session log: ray naylor at radioactive

i’ve known about daoud shaw for some time – about his studio, radioactive productions, about his stint with van morrison and jerry garcia and the SNL band – but circumstances had never really thrown us together in a professional capacity until this session. my longtime friend, ray naylor, asked me to come in and play pedal steel on two songs from his next album, and he’s been a longtime client of daoud’s, so fate finally threw us together.

the studio itself is uncharacteristically comfortable – it’s not huge or sprawling, it’s got plenty of room for its purpose, and daoud has great gear – the right pieces in the right amount, which is a rare balance. his bedside manner is impeccable, and he faces challenges without any perceptible pressure…and of course, there had to be at least one issue before we got started. 🙂

i have a new pedal steel built by chet wilcox, and (obviously) it was my instrument of choice for this particular session. yet when i unpacked it and set it up, there was a faint buzz that we just couldn’t isolate. of course, we initially thought it might be a cable, then the polarity on the amp…but we eliminated every single device in the signal chain, and even tried going direct, and the buzz prevailed. thinking it might be the instrument, i went out to the car and grabbed my lap steel and brought it in to test…and the buzz was there for the lap steel as well.

so how do you eliminate a hum that’s there, no matter what’s in the signal chain?

ray naylor session at radioactive
using an alligator clip to try and eliminate a ground hum...
we tried everything from alligator clips going directly to ground from the instrument as well as the amp to replacing…well, everything. finally, we found the proper combination of instrument, cables, volume pedal and amplifier that offered the absolute least amount of hum and we started work on the two songs ray had initially asked me to play on – an original song called “if i didn’t know lonely”, and a phil ochs song called “gas station women”. (of the two, i’d have to say that i like ray’s song better…nothing personal, phil.)

as is typically the case in sessions where i’m adding to a completed rhythm section, the parts these songs were calling for were pretty obvious – there were other instruments already recorded that were busy enough to cover the fills, so i essentially concentrated on pads and chordal beds underneath the vocal that filled out the arrangement somewhat, and threw in one or two runs that might perhaps tind their way into the spots between the lines of the verses if they chose to use them. most of the time, i don’t like to go overboard with fills unless there’s nothing else on the song…and then, it’s even more important to keep a lid on how kinetic your playing becomes – lest you draw too much attention away from what should be the focus of the song…the words and the melody.

pedal steel
set up to work in daoud shaws' live room

it needs to be mentioned what a great hang daoud is – because they’re becoming an endangered species. intelligent, great stories, casual and engaging manner…he’s one of those guys that you almost instantly take a liking to. and i’m going to share something with you that he mentioned during our post-session conversation that will probably never leave my brain. i’m paraphrasing, but –

if you take away the sixties and seventies, if you take away the whole arena-rock era and pretend that it never happened, then nothing has really changed since the forties and fifties. as a musician in that day and age, what were your goals, your hopes and dreams? you started out playing because you loved music, and your thought process would be that if you got really good at what you did, you’d get a gig that paid well enough to allow you to play professionally – whether it was cover songs in a nightclub, or something along those lines…or maybe in an orchestra, or in some public performance setting that put money in your pocket, and maybe you’d do sessions here and there for extra cash.

if you take away everything that happened in rock and roll since 1967, we’re really kinda right back where that demeanor left off. when the business exploded, we made so much money and got so much attention that it became something that we felt we were ENTITLED to, and a lot of people wanted to be part of this because of the trappings, and not because of the music. but now that the trappings are falling away, you’re finding more and more that the people who are doing this are doing it because of the music and not the paycheck.

wise words from a wise man.

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