24 Nov SoloDallas at the Air Studios: The London Blog post – Updating
finally I can begin updating you on all of this.
The first premise that I would love to make is that this has been probably more of an emotional experience than a technical one (to me). Although I will report to you all the several key points that I grasped out of these two intense days at Air Recording Studios, the amount of emotional content for me was far beyond the technical one. It was a sort of “about the people” thing, which doesn’t surprise me too much (after all, the payoff to this blog of ours is “First String Classic Rock Contents For Emotional Learning“.
This choice of mine is always more and more confirmed as I go by these very precious experiences of mine, with you – the Member, the Reader – and with the outside world.
I will break this “report” of mine on at least two main blocks: the first one being, the who was there in terms of presenters. Then, I will adress the friends and other aspects contents. The latter is by no means subordinated to the first; but I thought I owe you to start digging right from the contents that may interest who wasn’t there.
Please note: if I can suggest you how to approach this reading, do not look at it as “now I’ll know the secrets of recording” as it won’t be like this for the most part of this report.
I suggest you sit down and read with a light-hearted state of mind. I surely am writing this on cloud nine.
So the first Presenter I would like to talk to you about, is for both technical and personal reasons, Mr. Elliott Randall.
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Mr, Elliott Randall and myself at lunch time
Who is Elliott Randall (from his website, elliott-randall.com ):
Elliott Randall’s illustrious career has encompassed a wide and varied cross-section of World Musical forms. These include: record production, composition, electronic research and development, lectures and teaching, and of course, a legendary contribution to popular guitar performance and recording.
His guitar solos on Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ In The Years” and “Fame” (the motion picture) have entered Rock history annals.
Elliott has recorded and performed with artists as diverse as The Doobie Brothers, Carly Simon, Seatrain, The Blues Brothers, Carl Wilson, Peter Wolf, Peter Frampton, James Galway, Richie Havens, The Rochester Philharmonic and The American Symphony Orchestra, among many others. In addition, he is a favorite of esteemed songwriters Jimmy Webb, George David Weiss, Don Covay and Laura Nyro. Other credits include: music consultant for NBC Saturday Night Live and Oliver Stone, and projects with producers Jerry Wexler, Joel Dorn, Steve Lillywhite, Eddie Kramer, David Kershenbaum, Bill Szymcziyk, Eumir Deodato, Bob Crewe, Andrew Loog Oldham, Elliot Scheiner and Gary Katz among many others.
In addition to artistic projects, Elliott has also played, produced and composed myriad advertisements (jingles) for television, radio and cinema, for clients including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Miller Beer, Budweiser, Cadillac, Ford, McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, CitiBank, General Mills, Nabisco, Proctor & Gamble, MTV, ESPN, CBS, ABC, BBC-TV and countless others.
Try and watch this, and see what effect makes on you. On me, it brings me back to a time that I always adored, that is, one of the most inspiring and productive eras in music history.
Mr. Randall is the guitar player (looking at the band from the front) on the left side. You will probably notice how much Mr. Randall moves while playing. Something that – curiously, despite the potentially different type of music genre you are used to seeing me play – I can strongly relate and connect to.
Mr. Randall joined us all at Air Recording Studios during late morning of the first day. I saw him (and met him in person for the first time in my life) in the control room of the Lyndhurst Hall we were all attending the training in and immediately recognized him. I must have made some sound (no farts because of the number of people there) and he turned towards me, in the silence of that very moment; he pointed his finger towards me and said, warmly (and smiling) “…. Fil?”.
A strong hug immediately went off right there. And my emotions went off the roof almost uncontrollably for quite some time (to the point where I had to let him know during lunch, as I could barely speak and thoroughly looked and sounded like an idiot while he was in front of me at the lunch table smiling at me and nodding waiting to hear a sign of life from me). Please consider that that very same morning, just entering the studios already had thrown me in a soft, almost vulnerable state of mind because of the “air” I was breathing at Air. And additionally, I had been warmly welcomed there by Mr. David Dore himself, who welcomed me as an old friend.
So you can say that my emotional state kept on building up during those very hours to a point in which is was almost uncontrollable for me.
I knew this might happen to me already (I know myself), since I had been having those butterflies flying in me belly from the day before; however all that transformed into an “emotional reality” seeing all I was seeing around me. At the time of writing this right now and recollecting those moments I can still feel those butterflies again!
And I can stretch to the point of saying that most, if not all of us were in a state of shock. We had been introduced already to Mr. Platt earlier on and to the ones who knew his “history” it was like being immersed in the cosmic energy of Classic Rock Music.
You know – me, me and me – after all I am still that Italian kid (though I sometimes “boast” that I was born in the US, which is true) that lived and grew up during those very years – the magical ’70s – in a country that was never about Rock ‘n’ Roll (Italy, that is). It’s not in this culture. But Rock and Roll is in my own culture. Still, when I approach people and places like it happened this time, that are “the real deal”, it seems to me that I am being projected into a movie after having being watching it for a long time. Does it make sense to you?
Every time I feel like I have to conquer my belonging in the rock and roll world. Like a stranger that is trying with all of his efforts to break in and be… accepted.
Yes, that was me. This is still me
And all of a sudden, that world presented to my very eyes and body – I was there – with a massive impact. I was 17 again, I guess (maybe even younger!).
But I digress (this is only relevant to you to maybe understand my state of mind; not necessarily others had the same feelings about this).
So, after lunch, we proceeded to start doing “tests” (electric guitar microphone positioning tests, after a good part of the morning had been dedicated to the theory of microphones by the very real Professor Fisher) and Mr. Randall stood up and started playing his guitar – we are talking about his original 1963 Fender Stratocaster, the one that he has been using mostly on those timeless recordings.
Once again, taken from (and hot linked to) Mr. Randall’s own site:
It’s a 1963 Fender Stratocaster with a 930xx serial number. I bought it used in 1965 from Jimmy’s Music Shop on West 48th street (New York’s ‘Tin Pan Alley’). Originally, the guitar had a sunburst finish.
The neck was broken in 1965, after an unfortunate meeting with the trunk of my drummer’s Triumph Spitfire. I’ve always enjoyed the convenience of soft gig bags; this was one instance where the protection of a hard case would have come in handy. So I replaced the neck immediately (I think I had to wait a week or so for delivery of the ‘special part’ from California) with a 1965 Fender Stratocaster neck. The reason that the headstock doesn’t sport the Fender decal is that in 1966 I painted the guitar metalflake silver, and was thorough enough to do the headstock too, covering over the original decal (Ooops). Two years later, I sanded the guitar down to the bare wood you see today, and even though I’ve had many offers of ‘original-style’ decals, I’ve left it bare.
The frets have been in place since my last refret of (hold onto your hat-) 1972! I scored some ‘invincible’ Gibson bass fret wire, and it’s still sitting there atop my rosewood. I have to grind and polish the frets every 2 – 5 years. I suspect that one of the reasons the frets have lasted as long as they have is that I use extremely light gauge strings.
The string gauges are: E or 1st 009 / B or 2nd 010 / G or 3rd 013 / D or 4th 026 / A or 5th 036 / E or 6th 046. I get my strings from D’Addario. [Note: I find these particular gauges the right ones for this guitar – I use different string combinations for different instruments.]
The pickups: The neck pickup is a 1969 Gibson Humbucker (installed in ’69 at the Barney Kessel Guitar Shop in L.A.) The middle pickup is a DiMarzio Stacked Humbucker, in since c. 1979. I wouldn’t touch my bridge pickup for love nor money. It’s the original, and while it may not have the grounding of the humbuckers, boy can it scream! Serious Fender treble.
The tremolo arm: What tremolo arm? Around 1968, I decided to secure the spring assembly that allows the bridge to move. I used a block of hardwood as a wedge, and tightened the two large screws ’til they could go no further. For playing music that requires ‘the bar’ I use a different guitar. (Hey, that rhymes…)
Other parts: Most of the hardware (with the exception of the pickguard) has been replaced at least once due to normal wear-and-tear. Wherever possible, I’ve stayed true to the original parts. These include the machine-head tuning pegs, the individual bridge saddles, the nut, volume and tone controls, and the three-way switch (which I ‘pinch’ with a pair of pliers, turning it into a five-way switch).
It’s a very sturdy instrument. In 1977, while touring with the Doobie Brothers, the guitar was run over by a stretch-limo at Teeterboro airport. It was in a gig bag again. Luckily, all that happened was my MXR ‘Phase 90′ pedal made this big imprint on the surface of the leather case – the guitar was fine!
My favorite polish for the neck and body is Johnson & Johnson’s Lemon Pledge. I’ve yet to find anything else that comes close. The routine is:
- Remove the strings
- With a warm, damp washcloth, wipe the neck very thoroughly, I said very thoroughly; fret by fret – get all that ground-in dirt out…
- Followed by the toothbrush, further removing grit etc from where the metal of the fret meets the wood of the fingerboard…[It was Gene Santini, bassist extrordinaire (Boz Scaggs, The Pointer Sisters), who hipped me to the toothbrush trick. In 1973, he and I were roommates at the Miyako Hotel in San Francisco, playing for producer/ABC recording artist Thomas Jefferson Kaye. Gene was serious about brushing his frets, and buffing his fine leather shoes. Funny, the things you learn about people on the road. But I digress…]
- The damp cloth once again. The idea is to remove as much dirt and grime as possible before the next step.
- Finally, a modest amount of Lemon Pledge sprayed onto the cloth, working it well into the neck, getting just a hint of shine.
- Now a new set of strings, well pulled and stretched, and you should feel like you’re driving a Ferrari.
What did it cost? Well, in 1965, a slice of pizza cost fifteen cents… The used Strat (including original dark brown Tolex hard case) cost me a whopping $175. If I remember correctly, the replacement neck was $55.
Once again, amongst the several things, I noticed that Mr. Randall and I share at least another common denominator: thin strings!
Here is Mr. Randall just standing ready to make his first notes and chords for us, together with a single shot of the very instrument (that NO one did dare touch).
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He played some for us, through a little Hughes & Kettner boutique amp that he had carried with him (I think? Or it may have belonged to the studio).
Nothing flashy. He did NOT try to impress us. He could have sounded like any of us. Which thing may have been surprising for some. But not for me.
The introduction to Mr. Randall came by way of a few letter exchanges with the very supportive Mr. Ken Schaffer, so I knew what type of person Mr. Randall might have been. And the first impression he had given me in person in the control room, just confirmed him to me: a completely ego-less, self-aware smiling and shining Human Being.
So when I heard him do his things in this very first approach with his guitar – just like if he were in his home messing around – I was all ears and eyes. But he was just being his normal self.
He also gave us a “simple sample” of his current “rig” (makes me smile to even call it this way), it being an analog pedal he is very attached to and that naturally, helps him giving him his own sound:
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He then proceeded with Mr. Platt to the “bigger” Marshall amplifier that had been rigged on a side of the Lyndhurst Hall.
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Note: the above pic was taken hours later, but it pictures a perfect representation of Lyndhurst Hall seen from above (Thank you, Darren!). The control room was just opposite to the stage, same level of the floor. The rigged Marshall (one 100W head Master Volume, later generation) and two cabinets, one slanted and one non-slanted on the right side between baffles.
Naturally, the “heat” started developing – at least for me – right this moment.
I will tell you why right now. Mr. Platt went to the head and set his “let’s start with this usually” settings on the Marshall head.
The cabinets had been microphoned to his own – Mr. Platt’s – usual way of positioning microphones, with a variety of microphones.
TWO of these were… hear hear… ONE vintage Neumann U87 (left) and ONE Neumann U67 (right). Now does this ring any bell to any of you?
I will relieve you from this question myself: it is the SAME way that he had rigged up microphones for AC/DC’s “Back in Black” album.
Be extremely careful now, THIS IS NOT BY ANY MEAN THE DEFINITIVE MICROPHONE POSITIONING FOR BACK IN BLACK. However, it was most certainly the starting position – maybe even random at first – that the same microphones types were set back then… at Compass Point Studios.
One thing that caught immediately my attention is that Mr. Platt was using NO assistant to position the mikes nor twist the amp knobs; he was doing this on his own, fiddling with it all (see image) while Mr. Randall was sitting relaxed on one side.
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Mr. Randall sits down joking while Mr. Platt goes front and behind to check everything’s fine.
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Mr. Randall sits waiting.
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Now KEEP this picture with you at all times, if you would: I shot this one (and more of this, will post them all from different angles) for you!
THIS is Tony Platt’s starting point with the two Neumann Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphones for his “multi layered, open” guitar sound he developed in the 1970s.
To further comment on this set up, Mr. Platt earlier on in the control room has had a little session with us where he had us listening to… HighWay To Hell (the song) and Back in Black (the song). He did tell the usual story that we all know, that is, that he hadn’t been the sound engineer in charge for recording HighWay To Hell; he had “just” mixed it.
Highway To Hell had been recorded by Mark Dearnley (thanks, CurrentPeak!) that had preferred a very “dead” sound on the source; no room could be heard at all on the instruments (guitars, drums, bass, etc.). So he had to create this “liveliness” in the sound by playing some instruments into a room, miking it and then adding this wet sound to the mix. This we all knew already.
Just like many of us had read previously that he wanted to start the recording of Back in Black with a different approach, that is capturing the room sound (with pertinent instruments spillovers) right from the band’s performance, live. What hit me for the first time was the fact that the two Neumann microphones were “panned” in a way that would create a wider stereo position: NOT BOTH HARD PANNED LEFT (Malcolm) and RIGHT (Angus)! That is, “some” of Angus’ guitar goes into the left channel (Angus being on the right) and some of Malcolm’s guitar going into the right (Angus’ channel).
At which point, I (really) raised my hand and asked:
Fil – “But Mr. Platt, I can not hear such stereo spreadout in any of the guitars on Back in Black?”
Mr. Platt – “have you been listening to vinyl or CD?”
Fil – “CD Sir”
Mr. Platt – “go and listen to the vinyl then”
(end of conversation with perplexed Fil)
Going forth in time to when Mr. Randall went to the Marshall, the settings that Mr. Platt himself dialed in on the Marshall head – his “let’s start with this” settings were… brace yourselves!!! (not surprisingly???):
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After a little while that they were tinkering with it all, Air Recording Studio Producer Mr. Rupert Coulson came in close to the cabinet (the non slanted one) with a pair of headphones.
It was more or less at this point that Mr. Platt started talking about a few common ways to place the microphones. Naturally, Mr. Randall wasn’t playing yet (otherwise – you guessed it – Mr. Randall would have blown the scheisser out of Mr. Coulson ears and head, playing at 100W on a Marshall!).
Mr. Coulson was listening to the white noise coming out of the individual speakers on individual microphones first (one by one, that is); he was trying to locate a “loud and clear” spot where he liked the sound of each individual speaker (just two in total, one per Neumann microphone). So he did move Mr. Platt’s original (possibly really random) positioning of the mikes a bit, while we had a camera that was projecting this for us on a big screen:
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The end result of the positioning being this (it stayed like this for the rest of the course):
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With a happy Mr. Randall now ready to play
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And he played some licks and things.
Three microphones were used to record: the two Neumanns and the SM57.
We then went back into the control room, and listened with Mr. Randall, Mr. Platt and Mr. Coulson at the results of the recording. We listened to the three microphones one by one, listening to the differences.
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And it was after this session that I kindly asked Mr. Platt to be able to have a picture taken with him (more later on Mr. Platt and myself).
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and managed to sneak on the pilot’s chair (please note Mr. Platt in the back on a Mac :P)
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PS: can you see the t-shirt I had on? That wasn’t “by chance”. And it was noticed (proud Fil ).
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And one more thing: while Mr. Tony Platt speaks, everyone listens.
He’s not authoritarian. Amazing!!! He is NOT an authoritarian individual. He’s never been. He’s authoritative.
How pleasing. He did say this (in other words) several times. Also Mr. Randall stressed this very same concept as a sort of needed skill for anyone willing to work in this world (music biz): don’t be authoritarian. Don’t boost your ego.
So refreshing. So true. So marvelous.
And likely, so difficult.
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Leave your egos at home!!!!
Updating this as you read it!
Fil just checked in at the Airport, and he has a little surprise for you:
He will, whenever possible, blog his experience from thethis weekend right here. And eventually he will meet another great guitar player. More to come. Stay tuned!