this all off verbalizing about the Hell Days of Disco music that society barfed up in the late ’70’s and how the advent of a drum machine altered our pop culture almost as much as Sgt. Pepper (well …  a different altered).

In both applications, pop culture made a HARD turn.

But in the bigger picture, you can see that the longer line of pop culture over the last 50 years or so also has a soft bent toward the left. And, as always, the bent is due to technology. The Internet,  the personal computer, iPhone, uPhone, wePhone,  Vodafone, global communications … all of these are bending not just pop culture but Culture culture in a really profound way. Go to any “Made in China” wholesale site and take a look at what’s heading our way. TV watches with TWO cell phones built in, one for home, one for business.!  I remember hearing Ray Kurzweil, one of our most brilliant inventor/philosophers, tell it all once. In Ray’s words, ‘Society has become accustomed to a linear rate of technological change. That has been the norm. BUT technology doesn’t play by the rules. In the world today, where we used to have a man designing a computer or software … just about everything, we instead have computers and robotics doing the designing and the manufacturing. And when number crunching systems are designing and making more number crunching systems, suddenly we have a technological growth that has taken on a more exponential rate of change. In other words, we are no longer changing along a straight line. The line is changing faster every day, taking it from a line to a curve that is going up.’

And he points his finger away from the host and points it up more and more until he is pointing at the ceiling!

WOW! Technology is growing faster than man can keep up with it! One day, 8 bit is the thing. A year later it’s 16 bit. the next MONTH its 32 bit and now, a WEEK later, its headed toward 64 bit! How do we slow this thing down? Or do we?

We can’t. We either hang on for the wild ride or drop off where the landscape looks friendly. I’m getting off, and I notice I have LOTS of company. One person who got off one stop before me is that wacky Jack White. I think Jack, like me, has an almost romantic vision of the whole music buying experience. What fun is a download? CD Artwork … why is that so NOT stimulating? You used to go to a store that sold records, and just hang out, look at a 12 inch by 12 inch cover of a record and by just looking up close at the artwork and the artist, and maybe even reading a few of her/his words, you might walk out with a record you never even meant to buy; the artist sold her/himself with just the cover. You could cruise aisles and rows of bins and bins of various genres and stop, pick one up, look it over, and walk off to look at another one. The record store enabled the buyer to become more intimate with the artist. A truly unique experience that I want to continue, and I think Jack does, too.

At his recent Dead Weather performance, I found him and the totally understated Jack Lawrence (see Raconteurs) out in the hall with Dean (Fertita  … The sexy singer Alison Mosshart was in the dressing room … RATS!) At their show the band was so exciting to watch as well as hear.

But as I meandered the venue, I saw the merchandising “event” from a hundred feet! A beautiful yet tough looking wall of tees and caps and buckles, yada yada, and an extraordinarily fabulous looking table of Jack’s Third Man Records. It was all vinyl, BIG records including White Stripes records and Karen’s records (his wife) and Dead Weather coming soon posters, and then his “Blue Series” records. These looked like the exploratory side of the label, all an identical muted blue cover, with one exception, a green one for BP Fallon. It was a record store on the road!

For myself, and many others, Third Man has re-invented the record store at a fun, in-depth level that is the closest thing I’ve found yet to an actual store. As they build their artist roster, and I’m sure that they’ll start taking other product and bringing it on-board, It will catch on in a big way. And I must also say that working with Jack and his bands has been a reviving high point in my life and I just can’t wait for the call to do another Third Man Record. Jack’s a gas. And his label/store are just what we need.

Next Question ….. ?