In The Studio Recording Long Time Gone
One of the firs questions my co-producer, Roger Fife asked me when planning our studio session for Long Time Gone was, “Do you want the album to be organic?” Faced with this seemingly unorthodox phrasing, I was taken aback for a brief moment asking myself incredulously, “What in God’s name is an organic album?” Responding almost instinctively in the affirmative, I recovered quickly realizing that in Roger Fife and Sammy Merendino, I had found the perfect professionals to produce Long Time Gone… musicians who shared a vision for the music consistent with my own.
Being a product of the 1960’s, I often wondered how the music icons of that era… the Beatles, The Byrds, CS&N, The Stones, Clapton, etc… created such inspirational and classic music in the recording studio. How did these great musicians craft a song and subsequently lay it on to vinyl? Did they each write their parts independently of each other before getting together in the studio? Or did they come into the studio hoping to feed off of each other’s creative energy? And what was the role of the producer in all of this? Well, the simple answer is… I really don’t know… for every group in that era surely had their own personalized method of creating magic in the studio. But I do know this. I wanted Long Time Gone to be recorded “organically”, much like the studio sessions of the 60’s and 70’s. I wanted the final takes to be live with the band playing together and with any additional guitar tracks, vocals, etc. being layered on to the mix in real time, much like the sessions back then. And finally, I wanted the mix to be as “warm” as possible in order to mimic, as much as one can in this era of cold digital music… the sound and “feel” of vinyl. Fortunately for me, Roger, Sammy and the rest of the band shared this same vision as well.
In the days leading up to the recording sessions, I fully expected that Roger and Sammy would forward mp3’s of my demo songs to the band members so that they could write their individual instrument parts in advance thus saving us time (and money) in the studio. I was wrong. Roger and Sammy both wanted the musicians to come into the recording sessions cold and to feed off of each other’s creativity on the spot. It was a brilliant decision which subsequently opened up many creative options for us while crafting each song in the studio.
Instead of prepping the musicians in advance, Roger and Sammy’s focus upfront was exclusively on me and my vision for the music. We spent a lot of time listening to a myriad of songs I had written over the years… picking tunes which we all felt should be included on Long Time Gone and discussing the overall “sound” that I hoped to achieve with this album. Little did I know at the time, that it was this understanding of my overall sonic vision for Long Time Gone that allowed Roger and Sammy to pick just the right musicians for me and my music. Once again, an excellent decision by them.
On day-one of the studio sessions, Roger and Sammy briefed our guitarist, John Putnam, our keyboard player, Chris Palmaro and our fiddle player, David Mansfield on the general musical direction we were hoping to achieve for the album as a whole. Once everyone was on the same page artistically, we then began the long-anticipated process of recording the instrument tracks for each song. Surprisingly, this was a pretty straightforward process. We all would listen to my demo of the song in question. A brief group discussion followed during which anyone could ask a question, suggest a musical idea, etc. followed shortly thereafter by a series of live instrumental takes accompanied by my vocal “guide track” for that song. This continued until such time that a final take… one in which we were all happy… was achieved.
Throughout the recording sessions, my bandmates voiced considerable enthusiasm and appreciation about how much creative room and discretion they were being given in the studio. “Just like the old days” I heard them say. For the band it was a refreshing break from the more mundane recording sessions of today in which each musician is told precisely what to play and when to play it… then packs up his or her gear and goes home. In this regard, I was truly amazed at how much attention to detail John, Chris, David, Sammy and Roger all exhibited during our time together in the studio… always seeking my input to ensure that the tracks they were laying down were consistent with my overall vision for Long Time Gone. The end product is an album of which I am very proud. And for this, I will forever be most grateful to my bandmates and new-found friends.