“Stand by……….Rolling!” Pt 1

Happy May to all my fellow jammers,

As I have been writing about, since February I have been in a country rock band called The Turbo Feugos.  We’re based out of Livermore, California.  We’ve solidified our line up (although we’d like to add another guitar player).

The previous lineup of the band has 3 demo songs out there, which are pretty good.  We decided we needed 3 more to make a complete marketing package of the band.  We picked the songs, much like the previous 3 – one ballad, one country, one country rock classic.

Those previous songs, like the last demo I did with my last band, we all recorded separately on computer, each instrument being added individually.  There are pros and cons with this method.

The first and obvious advantage is money, provided you have decent software and a high performing computer already.  The second pro is you can take your time.  Don’t like that take?  Back it up and do it again until you’re happy.

The first con with this approach is the sound quality.  You’re just not going to make a hit record with your Dell laptop.  The second is unless you have a lot of computer power and a lot of inputs, you’re stuck recording instruments one at a time.  What that does is it tends to remove the live feel and excitement of the band.

In “My Life” by Keith Richards, he was adamant about capturing that excitement, saying “You don’t need 16 mics on the drums, you need to mic the room!”

It’s something that I agree with.  One of our bassists that was with us briefly recommended a recording studio out in Emeryville – about 40 minutes from Livermore.  The two sound engineers actually came by our practice and introduced themselves, and told us what we could expect.

Their number 1 point was “Be prepared”.

Whenever the tape is rolling or the hard drive spinning or the recording gear is on, you get the jitters.  We all tense up.  Can you walk across a 4″ beam that’s on the floor?  Probably.  How about 20 feet up?  It’s the same width but suddenly you’re scared you’re going to fall.  In recording you’re scared you’re going to mess up.

So our three tunes were “A Woman Like You” by Lee Brice, “Fake ID” by Big & Rich that’s on the Footloose remake album, and “They Call Me The Breeze” by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Of all three songs, I feared “A Woman Like You” most.  It’s a ballad and you can’t hide mistakes easily, plus the fact that there is an intro solo guitar part and a solo middle section and a solo outro.  The pressure is on!

The guitar work is done on an acoustic.  I don’t own a decent acoustic.  Plus, as I figured out the parts, one eluded me until I figured out it was played on the 12, 13, and 14th frets – which are very high for acoustic.

I decided to go with my warmest and thickest sounding guitar – My 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom.  That guitar has been through the trenches with me, played with many bands on many stages and weddings.  I pulled it out and in practice when I started the solo intro, our lead singer immediately remarked “I like that!”.

Now the Les Paul isn’t that easy to play high on either compared to my Ibanez but it’s a lot easier than acoustic.  I made up my mind I was going to sit to play it, using my foot rest for my left foot to get a better angle on the high end of the neck.  The song came together well that way.

Fake ID was more of a challenge on a band level.  There are 5 breaks in that song: one after each of the first two choruses, one after the 8 bar guitar solo, one after the next chorus, and then the ending chorus.  The ending chorus has a slightly extended verse so it doesn’t go like all the others.

As we ran through this, our drummer and bassist were running through the breaks, and even I wasn’t sure where they all were.  Our singer probably knew them best because he had to key off them.  Singers oftentimes know the form of a song better than most of the band when first working on a song.

I took my iPad and plugged it into my PA and said “Everybody stop playing – listen”.  We listened to it from beginning to end and noted where the breaks were.  One by one we smoothed them out.

“Breeze” is a classic and I love Lynyrd Skynyrd but they have three guitar players in that band.  Even though I know the opening lead, I can’t play it with the band live now because I have no rhythm behind me.  So I couldn’t practice the lead with the band – I had to do that on my own.  I’d been working on the lead with one of my students so I was aware of a lot of it.

This is where my philosophy of copying leads comes in.  Some leads I have to have down note for note, like “Peaceful Easy Feeling” by the Eagels or if we do “Hotel Calfornia” – could you imagine someone playing that song and NOT doing those leads?

On the other hand, when we do “Jonny B Goode”, I do what I want.  I’m not interested in doing that original solo.

Then there are times when I want to get the essence of the solo without killing myself to do the thing note for note.  Fake ID has an OK solo on it, it’s 8 bars. I copy some of it but really, as long as I get the essence of it and hit the breaks right coming out of it, I’m good with that.

Breeze is kind of in between those two examples.  It has signature “parts” to it which I wanted to capture, but beyond that, I wanted it to be me.  That is probably my ego talking but I take pride in my solo work and I think I do a good job (on most days).  So I got the parts down that I thought were needed and filled in the rest with my own ideas.

Our recording day was Sunday, May 12, so we practiced Friday, May 10 focusing on those three songs only.  And played them. And played them.  Fixed some things and played them again.

When we broke for the night, we felt we were reasonably prepared for our session.

I made a list of the things I wanted to have.  I’d never been to this studio, so I didn’t know what to expect.

I brought:

My amp and effects

My Les Paul and my Ibanez Prestige, both restrung on the Saturday before.

At least 2 sets of extra strings for both guitars..  Once I put on new strings and one string broke right away.  Take 2 extra.

Extra picks. You know how those fall, and take odd bounces and end up blending in with the carpet or under a couch.  I think guitar players spend 9% of their lives looking for their picks.

Extra guitar cords.  My crate contains nearly every redundant thing I can think of.  (Actually, in writing this, I only have one speaker cord for the connection between my amp head and amp cabinet.  I will fix that!).  I even now have 2 digital mic cables that connect my Pod HD to my Amp. (I don’t sky dive, but if I did, I’d probably want 3 chutes if they would let me.)

Footrest as mentioned above.

Folding Chair.  I thought they should have some but just in case…..

Food!  I reminded everybody that we have 8 hours to do 3 songs.  We don’t want to be boppin’ off to In n’ Out burger in the middle of it when we’re paying for studio time and I don’t want to be in the middle of a guitar solo thinking about how hungry or thirsty I am.

My list done, the stuff purchased, the guitars restrung, I was up Saturday night until 12 midnight trying to get tired.  I had to be up at 6:00am as the recording session started at 8:00am.  Yes, AM.  We got a crappy time because we weren’t able to coordinate with some band members (and some now ex-band members) on the time.  But, like anything, there was a good side to it and that was going to be light traffic getting into a bustling little town like Emeryville.

On the negative side, if I needed strings or a pick or a cable, who’s open on Sundays?  Another good reason to take a fail safe approach and have 2-3 of everything.

Next post – The Recording Session.

Happy Shredding!

Spencer