Sunday, November 28, 2010

Blondie's "Heart of Glass" Broke New Ground in Studio Craftsmanship

Blondie combined both pop AND art.

I was one of those teenagers that actually had heard of Blondie before the Parallel Lines LP. I had heard X-Offender on the radio, and had read about Debbie Harry, New York's platinum-headed punk bombshell who wore clingy t-shirts and knee-pads. Knowing she had been a Playboy bunny certainly got the attention of this 17-year-old.

Then they hit it big with "Heart of Glass" in '78. A lot of people said, "Blondie has gone disco," "Blondie has sold-out!" Well that may have been true and I may have even said that myself (to nobody there). However, I didn't know anybody who actually didn't like the song. I mean, I loved the song and went out and bought the album. The whole LP was great, with it's other, much more rock/punk/power-pop offerings. I realized that, no matter what genre they dabbled in -- and they dipped their pens in all colors of musical ink -- Blondie was at its core a great rock-band with excellent musicians. Those cats could play the phonebook and it would sound good. Add to that Blondie's hip image and one of the most beautiful singers ever to ever pout with a microphone, and you have a sure-fire formula for success in 1978.

With that said, I found this neat video on YouTube, a short little rockumentary on the making of "Heart of Glass". It's really interesting. I especially like how the narrator mentions how this session was during the peak of analog recording, and I couldn't agree more. As a recording engineer I love learning how they built this million-selling crossover hit. As a music-lover with a rose-tinted rear view mirror, It stirs up a nostalgic affection for the song, the band, and the time.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Death of The Dreamer

Sandman All Lit Up...

Like a lot of people, I've always wondered what caused Mark Sandman's sudden and untimely death back in '99. There has been rumor, speculation, myth and mystery surrounding the tragedy. Was it drugs? Heroin? Coke?

As you know, a documentary film on the Sandman story will be released in the coming year. Apparently, and disappointingly, the film chooses not to delve in to an explanation for his death. Maybe because it wasn't mysterious? Maybe because it was just a rare and unfortunate event where a middle-aged heavy smoker dropped dead. These things happen.

Apparently, here's the real story about the day Morphine's frontman passed in to the dreamworld: You and What Army Blog

Thursday, November 11, 2010

AES 2010 a Big Candy-Dish of Exciting New Gear!

Exciting exciting exciting! Read all about the eye-poopping and ear-bending new gear at AES 2010. We're especially wowed by new gear from Audient, SSL and Universal Audio. Bazooo!!

Nuclear power from SSL

Read all about the yummy eye and ear-candy here:
Sonicscoop AES wrap

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mojave MA-101 Goes Stellar with Everything Audio!

Rockets to the Stars!

Mojave Mic's MA-101 small-cap condenser gets a stellar review from the Everything Audio Network, who went so far as to give the mic their coveted "Stellar Sound" award. Nicey nice!

A Perfect Home Studio Mic For Instrument Recording
by Dr. Fred Bashour
David Royer, noted microphone designer and creator of the made-in-USA, high-end Royer ribbon microphone line, has created a line of home-studio priced microphones with professional-grade specifications — Mojave Audio. And from the Mojave line, the new MA-101fet is one of the most remarkable instrument microphones I have used in the past forty-five years!
In all those years, my mic cabinet has included numerous high-end, small-diaphragm microphone — and many of the large diaphragm microphones as well. These new Mojave mics, however, defy the “small diaphragm vs. large diaphragm” microphone character paradigms.

Read the rest of this review here.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Sky Still Cries

Stevie Ray Gone...

Twenty years have gone by since that helicopter crash in 1990. Wow. I still remember getting the news in a room surrounded by boxes and piles all my things, as I prepared to move to a new apartment. I was lucky enough to have a chance to meet Stevie a couple of times, as well as seeing him perform about ten times. He was a nice man; really a gentle soul. Right before he died I had engineered a blues record that had a couple of Austin-based players on it who were close to Stevie. I called one of those guys in Austin the day after it happened. He was shell-shocked, and from the conversation I gathered that Austin was devastated -- a city draped in black. Shortly thereafter I wrote a requiem for SRV, which was published in Metronome Magazine.

Here's a short vid piece and article from Austin 360.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

ADK's Berlin 47Au Makes It Big!

Sure there are lot of Asian-made wanna-be U47s and 67s and 251s out there right now. I know, I'm a dealer for several of them. A few of these condensers are actually pretty good, especially in-terms of price vs. performance (although if someone calls me looking for an under $1000 tube mic, I'll recommend they buy a Shure SM7 dynamic for under $400, because that mic will sound better on vocals and many other sources than a cheapo condenser). In comparison with the genuine article, however, the Asain "remakes" tend to fall apart pretty quickly.

I Can Hover!

But now there's a mic by ADK that is so good it's garnering some well-deserved ballyhoo. I use it and own one myself, in-fact, and I personally think it's one of the better-sounding instruments in our entire mic closet. I'm referring to The ADK Custom-Shop Berlin 47Au, a 47FET type condenser. Hand QC'd and tuned by ADK's Custom Shop here in the USA, the Berlin has a noticeably solid build-quality, and a sound to match. You can use it for all the things you'd employ a vintage Neumann 47FET for; sung vocals, voice-over/announcer vocals, and of course, kick-drum. The Berlin has a classic fat, mid-forward tone with a smoothly rolled-off treble. For a thin and nasally singer like me, the mic is a really good helper. It has that nice puffy proximity boost, and enough presence to be articulate, even subtly airy, without being harsh. It's really a nice, syrupy microphone. I love it. And considering what a used Neumann 47FET goes for now -- I mean, come on, this is more than ridiculous. Most of these mics have been absolutely hammered over the years as kick mics and smoke-blown radio-station workhorses. When they were $1200, even $1500, that was ok. But 47FETS are now fetching between $3500 and $4000. Are you freakin' kidding me? No way in Hell I'd ever pay that much! At $1200, the Berlin is THE 47FET to have now, and I'd daresay it sounds much better than many of the cheap tube-mics out there today. In fact, it sounds better than some of the newer Euro-made condensers I've heard lately. When coupled with a good pre -- we've liked it a lot with a UA LA-610 -- this ADK can rock the world.

In this era of low, and I mean lllooowww budgets, a $1200 studio-condenser might be the biggest microphone investment many little studios will make. I'd buy ADK's Berlin 47Au over many many other choices. It really does have that high-class German condenser sound that will give a track the major-label elegance so often missing in self-produced tracks. (People will hear it and think it's "toob"!)

But don't take my word for it. Here's what Recording Magazine (Sept 2010) said in their recent review:
The Berlin is well suited to sources needing a touch of rounding, such as shrill soprano and alto vocalists, tambourines and shakers, and even bright/harsh guitar cabinets, where it works quite well in multiple-mic setups (I have used it this way myself with absolutely stellar results -- Drewcifer)
Conversely, it works well to add punch and girth to sources as well, such as baritone vocalists (especially crooners) and low-end sources like kick drum and floor toms. I really liked this mic padded down and placed about one to three inches outside of the kick.
At $1200 street, the Custom Shop mics do come with a higher price tag than you may be used to from ADK, but these models are a serious step up in every way. They compete comfortably not only in their own class, but even with models selling for $500 more.

Buy me here on Analog Planet!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

UA's LA-3A Reissue Mixes Mojo and Modern!

Hi. I'm L.A. I Rock. You might want to put electrical tape over my meter.

Anyone who knows me knows that my desert-island compressor is the Teletronix/Urei LA-3A Levelling Amplifier. This classic opto-compressor/limiter does a great job of squashing, while sounding really musical; big, almost tubey, and definitely full of iron. There was a time when I would not work in a studio that didn't have at least a pair of them. In 1998 I finally bought my own vintage pair, which I still have and vow never to part with (unless you offer me a lot of money -- a LOT).

For me, when mixing, nothing beats my LA-3s on lead voice and lead guitar. The unit not only grabs and holds, it adds a hot presence to the signal. There's a forwardness and amped-up quality that I like even more than an LA-2A. The LA-3A defines the meaning of set-it and forget-it. You hit the comps big sweet-spot, push the lead vocal fader up till it's sitting right, and you won't have to touch that fader again. They don't call it a leveller for nothing!

The baby has mojo!

The LA-3A is hot, with reams of gain. The only down-side of the box is that it's noisy. (The noise never bothered me, and my vintage units are un-modded). That's why, years ago, a so-called "gain-mod" was developed for the LA-3A by, I think, Bob Alac. It makes the gain-structure more efficient, thereby lowering the noise floor. It also cleans the unit up, and while it may make it better spec wise, the mod removes a little of the noisy dirty funky mojo that myself and other LA3 lovers love.

That's why (how cool is this?), the reissue by Universal Audio is my favorite hardware reissue they make. It has both classic more AND mod mode, available at the flip of a switch. Sweeet!

Clean or Cream? Rear image showing mod and gain toggles.

When using my reissue a few years back, I learned the effectiveness of this feature. I kept my reissue in mod mode because I have two vintage ones without any mods. I was doing a mix and the lead voical was going through the new one. I liked the mix and was ready to print it, but something just wasn't happening. That last little bit of sauce was still missing. Then, boing, I thought, "Lemme switch that LA-3A bugger in to 'classic'!" So I did. Wow! That's all it took to give the lead voice that slightly heated, amped-up presence I was looking for. From modern, to mojo!

Review it here: Mix Field Test
Buy it here: UA on Analog Planet

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Audient's Zen Desk Has "All Mod Cons" for Natt Weller

Daddy Was a Pop Star and Mama Was a Rickenbacker!

Musician, songwriter and producer David P Goodes has recently used Zen to record and mix the ultramodern pop track Tallula for rising star Natt Weller. *Scroll down to see Natt's Tallula Vid.

Son of Paul ‘The Modfather’ Weller of the Jam, Natt is carving out a style very much of his own - not only with his androgynous looks but also in his musical taste. Goodes has worked with Natt and co-writer/producer Judie Tzuke on five tracks so far, and a month after its arrival said of the desk: “Zen has made a big difference sonically. I really love the sound of it; the mixes have more depth and clarity and the top end is cleaner too.
“I was mixing in the computer before I had Zen. I now have 16 high quality analogue outputs going through Zen from Apogee DA 16X which show off the desk’s abilities even more.”

According to Goodes, Zen’s features are manifold. “I love the built-in mix bus compressor – I use it on all my mixes now. Having faders and mute and solo is so useful for quickly checking things whilst mixing. It’s also really handy to have the busses as well.

This is the Modern Zen!
See Zen here: Zen

“The centre console section is very comprehensive: things like the mono switch, 3-way monitor selection and dim switch really streamline my workflow. The cue section is great too, and means I can give my vocalists no compromise monitor mixes to work with,” he enthuses.
“Everything feels more hands on and real, having a proper mixing desk in my studio,” confirms Goodes.

Verdict? The ZEN JAMS!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Green Ghost

On any journey to discover or rediscover blues, after drilling down in to Muddy, Buddy, the Three Kings and Otis Rush, one should take the exit ramp marked Peter Green. We all know Clapton, Beck and Page, but Green is the other British Blues Master that deserves a lot more attention and recognition than he gets.

 The haunted, psychedelic eyes of Peter Green (graphic portrait by Drew Townson)

He is one of the greatest guitarists ever to amplify the blues. The "woman-tone" that he coaxed from that '59 Les Paul rivalled that of all the other greats. With his incredible phrasing, vibrato and dynamics, he took influences like Otis Rush and Albert King and made his own sound. Green's guitar personality is so identifiable it only takes hearing a couple of notes to know it's him. He distilled the powerful and dark essence of the blues into his chops (arguably) even more than did Eric Clapton himself.

Green replaced Clapton in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers in '66, and shortly thereafter founded Fleetwood Mac, with Mayall vets Mick Fleetwood and John McVie. The three guitar band (with Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan) embarked on a short but intense run of four years, releasing two major albums and becoming superstars in their time.

The early Mac's sound moved freely between deeply authentic Elmore James style Blues shuffles, soulful rock, and Green's hallmark, chilling minor key originals like "The Green Manalishi," and "Black Magic Woman." The instrumental classic "Albatross," was the group's first hit. Inspired by Santo and Johnny's "Sleepwalk," the single hit #1 on the British Charts in 1967. By 1970 FM's records were outselling The Beatles, The Stones and Led Zeppelin.

YouTube contains a lot of great stuff from the early Fleetwood Mac, like TV appearances and live concert bootlegs. In addition to marvelling at Green's playing and singing, you'll love watching a young, painfully skinny and perennially shirtless Mick Fleetwood pounding the kit. The level of musicianship is jaw-dropping. Green's Fleetwood Mac was truly groundbreaking, or in today's jargon, "game changing."

Go to my YouTube channel and check out my playlist called Blues Guitar Greats and you'll find some really cool stuff, including a Mac appearance on Hugh Hefner's Playboy Club show.

For your consideration: A priceless 1969 performance of "Oh Well", a track that deserves to be ranked with any blues-riffed rocker on Led Zepplin I.


                     "Oh Well, Oh Well!" The Original Fleetwood Mac Transform The Blues, 1969

I don't recall exactly when Peter Green became my British Blues Deity. I think it was one night when I was a teenager listening to late-night FM on my Dad's expensive stereo. There I sat, Indian style, with my headphones on, just digging what was coming down the airwaves, when that opening riff of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well" began. The station played the full LP version, including the haunting slow part at the end. I was captivated, and a little scared. As a young guitarist, one of my huge heroes was (and still is) Santana. Eventually I learned that Green was a MAJOR influence on Carlos, and that in fact, "Black Magic Woman" was originally written/recoded by Green's Fleetwood Mac. That was big. By 1992 I was recording a Les Paul instrumental dedicated to Green, called "The Demon Everclear."

When you compare Green to Clapton, you find that EC has a flawless fluid style, never hits a clam, but is very..."studied." His Blues vocabulary is and always has been huge. Green is more sparse, leaves more space and has a very soulful, almost tortured style that goes much deeper than that of Clapton. Green conveys raw feeling; painful emotion, and isn't that what Blues really is?  B.B. King famously said that "Greenie" was the only white guitarist that ever gave him chills. Because E.C. had been dubbed the God of British guitar in the mid 1960's, fans of Peter Green began calling him "The Green God." As fragile and short as Green's time in the limelight was, the man seemed to move on a darker, more intense level. Was it a dream? Did I really see that shadow? Did I really hear that whisper? Thinking of Peter Green always gets the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. He was like a spirit moving in the midnight; numinous, otherworldly, supernatural. The chilling minor-key triads and tremulous cries of his '59 Les Paul took electric blues deep in to the dark. Sadly, no one knew at the time that Green's mind was descending in to darkness, as well. In retrospect, songs like The Green Manalishi or even Black Magic Woman serve as signposts pointing to PG's personal highway to hell.

It's sad to think where Green might have gone had he not fallen in to his nightmare of schizophrenia. (It's often the greatest artists, living on the edge of sanity, who stumble over it: Van Gogh; roky erickson; Syd Barrett). Greenie might have become a guitar superhero; a full-blown '70s rock star. He could have towered up there with Page, Clapton and Beck. But after a very bad LSD trip in Germany, PG became the quintessential "Acid Casualty."

Instead of being a Hall-of-Fame name in guitardom, Green's legacy is as a ghostly cult-figure whose music threw a long shadow over the guitar generations to follow. Where would Santana be without Peter Green? You hear Green's licks played note-for-note by a young Carlos. Or The Allmans? Billy Gibbons? Gary Moore? Like Gram Parsons and Alex Chilton, Green is regarded as one of the great influencers in rock.

If Clapton was The God of British guitar...

Perhaps Peter Green was The Devil.

From Wikipedia:

Green is praised for his "swinging shuffle grooves" and "soulful phrases," and favoured "the minor mode and its darker blues implications.

No discussion of The Green God would be complete without mentioning so-called "The Green Mod", where the neck-pickup on the Les Paul is flipped updide-down, causing a polarity reversal. It causes the guitar to have a unique and extra-feminine tone. Peter did this supposedly by accident. Here's a nice explaination of the mod: TechTips GREEN'S LP IS WIDELY CONSIDERED THE MOST VALUABLE LES PAUL IN THE WORLD...IN THE 1M$ RANGE. GARY MOORE OWNED IT AND NOW IT IS IS PRIVATE HANDS.

** Although this may read like an obit, Peter Green is alive and well today. He still plays really well. However, the 1967-1972 flame in his eyes and fire in his fingers reside in annals of rock histoy.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Alex Chilton: The Water We Drank.

Chilton: Pop Poet, 1950-2010

Coming up in music in the 80's as I did, it was impossible not to be influenced, even if only tangentially, by Alex Chilton. Bands like REM and the Replacements wore their love for Chilton on their sleeves, and demanded their fans notice. Like many at the time, I had the Big Star LPs in my collection. Those records blew me away on multiple levels: The songs, which are among the most perfect pop ever crafted; the guitar playing/tones which brought clean/chimey/bell-like to new (ultra compressed) heights; and the engineering/production by Jim Dickinson (one of my all-time studio heroes. See this blog for my post-mortem on Dickinson), which was WAY ahead of its time.

Now, sadly, Chilton has joined his old studio mentor behind that big microphone in the sky. He died yesterday at only 59. The news is hitting me much harder than I expected it to. His passing feels like what Obi Wan would call a disturbence in The Force. Like losing the man behind the curtain. Like the passing of The Patron. It's not like you thought about Alex Chilton every day, but if you're a modern rocker like me, his presence was felt on a cellular level. Chilton was in the water we drank.

In more recent years, I've grown a new appreciation for Chilton's blue-eyed soul days with The Box Tops. I engineered an R&B LP years ago by a Louisiana artist named Miki Honeycutt who used the Box Tops' "Soul Deep" as her title track.

I wasn't the Chilton desciple and evangelist that some of my friends were, but I certainly understood their reverence. Like Gram Parsons, Chilton was one of those very potent underground well-springs that fed the music we call "Alternative" and "Americana" today.

Here's a Chilton nice piece from Entertainment

It's All About The Tone, Baby!