Stories from a zillion studios and Zappa
BEHIND STUDIO MICS
Before I was rudely interrupted into a decade of band management at 21, the Righteous Bluegrass Band had already been into a studio at the University of Colorado and laid down a few tracks. The tape they played me was fun but thuddy, the acoustic bass not recorded well, but it was a start and their teeth were cut in front of mics as a band for the first time…1970.
Robert Anderson was an Elton-like voiced singer in the higher register, but the band needed more depth. Eric kept his mic at banjo level. Dick could sing light doubling. Robert Anderson recalls, “I grew up with Scott (Brownlee) in Yuma and we were in a high school band together and Scott never opened his mouth to sing. Then we got into our bluegrass band in Boulder and he did a few backup things doubling me, and then we discovered we could harmonize and it sounded great, and then we discovered he could sing lead and it was clear he was a real singer and so we started to take advantage of that and became a little riskier.”
But vocals aside, the challenge with this band was trying to translate the high energy magic of RBB/RK onto a studio recording, not the first bands facing that challenge. Denver front range studios were really varied from little 4-track rooms to bigger Denver suites with giant Neve consoles and isolation booths for vocals and drums.
And then of course there was the world-caliber Caribou Ranch just 40 miles into the mountains that drew Stills, Eagles, Elton, Chicago, Michael Jackson, Wonder, Lennon….why not us? The piano on our Caribou recordings was on Bridge Over Troubled Water…damn!!!
We did ALL the Colorado front range studios over the years…recording commercials, soundtracks, film songs, demos and a record. Frankly the band was captured better live and not many remote recording outfits existed back then. What we have is a lot of fair-to-good recordings off the PA, and those are mixed for the live house, not headphones. Of course live recordings depended on how good the stage monitors were mixed, which impacted how they played and harmonized. So many uncontrollable variables to insure great recordings.
Not just Colorado too, we were in Bell Sound in NYC doing music for an ABC Afterschool Special, two major LA studios and in Chicago as well. Plus self-recording in Yuma and Boulder.
GOOD STORY!! In an LA studio, we were playing back a very clever track we recorded of an Eric Holle song called “Preservative Pie” his ode to shitty food additives. I went back into the control room and there was this shady guy sitting in the shadows listening. He burst up out of the darkness and bellowed VOILA! LOOOVE THAT SHIT!! Took me a second to see in the dim studio light the aura and inimitable voice and stache of… Frank Zappa. Now we had Zappa AND Alice Cooper exalting that song. Makes sense those loved that song, huh.
The band did three TV Specials, two in Denver and one in Tulsa. TV paid attention to getting good sound and Tulsa had a bonus live audience. In Denver the band shot pieces in a symphony hall, at 12,000 foot Loveland Pass in the snow and even donned tuxes to record their bluegrass rip on Jacque Offenbach’s 1858 Can-Can.
KIMN-FM in Denver recorded a local band every week in Denver Sound Studios for a regular Sunday night Best of broadcast and Gone Johnson crushed it in theirs. An invited audience splayed around studio gave it that extra kapow.
While we got money from Columbia and Atlantic Records to do demos, we never got a major record deal. This band in its various iterations were either not commercial (read radio worthy) in its bluegrass days or they were ahead of the Eagles-legitimized country rock genre.
I think frankly having found THE right producer was the missing ingredient. Rob McLerran, Robert Anderson and Roger Gemelle wrote legit radio-ready songs. In there, in my book were at least a few accountable hits. When Roger joined Rufus Krisp there was a bonus level of a really “commercial” radio vocal along with Robert.
The ingredients were there — the contract was missing. Time ran out of living on the road to maintain life to just…keeping recording! I think though we all knew it was just a matter of time before we got a deserved spotlight!