The “Pepsi Pours it On” ‘60s campaign – Hats off to “Queen” Anne Phillips – Another overdub nut like me

Yeah, I guess that’s where I really learned it. Anne owned Stea-Phillips Studio in the old hotel next to Columbia Records at 799 Seventh Avenue. The Victoria. And she had a studio in her home in Jersey. She could overdub anything, anytime she felt like it, in her own places or her favorite others, like Bell Sound with Eddie Smith, Mira Sound with Brooks Arthur, and I guess I could name six or eight others. Anne was also the main singers contractor for groups for everyone, practically, who recorded. She also did one hell of a job composing, arranging and conducting, and was and is a great jazz singer.

There must have been at least a dozen or more singers working with Anne of which I was one. And there must have been all twelve or more of us called in on about the hottest July days of year in 1966 to back up Kate Smith on her Christmas Album It was hotter than hell when they had to turn the AC off when we recorded.

Our main group of four consisted of Anne, Jerry Keller, Trade Martin and me. We could sing anything written at sight. Her Queen Anne’s Lace Album” at HERE is available at CD Baby. We were joined on the album by two additional singers, Jerry Duane and Gene Steck. Several of Anne’s solo albums include the classic Born To Be Blue, and her most recent release, Ballet Time .

Anne had put me through a wringer, having to learn to sight sing anything written on a music sheet in any key. We were just like any good musician with an instrument. And then, with some additional coaching by Anne, I became one of the four of her main group. When she had more than one date booked, she would usually call on me to go and act as the leader according to AFTRA and SAG  rules. Anne was blessed, or rather cursed with perfect, or what is called absolute pitch. This meant that if a part was written in C, and the singer wanted to sing it down a half a step, the band would have to transpose it to the key of B with five sharps. And so would Anne. On the other hand, if they wanted it up a half step it would be in Db with five flats. The rest of us would just blissfully sight read, without a problem as if we were still in the key of C. But not Anne. She had to transpose.

Well, I get this call sometime in 1965 in the evening at the Columbia Studio, from Anne asking, “Can you do an imitation of Del Shannon?” “Sure, what’s up?” I said. During those times I had learned that you never turn down anything when it comes to a singing job. She explained that she was writing an arrangement for the Pepsi Cola “Come Alive“ campaign to sound like Del Shannon’s big hit, Handy Man in ’64. Frankly, I could imitate and sing like most anyone at that time, and I told her that I could do it. So I ran right out and bought the record and spent the rest of the night listening and copying his sound on his words, “I fix broken hearts, I know that I truly can Come-a, come-a , come-a Yeah, yeah, yeah Come-a, come-a, come-a”

So, we go into the studio the next day and Anne had assembled the best players and written a great rock arrangement that would sound identical to Del’s Handy Man. And there I was singing, “Come alive, Come-a come-a alive (from a high A and Bb twice), You’re in the Pepsi generation.” I thought it was for radio but learned later it was only a demo at AFTRA rates, and no radio play. But guess who did the TV commercial. You guessed it. Del Shannon, imitated me imitating him. I believe they may have just used the same music track and had him and the Royaltones overdub it. So he got the big bucks on that one. See it HERE.

Anne was arranger-conductor on some more for Pepsi, including the “Turtles” whom we also imitated, and then, they imitated us imitating them. Hear them HERE. She also did the “Four Tops.”

But the real big one came along later when I got a call from Anne to be at A&R studio the next morning for our own Pepsi commercial. Phil Ramone would be engineering, and a young(er) Jerry Bruckheimer at BBDO Adv. Agency producing. I was working days at Columbia at that time, and would have to call in with a sick day. The fact was that I had already called in because I had a bad case of laryngitis. So it wouldn’t be a lie. How in the hell am I going to do this? I thought. I could barely talk, much less sing, but here was one of my biggest breaks ever in show business. Since I had run out, I’d have to hurry to get some Megazones in the morning and eat them like candy to clear my throat.

My daily routine going to work at Columbia was to park my car in Long Island City and take the subway E train into Manhattan two stops to Fifth Avenue. On that day, even though my throat was a lot better, I would head on over to a certain drugstore on Broadway and buy up a load of “Megazones.” We singers would usually have some of these handy in case of throat problems. I didn’t. So, as the train approached the station, who did I see in the back of the last car but my studio boss? That’s right. We rode the same E Train those two stops every morning. There was no time to wait for another train so I hightailed it to the front end of the car, hoping he didn’t see me on the crowded standing only car. If I hadn’t gotten on and just stood there on the platform, he would have certainly seen me standing there, deepening the puzzle. Since he would usually get on the E train at the stop before mine, I would run into him often and we’d get off the train and walk a block to work together. If he had seen me and confronted me later, my excuse would have been that I was seeing a doctor in Manhattan. However, since we had to dress hip and young and Beatles like on most all of our dates, I don’t know how I would have explained my Beatle boots and my rock and roll outfit, if he had seen me and confronted me later. He didn’t. And I never really knew if he saw me or not.

So I got the Megazones and hurried to the A & R studio where about twenty or twenty-five musicians were setting up. A huge event. I was popping the powerful little lozenges one after another like candy, sucking away, trying to relax and numb my throat as much as possible. I almost fell over when I saw the parts. It was a first. We were to overdub three or four times, “Taste that beats the others cold, Pepsi pours it on…” Throat felt a lot better and I did it. I don’t know how but I did it, thanks to the Megazones. It was flying colors and I sang my ass off with all the others.  You can see and hear it HERE.   Another HERE. And just us and an MP3 HERE.   We did some more with different arrangements and keys later. We weren’t on camera, but we overdubbed and got paid double scale and double residuals with every play, and  residuals poured in for awhile.

And yes, it was played on the Super Bowl, a whole minute. Most unbelievable was hearing the cost of a one minute spot on the Super Bowl show was that year. When our Pepsi Pours It On one minute commercial  aired in 1967, it would have cost them $40,000 twice or $80,000.  See the yearly Super Bowl prices through the years at HERE.  This year, in 2013,  it would have cost them $8 million to run it, twice the $4 million for thirty seconds, almost two hundred times more than ’67 for the one minute.

Soon after that, one day while jaywalking across West 48th Street in New York heading for Manny’s Music Store to buy some strings, I was surprised by the loud honking of a horn coming at me, a big Rolls Royce. It was none other than Anne Phillips enjoying some of her newly earned singing wealth, also heading for Mannys. She deserved it, dammit, as one of the most talented people on the planet.

Well, speaking of Super Bowl  commercials, my son, Don Meehan Jr, a working actor moving ahead in New York, starred in a very funny one about the “Perfect” N.E. Patriots in 2008 with his comedic talents, when the price then was upwards of $5,400,000 for a one minute commercial. See it HERE. He did the Off Broadway show Play Dead  recently with Teller of Penn and, and is opening in another one on July 9, World Premiere of SASQUATCHED! THE MUSICAL Set for NYMF, 7/9 through 14. Yeah, just a block off the old chip. That’s my boy.

 

Overdubbing with RoughmixDon Meehan

How did I start the voice overdubbing process?

Gotta tell you the story of how I continued to overdub my voice in the ‘60s. That is if you’d like to hear it, or see it. It’s a little bit technical, but may be of interest to some. I started out with the one 8 track machine, because that’s all we had at Columbia at the time. It was the machine they built that the pop and classical non-rock ‘n rollers didn’t know how to use, apparently. I had discovered it gathering dust in the back hallway and decided to put it to use. Note in the illustration here at top left showing track (Tr) one  through eight.

OVERDUB CHART

Don Meehan’s overdub explanation of 8 track and 16 track in the ’60s

Track 8 had the click track. For those not familiar with the term, it was the beat per second perfectly timed for the desired tempo of the song, lasting for as long as desired to the end of the song. Starting on track 2, a tuning fork sounded to establish an “A” 440 pitch, which was the third in the key of F, and a count off just before the beginning of the song. That “A” and count-off  could then be heard each and every time a voice was added, but the click would not be heard in any of the vocal tracks. And so, the first voice was recorded on track 2. While listening to the first voice and the click track, the second voice was recorded on track 3, the third voice on track 4 and so on until the 6 voices were recorded. Oh, by the way, did I tell you about the dial tone on a phone gives you a pure F chord?

Those 6 voices were then mixed to track 1 and track 2 was erased. Voice 7 was then recorded to track 3, voice 8 recorded to track 4, and so on to voice 11 on track 7. Tracks 3 through 7 gave us 5 voices which were mixed to track 2, for a total now of 11 voices. Voices 12 through 15 were recorded on tracks 4 through 7, and those 4 voices were mixed to track 3 for a total of 15 voices. Those 18 voices were now mixed stereo to tracks 5 and 6. At this point a band could be added to the remaining tracks 1,2,3,4, and 7. I did a couple releases on Columbia in this manner, backwards you might say, with the band added last, as you will see below.

I used various setups later, including syncing two 8 track machines together. Along about that time Columbia research and development (R&D) built a one inch 16 track, and I was lucky to be the first one to use it as shown here. Clive signed me as an artist and Jimmy (the WIZ) Wisner produced several sides with me multi-tracking voices.

RoughmixdDon overdubbing a world record

Me, with my trusty little Lafayette speaker overdubbing on the 16 track

So, getting back to my one inch machine, with some tracks (18 voices) I had already started on the 8 track machine, I mixed those to tracks 14 and 15 of the 16 track, and the original tempo click to track 16 as seen in the illustration. I then recorded voices 19 to 29 on tracks 3 through 13 and mixed those 11 voices onto tracks 1 and 2. We now had a total of 18 plus 11 = 29 voices. Now, recording on 5 to 13 gave us 9 more voices totaling 38. Recording 7 through 13 gave us a total of 45 a cappella. And if we wanted a band at this point, we mixed those 7 to tracks 5 and 6, with 7 tracks then available for a band. And, yeah, we did the band, and House In The Country went out there and is still out there. Click HERE to hear it. It has about 29 or 30  overdubbed voices if my memory serves me right, since we had 9 tracks to record the band. Give a listen. No I didn’t do the dogs and the crickets. But it was the first recording ever released having been recorded on that machine. And then everyone wanted to use it. I have a story to tell later of about how I got into a struggle with some certain stars who wanted to use the machine. I had to stop my sessions since they came first. So, I had created a monster, I guess. Soon after that, 2 inch 16 track machines came along, and then 24 track. And Columbia Studios became the busiest studio in town.

DON CASHBOX AD - Copy

Note that I also have the little speaker here on my left listening to a take

 

The console you see in the photo and the ad was built for three and four track mixing only, and it was a real pain to have to bring in every piece of loose gear, equalizers and limiters, and another portable mixer to get all the tracks mixed. I continued with my “Don Meehan Project” and kept on recording back and forth and later on, wound up with 101 voices on the song Mons Meg, and then wiped enough tracks to record the band, and that’s how it was released. And here I am today, still overdubbing with my same old 50 year old Lafayette speaker in my ear.

Fib Lafayette speaker # 99-4551 - Copy

 My trusty little 50 year old Lafayette speaker

People ask me why the little speaker as opposed to using headphones. Also at that time, I was moonlighting with the Anne Phillips singers, backing up every unknown and known star around, in all the New York studios including Columbia. I discovered when I was group singing with the other singers, that when I heard myself in the phones I tended to hear and sing flat. You’ll see photos of people holding one earphone to their ear, and that is mostly the reason they do it; to hear themselves and also to blend with others. Also, when you have a set of headphones on, you don’t hear your natural self, such as what you hear when are just singing with nothing on your ears. However, not enough sound level can be delivered to an earphone like you can with a speaker, and when in a group, you need to hear the group as well as your own voice and blend yours with the others. And so, I discovered that the little speaker can deliver more power and a higher level, so as to hear a blend with the recorded voices. Also, the important factor is that you can hold it a certain way as to keep it from feeding back into the microphone.

As engineers and singers, I guess we all have tried different ways to overdub and hear the music tracks in the best possible way, and to deliver a great performance. I guess I’ll stay with my trusty little speaker. To date I have used it on 126 voices on the Hallelujah Chorus, with no leakage whatsoever of the click track. Guess I’m doing something right. Still no word from Guinness for the 200 voices.

Waiting for the mail that never comes – Talk about anxiety!

Imagine how you might feel if you were anxiously waiting for some good news from The U.S. Patent Office as well as Guinness World Records on some important projects you are working on. Yeah, that’s where I’m at right now. Every morning, after four months, I’m checking my email for whether Guinness is going to go for my world record of the most overdubbed voices on a sound recording. Also, every day I’m checking the U.S. mail after over three years of waiting to hear about our Patent Application for our Miniaturized Surround Sound Loudspeaker Placement Platform. The full Application with drawings is here. My wife, Fran and I came up with this one. And she is also busy as all hell with her great work on her items for pets, such as collars, leashes, bow ties and you name it on her website, PamperYourPet Boutique. As you can see, there’s never a dull moment at our house.

The  Miniaturized Surround Sound Loudspeaker Placement Platform is all about listening to 5.1 sound inches away from the speakers instead of feet. I spent months writing it myself in legal fashion and doing about thirty drawings, since Patent attorneys charge thousands. I’m trying to make a plan that will include both of these projects and have written and tossed at least a dozen attempts to write a decent plan for some crowd funding on Indiegogo. I reckon that if Guinness doesn’t come through, I’ll just complete the recording without them. I’m up to 126 voices to date doing the Hallelujah Chorus, soprano, alto, tenor and bass, to wind up with a country rock feel.

It would be nice to have their name on it. To my knowledge, no one has ever overdubbed as many voices as I have on a recording. So, since I know it has never been done, I have a shot with some good publicity, I guess. But if they fall through, I’ll just do it without them. Their last demand was that if they took it on, I would need to sell 10,000 records. I answered with this:

“With all due respect of your professionalism, there is no record company in the world who would guarantee any sales, and no way 10,000 sales of a recording… Also, it’s unique quality of mixing classical with Nashville country style band backing, may not appeal to anyone… Secondly, it makes sense to me that laboring and/or singing and recording 11 hours (4 minutes x 175 voices = 700 ÷60 = 11 hours) of my voices should at least be offered to the public to buy, rather than to have it sit on the shelf just to say ‘I did it.’ Most people will say, ‘so what?’ And so will I. Therefore, it makes sense to offer it for sale on my label and then attempt to get major label interest.”

So, am I off the wall or what? Actually, they upped the number requirement from 175 to 200 voices, which I said ok, no problem. What’s another 100 minutes of singing for a world record?

This is reminiscent of negotiating with used car salesmen, real estate agents, department store appliance salesmen, and strange as it may seem, this is starting to look like a negotiation game here with Guinness. It appears that they may be just looking for money.

They say on their website that it will take four to six weeks to give an answer. In my case now, since my application on Feb. 11. 2013, it is going into the fifth month. They say, “At Guinness World Records, we take great care to evaluate every claim we receive. Before we accept or reject a new record proposal, we always carry out claim-specific research, which may require the expertise of external consultants. As a consequence, a Standard Application requires four to six weeks to be reviewed…If you Fast Track the initial application or upgrade your standard claim, the cost of the service is £450 / $700 + 20% VAT (if applicable). Please note that payment for the Fast Track services guarantees that your record application is given priority treatment to be researched and processed.”

Therefore, if I had given them $700 plus 20% VAT on Feb. 11, I would have had an answer in three days on about Feb. 14. Also, for quite a few more hundred dollars and travel and hotel expenses I can have one of their judges at our event to speed things up more and also have an immediate answer.

Do I really need this aggravation? How about I just do it, and tell the world, “Hey, I just did another world record of overdubbing my voice 200 times on a recording. Here is the proof.” Proving is not that difficult, since my voice will be just about the same on every track. And I can show a track for every voice. Tell me what you think about this. I’d love to hear some of your comments.

As far as the Patent Application is concerned, usually no company will be interested in taking on abn invention unless a Patent has been issued, and you are up against thousands of others out there trying to sell a Patent. And according to statistics, it’s just like songs. There are thousands of songwriters and not a lot of them get out there. Believe me, writing a Patent Application is like writing a thesis, and writing the claims is almost impossible So, I guess I’ll have to just wait it out on both accounts to form a plan for Indiegogo. Oh, well, maybe tomorrow. Sounds like another song.

How to filter out the sound of the Goodyear Blimp engines

I watched some of the U.S. Open last week. It happened only about ten miles from where we live, here in Northeast Philly. But, watching on TV was a lot easier than trekking over there and walking miles in the rain. I was drawn to it by the sound of the Goodyear blimp, which would fly over us on the way to cover the event from above. It made me wonder how many Goodyear blimps there are, since they seem to be everywhere you go.

We live close to the Northeast Philly airport, and in fact, are at the very end of the longest runway. It’s not so bothersome, inasmuch as the sounds of three or four jets a day taking off and flying over only lasts a few seconds. But when the blimp slowly flew over every morning last week heading to the Merion Golf Course in Ardmore, PA, the constant sound of the engines drew my interest to make me run outside to get a closer look at this beautiful machine flying over me. Also my curiosity took me to Google to find out that there are three in the U.S., which fly over sporting events like Merion.

As a musician, the sound, or the pitch of the engines resonated and lasted in my ears and made me wonder what hertz, or frequency, I was hearing. So, I found the pitch by comparing it with playing a note on my guitar but I soon forgot what it was. By the way, the telephone dial tone, when you pick it up to dial, gives you a pure “F” chord, with the notes F, A and C. So if you have good relative pitch, you can tune your instrument this way.

It wasn’t too much later, when I tuned in to the tournament on TV, that I heard the same sound of the blimp’s engines over the announcers’ voices, constantly, throughout the reporting. It was a pain and a bore that their microphones were picking up the apparently un-muffler-ed sound of the blimp’s engines, throughout the day. And then, later I would hear the blimp returning to the airport.

It dawned on me later that if I were the audio engineer on the job, I would insert what is known as a “dip” filter into the circuit. It is a gizmo that finds the annoying hertz, or frequency, and enables you to dip the program only at that frequency, and filter out most of the noise.

The moral here is that the next time you are watching an event on TV where the blimp is hovering over and you hear the constant annoying sound, call the station and tell them how to fix it. By the same token, if you are an audio engineer at one of these events, and you are tired of the job and want to piss your boss off, and maybe want to collect unemployment, throw in the filter. When you find that frequency of the blimp’s engines, instead of dipping it, boost it to where that is almost all you hear, and guaranteed, you’ll be able to collect your unemployment in a New York minute, a Texas second or an Indiana instant.

So, on Monday, June 17, the day after Merion, I awoke early to hear at least 15 or 20 private jets take off and fly over me, the most ever, and I assumed that it was, indeed, all the billion or millionaire players heading home or wherever. It left me dreaming and thinking how great it would be to just get in your own plane and be wherever you want to be in no time. Well, I can dream can’t I? Sounds like a song. By the way, I wrote a new one over the weekend. Can’t wait to record it. No, the blimp sounds won’t work on it. Guess I’ll go over to the Boulevard (Roosevelt Speedway- It’s three blocks away) and record some 2 and 4 wheeler speedsters sounds for the demo. The Boulevard’s almost like Indy. They all do 60 and more and race to the next light only to sit there and wait for the green light, then speed on to the next light. Anybody know how to filter out those nuts?

Whats to blog about?

Well, everyone around me told me I should do a blog. “On what?” I kept saying. And then, I thought about it. Maybe I could say a few things about some of my life and times in the music and recording businesses that somebody may be interested in. Maybe not. Perhaps a few words here and there about where I may have been could even be helpful to somebody. Maybe! Or, maybe a little history of some things I’ve been through in my career. I’ve been to forty-two states and lived and worked in eleven. But many will say, “So what?” And rightly so. But maybe the person who has never left Podunk might be interested in what I might have to say. Maybe not. Later on I’ll be telling about how I could have been Elvis, and another story about turning down a career with the Four Freshmen.

But there is one observation I want to make from the start, and that is about reading what others have written or said in posts or blogs or even news articles. Frankly, practically anything we read nowadays stirs up feelings inside provoking thoughts on defending, attacking, siding etc., and our wanting to vent some of our own feelings about what was said. One might feel jealousy, resentment, self-righteousness, superiority, or a self proclaimed Ph D’s entitlement to know it all about everything. And what do we do next? We want to tell the bastard off. We look for any negative we can find and press on it. We quickly write a comment of what’s on our mind: right, wrong, good, bad or indifferent. Why? I guess because it makes us feel better in some way or proud. “I told that SOB off.” or “You’re such a loser.” or “You don’t know what the hell you’re taking about.” etc., etc., etc. So, where are the credentials to form these opinions? There aren’t any.

This is also reminiscent of some of us who, when watching television with others, have a negative comment about a character, a scene, a product, a band, a host, etc.

But really, right or wrong, who cares? We are all entitled to think what we want, dammit! And what I am getting to is this: Whatever I write, I know there will be those whose prime desire will be to start up with me, and say some strange and hurtful things in a possible attempt to upstage, be better and even attempt to prove me wrong and be better. In essence, one has to be the expert. “I know more than you do.” So, all I can say is this: If that somehow makes you better than thou, then go for it.

So, I guess I will say whatever I think I might need to say for whatever reason. If you get bored, which I am sure some will be, then change the channel. Granted, I don’t know it all, but just a little that maybe you never heard about and might want to hear more about some of my times in the music and recording business, and a little history.

So, no matter how you feel about what I might write, I invite you to comment, and no matter what you might write, I will truly appreciate your thoughts positive or negative, no matter what. So, stay tuned.

My first splice wasn’t on tape

Well, I guess everyone can assume by now that RoughmixDon is an overdub freak, in addition to being an actual music and recording freak. In another post I mentioned about 227 voices on America The Beautiful, and that was in 2003.

Adding a voice a year now puts me up to 237 voices in 2013. I was hoping for doing it by July 4. But it’s not going to happen..

My very first interest in recording occurred back in grade school. I don’t remember too much about the times, but I was singing when I was seven and they told me I could sing 50 songs at that time. My sister played the piano and we had a weekly program on AM station KRIC in Beaumont, Texas. My greatest fascination, I recall, was to watch them make recordings in the back room. Then one day, the engineer dropped one and it shattered. They were glass discs coated with something black that spun around while being cut with a needle. Not too many years later I was still singing and learned the guitar and was in a country band that played on the same station. There they were, recording on the same machine, I guess, but on aluminum with the black stuff. Acetate, I guess.

Sometime in high school, before tape was introduced, our director obtained a wire recorder, where a long piece of steel wire ran through a machine, like a tape recorder and recorded magnetically. It wasn’t great fidelity as we know it today, but what a thrill it was to sit and watch this little thin piece of wire play back our choir. That is, until one day after recording a wonderful choral performance of the Hallelujah Chorus, the wire broke. What to do? On top of getting tangled in a big mess on the reel no one knew what to do with fixing it so I got out the book and studied it.

Webster-Chicago_wire_recorder

A wire recorder from the late ’40s

First of all, unlike tape recorders, the jackasses who made these things provided no take-up reel, so you had to rewind the whole long wire onto the fixed reel before you could even use the machine again on something else. There was a roll of tangled wire on each little reel. The instructions for a break were to tie the ends  together. I was assigned the task. Just how much sound would we lose? With the wire running at 24 inches per second, we’d need at least 2 inches for a good square knot, and then trim the ends. Maybe I can do it with 1 inch, I thought. So, they got me a pair of tweezers and that was my very first edit. It wasn’t so bad. So, we lost about a 15th of a second, heard a little bump as it went through and I was the hero.

I was a soloist in the choir and also sang tenor. I completely memorized the tenor part to the Hallelujah Chorus, and through the years I would sing it at times. I’ll be telling of how I recorded myself doing all the voices as a chorus of one. The interest in recording stayed with me for a long time, especially, since I was a singer-songwriter and played bass and guitar, and couldn’t afford to pay studio rates to record my demos. So while I was studying radio and television at RCA Institutes in New York City in the middle ’50s, I decided that audio and recording was my thing.

With the advent of four track (quarter track) on a quarter inch tape machine, (two tracks one way and two the other way by flipping the tape) I decided to reinvent the system for myself. I had a two track machine so I bought some of those quarter track heads and mounted a record head to record two track normally, and mounted a playback head next to it to record the other two tracks. I jury-rigged it so I could record on all four tracks one at a time in one direction. As if that wasn’t enough, I had to buy another machine so I could mix the 4 tracks. Long story short, I could record three tracks of instruments and my voice and mix that to the other machine. I would then take the tape over to Charlie Brave’s Allegro Studio on Broadway and have him cut an acetate. That’s what your ten inch 78 was called, which was an aluminum coated with acetate. They weren’t the greatest recordings but it was a start. Later, I bought a Presto disc cutter that I could cut my own demos. The problem with that machine was what was recorded would play back from the inside out, like CDs do now. Ten years later I would be mixing an album with Les Paul at Columbia and sharing some stories of our early recording days, and playing bass on several of his recordings in the mix room.

 

 

 

When they say your “drum sound is ABSOLUTELY OUT OF THIS WORLD “

How did he get that drum sound on Dylan? And how did you get that name, “Roughmix Don.”

Just so happened that a guy contacted me from a forum a couple years ago where they were chatting about the drums on a recording I had done. It happened to be the Bob Dylan Desire Album that I engineered and mixed in 1975.

“Hello. I’m new here,” wrote Dolphin King,  “And I hope this is the right place to ask this question: On Dylan’s 1975/76 ‘Desire’, the drum sound is ABSOLUTELY OUT OF THIS WORLD –>*DELICIOUS*<–, I mean particularly the snare hits. For example, check out the song ‘Isis’. the snare on that album sounds so solid and powerful, I describe it as inter-stellar-stone-age snare sound. Does anyone here know how that sound was achieved? How do you get such a sound? I MUST know. I’ve posted this on a few different forums. MY KINGDOM FOR AN ANSWER!
Yours,
D.K.”

Well, I tuned in for awhile reading some sarcasm and assorted smartass remarks and DK came back with, “I’ve received some very different answers from different people on this, including on different forums. But thanks again for your reply…By the way, what would your reverb/delay setup be here, if you were trying to get that sound?”

Archtop came back with, “I think it sounds like a real chamber reverb, and there is some on the snare, but not much, at times it seems like I can hear a hint of a tiny short delay (80ms.) on the snare, but in the mix it still seems fairly dry, the verb is sorta washed out and you don’t notice it so easily. If I was trying to get that sound, I would not be concerned with the verb or delay, but look for a snare that is dry and bright on it’s own.”

Seems kind of strange seeing guys write about and speculate and guess what you had done on a recording. So, one of them spotted my name in the credits and sent me an email and asked me to come on the sight.

Posting as “RoughmixDon, I wrote him back, “Thanks for inviting me in. I guess I’m proud to say that ‘Desire’ was one of my best recordings. Drums and bass are my favorites to record. Maybe because I’m a bass player too. I tried to load up the story of the ‘Desire’ session but it cut me off in the middle. Maybe I’ll just have to send it in two or three parts.”

I filled them in with what I had done on that session, since I had taken a lot of notes through the years with a book in mind and then I wrote, “My best advice on trying to achieve the same drum sound is to put “Isis” or one of the others up in your program and a-b and try to match it on the timeline, pitch wise, eq wise and strength wise, echo wise, and level wise.”

In fact, I think this is good advice for anyone attempting to recreate the sound of what someone has recorded. As a side note here, the drums you hear on the song, My Silent Symphony at best advice was very much like Dylan’s fabulous “Desire” drummer, Howie Wyeth, with the great Ronnie Traxler on drums. Dynamite! I recorded Ronnie and all others the same way. You didn’t just set up a microphone, we’d sometimes spend upwards of an hour getting a good drum sound. By the way, I overdubbed about thirty of my voices on My Silent Symphony – Should have been a hit.

“By the way,” DK asked. “Where did you get that name, RoughmixDon?

Well, I explained that for a reference copy, I would set up my mix on a studio session with 8 sub-mixes and ride the faders with 8 fingers riding from the beginning to the end of a song, and almost always, I would come up with a mix that would be at or near a final mix. In a three month session with “Miami” Steve Van Zandt, who hung nicknames on everyone, he hung RoughmixDon on me. Thus was 1977, and I have used it ever since. Later on, I’ll be telling about that grueling winter of ’77, locked in the studio with “Miami Steve,” ‘Southside” Johnny, the Jukes and the “Boss,” Bruce Springsteen. And yes, it was Steve who named him the “Boss.”