RANDOM RAMBLINGS OF THE MUSICAL MIND

A peak into the mind of John Hampton

Theory One: Chapter A…In the beginning…tubes

I just LOVE letting my mind wander wander wander. (One second while I watch the magnetically-repelled train goes by at 80 mph, blowing silently, and just barely missing the bamboo in my back yard … and the eggs on top of it are still upright in their golden cages!)

colour-lsd-paint-psy-favim_com-497400

So what about tubes? Are they really “warm” sounding, Or am I hearing heat because a tube is hot? Well look out … I’m not sure we know the whole story about tubes vs. transistors, unless we pull more of the picture in …

Warmth, the way Rupert N. describes it, has less to do with a particular sound than the feeling you get FROM that particular sound. He remarked once in a little speech he gave to a group of SPARS members in NY, that in a blindfold test of different recordings, a large percentage of the listeners actually relaxed their shoulders and settled back in their chairs when he swapped their listening from a transistor based system to a tube based amp. And he remarked loudly that THIS is what he is referring to when he says warm. Warm like a hug, or warm like seeing a long lost GOOD friend. NOT “fatter”, like I’ve heard, or “punchy” like I’ve heard. but warm. Like a baby wrapped in bear hide.
And he goes on to say that as a tube is driven harder and harder toward “saturation” level, it is the even order harmonics, particularly the second harmonic, that is the taking over in this warm, “addictive” sound. (Those are his words!)

I myself have fooled myself many times by thinking I was contributing to the “Fatness” or the “Punch” of certain instruments or recordings by using tube gear, when in fact, in a careful A/B comparison, I was usually simply adding gain. EVERYTHING sounds better when it’s a bit louder, right? Almost every tube device uses fairly good sized transformers in order to isolate the higher voltages needed to power up a tube, as well as matching the impedances of different “things” to the impedance of the tube amp. And these transformers are on outputs as well as inputs, meaning most audio has been through at least 2 transformers. AND I DO hear a fairly obvious difference in the sound of a piece of gear such as a Fairchild 670 or 660, as well as other tube gear. But the sound does seem to lessen as the amount of input comes down. So what am I hearing? Tubes used to be considered as pristeen amplification in, say, McIntosh stereo amplifiers. And Dynaco amps. So what AM I hearing?

Is that DEVO, Mom?

Theory One ties together the magic “3”. Tube Saturation, Magnetic core saturation and Magnetic tape saturation.

There are 3 processes that a wagonload of today’s music never gets the chance to see. And to know!! Tape, core, and tube saturation. These 3 things have something in common. Do you know what those 3 things are? If you guessed the word “saturation”, well then by golly you are right! If you apply too much signal to a tape recorder, the tape will get saturated. Ditto for a tube. And ditto for a transformer! Saturation means only this. “OK! Come on back … a little more … a little more … almost… one more … WHOAAAA.!!! ” That is saturation. It will be a faithful reproduction from the tape as long as it doesn’t violate the saturation point. After that, you may very well give it more and more and more, but the output is going to stop and remain the same if you go beyond that saturation point. AND, yes, technically you have made that channel into a limiter! THAT is the sound that people like on music. It IS something that we don’t add very much of any more. But it is that classic sound that most of you have heard at some point, usually in your youth, and certain sounds, certain songs survive very warmly in a place near saturation. As opposed to what many describe to me as a “harsher” sounding digital recording.Digital

Any time you have a wire wrapped around steel, you have a magnet. An “electromagnet”, more or less. The more electrons, current, volts … whatever you call it, when it gets louder going in, it SHOULD get louder coming out. BUT …. there is a point, called “core saturation“, in the case of a transformer (or even a tape recorder’s head!), tape saturation, in the case of magnetic tape, and tube saturation, in the case of a tube. This last case is what most guitar players like about various guitar amps.                       Man tends to gravitate, it seems, toward the saturation thing more than the digital thing. But what is it exactly that makes man seem to “prefer” this analog stuff over digital stuff? Before we go on, I am talking about a very unique few people on the planet who notice much, if any, difference. They generally are not listening like an engineer listens. Yet I believe to MY saturated core that MAN as a being, tends to, honestly, prefer the analog sound … somehow. So… Theory One, the belief that there is a physical thing that you can touch and measure called saturation, and it has been with us almost since the beginning of recorded sound;  that is is slowly being replaced by a completely different set of rules we call “digital” recordings; Theory One takes us right up to … Theory two… which is next!

Insomnia 2014; a very short observation of the times

As programs like Photoshop® for visual, and like ProTools® for audio, become more and more mainstream in society over the years, I feel a strange and foreboding movement of the masses toward a general distrust of these arts. With millions of  iPads and laptops going faster, and memory capacity getting larger, these types programs are finally dominating our arts and they are getting into every home. And it’s all, in a way, eroding the arts at the same time. (maybe?)

If I see an absolutely stunning photograph of a life situ that could be real, I soon realize that what I’m seeing may or may not be simply a concoction that a person only envisioned but never actually encountered, creating a morsel of doubt! Soon, I am a bit less stunned. I am referring to pictures that could, of course, be received as reality.There is a fine line between artistically “lying”, and using the tools to truly enhance one’s vision. In those scenarios, I believe it becomes a win-win for visioneer and receptor.

win-win

But the erosion slithers in to the vision that was fine to begin with, but through manipulation it is made to represent a “better than” true to life vision.

Lying

 

I think we all run the real life risk of stifling true artistry by enstilling an exasperation in the artist who believes that society will only see his or her art as only a digital concoction by a “not so artistic” third party. Of course, there are ALWAYS exceptions to every rule. I think Tiffany here is beautiful in ANY picture!

And then, of course, there’s the out and out lie.

Lie

If we can do THIS, think how much artistic lying is going on in the world? Why should I pay money to have music and singing by someone who can’t sing as good as they project?

I need a bit of help here. Anyone?

Plug in that old thinking cap … here we go!

HEY MIKEY! LOOK!! IT’S RUPERT NEVE!

I’ve got a couple of writings (blogs,globs… yeah, globs!) a coming right behind this, where we’ll have a chat about why CDs really DO suck and why herds of people going back to vinyl are NOT just taking part in this week’s flavor… this ain’t no Hula-Hoop, gents and ladies. This is a perceptible reality that makes your listening experience with vinyl records (let’s just call ’em records) a more rewarding event than the same occurrence with CDs. But do you know why you are noticing it NOW for the first time? It’s simple: we have finally become so used to CDs as the norm that a more true to life sonic event is really obvious. So I guess you are wondering how I came to this,. right?  It all started with a chat from a Mr. Rupert Neve, the most well known name in audio science, at a speech he gave at a SPARS luncheon several years ago. It so enrapt me that I believe I still remember every word. And if you don’t know whop Rupert Neve is, you are either very young or very uneducated. He lives in Wimberly. Texas.

Wimberly Texas. Why, there’s Wimberly now!!

I just can NOT think of a better place to invent audio gear.

Mr Neve is a British chap who knows his circuitry, and has an uncanny way of bringing that circuitry to the sound of the music that he loves.R’s (I call him R) life’s goal has been to get the sound of music (yes, he’s bringing Mary Poppins) that you hear from electronics as close to the sound you hear in those two ear holes on either side of your head as he possibly can. Oh, It’s a breeze. Couple of tubes, a bias oscillation transistor, throw in a couple of variable capacitors … you’re DONE!  The stuff he designs and bnuilds is in such high demand, and was constructed so well (until a BIG MEAN GERMAN company bought him out), that audio people have seareched high and low for his older equipment, but the new is just as good. And he seems to be taking his newer gear more toward that “live in the audience” sound. Portico, for example. And Rupert loves analog(ue) and vinyl, and hates CDs. Why? Read on.

Now if doing a bit of comprehensive reading isn’t exactly your thing, as mine is not, we can always start with Dr. Seuss…Hampton style.

If a train is moving toward you, the sound of the horn is slightly higher in pitch  to you than it is to the engineer. That’s called a “Doppler pitch shif”t. And as it passes, then moves away from you, there’s a split second that the same two pitches are the same pitch., then you hear it bend down to become LOWER in pitch as it moves away from you. This doppler pitch shift is also observed when one looks at a star. Ifit looks bluish, it is higher than normal becauseit is moving toward you. Same with a pinkish or reddish color. Those stars are lower in pitch and are moving away from you. THAT … is why I say Dr. Suess, Hampton style. I wrote a book once called”One Fish, Two Fish …Red Shift Blue Shift”, a book for four year olds to start to understand how we can actually, by plotting the direction of all of the stars in the universe, eventually arrive at the precise point of the “Big Bang”. It’s in the children’s book section at Barnes and Noble, and if they’ve run out at Amazon, they’ll restock soon. Get one and read it to your 4-year old. Next … Why vinyl … AGAIN?

Yes, you in the red rubber suit …

ProTools 9 … One step closer to Photoshop for music.

Is our planet getting to be a wacky, whirlwind of a world that we wander in, or WHAT? I mean, everyone is afraid to do anything because no one knows if prices are going up more, or if they are going to come back to Earth. We just can’t get off the breast of Middle-East oil because environmentalists just won’t let us drill anywhere, for fear of wiping out the Flat-tongued Rainbow-Snail Hairless Marmot … though right beneath our feet there’s enough oil to keep the Sheiks from our doorstep for generations! Amidst all this,  technology allows almost anyone to make a record with a couple instruments and a laptop! Like I said, it’s a wacky world we’re wandering.


So it’s all in a big, weird state of flux, or rather flux NOT. But some things are moving forward; DAMN the torpedos. Like music technology, computer technology, ANY technology. And like I’ve said, it’s not a nice, straight line of advancement like it has been since the dawn of time. Instead of people designing “stuff”, people are designing computers that design “stuff”. Some computers are designing other computers that design “stuff” to make computers that design “stuff” better. What used to be a linear progress is becoming asymptotic, or exponential progress. ( Hint: These are words that are getting more and more airplay as time moves on.)

As technology marches blindly on, music technology marches with it. Save for one tiny difference. It seems as if the sonic part of music technology is going backwards as it marches … forward? Honestly! Imagine this: From the 1940s until the late eighties, recording to analog, magnetic tape was … well, it’s how it was done. The most popular means of recording music now is almost like it’s always been, except the advancement of the technology allows for cheaper microphones, less than high-fidelity processing, you know. . . junk. But it is by no means ALL junk. Some things cut through the sea of junk and make it to shore, and we find that it’s a really fantastic breakthrough. Let’s look at the most cutting edge breakthrough of them all: the recording medium. By today’s standards, the first digital (not analog) recording medium  was crap when compared to analog tape pressed onto good, virgin vinyl … at least to my two earholes. Call me nuts. But if I’m nuts, you’ve got to tell Jack White he’s nuts, too … (all if his THIRD MAN Records releases are vinyl.) And Ozzie (?), The Black Keys, Radiohead, Pearl Jam, The Black Crowes … about 99% of “ear-havers” on the planet. But not many will argue against the latest version of ProTools, easily the most used recording platform in the world. And now, you may, if you wish, mimic the sound of analog tape on each and every ProTools track!

But why in the world would the most popular digital recording medium in the world go to these kind of lengths to NOT SOUND DIGITAL? WHY? Thirty years of developing digital just to end up where we started? I don’t get it. Unless …

Unless it’s an admission that the pro-vinyl folks are right, and analog tape sounds better than digital no matter how much technology you put behind it. I say … not exactly. At least that’s not the whole story.

If you are a bad musician, and I include a voice as an instrument, you will NEVER be good. Never. Go back to school. But if you are a fair musician, ProTools can make you a better musician. But, go back to school anyway. We are already awash in mediocrity without your adding to the party! But if you are a pretty good musician, hang on to that tuition cash for a minute. Because ProTools MIGHT help you be good. And from good, it’s possible (possible) that you can get to great. Save for one caveat. There could be one teeny-weeny . problem with using it a lot. Live performance. Because ProTools 9 is out, and it’s one step closer to Photoshop for music.

There’s a feature in there (in ProTools) that can make your drummer steadier than he really is. DRAG. CLICK.  The world famous “Auto-Tune®” (now it’s “Melodyne®”) will make your out of tune singing on key. SHIFT DOUBLE-CLICK. Having a bit of trouble deciding when your equametric-paralyzer (tone) is helping,  or your compressor (dynamic range) is hurting? No worries, mate!. It can make those decisions for you.There are lots of presets that were dialed up by the smart guys who know all about it, because most read the old manuals! And lose that cheap guitar sound in a flash because there are plenty of pre-set amplifiers in there, too. From settings The Beatles dialed up, to Carlos Santana, and everything in between! If you keep running out of air because the key of the song never got a second thought, just sing one good chorus, and paste it in to all of the chori! If your drummer can’t get off work, Apple will give you some great drum parts, thanks to Apple Loops®! Yes, it’s a wanna-be’s dream come true. Now you can make a record all by your little lonesome, in your bedroom, after work (when you’re half beat and your girlfriend is getting real bored watching you indulge yourself.)  And when (if) that little jewel is all done,  just show it off on MySpace®, and maybe you can even get iTunes® or  uTones© to sell it. I can see the headlines now: AVERAGE LOCAL MUSICIAN DOES FAIR; SELLS MANY RECORDS ON WEBSITE! Mirabili dictu! Will miracles never cease? (This is one miracle that I often pray … will.)

I mean, why take all the time needed to deliver a touching, inspired, bring-’em-to-the-edge-of-tears-type vocal performance that has the power to change lives, … when you can just slack your way through one half-fast performance, then use the recorder like the coolest video game ever made … for a week? And speaking of inspired, I can tell you for sure that inspiration is hard to pull off even in the best of recording studios, if you have no feedback. How do you do it in your room, at night, after work, with your bored girlfriend trying to watch “Jersey Girls”? Or say that you are Mr. Virtuoso … don’t you need some kind of feedback? The word we are missing here is collaboration. Don’t you need someone to bounce ideas off of, like a band mate, or a producer, or even the engineer … (if you’re wise enough to hire a professional to help) Some sort of collaboration? Remember John and Paul, and then John or Paul? Was each alone really as good as both of them, together, swapping ideas?

Finally, notice that as technology shares in it’s breakthroughs, it begins to grow beyond our wildest dreams. And as the artist isolates more, adrift in that technology, music that warms the soul seems to become quieter, harder to hear.

Maybe it’s disappearing … just as fast as the Flat-tongued Rainbow-Snail Hairless Marmot.

Geoff Emerick and the Legend of Strawberry Fields

Did you know that Julian Lennon’s dad used to have a band with that guy in Wings? I have a vague remembrance as a boy (it was February 1964) of watching “Ladies and gentlemen, The BEATLES!” on  TV’s “The Ed Sullivan Show” for the first time. It was a stunning moment for me and millions of others. That cleverly planned moment (I mean come on … 20 days after the record release … how DID they get that gig?) was that moment that  I fell in love with music. But por mois, it was even more than that, resonating with the spiritual side of me. Have you ever reacted to music like that, or am I the only one? My brother Randy and I went to our room when the show was over and, with a broom and a bed … part, we stood in front of the ceiling lamp watching our shadows on the wall morph into John and George. (I was John and Paul was a leftie) That night defined the beginning of my life in music, as it did many others, I’m sure.

I kept up with the band through every part of their meteoric careers, buying everything they released in America. And then later, and into my twenties, I discovered the stores in New York where you could buy British releases of stuff never released state-side. I found a way to keep up with them after they had disbanded. But when I began the recording studio part of my life, I noticed from reading the inside of Anthology 1 that their “team” wasn’t even mentioned on the records; the team of people putting that music together. I mean surely the band didn’t just walk ino any recording studio in the world, running around plugging in microphones, bringing orchestras in and telling them what to do! And SURELY they weren’t the only ones who, after making these gems, sat behind the recording equipment and put the final balance on all of these guitars and French Horns and vocals and miscellaneous cacophony. Nope, it wasn’t them. But it was a team … that was dedicated to seeing that their artistic vision made it safely into my hands, as un-altered as possible. There was George Martin, their “producer”, whatever that meant. And at first,  the “engineer” was Norman Smith. But toward the end of recording their ear-turning Revolver record,  Norman moved on to produce Pink Floyd, and Geoff Emerick, became the guy sitting alongside Martin in the control room. My older sister was staying in tune with The Beach Boys, who were going through their own metamorphasis with their acclaimed Pet Sounds record as both bands went through the white-hot phases of their careers. It was kind of like Pet Sounds vs. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And because of the subtle rivalry for the ultimate recording, records became so … so really interesting. I preferred the British slant, like I Am the WalrusStrawberry Fields ForeverLucy In the Sky with Diamonds … what exactly WAS this new sonic safari all about? cTomorrow Never Knows was the first song by The Beatles where I  heard a distinct difference between the happy, shiny Beatles, and the new, cerebrally cool Beatles. Radically different. But what was making it so different out of the clear blue?

I believe that answer to be two-fold.

#1 drugsLucy inthe Sky w/Diamonds

And #2… Geoff Emerick

Every other part of the team was the same. Geoff was the force that fulfilled John Lennon’s request of matching up one version of Strawberry Fields with another. The two versions had been recorded weeks apart at two different tempos , and in two different keys! It seems Lennon loved the end product after weeks of working out every nuance he wanted … but he still loved the beginning of the very first “potential” keeper. So Geoff, in a single, magical, musical moment, refusing to say it couldn’t be done, found a way to turn the edit between the two versions into a legendary artistic moment. A moment most engineers wouldn’t have even thought of. Geoff was brilliant. He made it work. (The edit occurs at exactly 1:00, on the word “going” in the phrase “’cause I’m going to … Strawberry Fields”) Click the title Strawberry Fields Forever

I had the pleasure (along with about twenty others) of having dinner one night with Geoff and his co-writer Howard Massey when they were in town promoting Geoff’s book,  Here, There, and Everywhere-My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles. (whew!) Rather than hit him with questions he heard all the time and probably hated down inside by now, I just sat there soaking up his presence and listening to his stories that were not in the book. He was brought to town for a presentation of the book, and some previously unheard music, by the Memphis NARAS chapter… the Grammy folks. I had become so infatuated with the man and his outlook on the subject of records and music and the Beatles, that now the book is in my stable of “READ OFTEN”, alongside Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”, Plato’s Republic (which shold be re-titled “Plato’s and Socrates’ Feudalism”), MAD Magazines (about a hundred) and the original screenplay for Hampton Fancher’s “Bladerunner“. Now Geoff’s book. And every day, I discover ways that he and I have many similar viewpoints; he captures the ARTIST’s vision, by finding new and interesting ways to do whatever it takes to bring that vision to fruition. And he sees a clear cut line between engineering and producing, where most (myself included, at first) engineers see a blur and try to get into production eventually, if they can handle that hot seat.
Geoff, if you read this, I am only one of millions of fans who truly appreciate your views since I, too, have been there. Oh, and Geoff …  I regret Yoko’s ubiquitousness as much as you. As do many. But then again, you were sooo lucky to get that gig. Swine …

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

Introducing … The Single

It looks like the up and coming generation has finally redeemed itself with the grandest of grand concepts. Leave it to kids today to just reach down deep into that creative grab bag of life and bring the novelest of novel ideas to fruition. It’s called … (drumroll) a SINGLE. It started a while back, actually, when iTunes geniuses decided that if you wanted, you could just buy one song off of an ALBUM of songs by a recording artist. Wow. There’s a novel concept.

Although we really know it wasn’t a recent development at all, it really, REALLY IS a lot different from the single our moms and dads started up way back in the olden days. In those days, pop music was just that. POPular music. An artist would think up a song, write it, record it, and put it out for us to buy. If we liked it, it became popular, and sold a bajillion zillion copies. Then, the popular artist would write another song, and put it out. If it also became popular, the men in the big cities would come around, snatch up the artist for their company’s big roster of popular artists, figuring they have a golden goose here. So THEY would release an ALBUM of his/her popular music, plus a few more that the listener could … enjoy. That was great! Except, I don’t know about you, but I could hardly ever afford a $12 album, and many times, the stuff I liked wasn’t available as a single. So … what’s a kid to do?

I could not get immediate satisfaction, unlike these kids today. Noooooo! I had to wait (WAIT?!?!) …wait until I had saved up enough ca$h to finally go get the album. But crap! I didn’t like every song, just two or maybe three tops. In fact, I got pretty good at playing D.J. because when my friends came over, I would only play those two or three songs, and that’s it! Een if my pals wanted to hear others, I RULED my musical domain with an iron fist.

Enter …. the new media.

Digital everything. Digital recording, digital CD, digital this, digital … heck, I bet they are thinking up digital shoe polish as we speak! A digital download, though, is how we get our music now, right? (I personally like the CD, and REALLY the 12″ vinyl) … But by and large, we get our music online. So doesn’t that mean we don’t have to buy an album ever again? I do believe it does mean that. AND that is precisely what the bulk of the world is doing. They hear a song or two, like them a lot, and download them from iTunes or CD Baby or Bob’s Record and Bait … in the end, they don’t buy a whole album. Period.

Enter the artist. He/she’s not stupid, (is he/she?) Why bother recording ten or twelve songs if, for the most part, only one or two will bring in some NLM dough? (No Laughing Matter) So, a lot of my work now is recording 2 or 3 songs on a weekend or weekend +, and in four to five days, we have product. Ready to upload and hit the globs.

But you know, as I grew older I really got into those ten or eleven songs. The artist could take me on a sonic safari for an hour almost, and I always came out on the other side a better, more edified listener. And many, many times, I ended up looking forward to the artist’s next record.

Is the entire experience slowly, or not slowly, going away? I will really be saddened if that experience goes away. I THINK I would end up in a much lessier place if that were the case. (Thanks to the Hatter for that line). And this one:

I don’t want to end up in a much lessier place. The Hatter knows there’s a lot to say about the much muchier place. We must hang onto the concept of the album of songs. If for no other reason, just so that “these kids today” can develop into better, more edified listeners. They may just wake up someday and be a little less into that instant gratification thing. And wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing.

Next question…

Hearts Off to Haiti

Aiding Haiti with Love and a Melody    

When my management approached me with an offer to help Larry Dodson (from the fabulous Bar-Kays) put together a record that the Bar-Kays and others were doing, my eyes lit up. ALL of the profit from the sales was going directly to someone in quake-ravaged Haiti who was honest to a fault and would get the money wherever it would do the most good. I just said “Sure. When? Where?” But I wasn’t sure WHY I had volunteered so quickly.In July 7, 1977, the first day I worked at Ardent Recording Studio, ZZ Top was in studio A, and the fabulous Bar-Kays were in studio B. There had to be at least 12 people in there, with the speakers turned up to 11, and every fifteen minutes or so, a Bar-Kay would come out to attend to his beeswax, always loud and laughing, and to the casual onlooker, one would think a hoedown was on rather than a record. But boy … they had fun and it was all over the place. I cottoned to this place and these people like a flea cottons to a dog. Good luck getting rid of me, folks. I’m home.

On the day we cranked up this session, Larry and their tech/roadie/remote recordist Markus came in with the production they had done so far, in some secret laboratory. Now WE were going to add more people and more voices, singing a song written to the unfortunate Haitian population that were desperately trying to restore their country that laid in ruin by a natural disaster of the ugliest kind.It seems a lot of people look at Haiti like the movie “Serpent and the Rainbow”, with it’s Black Magic and people coming to life AFTER being officially pronounced dead. But what was coming in on the net, in the news, and through the radio described something much different and even more horrifying once it sinks in that it’s REAL.

But you know, that’s when Americans and the world, do what we do best. We help. We comfort. We give what we can, hoping … what? That if we are ever in that shape, they would return the favor? No, I don’t think so. I think it’s because it just feels good to help a fellow human being in distress. It’s just in our blood.

The record was growing. Maurice White is coming, and Kirk Whalum is slaying us with the most soulful sax this side of, hmmmmm, this side of China.

J. Blackfoot is just plain old testifying, loudly, if I may. Many red lights, mon! Eric Gales is tearing up both a guitar and an amplifier as he blazes a brain boggling blur of fingers and arms and strings, all becoming just white hot! This is fantastic. Then, the almost winner of last year’s Americam Idol, (we call her) Lil Rounds. I wept.

And over the next few days, so many people came in that the production team was simply overwhelmed and we were just saying “GO! We’ll sort it out later”. When you add it up, we spent six days putting more and more and more on this record. Yes, the production was becoming a nightmare. But YES! You could NOT hold back the people who wanted to get involved. There was a couple from Spain, taking a tour of the studio. Larry asked them if they could sing. They came in and sang beeeeautifully … as if to say to say “Haiti, we in Spain care too!” It was all Un Be friggin lieveable!!! We were completely burnt after six days of that. Break!

I did the math. Assuming average promotion, and average airplay. Nationally, of course. Assume a CD with 2 different versions. Or 3. Heck,we could really make about 50 versions! Let’s assume a $5.99 retail. Say 100,000 people hear it, like it and buy it. In America. After the extremely minimal costs incurred are paid, it leaves you with about … it’s easily around a half a mil. What if 300,000 people buy it? Now we’re over a mil. For 6+ days work, we could send the Haitian people over a million BUCKS! A MILLION BUCKS!!  so …

All you have to do to help the Haitian people is buy the record! It’s not lining my pocket one cent. Nor Larry’s. Nor Maurice’s or Kirks or Eric or even Li’l Rounds!! The love shared in that room during the recording of that song made us ALL a little more humble, a little more aware to the devastation that Mother Nature, on a bad day, can cause. This reality check was our payment. And we ALL learned again that LOVE alone (with a little cash) can help even the worst situations.

And as we rounded the corner into the home stretch, Larry and I both realized that we had just been moved a little closer to each other, both on a personal level and a cultural level. One of the greatest things about the music business is that we all share a bond that supersedes race, religion, and just about anything that COULD come between us. It is a spirit that at times becomes the Great equalizer of mankind. It can be humbling. And, like anything spiritual, in the wrong hands, it can wreak havoc. Today, the Hatian peopkle were in good hands. Can I get an AMEN on that, J. Blackfoot?

And very soon, the Haitian people will become a part of it, too.

Next question …

Really Big Stardom … Mix it up (or Make it up)

In my front yard is a kidney bean shaped flower bed. At one long end is a large , beautiful Japanese Maple tree and behind it are several Crepe Myrtles. When the Crepe Myrtles are fully loaded with flowers and berries, the branches bow down to the ground, as if to salute the Japanese dignitary before them. In earliest spring, the tulips are the first to greet the new year. Lavender, red , yellow, even an occasional violet one. As they wilt and wither, Easter comes with it’s concert of lilies that greet my neighbors every morning until the first of May. Now the stars of the show begin their rise to regalia. My fabulous “variations of a theme” of midnight blue irises. Indigo fading to a snow white dripping into bright yellow and yellow pistils. Its living proof that there is a God. Meanwhile, the mums have been greening up, ready to take us into summer with a million colors.

Granted… a bed of nothing but the Irises would be striking at first, but with no second place winners, or even a Miss Congeniality, interest would wane pretty quickly.

Even Albert Einstein concluded that if every band in the world was the best reggae band ever, but there were no blues, country; no Enya or Sex Pistols; no Cramps or Soul Men at Stax … or NO “watchin’ the tide roll away”, no Spoon or Green Day or even the friggin’ BAJA MEN (FYI “Who Let the Dogs Out?”) … what kind of world would this be? In that light, music would not bevlaid, to me, anyway.

So let’s do a 180… Daddy Yankee, Three-6 Mafia, Down, and even Pit Bull are all enough proof that music has always been the most interesting when ALL of the flowers are growing in the same bed, absorbing the same dirt, and maybe even borrowing a little pollen from each other.

Simple case in point: There were The Beatles. Totally unique, right? Well … maybe. Early on, they were doing culturally filtered versions of American black music: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley , etc. … which led the AMERICAN music scene to it’s version of the same thing: Rockabilly, a kind of milk toast rock music, which had no real, monetary backbone until Elvis Presley embraced it, sanitizing Rock ‘h’ Roll for the masses. Now the music wasn’t quite as sexually tinted and parents were OK if their kids played it. Heck the parents liked it, too. So, this early American rock music, black roots still loosely intact, caught fire in Europe! And the Brit-Pop, i.e. The Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Yardbirds, Cream … after hearing the original Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Motown, Stax, and rockabilly, decided to play that style, too! Anyone feel a catch-22 coming?

Enter one Atlantic ocean, which means not distance, but a different culture and relatively far away… When the Brit-Pop slant mixed with the early, American rock music , an entirely NEW sound comes out. I would imagine it comes partly from not knowing or rather from not immersing themselves in the American culture, a totally different frame of mind, They had a Queen; a Monarchy, while we had the Bay of Pigs and Russia putting missiles in CUBA!. Ours was born from the feelings behind the music, where theirs were born from listening to our feelings. Two completely different playing fields.

Even Ringo knew that, like the Big Bang, when two protons collide, they give off unique, never before heard pieces. Here’s a weird one: a Memphis Band, Big Star, was one such band . They were influenced by British pop music, which was influenced by American music, which Big Star was?

Huh?

Zeppelin’s drummer John Bonham has an ultimately awesome sound and technique, all the while thinking that he sounded like Stax drummer Al Jackson. So wrong, but beautifully wrong. Record scratching was born from non-technical minds believing that the ever present horn “stabs” that were all over 80’s records did not come from an electrical box that contained a digital “snapshot” of the sound that would come out at the push of a button. It was technically too much to understand for a non-technical musician to understand, so he/she figured if you take a record that had a stab on it somewhere, the sound could be cued up on a record player, so when the “DJ” let go of it, the same sound would play. Ah ha! Mystery revealed.

Nope. The DJ had to cue the record up for the next horn stab, but noticed he could a new revolutionary sound as he pulled the record back for the sound. He heard the beginning of record scratching, a rhythmic instrument played by “scrubbing” the record to and fro under the stylus. Add a little more ingenuity, and you have an insanely complex but ultimately unique, creative new musical instrument that is still extremely popular at clubs world wide.

It started with flowers in every color of the rainbow cross pollening their respective appeal into each other that, to this day, still yields the music that will be the next new thing today and everyday, I hope, until that fat woman sings!

Next question.