The Resurrection of Rockers And Rappers On The Radio
“Debbie Gibson is Pregnant With My Two-Headed Love Child,” he musically boasted in 1988.
But even during the most infamous stages of his recording career, Mojo Nixon knew his days as an outrageously outspoken cult roots rocker were numbered.
“I knew, and I knew early on, that if I continued doing what I was doing, I was going to die,” said Nixon, who recorded 10 albums between 1985 and 1999 with such partners as Skid Roper, The Pleasure Barons and The Toad Liquors.
“I was going to be dead.
“I was taking the rock ‘n roll lifestyle bad boy idea to its illogical extreme. People I knew, like Country Dick (Montana) of the Beat Farmers, Top Jimmy (Konceck), Jeffrey Lee Pierce and other buddies of mine had already died, and I also knew that nobody wanted to see the exorcizing, sober, nice, safe, boring Mojo.
“My show was all about anarchy and chaos and pandemonium and WTF is this crazy guy going to say? And to be honest, my talent really wasn’t as a guitar player or as a singer or a songwriter: My talent was in the bulls*it.”
So former MTV host Nixon segued into a medium he says is a natural fit for his talent: radio.
“Radio’s made for bulls*it,” laughs Nixon, who hosts three shows on SIRIUS Satellite Radio and is known nationwide as The Loon In The Afternoon on Outlaw Country Channel 63.
“Play a song – bulls*it – play another song,” he explains.
As the afternoon drive host of Outlaw Country (4 p.m. – 8 p.m. ET, M-F) and two other SIRIUS shows: Manifold Destiny on SIRIUS NASCAR Radio (8 p.m. – 11 p.m. Tuesdays) and the hour-long Mojo Nixon’s Political Talk Show (Thursdays, 11 p.m. ET) on Raw Dog Comedy, Nixon indulges in his favorite interests and feels he’ll enjoy a long life expectancy.
“It worked out really good,” Nixon allows. “If it wasn’t for radio, I’d have to become a big-time wrestling manager or late-night used car salesman – some kind of motor-mouth job.”
Nixon, who still pursues his craft on the side, isn’t the only musician to find new life in front of the microphone.
Turn the dial on the radio – both terrestrial and satellite – to practically any location, and you’ll find any number of recognizable rock, country, hip-hop, R&B and jazz names hosting their own shows.
The explosion of high profile musicians assuming the role of radio personality include everyone from “Jeopardy” hit-maker Greg Kihn and Gonzo rocker Ted Nugent to jazz Grammy winner Ramsey Lewis, The E. Street Band’s Little Steven (Van Zandt), female rap pioneer MC Lyte, dance pop/R&B singer Lisa Lisa, hip-hop Godfather Grandmaster Flash, New Age instrumentalist John Tesh, Grammy-winning country duo Brooks & Dunn’s Kix Brooks, the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones, Van Halen loudmouth David Lee Roth and even music’s most influential troubadour, Bob Dylan, hosts his own “Theme Time Radio Hour” on SIRIUS XM Radio 15.
It may not be such a surprising transition given the touring nature of a musician’s career. Thanks to today’s technology, it’s easy to give up life on the road and extended periods of travel for the luxury of broadcasting from the comfort of their own home.
“Believe me, I would not have done it this long if I had to get dressed,” chuckles Millie Jackson, the controversial legendary R&B singer who has hosted the afternoon drive show on Soul 73 Dallas KKDA-AM for the past decade from her Atlanta home.
“But due to the fact that I could do it naked if I wanted to,” adds Jackson, breaking into a deep, hearty laugh.
“The main thing that attracted me (to radio) was that I wanted to prove to people that I could talk for three hours without cursing.”
Those familiar with Jackson’s performing style — and top-selling albums such as Feelin’ Bitchy and Live And Outrageous (Triple XXX) – recall her tendency to talk a blue streak.
But she felt her career prepared her to be a natural on the airwaves.
“Even when I was supposed to be singing, I was doing a lot of talking,” Jackson recalls. “I never had a singing lesson in my life, and I didn’t grow up like everybody else in the church, so I did on-the-job training.
“A friend of mine – one of the local biggies in Brooklyn, said, ‘Well, they came to see you – just go out and attack ‘em.’ So that’s what I did. We would have our little confrontations from the stage and let’s face it – I learned a long time ago – if you’ve got the mic, you’re the winner.”
Aside from the fact “I get paid,” Jackson also enjoys her unsupervised freedom.
“I have nobody breathing down my neck,” she states. “I can do practically what I want to do.”
Smooth jazz saxophonist Dave Koz, currently a host on the Premiere Radio Networks’ Smooth Jazz Network, says his 15-year radio career has given him an opportunity to rub shoulders with musical giants.
“Getting a chance to talk on the radio with some of my heroes has opened the door to many opportunities to work with them and develop good relationships with some of my absolute musical idols,” explains Koz, who hosts the Monday-to-Friday 2.p.m. – 7 p.m. block on 40 stations across North America.
“Whether it’s David Sanborn, George Benson, Anita Baker, Vanessa Williams, Stevie Wonder – it’s just been a dream come true for a guy like me.
“If I wasn’t on the radio, I’m not sure I would have been able to develop relationships with these wonderful artists.”
As well as being a cheerleader for the genre he loves, Koz also says that listeners usually benefit when an artist interview is conducted by one of their peers.
“There’s like this privileged conversation that happens when you get two artists together that’s got a different texture to it,” Koz admits.
“That’s the No. 1 thing that I hear from fans of the show that have been listening for years – they feel like they’re eavesdropping on an original conversation that they can’t get anywhere else.”
Keeping Score: The Rapidly Expanding Video Game Music Industry
With 2013’s fourth-quarter rollout of XBOX One and Playstation 4, the release of over 300 titles for a variety of platforms, including consoles, mobile and online play, and the record-setting pace of Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto V breaking the $1 billion sales barrier in just 72 hours, the current $66 billion global video-game industry shows no signs of disappearing anytime soon.
In fact, such trusted sources as DFC Intelligence and Forbes are forecasting video-game markets to substantially increase to $78 billion and $82 billion by 2017, leaving one to argue that music’s role in contributing to the bottom line of this visual medium is extremely vital, whether it’s been through soundtracks that have been assembled via song placements for titles like EA Sports’ perennially popular Madden or FIFA franchises, or scores delivered by respected composers like Martin O’Donnell for Bungie’s Halo and Russell Brower for Blizzard’s World of Warcraft and Diablo.
“Music is a lot of things to gaming,” explains Jordan Mechner, the legendary game designer responsible for creating Karateka – which was recently modernized — and the successful Prince Of Persia video game franchise.
“It’s absolutely critical, and often unjustly overlooked in favor of graphics, because people tend to talk about graphics first, sound second, but they’re both equal partners and critical parts of the players’ experience.”
Mechner says there are several hallmarks of good game music.
“As a player, the music is often the key part of the atmosphere,” he notes. “It can set a mood, and if it’s well done, eventually becomes inseparable from our memories of the game.
“From a game design point of view, music can also be a cue to the player, warning them that something’s about to happen, or subtly clue them as to whether they’re on the right or wrong track.
“And of course, music in games does all the things that music does in film: it reinforces the action; creates a feeling of tension and tells the story as well. Game music can have a kind of light motif approach where music represents particular characters and themes, so the story is actually being told through music.”
With USA Today reporting a 178 percent growth spurt in the composer and music director professions over the past decade, and the U.S. Bureau Of Labor and Statistics projecting a minimum of “32,000 new music or composer job openings due to growth and replacement needs will need to be filled over the next decade,” opportunities for video game music scorers are looking so rosy that even Sir Paul McCartney is trying his hand at scoring some of Bungie’s Destiny.
However, breaking into this lucrative field is easier said than done, and usually requires a mix of luck and fortuitous timing to accompany a composer’s dazzling skill set.
“I went to my five-year college reunion and ran into my old roommate,” recalls Christopher Tin, who won the first video-game related GRAMMY Award in 2010 for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) for “Baba Yetu,” a song he composed for the 2k Games and Aspyr partnership Civilization IV.
“He told me he had become a very prominent video game designer and asked me if I wanted to work on the game he was developing, which turned out to be Civilization IV. That’s the game I wrote ‘Baba Yetu’ for.”
For Austin Wintory, who received a precedent-setting Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media nomination last year for Thatgamecompany’s Journey, it was meeting and working with game designer Jenova Chen at the University Of Southern California.
“We were doing student games much likes student filmmakers, and one of those – flOw — ended up being one that exploded and set all the wheels in motion. Sony was just getting ready to launch Playstation 3 and were looking for ways to be different from Microsoft, their chief competitor, and asked us to remake flOw as a Playstation 3 game.”
Russell Brower, senior audio director at Blizzard who presides over a department of 42 employees, including three staff composers, says he just keeps his ears open.
“There was a composer (Edo Guidotti) on (World Of Warcraft’s) Mists Of Pandaria whose work I heard in an IMAX film while I was on vacation,” he remembers. “The film was great, but I walked out of there going, ‘Who did this music?’ I found out and two years later, he was working on Mists Of Pandaria with us. That’s the best way.”
Brower, a three-time Emmy Award winning sound designer who also keeps his hand in scoring, says he has a particular goal in mind when recruiting musical freelancers.
“It’s a very competitive market but what it really comes down to, is, can you tell a story with music?”
Prince of Persia’s Mechner says he starts his process by making a project wish list.
“We look at films and games we’ve admired, as a lot of composers now work in film, TV and game,” he explains. “We look at the demands of the project and try to find someone not only whose sensibility and style are privy to the project, but who also has the experience that’s needed for what we’re trying to do.
“For some projects, a composer whose experience is predominantly in film and linear media might be fine. For another project, we might need a composer like Christopher who has a deeper understanding of how music works in games and be able to create music that can be taken apart and recombined on the fly according to algorithms, something that traditional composers don’t have to deal with if they’re composing a single piece.”
Once the gig is secured, the role and scope of the music is determined by the project. If it’s a video game where the music is crucial as a storyline catalyst, usually the composer is brought in early, unlike film, where the music is often started and completed after the film has been locked.
“Scoring a film, you’re obviously working with a director, producer and the creative talent involved and you’re able to see the film when you’re scoring it,” notes Tin, who composes mainly from his home studio. “At times, when you’re working on a game, you don’t have much more than an Excel spreadsheet to tell you what you need to write. Basically, it’s almost like you’re relying on the audio lead and the in-house people to be your eyes and tell you what you need to do.
“When I score a game with an interactive score, I’m not the person plugging it into the audio engine and programming it. So I rely very heavily on the audio lead, usually from a staff member of the game developer. They sort of take my hand and walk me through what it is they need for the game and how it needs to work. In a lot of cases, I’ve basically put my trust in them, and I execute, musically, their technical needs.”
Another chief difference between film and game is the time factor, as video games often have more complex scoring demands, seeming as though they offer an infinite soundtrack.
“The solution that we’ve employed for decades is that we take a piece of music and make it loop eternally,” says Wintory, who took three years to write the music for Journey. “You can play Tetris for hours, and there’s 10 minutes of music that you hear tens of thousands of times. That’s a very clunky system, but it was a necessary step in the development of interactive audio.
“To be honest, I don’t know how much music I wrote for Journey. I’ll write a piece of music that could last 45 seconds, but it could also last three minutes depending on how it unfolds, because it’s not linear, traditional music. It’s written in a non-linear way, which is difficult for your brain to wrap around.”
“Everything that you write has to be modular, and it’s so piecemeal. It’s akin to actors acting in front of a green screen. That’s personally where the big challenge is for me. It’s like trying to paint a painting on jigsaw puzzle tiles, assembling the tiles later on and then hoping that what you’ve painted bears some resemblance to what you had in your mind when you started it.”
It’s also a medium where deadlines are tight, but loose enough for Russell Brower’s in-house Blizzard team to provide opportune feedback.
“I look at schedules and deadlines as a very constructive way to say, ‘hey, let’s set down our pencils for a few minutes, and look at each other’s work, or listen to each other’s work, and share it around the company,’” Brower explains. “We all spend some time every day, playing the games. And we’ll get comments about the music from character artists on the Diablo team, for a random instance. One of our maxims here at Blizzard is, “Every voice matters,” and we do listen.”
As far as the future of video game scoring is concerned, projects like Journey and Karateka that place music in the driver’s seat are opening a whole new world of interactivity.
“The music I composed for the recent update of Karateka was actually rhythm-based combat mechanic, so you had to listen to the music for cues on how to fight your enemy, and musically, it would give you hints and you’d have to tap in rhythms,” says Christopher Tin.
“I think that level of interactivity is not found on that wide of a scale, but I think we’re heading that way. There should be exciting developments in the way that music and sound can be implemented as audio engines get more sophisticated.”
Sidebar: Behind The Scenes of The Banner Saga
Austin Wintory’s Play-By-Play Rundown
Released February 25, 2013, The Banner Saga is a Viking-themed tactical video game developed by Stoic after raising Kickstarter funding of almost $725,000. GRAMMY-nominated composer Austin Wintory spent 18 months on the project and breaks down his involvement with the score.
“I was brought in essentially from day one, which meant we were having conversations over how it should feel and play long before anyone even saw it. It’s a Viking mythology-inspired, turn-based strategy game with hand-drawn animation in an Eyvind EarleSleeping Beauty style from the ‘60s. It’s exceptionally beautiful.”
“I’m writing music, in some cases, inspired by an e-mail description of what that part of the game is going to be like, before they’ve even designed the most fundamental architecture. Because I write the music first, they end up designing the game around the music. It’s not really step-by-step: I write music and then we put it in the game and we see if it’s working. The game is very rudimentary: missing graphics bugs, and you click on something that makes the game crash and you have to reboot your computer. It’s a work in progress.”
“With The Banner Saga, at some point you have to start committing to recording, and this being an orchestral score, I recorded The Dallas Winds — this big ensemble of winds, brass and percussion — in a Dallas concert hall. Later I added Lisbeth Scott on vocal and a solo violinist from Detroit named Taylor Davis. Usually I record at the last possible second, so if I want to keep revising the music, I can. Once it’s recorded, you can’t change it. “
The finish line:
“The developers of the game have heard everything that I’ve written. I make MIDI mock-ups on my computer that sound approximately like the final music, and we code them into the game. By the time I reach the finish line — when I have these finished, produced, fully-recorded, mixed and mastered recordings –we’re essentially switching them out with the original placeholder mock-ups.
“Once that’s done, we do our final mixing and then you spend another few months ensuring that it’s working how you want it to in the game. You really are just fine-tuning – making things a little louder or softer, play testing, and having strangers come and play the game. If problems arise, I can solve them by adding a little music here, or make it stop sooner, to clear the way for X, Y, Z. You feel it out as you go.”
Thanks to her volatile 1995 multiple-Grammy-winning masterpiece Jagged Little Pill, Ottawa-born Alanis Morissette will always be remembered and associated as the young woman who gave what-for to an ex, spawning a host of copycat singers (Meredith Brooks, Tracy Bonham) who suddenly felt safe to vent their own frustrations to a receptive audience and striking enough of a public chord to sell more than 33 million copies of the album around the world.
While Morissette’s albums Pill, So-Called Chaos and Flavors Of Entanglement have largely been inspired by the ups-and-downs of her romantic life, she returns August 28 with Havoc And Bright Lights, her first work since marrying rapper Mario “MC Souleye” Treadway in 2010 and giving birth to their son Ever Imre on Christmas Day that year.
There’s another big transition: this is Morissette’s first U.S. album outside Madonna’s former Maverick imprint, and she’s licensing it out territory-by-territory. Grammy.com caught up with the seven-time Grammy winner during a recent promotional stop in Toronto.
You captured four Grammy Awards in 1995 for Jagged Little Pill and by proxy, “You Oughtta Know,” for Album Of The Year, Best Rock Album, Best Female Rock Vocal Performance and Best Rock Song. What do you remember about that evening?
I was a little bit of a deer in the headlights during that evening. I just remember having this inner conflict of my ego being so gratified and feeling very grateful for being recognized in that way, and God Bless Glen Ballard (album producer) for being bowed-down-to: It was so lovely for me to behold. And at the same time, the idea of competition in arts to me is sacrilege. So I was up there going, “Thank you, I think, and I’m sorry, and wait a minute, I am grateful, and what am I doing here?” There was a lot of inner conflict around that time, and to this day, the idea of competition in any art form seems kind of silly. It’s like comparing oranges with yellow.
Many artists have not been able to reinvent themselves as completely and successfully as you did when you transitioned from pre-L.A. Canadian dance pop diva to expressing your own voice with Jagged Little Pill.
For me, it was just adding what was already there, but was dormant in terms of public perception. As a kid I’d listened to Etta James and Aretha Franklin and Heavy D and hip hop music, and a lot of technological music. And I listened to what a lot of what my parents listened to — Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan – so for me it was this combination of loving hooks, loving technology and loving rocking out, sweat. As a teenager, I was working with Leslie Howe, so (pop) was the focus then, and the autobiographical aspect of writing songs was not something I was encouraged to do during that time — in fact, quite the opposite.
So when I emancipated myself as such and moved to Los Angeles, I just knew I wouldn’t stop until I was writing songs that felt really authentic to what was going on at the time.
Your new album, Havoc and Bright Lights comes after experiencing the profound life changes of marriage and motherhood. Did parenthood impact your songwriting?
It just meant that I drank a lot of coffee. I didn’t use to drink coffee because I would have anxiety attacks from it, and it just became this imperative drinking. And I was sleep-deprived. I still am. So instead of having three hours to just commune and write and be introspective, I had three-and-a-half minutes, so everything became very concentrated. The writing process was always pretty accelerated process to begin with, but I relied on it. And then, it just became the 17th priority – after marriage, family, and friends – and then living the serviceable vocation that I was born to live.
You’re licensing your work to different labels in different territories – Columbia and Sony in the U.S., Universal Music Canada north of the border. Why?
It’s kind of like dating: I wouldn’t want to date someone who didn’t want to be on a date with me (laughs). I want to date someone who’s courting me madly. So the other aspect of this that is really exciting for me is that it’s a whole new paradigm of partnership: win-win. The old antiquated system was 80% record company, 20% artist, and any artist who complained about that was just going to be seen as an ingrate. We were caught between a rock and a hard place; whereas now, it’s a one-record-cycle deal – if everybody’s winning, let’s continue. Win-win or no deal: That’s really what it’s become all around the world. So I actually feel real partnership for the first time, and I think that’s the new frontier. Partnership is the way. Dictatorial win-lose is so old school.
What excites you most about the future?
What I’m excited about is the idea of having some constancy. So, as opposed to the old school, writing a record, touring it, falling into a deep depression, writing it, touring it, falling…I think the new cycle will just be staying consistent on the social networks and writing articles – I’ve been really enjoying writing articles – and writing music and music for movies. I’m writing a book for next year that I’ve been talking about since 1999 and I don’t want to hear my voice talking about it anymore. So I’ll finish that next year and it touches on all the topics I care about. So really, just to be active in the conversation of evolution and women’s issues. Sign me up.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the year the world was introduced to Leonard Cohen, songwriter and recording artist, Canada was celebrating its first century as a nation.
For both Cohen and Canada, 1967 marked new chapters filled with rebirth, hope and a promising future: Cohen already claimed a global following as an acclaimed poet and novelist, thanks to such celebrated literary works as 1961’s The Spice Box Of Earth anthology of prose and the novel Beautiful Losers (1966) (whereby The Boston Globe compared him to James Joyce).
The field of music was the Montreal native’s to conquer, and before he entered a New York studio in May to record Songs Of Leonard Cohen, he had a head start: Judy Collins had furnished versions of “Suzanne” and “Dress Rehearsal Rag” on her own project, 1966’s In My Life, and actor Noel Harrison had released “Suzanne” as a single with modest success.
In many ways, folk singer Collins was directly responsible for Cohen’s debut album: not only did she help the poet convert from songwriter to performer with an appearance at the Newport Folk Festival, she also invited Columbia Records legendary A&R man/producer John Hammond to the show, and within a short period, Cohen was signed.
Consisting of 10 tunes, including the eventual classics “Suzanne,” “Sisters Of Mercy,” “So Long, Marianne” and “ Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye,” Songs Of Leonard Cohen wasn’t an easy album to make, by all accounts.
Cohen preferred his arrangements simple and adorned only with his acoustic guitar; producer John Simon (The Band, Simon & Garfunkel), parachuted in after original producer Hammond was unable to continue the sessions, wanted to add accompaniment.
“John Simon wrote some delightful arrangements like the one to ‘Sisters of Mercy’ still based around my guitar playing,” Cohen told Sylvie Simmons for her book I’m Your Man – The Life of Leonard Cohen. “I wanted women’s voices and he came up with some nice choirs of women. We did have a falling out over ‘Suzanne;’ he wanted a heavy piano syncopated, and maybe drums. That was my first requirement, that I didn’t want drums on any of my songs, so that was a bone of contention.”
In a BBC interview about the album sessions, Cohen also pleaded awkwardness in adapting to accompanying musicians.
“I didn’t really know how to sing with a band, with really good, professional musicians that were really cooking,” he admitted. “I would tend to listen to the musicians rather than concentrate on what I was doing, because they were doing it so much more proficiently than I was.”
By the time he had finished recording the album in New York on November 9, there had been many takes: an estimated 20 of “Suzanne” and 24 of “So Long, Marianne.” He had also snuck Kaleidoscope, an uncredited band featuring guitarist David Lindley into the studio, unbeknownst to Simon.
Songs Of Leonard Cohen wasn’t an instant hit: it actually took 22 years to sell 500,000 copies and turn gold, but it did introduce the 33-year-old Cohen as an inimitable, distinct voice, or as Uncut has described him, “the laureate of romantic gloom and erotic distress,” a man whose monotone intonation revealed longing, romantic conflict and gifted imagery, providing a lasting and sober tonic to the free-flowing escapist vibe known as The Summer of Love.
The album serves as a template of inspiration for self-expressive songwriters around the world.
When aging actors and actresses need a sip from the fountain of youth to sustain their Hollywood dreams, they call their plastic surgeons for a little nip n’ tuck.
But when record companies or artists need to revitalize a classic album and freshen up its sound, it’s the mastering engineer who is the expert on their speed-dial, specifically for remastering purposes.
It’s a popular practice, highlighted over the past year with the re-release of the nine-album Led Zeppelin catalogue, overseen by Jimmy Page, as well as both vintage and contemporary titles revived and rejuvenated by the 75th anniversary of Manhattan’s Blue Note Records.
In fact, anniversaries seem to be as good excuse as any to revisit some old classics: those undergoing the sonic knife over the past 15 months include Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road;Soundgarden’s Superunknown;Stan Getz/Joao Gilberto’s Getz/Gilberto;Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s Not Fragile; Eric Clapton’s 461 Ocean Boulevard, There’s One In Every Crowd and E.C. Was Here; The Who’s Tommy; Prince’s Purple Rain, Bryan Adams’ Reckless and Bon Jovi’s New Jersey.
The retooling process also extends to catalogues as well, as noted by last year’s 16-disc compilation Joe Satriani, The Complete Recordings and the ongoing Blue Note series presided over by label president Don Was that commenced almost a year ago with the March 25, 2014 reissues of Art Blakey’s Free For All, Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil, John Coltrane’s Blue Train, Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch and Larry Young’s Unity.
Some of those key titles not only arguably sound better, but are enhanced by such bonus fare as previously unreleased material, alternate takes, live performances and other extras designed to make fans salivate and hopefully reach into their wallets to buy an album they already have in one, two or three configurations.
But first and foremost, it’s about better sound for today’s technology. With advances in both the music industry and recording fields, ranging from studio equipment to the evolution of formats that began with vinyl and analog tape and have shifted to digital options that include the MP3, MP4, AAC, WAV, AIFF, FLAC and DSD/DFF, as well as bit-rates that have jumped from 16 to 24, via computer and Internet, it’s no wonder Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page felt compelled to revisit his band’s 200-million-plus selling discography.
“It (mastering) was done for vinyl, back in the ’60s and ’70s, and then 20 years ago it was redone and remastered for CD,” explained Page at the New York press conference last May to promote the revamped catalogue.
“Now we’ve got so many different formats out there that it made sense to revisit the studio albums and do those.”
Page, who personally remastered each of his band’s nine studio albums and converted them into 24-bit hi-definition files, says he wasn’t thrilled with previous remasters.
“CDs were put out of that material from copy tapes, and they weren’t very good, to be honest with you, so that’s why the original master tapes were brought back out again and remastered,” says Page, 71.
“That was 20 years ago, so [now] you’ve got all the new digital formats that there are. The process has changed as far as mastering because now you’ve got other areas and elements to fill. Even with the remastering and cutting on vinyl, there have been so many steps and progressions to improve the overall (sound), if you like.”
Even before they get started, engineers can face daunting obstacles – missing, misplaced or destroyed tapes; some types of audiotape where they’ve become worn or decayed over the years, forcing engineers to try to physically repair the original master.
Ironically, while sourcing through materials that are over 45 years old, tape degradation was the one thing Jimmy Page didn’t have to worry about.
“The condition of it was absolutely magnificent, “ Page enthuses. “I didn’t have to do any sort of restoration work on that, apart from maybe a little edit might come out and you’d replace the editing tape. However, the In Through The Out Door album had been recorded on this new format tape — and you’ve probably heard about tape shredding and all of that, which means the oxide comes off and you have to bake them– so fortunately there wasn’t a lot of work that needed to be done past In Through The Out Door.”
Arguably, some titles have had their sound spruced up to the point of overkill – take Pink Floyd’s classic Dark Side Of The Moon, for example; a work which has undergone the process no less than a handful of times.
“Record companies remaster to try to get more money out of the catalogue to turn the catalogue, and thus, the artist as well,” surmises veteran mastering engineer Bob Ludwig, a seven-time GRAMMY winner who has won for his work with Daft Punk and Mumford & Sons on 2013’s and 2012’s Album of the Year, Random Access Memories and Babel, respectively. “I don’t think there’s that many titles where the fans are begging the artist to redo it.”
But Ludwig, who is based in Portland, Maine, owns Gateway Mastering, and counts such multi-million sellers as Led Zeppelin II and Houses Of The Holy; Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing and AC/DC’s Back In Black as some of the 1300-plus titles he’s mastered since 1969, allows for exceptions.
“I’ve just remastered most of the early Bruce Springsteen catalogue for iTunes, and the first two titles, Greetings From Asbury Park and The Wild. The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle, fans had been asking for those for quite awhile.
“Those were originally done when CDs first came out – I did the original U.S. masters of those CDs in ’84, but they were made in Japan and done from the analog cassette copy masters.”
Ludwig says improved technology has made remastering more appealing.
“The quality of (analog-to-digital) converters that we use now is so much better than the early digital converters,” states Ludwig. “And there’s so much gear that’s been invented.”
In turn, better equipment, both at the source end and what you hear through the speakers, promotes a greater accuracy in the mix.
“When you create the final master, the idea is to make it sound as good as it can possibly be sounding over an excellent system,” says Ludwig. “The more accurate you make it, and the more accurate it sounds on an excellent system, the better it sounds on a wider range of things out there in the world.”
Another reason for aurally revisiting a catalogue may be artist preference, says John Cuniberti, who spent two years remastering the 16-disc set Joe Satriani: The Complete Studio Recordings.He says sometimes it’s just the benefit of hindsight that serves as a remastering catalyst.
“A lot of times the artist might wish the mastering might have been done differently,” says Cuniberti, a Grammy winner who has mastered albums for Dave Matthews, Aerosmith,Tracy Chapman and The Grateful Dead. “Sometimes when you lead a mixing project and it goes right to master because you have a deadline to meet, it’s really hard sometimes to be objective about the mastering process. You’re pretty burned out on it. You don’t even want to hear it, generally. “
“In fact, that’s one of the reasons why you turn it over to a mastering engineer is a good idea after you’ve spent weeks or months mixing so they can provide that service. It’s so they will have an objective ear. So if you’ve lived with your record for 10 years, you might go, ‘maybe we can try something different.’”
In Satriani’s case, where different mastering engineers handled his albums over the years, Cuniberti says the timing to offer one cohesive sonic overview was never better.
”When we first started having the conversation about remastering, I said, ‘We have an opportunity here that we’re not ever going to have again: to present the entire catalogue and remaster it as one whole piece rather than just giving people the already mastered discs in a box,’” Cuniberti recalls.
“We can create a consistency in level and quality right from the first record.”
Cuniberti says Satriani’s recorded career overview was also a chance to rectify an embarrassing development in the history of remastered recordings: The Loudness Wars.
“Over the past 15-20 years, the (44.1/16-bit) CD has been getting louder and louder,” Cuniberti explains. “This has been largely due to the necessity to stand out amongst the crowd. Originally, the record companies were encouraging it. The artists, maybe their egos got in the way, and they wanted their record to be at least as loud as so-and-so’s, and so-and-so needed to make their record a little louder, and it produced what we call the ‘Loudness Wars.’
“The audio quality and the sound of the mix ultimately would suffer from that process.
“Now we have the opportunity to go and back off some of the limiting and processing that was taking place to fight that war, and really look at the album more aesthetically.”
Gavin Lurssen of Hollywood-based Lurssen Mastering notes that delivering the right sense of nostalgia as a remastering engineer is something that should also be taken into account, as it takes great skill.
“When you’re living in 2014, we have mobile devices and electronic billboards and all kinds of crazy information entering our brains at light speed,” says Lurssen, who mastered 2001 Album of the Year GRAMMY winner O Brother Where Art Thou? and 2008’s similarly rewarded Raising Sand by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. “But there’s always, as in the case in human nature, an ability and a desire to reminisce.
“So when you present something to somebody that was once a part of their lives, in some kind of cleaned-up fashion, you have to present it to them in a way that makes it feel like it felt back at that time, and combine it also to some degree — dependent on the vintage of the project — with the standards of today in order to create that feeling.
“Generally there is a lot more dynamic range on older recordings so it is important to respect that and thus the level wars are less of an issue in this line of work, “ Lurssen adds. “I’ve even seen cases in which this approach has helped pull current artists out of the overall level push when they see what can come of it. It’s all about being exposed to it, which is among the good reasons the labels are doing it.”
Barak Moffitt, Universal Music’s Head Of Strategic Operations, and the executive who oversees Capitol Studios and Mastering, says the respect that Lurssen mentions is tantamount to the Blue Note 75th Anniversary Remastering project.
“We’re trying to get a balance between what’s directly on the tape and what happened in that room, and the emotional connection that people found in that original vinyl release, where the public sentiment and the original sentiment around the music was attached,” he explains.
“And again, now that studio technology has hi-definition capabilities, we’re taking care to maintain as much information that’s in the original material as possible, while maintaining as much of the emotional connection to the original release as possible.”
Moffitt says that also involved preserving the integrity of the original masters wherever possible; a task the label took extremely seriously.
“Our first concern was to respect our responsibility as stewards of these original masters,” Moffitt explains. “So we developed what we call sort of these white-glove protocols around our tape-handling procedures, and how we manage the actual physical assets in and out of the vaults.
“We also wanted to make sure that throughout the two-stage process –retrieving the actual analogue assets from the vault, and then transferring them into the digital world in hi-definition for historical preservation – we took great care to preserve as much information that’s in the analog domain in the digital space as possible, given current studio technologies.
“We also took great care to engineer our signal processing chain, all the way from what kind of power cables we were using to what analog-to-digital converters we were using to the tape machines, the kind of software we were using, again with sort of the aim of maintaining the highest fidelity possible given today’s studio technology capabilities in the transfer from analog into the digital domain.”
From there, Moffitt says the results were then placed in the very capable hands of Bernie Grundman and his staff of Scott Sedillo and Beno May for both digital and vinyl purposes.
Of course, before an album can be remastered, it has to be mastered, a process that three-time GRAMMY winner and Blue Note Records president Don Was describes as “frosting on the cake.”
“Musicians and engineers spend a whole lot of time getting the cake right, but most people don’t want to be served cake without the frosting on it,” he laughs. “But it’s a question of degrees of the frosting. You’ve got to have a light hand, basically.
“If you have something that’s badly recorded and mixed, a mastering engineer can come in and give it shape and dimension and depth by adding EQ and compression and other mojo to it, making sure the levels work and the spacing between songs is right — and then getting it into the medium from which it can be manufactured.”
Was maintains that like every musician and producer that works on an album, the mastering engineer leaves his unique fingerprint on the recording as well.
“Every mastering engineer has got their own gear and set-up, and that set-up has a sound to it.”
And that introduces another challenge: maintaining the integrity of the original mastering engineer’s work.
“Let’s take the Blue Note remasters for example: Rudy Van Gelder, the legendary engineer who recorded most of the classic Blue Note Records, mixed directly to stereo on quarter-inch tape,” Was explains. “There was no multi-track tape, so he mixed live. So the music went down and it came out mono or stereo and that was it – there was no going back to remix it.
“He also mastered, and the way he mastered that day has a certain quality to it and it’s definitely different from when you hear what’s on the master tape.”
When it came to the initial listens of remastered works that had been converted to hi-def and transferred to digital at the 96k/24-bit and 192 k/24-bit rates, Was noticed that the music felt different than how he remembered it.
Was says Van Gelder pre-emptively mastered the record for vinyl to ensure there would be no technical glitches when consumers played them on their home audio equipment.
“Rudy mastered for vinyl: he added some and some EQ, just so the phonograph needle wouldn’t skip and certain sonic peaks wouldn’t mess with the needle,” says Was.
“In doing that, he altered the sound and that’s the sound everybody knows and loves.”
When it came to updating Van Gelder’s work for today’s format, Was says the label was placed in “a moral and ethical quandary.”
“Who are we to editorialize on this stuff, 50 years after the fact?” said Was. “What is the standard by which you remaster to? And we decided that the original vinyl was the standard: that’s what everybody decided who was involved – (Blue Note co-founder) Alfred Lyon, the musicians we decided to put out into the world: that’s what people bought and that’s what people loved. So we tried as closely as we could to master with the goal of returning to the original sound of the first pressings.”
Double GRAMMY winner Bernie Grundman (Album of the Year for OutKast’s 2003 gem Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and 2007’s Herbie Hancock’s star-studded tribute to Joni Mitchell, River: The Joni Letters), tasked with remastering the majority of Blue Note titles, confirms that vinyl sets up its own challenges.
“Vinyl doesn’t sound like the lacquer that goes to the factory,” he notes. “The medium itself changes it, and the processes it goes through when you’re making the vinyl actually changes the sound. It’s not the same as making a tape copy because that’s a re-recording process. With the vinyl, it’s not re-recorded, but it is transferred to metal through electroplating, and that actually affects the sound. So a vinyl disc does not sound like the tape or the lacquer. Once it comes back from the factory, you can tell the difference: It is warmer and it tends to take on a ‘bassier’ sound.”
For the Blue Note project, Grundman built his own console.
“It’s a simplified, more straightforward board, with the functions we needed to simulate a lot of the things they did on the Blue Note albums.” says Grundman, who started his Bernie Grundman Mastering business in Hollywood and has since expanded to Tokyo. “So it bypasses completely our normal chain and toes right from the tape machine through very simplified electronics right to the computer.”
Oh, and Grundman, who is making Blue Note archived copies rated at 96/24 and 192/24, also built – or, in his terms, “hot-rodded” – the computer.
“It may be the cleanest-sounding computer in the industry, “ declares Grundman, who estimates he’s worked on over 70 Blue Note 75th Anniversary titles. “I don’t know if anything could match it, because I don’t think anyone has ever gone inside a computer and done some of the things we did.”
Virtually all remastering gurus agreed that when it comes to adjusting their approach for today’s formats, most don’t.
However, Bob Ludwig contends that digital remastering for iTunes is a slightly different beast.
“It’s not an equalization or compression thing, “Ludwig explains. “It’s a process of lowering the level into the encoder for the AAC file, and by lowering the level into the encoder, Apple has showed us that it creates much less distortion and can make a much more accurate encode to the point where a well made mastered-for-iTunes file sounds closer to the 24-bit master, than the 16-bit compact disc does.“
Mastering engineers spend a lot of time sifting through source material, sometimes contending with lost masters, studying copious notes made at the time of the recording, but in the end, if the job is done right, it’s worth it.
Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page says that when you get remastering right, it unlocks a door to the past and provides historical perspective.
“When you’ve got a chance to really listen to all of it, it gives a window — it’s like a portal — into that time capsule of when each album was recorded, “ he says. “And that gives you a really good taste. It works all the way right through the catalog.”
Blue Note’s Don Was says his exercise is one of passing it forward, to hopefully garner the music an introduction to some younger fans.
“At age 62, I find the music still means a lot to me.,” says Don Was. “This is what I listen to, to recharge myself, to feel good. I read this interview with Bob Dylan where he said that the job of the artist is not to tell you how they feel, but to put you in touch with your own feelings. And that line really stuck with me, because that’s what the Blue Note music does to me.
“I hope that in doing the reissues in this way, that there are some new fans of the music who will be able to enjoy the same experience and carry this music with them for another 50 years.”
Legacy Recordings’ reputation for mining its vaults and producing superb compilations received another boost this past summer with the release of such acclaimed packages as Johnny Cash‘s 4-CD box set The Legend, Miles Davis‘ quintuple-disc The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions and Bob Dylan‘s Martin Scorsese-driven No Direction Home.
One watershed anthology, however, got lost in the shuffle: the best of Shel Silverstein – his words his songs his friends.
Although he was publicly revered as an author of children’s books, a poet and Playboy emissary, cartoonist, and columnist, the Chicago-born Silverstein has often been overlooked when it comes to his achievements as a songwriter and talents as a recording artist.
Beginning with 1959’s Hairy Jazz on Elektra Records, Silverstein recorded 11 modestly selling albums that spanned the jazz, folk, rock, country and children’s genres — including 1984’s Grammy-winning Where The Sidewalk Ends as Best Recording For Children — before a heart attack at his Key West home in 1999 filched his life.
And while no Dylan in terms of social influence and no Cash in terms of stardom, Silverstein could be viewed as a Davis-sort of trailblazer: a songwriter with a unique knack of delivering tunes that often mixed humor, profundity, debauchery and a childish sense of whimsy across a multitude of styles.
But as the best of Shel Silverstein – his words his songs his friends indicates through nine of its 25 selections, the tunesmith often relied on others to be his voice. Among his stellar hits: The Irish Rovers‘ “The Unicorn,” Johnny Cash‘s “A Boy Named Sue,” Bobby Bare‘s “Marie Leveau” and a pair of Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show classics, “Sylvia’s Mother” and “Cover Of The Rolling Stone.”
And that’s just scratching the surface of an 800-plus-song catalogue.
“People tend to be really surprised when they hear all of the songs that he wrote,” says Laura Grover, Legacy freelance product manager and project director of this recent Silverstein anthology.
“There are some very significant hits there.”
More significant, perhaps, was Silverstein’s standing among his peers.
“Personally, I think Shel is the greatest lyricist there ever was or is,” says country music legend Bobby Bare, who has recorded dozens of Silverstein songs over the past 33 years. “He only had about three or four melodies, but as a lyricist, there’s no equal.”
Bare, whose new Dualtone album The Moon Was Blue features Silverstein’s memorably tragic “The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan,” says one of the keys of his close friend’s songwriting success was his fearlessness.
“When it came to writing and being creative, he had balls bigger than my head,” says Bare. “He was not afraid to go over the top.”
It’s a quality he finds lacking in today’s tunesmiths.
“They don’t have his guts,” says Bare. “Where everybody else leaves off, that’s where Shel began.”
Whether penning some of the bawdiest pop songs (“Masochistic Baby,” “Stacy Brown Got Two”) or the most endearing of children’s ditties (“Peanut-Butter Sandwich,” “Boa Constrictor”), Silverstein embraced the extremes with enviable mastery.
“He allowed children to reach up and he allowed audiences to reach down a little,” notes Dennis Locorriere, who shared the vocal role of Silverstein interpreter with Ray Sawyer in Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show.
“(The 1973 Silverstein solo album) Freakin’ At The Freakers Ball was just a bunch of sleaze. You could get offended if you wanted to — and some people did — but I think it was part of the same thing: embracing the adult part of the child and then embracing the childish part of the adult.”
Locorriere says Silverstein — who would have turned 75 this year — would cover his hands with scribbled notes if an idea hit him and there was no paper around.
“He was all about the work,” says Locorriere.
Silverstein also resisted the spotlight.
“Shel wasn’t the kind of guy that wanted to be on stage,” says Locorriere, who recently narrated the audio version of Silverstein’s posthumous best-selling children’s book Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook
“‘Hook’ got a lot of opportunities because Shel didn’t want to be out there. He did it to do it and didn’t even want to be famous.
“I always thought that if Shel was more of an attention-seeking performer, there’s a whole lot I wouldn’t have had to do. ”
Although he was aware of Silverstein and “all these killer songs that went from completely ridiculous to unbelievable storytelling” as a teenager, Locorriere didn’t become personally acquainted with the songwriter until Dr. Hook auditioned for the obscure 1971 film Who Is Harry Kellerman (And Why Is He Saying These Terrible Things About Me?) starring Dustin Hoffman.
“When the guy brought in a cassette and said, ‘Listen to these two songs and learn them’ and it was Shel’s voice, I just freaked out,” Locorriere recalls from his home in Sussex, England.
“I probably would have signed my soul to the Devil at that point just to work with and be around Shel. He liked the way we interpreted stuff and then he wrote most of the stuff on our first two albums.”
Locorriere describes Silverstein as a private man and an obsessed perfectionist who did allow some liberties with his art.
“Shel was very fussy and he’d work on stuff forever,” he remembers. “One of the reasons my relationship with Shel endured was because I was very flexible to his material.
“He’d write a song that’d just kill me, and say, ‘Do me a favor, Den. Sing it for me.’ He’d turn his book around and let you bend the melodies because he figured you knew that better than him. But he wouldn’t want you to change a single word — he’d kick your ass.”
Grammy winner Bobby Bare met Silverstein after he threw a challenge that Nashville songwriters failed to answer.
“Shel came down here at the time I was trying to get all the great songwriters of Nashville to write me a concept album – something with a thread not running through it and not just a bunch of songs,” Bare recalls during a break from a rehearsal in Nashville.
“But Shel understood what I was trying to do and he responded. I was with him on a Saturday night in Nashville. He went back to Chicago and he called Monday and said he had me an album. So we got started and it was great.”
That 14-song album, Bobby Bare Sings Lullabys, Legends and Lies, provided Bare with “Marie Leveau” — his only No. 1 hit — and “Daddy, What If,” his Grammy-nominated duet with five-year-old son Bobby Jr.
It also marked the beginning of a lifelong friendship.
“In 1975 when my daughter Cari died, Shel came up and stayed with us for weeks, ” Bare recalls. “He was a real good friend and cared about his friends. My kids are still heartbroken over the death of Shel.”
At least the creative partnership ended on a high note with 1998’s The Old Dogs, a 20-song effort of Silverstein songs recorded by the legendary collective of Bare, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Reed and Mel Tillis. It was the last album both Silverstein and Jennings work on before their deaths.
“On the Old Dogs thing, we never laughed so hard in our lives,” Bare recalls. “We worked on it for over a year and Jerry said it was the most fun he ever had with his clothes on. Shel didn’t want it to end.
“We loved each other’s company. We always had a lot of laughs. I miss him every day. He was a great man.”
Bare says he hears Silverstein’s lasting influence in the country music of today.
“Anytime you hear something outrageous, Shel had an influence on it,” he says. “He showed them that there were a lot of new places to go with songs.
“For instance, some of those albums I did with Shel – Toby Keith told me they’re his favorite albums. Toby would rattle off some of Shel’s songs that he said he loved. Every one of Shel’s song paints a picture or creates a movie.”
Although his music has been silence, there are pending plans to celebrate the songs he left behind.
“I’ve been talking for a long time with Hal Willner – hopefully we can put together a tribute record to Shel,” says Mitch Myers, the songwriter’s nephew and family representative in charge of the Shel Silverstein Archives in Chicago.
“We’ve had a lot of people who have said they’d like to participate and we have our own wish list. We’ve talked to a few record labels and there are some possibilities for the coming year.”
Myers reveals he’ll also edit a collection of Silverstein’s Playboy comic travelogues for Simon & Schuster next year.
“Shel was a renaissance man,” says Myers. “That’s the bottom line.”
For Dennis Locorriere, the bottom line was Shel Silverstein’s immeasurable impact.
“He’s added a big paintbrush of color to my life that I wouldn’t want to do without.”
At the recent Ft. Lauderdale kick-off for Mötley Crüe‘s Carnival Of Sins reunion tour, a man sat with Jeff Varner and other associates of the band’s 10th Street Entertainment management firm and witnessed bass player Nikki Sixx demolish his instrument.
He smashed his weather-beaten bass repeatedly against the stage canvas before throwing it into the air, pausing only to watch gravity slam it mercilessly back to earth.
“I heard Jeff later tell somebody, ‘Before it hit the ground, Bernstine’s already bothering me for the guitar!'” chuckles the Bernstine in question — Don Bernstine — manager of acquisitions/artist relations for Orlando-based Hard Rock Cafe International.
“I considered that to be the ultimate compliment.”
So did he get the guitar?
“After the show, I had Nikki sign it,” Bernstine laughs.
In the four years he’s occupied the position, the former director of marketing and promotion for British rock legends Deep Purple has been mandated to secure rock ‘n roll collectibles guaranteed to satisfy the palates of Hard Rock customers all around the world.
“It’s a one-two punch, ” explains Bernstine, 49. “The memorabilia helps get the people in the door and the food keeps them there. Between the videos and the music blasting out of the sound system, it’s a real rock environment.”
Samples of Bernstine’s handiwork can be found either hanging on the walls or locked in display cases throughout the thriving global Hard Rock chain of 122 restaurants, four hotels, two casinos and three hotel/casino hybrids.
Walk into Toronto’s Yonge Street location, for instance, and you’ll find authentic memorabilia from Shania Twain (her leopard-skin cowboy hats and boots from her desert-shot “That Don’t Impress Me Much” video), Bob Dylan (the acoustic guitar he sports on the cover of 1984’s Real Live album) and KISS (a pair of Paul Stanley platform shoes) among the estimated 200-300 installations.
Even Toronto icons Rush (the custom-made Paul Reed Smith guitar made especially for Alex Lifeson and used during the band’s Presto tour) and Blue Rodeo (a semi-acoustic guitar used by principle singer and songwriter Greg Keelor during recording sessions) are represented to impress the locals.
It’s also a resounding success: co-founded in 1971 by London businessmen Isaac Tigrett and Peter Morton and owned since 1990 by London-based The Rank Group, Hard Rock International reported a 35% increase in profits in 2004 — from $37.7 million to $51 million — based on revenues of $426 million.
Expansion plans for 2005-2006 include introducing Hard Rock Cafes to Venezuela, the Canary Islands, Latvia and India and opening Hard Rock Hotels in Madrid, New York, Biloxi and San Diego.
There’s no doubt that the Hard Rock franchise owes much of its popularity to its rock ‘n roll pedigree.
“You try and hit a lot of hot buttons,” says Bernstine. “You want to hit on certain eras like Elvis, Beatles, Stones. There are certain genres that you want to represent. And in each location we like to have local artists that are represented from that particular city or area, and try and do something specific to that so the local crowd can relate to that.”
But Bernstine isn’t only interested in artifacts from bygone days.
“We also want to establish a stronger presence of newer artists, too. That’s something I’m working on a daily basis. If it’s a cold call to John Mayer‘s people just to introduce myself, and get the ball rolling, I spend one day a week reaching out to people I don’t know because the Hard Rock Collection is the largest of its kind, so it speaks to itself.”
He’s not kidding: the Hard Rock tally numbers more than 60,000 pieces, dwarfing the Rock ‘N Roll Hall Of Fame’s comparatively meager 15,000 item inventory. Objects range from instruments and wardrobes to gold and platinum records and other personal mementos.
“One of the weirdest things that’s sitting in the Orlando warehouse right now is a small portable television that John Lennon must have used while he sat in bed or had on a nightstand,” says Bernstine, whose duties also includes cataloguing each new asset. “I guess he got bored and started carving little drawings and his name onto the side of it. It’s a hopelessly outdated television, the days prior to cable, but it’s pretty unique.”
So where does he find all this neat stuff?
“From a variety of sources,” Bernstine replies, “Our favorite way is to get it from the artist directly and that’s where I come in – I worked for Deep Purple and in the record business and radio industry for a long time, so I have a pretty wide reach with contacts in the music industry. Every year I try to up the percentage of direct acquisitions from artists.
“We also rely on auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s for some of the harder-to-get, more expensive high-end items — especially items from the Beatles and Elvis: Things that are much scarcer, much rarer, but traditionally show up in auction environments.”
Not everyone is co-operative.
“The two artists I’ve attempted to get repeatedly – and are very accommodating to meet with me and talk to me, but they just aren’t willing to do anything – are Metallica and Jimmy Page,” says Bernstine. “Jimmy’s a bit of a collector who I think still has a strong bond to the guitars that he still uses.
“And the Metallica guys have tons of stuff – they just aren’t interested,” he laughs. “They’re very funny about it. They gave us a car from one of their videos, but as far as instruments and things like that, I haven’t been able to get anything from them.”
If the Led Zeppelin co-founder and subjects of the recent documentary Some Kind Of A Monster ever change their mind, Bernstine assures them their donations will be permanent.
“We don’t ever purge,” Bernstine assures. “We don’t sell. Once it’s in the collection – it stays.”
And if something turns up in the collection that a musician wants back, Bernstine is willing to talk. He remembers the time Peter Frampton called to retrieve a custom-made Zematis guitar that had accidentally found its way into the Hard Rock annals.
“Whenever we get a call like that we always try and comply, because it’s goodwill with the artist and generally they’re willing to give us something back,” says Bernstine. “To my amazement, Frampton gave me the suit that he wore on Frampton Comes Alive. He pulled it out of the Rock ‘N Roll Hall Of Fame and gave it to us. So we do get those calls.”
In fact, Bernstine says the inclusion of a piece of memorabilia in a Hard Rock Cafe is almost as big a thrill for the musician as it is for the public.
“Having your stuff on the wall for a musician is like a badge of honour – it’s like being included in a very exclusive club.”
Postscript: Toronto’s Hard Rock Cafe no longer exists.
As with most five-year-olds enamored with Saturday morning television, Suzie Katayama was dazzled by the animated images dancing in front of her eyes, fuelling her imagination and making her laugh.
But unlike most youngsters, she was equally taken with the variety of sonics bombarding her ears, ranging from the wild sound effects punctuating the action to the music score that enhanced the cartoon’s emotional impact. She soaked up the work of score composers Henry Mancini,Nelson Riddle, Elmer Bernstein and Jerry Goldsmith.
“It fascinated me how all the colors came together,” recalls Katayama.
A few hundred albums later, she remains fascinated. The Los Angeles-based Katayama has created a respectable niche for herself as an in-demand session cellist and touring performer, stretching her expertise between musical, television and movie projects. It’s a list that covers over two decades of influential contemporary music classics, ranging from Prince’s multi-million selling Purple Rain and Madonna’s stunning Like A Prayer to Alanis Morissette’s breakthrough You Oughta Know and Let Go, Avril Lavigne’s springboard to stardom.
Plying her trade with an 18th century Testore cello and a Salchow bow, Katayama answers the call from recording artists, arrangers, orchestrators and producers to enliven sessions with strings. She often serves as a solo entertainer, as part of a small ensemble or sitting in an orchestra chair. And if cello isn’t on the menu, Katayama can capably deliver accordion and piano parts.
“Sometimes I add a little glue to it,” she admits.
When she isn’t playing, Katayama can be contracted to arrange, conduct and copy music.
But she doesn’t feel she’s anything special.
“There’s a lot of talent out there, but there’s a lot to be said for being in the right place at the right time,” states the woman who has toured with legendary British guitarist Eric Clapton and innovative Iceland performer Björk in the past three years.
“You’re only as good as the boat that floats you. All the people I work with are brilliant and I consider myself extremely fortunate.”
Katayama, who lives with a menagerie of six parrots in the city where she was born, feels much more at ease throwing out the names of several inspiring colleagues within her community circle, including veterans Jeremy Lubbock, David Campbell and Paul Buckmaster.
“I love the camaraderie between us,” Katayama admits. “It’s very much a team effort.”
But the key to Katayama’s demand is her adaptability. There isn’t much she can’t do. Over the past few years alone, she’s bounced from the alternative electronica of Supreme Beings Of Leasure to the aggressive velocity of Alien Ant Farm, with detours into the soulful R&B of Brian McKnight and the jazzy stylings of pianist David Benoit.
When she enters the studio, she has to be ready for anything.
“We usually never get music ahead of time,” she says. “Usually we just show up, and if it’s an arrangement, you’ll be sight reading. Sometimes an artist will say, ‘We need you to come in and put something on.’ You start playing and ask them what direction they want you to go in. If they know, then you try different directions, because you can change the song. If the song is very similar through the bridge and through the chorus, you want to do something a little hooky.”
Katayama says it’s a fine balance between skill and overkill.
“If you do too much, you can change the whole temperament of the song. If it’s a hard rock thing and you put on strings that sound a little too sweet or too smooth, it takes away the edge.”
Katayama began her musical education with the accordion, switching to cello because she was intrigued “by its singing voice timbre” and because her friends discouraged her from trying the viola.
After taking formal lessons with a number of teachers including Greg Bemko, Katayama broke into recording when string player Novi Novog called her in to perform on Prince’s Purple Rain.
“Prince made me listen to rock ‘n roll again, made me excited again because music was going in different directions.
News of her participation triggered a flood of responses.
“I received a phone call from Mike Post, who told me, ‘You don’t know how big this album is going to be,’” recalls Katayama, also an avid photographer. “He was one of the first people to give me the experience of playing for television shows like Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, Hunter and The ‘A’ Team.”
Katayama also works on soundtracks, and remembers being pleasantly surprised two years ago during the recording session involving a veteran country musician.
“We recorded the soundtrack to the film All The Pretty Horses and Marty Stuart just wowed the entire orchestra with his music and live performance — just floored everyone,” says Katayama. “It was a great honour.”
She admits she lives for moments like those.
“When you record something magic, when everything ends up a little better than you expected, and the group plays so well together – that’s the fun part.”
Finally: a recording artist willing to work for peanuts.
With the recent release of a new album,Koko,the 31-year-old Lowland gorilla that has mastered over 1000 words of modified American Sign Language to the point of being able to understand and hold a conversation, has entered the world of pop music.
As the thematic subject of The Laurel Canyon Animal Company’s Fine Animal Gorilla, issued last month (November) by Westlake Village, CA’s Quicksilver Records, Koko doesn’t vocally or instrumentally contribute to the album. But LCAC co-founders Skip Haynes and Dana Walden found sufficient inspiration in three Koko expressions — “Fine Animal,” “Scary Alligator” and “TickleMeChase” — to name the songs and award the simian credit as co-writer.
“We took a lot of our stuff from transcripts of conversations between Koko and her caretakers,” says Haynes, 54, a graphic designer, composer and former member of Ampex/RCA ’70s recording trio Aliotta-Haynes-Jeremiah.
Speaking on behalf of partner Walden, Haynes said the duo also sought Koko’s approval, playing her the album’s nine tracks of easy-listening reggae, blues, rock and Celtic numbers. They discovered the ape has a producer’s instinct.
“On the song ‘Fine Animal’ there’s a throwaway line that says, ‘Do you think I’d lie?'” Haynes explains. “When Koko heard it, she signed the word ‘shame,’ so we took that line out.
“She also said she liked the attitude of the demo better than the finished master.”
Retailing for $14 at www.koko.org and available at such notable music retailers as Tower, Virgin, CDNow and Amazon.com, sales of Fine Animal Gorilla will benefit Koko in more ways than one. Haynes and Walden have pledged a generous portion of the proceeds — “anywhere from $1.30 to $7 per CD” — to The Gorilla Foundation, established in 1976 by Dr. Francine “Penny” Patterson to save gorillas from extinction. Dr. Patterson is currently hoping to move Koko and other gorillas from their present habitat south of San Francisco to a more environment-friendly 70-acre sanctuary in Maui, where they will hopefully breed and multiply.
Haynes and Walden are hoping to do their part to contribute to the estimated $3 million cost of relocation.
“This is a way for them to make money without having to rely on donations or gifts,” reasons Haynes. “And there are so many people who love animals, and the shelf life is indefinite.”
Incorporating animals into a musical recording isn’t a new concept. In 1978, The Paul Winter Consort melded the sounds of the timber wolf, the humpback whale and the African Fish-Eagle into a world music collage for its groundbreaking A&M LP Common Ground.
As a mid-’90s novelty, sampled barks and meows made the Jingle Dogs and Jingle Cats recordings all the rage.
Even Peter Gabriel has gotten into the act, spending time at Atlanta’s George State University last year (2001) to explore music communication through keyboards with a dozen bonobo apes.
But Haynes feels he and Walden, a former keyboardist of ’80s Columbia R&B recording act Champaign, are on to something, especially if they can tap into pet owners.
“We make music for people who love animals,” he says. “There’s a huge, huge market and this is a genre that’s never been tapped. There are millions of dog and cat owners, and they all buy stuff,” ”
Although Fine Animal Gorilla is its most recent release, Haynes and Walden’s Laurel Animal Canyon Company have released other CDs, including one by Carla Mitchell, their first official artist. In case you’re wondering, Mitchell is an Amazon…parrot.
The idea to make music surrounding animals began on a lark. Hired by The National Academy Of Recording Arts And Sciences to create a collage for its Grammy print program, Haynes thought the idea would translate well to neighborhood pets. In 1999, he and Walden assembled the dogs, dressed them in sunglasses, and wrote a bunch of songs around it.
“We started by doing an album about our dogs called Ugly Dogs Need More Love and followed it up with Catatonic,” says Haynes.
Reaction was so favorable that Haynes felt there was a glaring window of opportunity.
“I went back to my partner and said, ‘We’ve got to learn how to make money doing this.’ When you deal with people through their animals, they’re all nice to you, because their unconditional love for their animal spills over, no matter who the person is.”
Carla the parrot was recruited for “I’m A Green Chicken,” although attempts to register her as an ASCAP member failed because, as Haynes notes, “the parrot has no social security number.”
Future projects include Birdbeat, a CD that will featured Carla and other fine feathered friends, a Holiday album and one involving animal psychics.
“We want to see if we can get them to get some animals to help us write some tunes,” says Haynes.
Whether Haynes and Walden can parlay their $80,000 investment into a steady flow of milk and honey almost seems moot. What about the impact the music industry is facing should Koko or Carla become bona fide pop stars?
Will Koko one-up Van Halen and insist that all the brown M&M’s remain in the bowl?
Can Carla claw her way to the top and shoulder the seeds of discontent without swallowing them? And will radio station programming consultants suddenly shudder at the prospect of being replaced in their positions by species of higher intelligence?
Universities often feature artists in residence, but Andy Hollinden is more interested in featuring the artistry of The Residents.
Hollinden, an assistant professor of music at The Indiana University School Of Music, is offering a three-credit course that binds the eccentric music of San Francisco’s most famous enigmatic eyeballs with the absurdist cacophony of Don “Captain Beefheart” Van Vliet and the summery surfin’ sounds of The Beach Boys.
For 16 weeks, I.U. non-music majors will learn, dissect and analyze the histories and cultural impact of this peculiar trio through lectures, listening sessions and the required reading of such noted biographies as Steve Gaines’ Heroes & Villains: The True Story Of The Beach Boys and Ian Shirley’s Meet The Residents: America’s Most Eccentric Band as they wind their way towards an arts and humanities degree.
“Even though their music is very dissimilar, they’re three groups that have a very similar artistic intent: They approach music making as art,” says Hollinden, explaining his motive behind the “Beach Boys, Beefheart And The Residents” curriculum.
“The Beach Boys sold some records; Beefheart and The Residents, most people don’t know who the hell they are, or if they hear them, they hate them. I’d say they’re very successful artists, although they’re not very successful rock stars. And that’s the whole thrust of the course.”
While any academia involving Captain Beefheart or The Residents may be unique to Indiana U., it seems that courses concerning pop music history and its constellation of stars are becoming more commonplace.
If you want to study the cultural impact of The Beatles, the aforementioned Indiana U. and universities in Chicago and Minnesota are just three of many available opportunities.
Looking for a dissertation on Bob Dylan’s prose? St. Mary’s College in Surrey, U.K. is the place to be. The University Of Amsterdam once offered a course on all things Madonna and if you’re a Deadhead, you should be truckin’ to the University Of California Santa-Cruz for your Grateful Dead fix. Several programs have even scrutinized the pioneering hip-hop production of Dr. Dré.
Rob Bowman, who first introduced popular music to Canadian academia concurrently at Toronto’s York University and Brock University in nearby St. Catharines in 1979, remembers the days of leaner choices.
“I call it ‘Guerilla Warfare in the Academy,’” chuckles Bowman, who was 22 and short an M.A. when he initially proposed to teach a college tutorial.
“I proposed two courses, and one on Bob Dylan got turned down,” he recalls. “But the one that got accepted was called ‘A Social And Historical Survey Of Contemporary Popular Music, 1954 To The Present’ – a coded way of saying it’s a course on rock ‘n roll.”
But even as classes got underway, Bowman faced another hurdle: the University senate rejected the course. Only after a vigorous letter-writing campaign by 19 of Bowman’s initial 20 students was the credit course reinstated.
“When you’re teaching something people are suspicious about, they just assume it’s going to be a Mickey Mouse course,” says Bowman, now director of York’s Graduate Program Of Music.
“But I appeared before the senate and brought in essays and exams. I’d make my students write three essays and two three-hour exams, which is definitely a lot harder than many of the courses. There was also tons of reading and they were analyzing musical structure. The students loved it.”
Bowman, also a globally revered author, broadcaster, performer and Best Album Notes Grammy recipient for The Complete Stax/Volt Soul Singles Vol. 3:1972-1975, says he’s surprised at how prevalently pop music has infiltrated post-secondary education.
“When I started, I had no idea it would eventually win at the level it did. Now I think virtually every university has a course on pop music, with classes numbering up to 600 people, and they’re mostly offered for non-majors.”
He credits a changing of the guard for rock’s new academic respectability.
“Part of the explosion has to do with a generation of university professors who are intently interested in this music,” Bowman explains.
“In effect, the allocation of the power has changed, It’s a natural thing to go from general large courses on rock or popular music or R&B for mass numbers of students in their first or second year to offering more specialized, detailed courses for students in their upper year. You’ve still got to have an overall department and academic environment that’s pretty open to that sort of thing.”
Bowman says an even strong incentive behind university and college music electives.
“They make money,” he says. “The large courses for undergraduates make university departments fortunes and in fact often pay for much of what goes on in the rest of the music department.”
But is there a job awaiting students who write their dissertations on Mark Of The Mole?
“Depending on what profession you’re going in to,” Bowman replies. “The actual content of what you’re teaching is of secondary importance. Hopefully you’re teaching students different ways about hearing and thinking about music. It’s hearing and thinking processes that open the doors towards life-changing experiences. The primary function of education for me is about enriching peoples’ lives.”
Or if you’re Gary Lauer, it’s to introduce the joy of Yes to others.
For $29, fans of the British progressive rock group can enroll online for Yesology (www.csi.edu/ip/ce/yesology) at the College Of Southern Idaho, where they can pore through 56 lessons and 81 tests dedicated to the band’s 35-year history.
“I’m a Yes fanatic,” says Lauer, who designed the non-credit course with fellow Yes zealot AlanFarley and attracted pupils from Singapore and Quebec.
“Their music is very affecting and very extraordinary, but I guess it depends on how it hits your hypothalamus,” he laughs.