session log: dakota jay at sound and vision, “love you no more” single

so, in the midst of doing all this work on the michael tearson album, andy asked me if i’d be willing to do some session work for him…

and, of course, i’m not about to turn andy down. you don’t turn andy down. 🙂

seriously, it was something that was right up my alley, and i knew it’d be a blast working with andy on something a little different. it was for a formerly local singer/songwriter named dakota jay – originally from the doylestown area but now making his home in nashville for most of his days. andy sent me an mp3 of the rough for the track that he’d gotten from jay…a song called love you no more. it was a clever song, with pretty straightforward chord changes…and dakota was clearly a pretty deft vocalist, and he put the song across sincerely.

so i collected all the stuff that i figured might come into play for the session and loaded it into the usual spot in the front room – pedal steel, mandolin, lap steel, baritone guitar, dobro…and i lifted andy’s nashville tele for the session, too (which showed up in the mix with some of my personal nicknames attached to the tracks…so instead of “ele gtr” or “tele gtr” or any number of the usual naming conventions, we had tracks named “tacocaster” and “dick swinging lead guitar” instead…)

before i’d gotten there, andy had enlisted fran smith, jr. from the hooters to pair up with him as part of the rhythm section, and they’d cut dakota’s acoustic guitar plus a scratch vocal, plus the bass and drums – so they were ripe for overdubs when i arrived. we started with the pedal steel, as that would probably take up the most space in the track, and we’d want that to be there while we continued to work so we could play around it. after that, i put down a mandolin track that essentially acted as a high-strung acoustic guitar, in that it mirrored the rhythm track for the most part, but it had a different “voice”, so it was a little more heavy on the emphasis than a normal high-strung guitar would have been. then i put in a couple of different passes of baritone guitar – one with a little more of the twang than the other, so they’d have options – and moved on to the electric guitar.

one pass of the tele was essentially power chords, and the other pass was incidental single-noteish, lead guitar-type stuff…and yeah, by now it was gettin’ a little thick on the tape, folks. but – i tried to keep everything within the spirit of the song, and keep it simple enough that andy would have choices when it came time to mix…and, i’m finding that this is generally what he seems to expect of me in the first place, so…it’s working.

dakota and his family were thrilled with the results – his mom and dad had been there from the beginning, and i’d have to imagine it was quite an experience for them to see how this sort of thing works…building a song from a germ of an idea and some basic chords into what we ultimately created for them. a good song stands on its own with a vocal and a supporting instrument, and this song certainly could have stood on its own in that regard, but they wanted something finished and radio-ready, and i’m pretty sure that when andy finishes the mix for this one, they’ll be pleased with the outcome.

as for me…i’ve gotta hire somebody to carry all this stuff for me. AND i’ve gotta figure out a way to talk andy out of that telecaster.

session log: michael tearson’s stuff that works, part one

so, ever since we’d done the initial robert hazard tribute at steel city ages ago, i’ve been telling michael tearson that he should do an album.

in michael’s words – “since i’m in my sixties and they’re not really making albums anymore, it’s about time i did one.”

we had toyed with the notion of doing it completely DIY – recording it on my laptop and keeping it relatively low key – but i knew i wouldn’t be happy with the results, and that he deserved better than what i’d have been able to do.

luckily, fate intervened and brought andy kravitz into the mix.

L to R: andy kravitz, michael tearson, and yours truly

andy literally doesn’t have any more wall space in his control room for gold or platinum records…his list of credits include joan osborne, james taylor, shawn colvin, taj mahal, david bromberg, and a ton of other acts that other folks might find more impressive than those…but those are my personal favorites. 🙂   andy’s home studio, just across the ben franklin bridge, is a home studio only in consideration of the technicality that andy actually lives there. it houses a neve console and outboard gear that any A-list room would be proud to own….separate control room and iso rooms (which, in english, would be the den, living room, dining room and kitchen), and some really solid microphones to boot.

so michael had decided on the final list of songs that he wanted to cover for this record….he’s not a songwriter, and he realizes that – and he also picked songs that would find service in his own interpretations.

so on the night that we went in for our first session, we sat down to hash out the general philosophy of what we were hoping to accomplish, and how we wanted to go about it. we divided the songs up into two categories – those that would be centered around the initial performance (which we’d do without a click track), and those that would need rhythm section accompaniment (which we’d do with the click track in my headphone mix, but not michaels’.)

for the first session, we decided to concentrate on the former – logically enough.

michael had made me a disc of songs that he’d chosen for the album, and had scrawled on the disk, “stuff that works”.

it was the name of a guy clark song, one of which he’d planned on recording for the album, and was included on the disc – “old friends”.

but, as time elapsed, “stuff that works” became a strong contender for the title of the album…and i think we knew going in that it’d probably end up sticking.

so – we singled out a few of the songs from the disk – “old friends”, “clumsy old world”, “grand hotel”, “buy for me the rain”…and “this beggars’ heart” – to be the victims of the first nights’ festivities.

based on the conversations we’d had leading up to this, i knew that “this beggars’ heart” was going to be a tough song for him to sing. not for any technical reasons concerning his vocal style or his physical ability to sing it, but because of the lyrical content and how it relates to michael’s life experiences.

…these eyes of mine, they take your picture
these eyes that see in two and four
i close my eyes and i still see you
and see myself no more…

…these words i sing – they ring familiar
these words i sing we’ve heard before
oh, fare thee well…my one and own true love
i’ll see you in my dreams once more

this song i sing – is finally over
you’re free to go about your way
so bang the drum and turn the house lights on
i’ve really nothing more to say…”

now, if you know michael, or anything about his personal life…you know why this song would be hard for him to get through….and if you don’t – well, it’s not my place to broadcast his story here. you’ll have to get that on your own.

andy set us up in the tracking room, facing one another…myself on the piano bench with the acoustic guitar and michael, standing, facing me from just a few feet away.

we started with “grand hotel” and “clumsy old world” – and did a couple takes of each, although we usually ended up keeping one of the first two passes of each of the songs we cut.

when “old friends” came up, we debated running through it before rolling, but i telegraphed in to Andy to just go ahead and roll it – let’s see what happens.

so – what you hear on the record is not only the first take, but it’s the first time we ever actually played the song together…ever.

so…it was time to do “beggar’s heart”….i had planned on doing this with just michaels’ vocal and weissenborn, and i’d set up one of my weissenborn replicas (one that i’d gotten from phil madiera, emmylou harris’ utility guy) with lighter strings and tuned it to a high-G tuning (the open E string relationship, up three half steps) for the recording. i played it through for michael so that he could hear what the instrument sounded like, and what the chord changes would sound like, presented on this instrument instead of a traditional guitar, and he loved it.

so we moved the mics for the weissenborn and ran one verse to get levels…and i knew we were gonna have to nail this one quickly.

what you hear on the record is michael’s second pass…removed enough from the first one that there’s an element of composure, but…well, not much of an element of composure. by the end of the second take, we were both in puddles on the floor of the studio, and i don’t think we could’ve possibly gotten a more perfect performance of the song. maybe a better technical rendering of it, but you can hear the ache in that pass.

so that’s the one we kept.

with scot sax and company at milkboy coffee in ardmore, PA

i would imagine that there’s a fine line between being proactive about ones’ career and being pushy.

i’m not really sure which side of that line i would end up on where this gig was concerned.

i saw a post on facebook that scot sax had put up about a show he was doing at milkboy where they were doing the entire neil young album, comes a time from start to finish…and i commented on his post and asked him (replete with a sarcasm-indicating smiley face) if they needed a pedal steel player.

well, he replied and said that they’d be happy to have me along if i wanted to do the show…oh, and he asked if i played fiddle too. no, sadly – maybe someday i’ve gotta take up that cause again.

i had played with scot once before, during his partnership with sharon little, at a haiti benefit that we did at sellersville, but didn’t really know him that well – which is a little odd, considering how long we’ve been knocking around.

during the one rehearsal we had for this show, as the layers peeled back, it turns out that scot and i have a lot of favorite music in common, we’re close to one another on the age ladder…i knew he was gonna be OK when i saw a vinyl copy of buckingham nicks leaning against the edge of his sofa when i arrived at his house for practice. that makes you automatically alright in my book.

the band included scot, myself, fred berman on drums, and a few special guests that rotated in and out as well as some of scot’s old foils from wanderlust…all great musicians.

in addition to the stuff from the comes a time album, we threw in a few kindred numbers from neil’s catalog, including heart of gold, old man, and we decided to do hey, hey, my, my… as the show stopper at the end of the night.

i took a stab at playing banjo and pedal steel quasi-simultaneously on old man, but – that’s still a tough switch for me on a small stage…plus, i was running everything through the same amp, so that compounded matters somewhat.

i played the mandola on goin’ back, pedal steel on already one and a bunch of other songs, lap steel on motorcycle mama, banjo on human highway…and i brought out my goldtop with the p-90’s and the bigsby tremolo for the finale, although i didn’t really lobby for a solo…the volume was creepin’ up by then, and i was playing through the gibson tweed amp…probably wasn’t in the cards for me, volume-wise.

the show was really well attended, and i feel like i have a new buddy in scot – talented dude, and a great hang.