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…

Rocket Surgery – Brain Recording

I woke up this morning with a brutal pain in my lower abdomen. I am the apex of pain wimps. If I step on an acorn with bare feet, you can hear me for miles..

Quick flashback to my tenth grade Biology class (Claire, Kathie, Hea …HEATHER! Whoa!) … my mind’s eye sadly moved off the chicks and on to that chart of (Inside) “The Human Anatomy”, which I had seen every day of the 10th grade year. The chart … I touched my hipbone to get the relationship to the “mind chart”. Over about 3 inches to the left, then down … 3 … 6 …SEVEN! YOW!! Seven inches!! Holy veriform, Batman! That’s my APPENDIX! I’m in trouble. I’ve heard if that sucker blows it’s “The Big Countdown”. Better call someone and get to a doc PRONTO.

A couple doors down, my buddy, Rocket ( we all called him that) was getting ready for something really big, too. He told me that his band, Even Steven, was going to start on their first record the next morning. When I asked him where he was doing it, instead of hearing the expected studio name, he said something about their live sound guy who just got all this … stuff. Laptop, software, a microphone set from Mattel … you know, STUFF! So now he’s producing records. (Huh? I never knew the dude could spell producing!)

Now look; I really like Rocket a lot, and sometimes I feel like I have got to show him every little (or BIG) pothole in the road he should avoid. In fact, it was during that very conversation two nights ago that I had felt the first twinge of this time-bomb in my lower right. When it became obvious that he wasn’t listening anymore, I just said ‘Good luck’, figuring I had said all I could without holding his hand.

I mean, COME ON! Thirty-plus years of making little records and big records, I feel I must know at least the basics of how to make a record, right? And today, these are shark-infested waters. But his pal apparently knew it all … and then some. Plus ☞ I needed to lay down; I was in serious pain (at least for me).

I knew I was probably about to have a life-changing event; under an anesthetic and a knife. And Rocket was about to have a life-changing event, too.

I received the following eMail in one of those mass mailings which was uncannily relevant to both of our situations. If the author of this fine piece of mass eMail wants, I’ll give you 100% of the credit and whatever I make from it. Oh, and thanks. The eMail really opened my eyes … and I hope it helps more “Rockets” out there:


I‘m not very technical but I just love doing brain surgery. I couldn’t see wasting all that time to get an undergraduate degree in science, then wasting four more years in medical school and another three or so as a resident, but I’m sure that I can make up for the deficit with my enthusiasm and my love of brain surgery.First of all, you really don’t need to be in a big fancy building, like a hospital. I use my ping-pong table in the basement to do my surgery. (I do throw a plastic sheet over it to preserve the paint). By doing it at home, I save on rent! I admit that sometimes the neighbors complain about the occasional screams that they hear, especially late at night. So I nailed some egg cartons to the walls.

Next thing is the equipment. They have all of that shiny stuff in the operating room and believe me, you don’t really need it. I equipped my Operating Room at my local dollar store. In the hardware department, pick up a hack saw. This is very handy for cutting off the top of the skull. If you want to get fancy, pick up a cross-cut saw, for emergencies. A good claw hammer is handy for removing any extra bone that you missed with the saws.

Move on to the housewares department. Here, for a dollar, you can get a whole set of steak knives. These are very sharp and they are good for the detailed work. For the rough work–get a bread knife. In the sewing department, you can pick up a sewing kit with all kinds of needles and different colored threads. This is handy for sewing the scalp back in place. You can also get a set of three different-sized scissors. Sometimes they come in handy. There! For 7 to 8 bucks, you can completely equip your operating room.

On TV, you see the operating room full of assistants. This is a total waste of space. If you really watch them, they are all just standing around doing nothing. In my home operating room, I have eliminated all of these unnecessary people. I do, however, engage the family dog to sit under my operating table to clean up the scraps.

You see how simple it is to do brain surgery at home? Anyone with a love of brain surgery can do it. I never read Grey’s Anatomy, although I did see a copy once. Very nice pictures but half of it was in Latin. Who wants to bother with all that! If you really want to be a brain surgeon, all you need is the desire and enthusiasm.

My prices are very reasonable since I don’t have all that stupid overhead.


Next question! … and AMEN!