I first played with Otis Spann in January of my senior year in High School. When he asked me to “join his band”, and I told him that I could be in Chicago in June because I’d promised my parents I would graduate from high school. He didn’t have a phone, he didn’t have a band, and he’d recently left Muddy Water’s band to strike out on his own.
I read the Village Voice every week, and when I saw that Otis was playing at The Cafe a Go Go during my spring break, I grabbed my guitar, hitchhiked to New York City and showed up at the ‘gig’.
Spann didn’t miss a beat, telling everyone in the room “See here’s my guitar player now.” There even was a band: SP Leary on drums, Johnny Young on mandolin, Lucille Spann on vocals, and occasionally Luther ‘Georgia Boy Snake’ Johnson also on guitar. There was no bass player. Then there was “The Queen” Victoria Spivey. For those movie buffs who remember Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, The Queen was the blues equivalent of Norma Desmond. She’d been a young blues singing star many decades past, and now lived in Brooklyn with her husband. They owned a small record label whose claim to fame was recording a very young Bob Dylan when he first hit the village. They also recorded the Chicago blues greats when they passed through New York.
The first set at the A Go Go was uneventful, until the curtain that separated the dark club from the entrance opened and in walked The Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, and Big Mama Thornton. It was amazing! Muddy Waters was in town, too. It seemed as if the entire Chicago Blues Royalty was in The West Village.
After the first night, The Queen (who spoke to everyone as her child) told me “Your father (her husband) and I were talking about you last night. We want you to record an album with Spann. We’re going to do it tomorrow.”
Nola Penthouse Studios was literally a penthouse space in Midtown Manhattan. It was large, with high ceilings. The control room featured a THREE track tape machine. The Queen couldn’t budget for the 3 track, and we recorded to mono – ONE track, recorded and mixed in real time! I’m sure there’s other pages about Nola out there, but here’s a link to some information about Nola Penthouse Studio. It had a fascinating history, and many iconic Candid Records jazz albums were recorded there in the ’50s and ’60s.
We set up. Spann on the grand piano, there was a mic for Johnny Young’s mandolin, and Luther Snake Johnson was there. Both Luther and my guitar amps were mic’d. S.P. Leary brought his kit which was also set up and mic’d.
The Queen paid us in advance for the session. We each got an envelope with $30 cash, and there was a fifth of whiskey to share.
The session began, and after we played 3 or 4 chicago blues standards, The Queen tripped over Luther’s guitar chord. The chord was cheap and snapped off right by the amplifier jack. Unbelievably, there was no other guitar chord in the studio, and consequently, Luther appears on only half of the album.
Spann passed away at the age of 40 just about a year after the recording session. The album didn’t come out for another year, and as you can see on the cover my name was almost spelled correctly. Honored to have been a part of it at the age of 17. Too cool.
And into the present…
I decided to write this post because that one track session at Nola Penthouse Studio is as much a part of me, as working on a 150 track session with programmed drums and Virtual Synths is today. I feel that my work is solidly rooted in the present, but also informed by the past, and I’m proud to have that foundation as the starting point in my work.
Volagio is a rock band from Mexico City. When I got off the plane and prepared for our recording session, I had only met the band via Skype. The demo tracks I heard were really good, but I had no idea what a great time I’d have at Honky Tonk Studios in Mexico, nor how amazingly the sessions would turn out.
Here’s the Souncloud link to “Hollywood”:
Enjoy! Volagio is about to embark on their first US tour, check their website, or Facebook for more details.
OK, West Coast friends, you might not know Antje. East Coast friends, you must know Antje.
One of my all time favorite co-writes was with Antje Duvekot, and the song is called Into The City. It appeared on the Chance and Circumstance album, and I am bummed to this day that it didn’t get more recognition.
But, Antje has just released a new album titled “New Siberia” and she revisited Into The City. It’s the #1 track on the new record!
I think it was about 2 years ago that Daphne Willis started visiting us here in L.A. to co-write with me. The bunch of songs we wrote ended up getting focused into a six song EP that we recorded at The Hobby Shop, and finished here in The Pie and Tart Shop.
Daphne was signed to Vanguard Records at the start of our project, and since has parted ways. As of today there’s no release date for the EP, and I’m hoping that the music doesn’t fall into that black hole of an incredible artist and her former label.
If I were to look back through my posts, there would likely be a promise to keep this site updated with my studio projects. I have failed!
This post is meant to be a sort of belated New Years resolution to keep my site current. My excuse for the long silence is not that there’s been only crickets hanging out in the studio. I’ve been too busy most of the time, and the rest of the time I’ve been being a dad, husband, new puppy person.
And so, I’ll start somewhere near the present and move backwards in time. As Uma, my two year old says, “Set, Go, Ready”.
I’m rounding the corner, and keeping the finish line in sight for Courtney Jones’ new release. It’s a project that I’m really excited about for a number of reasons.
Courtney and I wrote and recorded the entire project from scratch, and we did it right here at the Pie and Tart Shoppe. When we started out, Courtney brought a handful of great songs that she’d written. After we’d penned about two dozen new songs, we decided that our new work was what the album should contain. That was the beginning of Plan B.
After tracking the album, Courtney was out of action with vocal issues, & that was the beginning of Plan C.
Now, a year after we tracked the basics with the awesome Butch Norton, and Jon Ossman, the album is almost done. Whew.
Here’s an a capella preview, The Path. My amazing wife (and sometimes stealth co-producer), Landry, edited Courtney’s song to a movie trailer for The Hunger Games. Enjoy:
Last Summer I got a fairly random call from Mickey J Meyer. Mickey was traveling from South India to Los Angeles, and wondered if I could set up a session to record Bass and Drums for the soundtrack of Life Is Beautiful, a movie he was scoring.
I was able to put together the killer rhythm section: John Wicks of Fitz and The Tantrums on Drums, and producer/bass player Paul Bryan on Bass. We tracked at The Hobby Shop in Highland Park.
Mickey ended up sending me one of the songs from the movie to mix “It’s Your Love”, which was my first experience mixing a Bollywood style session.
Life Is Beautiful is in Tamil (language) and should be released later in 2012. Mickey Meyer is a super talented composer/songwriter/musician. I’m proud to have him as a friend.
In 1972 Italian Superstar, Adriano Celentano recorded a song that was meant to sound like Rap Music of the day. His interpretation of James Brown, I guess. He titled the song Prisencolinensiainciusol, which in any language means absolutely NOTHING!
The song was designed to sound as if it were in English, but in fact, the lyrics were total gibberish.
How do I know all this, you might ask? Well, about a year ago, violinist, singer, songwriter Sophie Serafino told me that she’d like to cover the song. Would I be interested in producing a version of Prisencolinensiainciusol? Of course I would.
Check out the chorus:
I yi smy sezlay
Any els so ko-ool peezo
In de col men say wan
Preez En Colin In Sin Ine Cue Zol
I mean, you can’t write this stuff. Right?
Seriously, I had a blast. We recorded Sophie’s violin and vocals via Skype connection. She was in Sydney, Australia. The venerable Simon Cohen engineered from his studio down under. I did the rest of the track in the box here. I kept the project in the box to match the flavor of the original.
You can find Sophie’s Prisencolinensiainciusol on Spotify, as well as all the usual spots.