RANDOM RAMBLINGS OF THE MUSICAL MIND

A peak into the mind of John Hampton

Accidents WILL Happen … (hopefully)

The session was called for 1PM. Stevie and Jimmie Vaughan were going to start their first and only album together.

Nile Rodgers was producing and I was all set up. Stevie and Rene Martinez (his guitar Tech and an excellent flamenco style player himself) were first, coming around a stylish 1:30. Jimmie was right behind them. Larry Aberman and Al Berry, drums and bass respectively, were setting up along with Rich Hilton, Nile’s “Do Anything” man.

Nile’s super-stylin’ 5:30 arrival could have been even later, had he not promised some magazine writer a “quickie” phone interview. And being the official recording engineer for these now infamous sessions, that meant phone interviews, too. As Nile talked record production with the interviewer,  he said something I didn’t understand … yet. This was 1990. And it took about ten years for it to soak in, but I eventually got it.
He said, “A producer’s job, really, is organizing the mistakes.”

Now it’s some time in 2003. And Jimmie is making his first solo record for CBS. It was during the first few days of his record that I discovered that Jimmie Vaughan is probably the hardest person on the planet to satisfy when it comes to getting “his” sound. And being the “NEVER give up” producer that I have become, I just won’t bail on pursuing that sound. We’ve talked about it in a language that only he and I understand. And we’ve driven around Austin for HOURS listening to this artist and that artist, from Johnny Guitar Watson to Blind Lemon Pledge, from noon to midnight …

But once you’re in the studio with a million ideas, it’s time to put the concepts to the test. And I’m coming up short on the intangible sound. But what is slowly coming into view as a bigger picture is that Jimmie Vaughan on his records is not a man singing and playing a guitar, Jimmie Vaughan is a really a conversation between a man and his guitar. When I finally saw that “big picture”, it was time to figure out how capture it.

I had two microphones I had planned on using. One on the amp, one for Jimmie to sing in. (Keep it stupid, simple.) First he wanted to re-do some guitar on the tracks we had finished the day before, so I got up a guitar sound and, as I expected, he didn’t like it. But as he played, I accidentally shoved up the volume on his vocal mike, which was across the room. Oh, if you could have seen our faces! His guitar through that amp IN THAT ROOM sounded like a million bucks. And as luck(?) would have it, adding that vocal mike meant all we needed … was a vocalist! These 2 microphones could now record the “conversation”.

This type of situation comes up in recording studios all the time. A guitar player gets lost reading a chord chart and plays a wrong chord at the chorus. The resulting chord could never have been calculated, even by Einstein, but it’s a magical chord that the song has been calling for.

A girl leading the other background singers brings them in 8 beats early. That little “mistake” fits so well that it becomes  the “hook” of the song.

An accidentally erased guitar part calls for a re-do. The new solo becomes the central theme of the song, which becomes a huge hit, and a theme for an insurance company’s ad that’s all over television. What would have happened to that band if the original guitar solo hadn’t been accidentally erased?

You know? Just writing this little blurb has made me want to go and tell four musicians to play four separate pieces of music at the same tempo and see what we come up with. Now the big question … should they all play in the same key?

Toots in Memphis is a record I had the honor of working on with Jim Dickinson that reeks of “Ja” … the idol of the Rasta way. Toots Hibbert and “the Maytalls” (what the heck is a Maytall?) were part of a huge onslaught of Reggae music that included Marley, Yellowman, … you know … REGGAE MUSIC! Sly Dunbar tells the tale of the birth of the art-form. The popular reggae feel apparently was the result of poor radio reception of Miami pop music radio. Over distance, the lower part of the bandwidth, THE BASS, is the first to go away in that poor reception. Which translates to the snare drum, or “back beat” is the main rhythmic component that comes across. I know this may be a little hard to follow, but in the simplest terms, any music that has equal force 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4 …. comes through as _-2-_-4_-2-_-4. It’s the main rhythm of reggae music. Now that may not be accidental, but it certainly was influential.

The spirit of music has always been a little magical to me, and the “accidents” are actually not accidents at all. They are simply a spirit that some hear, and others don’t. And to me, that is the difference between the artist and the non-artist. It weaves itself around the senses that make a painter, an architect, or a musician able to see what others want to experience.

next question…

Do Some “Rock Band©”

Oil Spills! Nuclear weapons! A falling economy! Congressmen assaulting the free press! WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO????
I’ve got it. Let’s go do some Rock Band© and forget about all this.
The REAL problem here is … I’m not kidding.
I vaguely remember a time where, if I were feeling a bit overwhelmed by current events, I would walk over to the turntable, pick out THE record that felt like I was feeling, and I would play it, sometimes VERY loudly, and go sit in the chair by the aquarium, and just listen to the music, absorb, sometimes sub-consciously, the situation of the artist, and I would slowly resolve my own conflict of the moment. Those were truly spiritual moments. They grew me, and as the artist grew, I would grow. He got a little of MY money, along with the hundreds of thousands or even MILLIONS of others, and in return he/she could give us, rather let us into his/her world again …. usually about 18 months to two years later.
Of course, Rock Band© can be an extremely powerful tool, too … if you got into actually learning the music and eventually grew as artist yourself. That is a huge thing. And I know MANY younger than I folks who are doing just that. In fact, 3 of my 4 boys LOVE Rock Band©. The other loves animals. But being of the same genetic pile, it seems normal.
Then there are those who want to be a “Rock Star”,  and have developed some really great air guitar moves. Or singing poses. And my favorites are the air drummers. But I am forced to wonder how many of this second type are there out there. And I wonder how many of my own will stick with it for band after band, and grow that way?
One of the hardest parts of being a music nut AND a music producer AND a music recording engineer is that for me, being raised on the Beatles and Bowie and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, … surviving DISCO … then Nirvana, STP …and still loving all of it right up to this moment: for me, it was more fun, more cerebral, more of what my soul needed, before now and as I grew into my thirties and even forties. Hearing U2 tell the world about the problems in Ireland, and hearing about Peter Gabriel’s spooky past, and being able to actually forge a bond with DEVO and The Cars has to have been more rewarding than playing air guitar in my bedroom with a thing that wanted to be my guitar, and hearing songs that wanted to be my songs … it seems like it would all push a little too hard into that world that I wanted no part of: The “Wanna bes”.
But again I am torn by watching my own become enlightened by these forces. What’s a dad to do?
Here’s my perfect scenario:
August, 1981 … I just got my license to do open water S.C.U.B.A. style diving. Shipwrecks! Coral reefs! GREAT
WHITE WHAT?? I’ll settle for Moby Grape. The entire process was a two day, three part checkout by a professional, licensed instructor. 8AM Saturday. Two huge things are happening. The first is my basic diver part. Piece of cake. Toughest thing is the guy rips your face mask off at about 30 feet, and steps away. And the “Emergency Ascent” … A.D.D. moment … did you know that if you exhale all of your air at 30 feet, then swim to the surface holding your breath, when you get to the surface your lungs are again full of air? In fact, if you DO hold your breath, your lungs could explode. YUK! Anyway, the basic dive portion is first . My wife and young, thirteen year old cousin stay at the “Road Apple Inn”  while I go do it. The young girl is GLUED to the television. I move on. Upon my return, they are both glued to the T.V! I look and there on the tube is the second huge thing that is happening today: the very first day of MTV. And over an hour, they keep repeating about seven videos. These were the pioneers who actually spent a LOT of money to make a video for this first day. I guess everyone else thought it would fail. Well, it did not fail.
Present day. An unknown band has written what many believe is a SMASH music hit. Now for the big roll of the dice; what if Rock Band© catches the world on fire for real bands? It’s already happening and the “entertainment dollar” as we call it, is heading very slightly away from CDs and mp3 players along with their associated music downloads, and toward Rock Band©. Green Day MAY be the guys who take it over the top. They, Miley Cyrus, and a handful of others have released their next record as a CD, iTunes© (CD Baby©, Real Music©, etc.) download, AND in Rock Band© format. Could it possibly be August, 1981 all over again? Not many are doing it … YET.
But there is a chance that in the very near future, music lovers will be able to hear AND learn the songs in one system. That could really happen! I personally think it would solve all world problems. Oil spills would dry up. Senators would stop assaulting the free press. a penny would be solid copper and a quarter solid silver. AND … there would be a permanent ban on every nuclear weapon on the planet.
Two MIT grads started Harmonix©, the still privately held company that has brought us Rock Band©.‘The company was built on the premise that the experience of performing music could become accessible to those who would otherwise have trouble learning a traditional instrument.’ *   Music Television is the company that brought us M
TV©.
Humans are the biology that made them both iconic. Ya think?
I could live with my boys playing it all day if it gave them real music.
Next Question …
* “How’horrendous failure’ led to Rock Band©”.  CNNMoney. Retreived 9/3/2009