A Tribute and Thanks to Paul Jean! Who the hell is Paul Jean? And what’s with Paul Jean? “MORE!”

More of what? Well, it’s a long story. Taking a look back at my old New York days, I was 19, barely out of high school, 1500 miles from home, had played a lot of places for my age, on the road for a time, played in Canada twice, and all the big hotels in New York with different bands. My vocal and drama coaches had drilled it into me to live and breathe the lyrics of a song when singing. And I did. It was 1951 and I had the best steady playing and highest paid band job in New York with the Alan Holmes band in the Hotel Astor Broadway Lounge.

TME SQUARE ASTOR

1951 – Looking north on Broadway is the Astor on the left. Look close at the marquee and you’ll see “Sheraton Astor Hotel – Alan Holmes & orch.”  That’s us!

NY HOTEL ASTOR

1951 – Looking south on Broadway is the Astor on the right. The Broadway Lounge was there on the right where you see the second floor circular windows.  

On New Years Eve we could get a great view out on the crowds from the center window over the marquee, and see the ball drop. In the summers we were the so-called relief band with the big bands like Sammy Kaye and Freddy Martin up in the Astor Roof Ballroom.

I would put so much feeling into a song that some nights, Martin’s boy singer, Merv Griffin, showed a bit of jealousy of my singing. But then I showed a little jealousy when the Hollywood starlets like Polly Bergen and others came to swoon over Merv. On the east side of the ballroom was a beautiful view of the Broadway lights in Times Square, and looking down west from the ballroom was usually a most beautiful view of a row of big passenger ships, docked on the Hudson River. I had never flown in a plane, nor been on a ship, and since those beautiful ships were such a sight to see, I always dreamed of going on one. Maybe someday I might play with a band on a cruise, I thought. Well, I finally did, but many years later, and it turned out to be a highlight in my career.

It was now the ’60s and I had some exciting times, great job at Columbia Records, singing and playing with some great New York bands, singing demos for some great writers, and singing on some great paying commercials. One of the bandleaders I freelanced and played and sang club dates with, Paul Jean, also booked cruises. So, one night I told him about the Astor view of all the ships, and how my biggest dream was to go on one of them. I asked him what would be the possibility of this happening? It just so happened that he was taking a small band on the Queen Mary in three weeks. Would I be interested? Damn straight, I’d get some time off from Columbia. You don’t make much money, but there is free room and board and a chance to see some far off places in the Caribbean.

I didn’t know at the time, and it wasn’t made public, but once on board, word soon got out that the cast and crew including Frank Sinatra starring, were aboard the ship for the filming of the 1966 movie, Assault On A Queen. We had a good band and I did my share of singing the hits and standards. I was singing one of my best songs, More, in the ship’s elegant main lounge one night, and it happened to be a song that Sinatra had recorded on an album a couple or more years prior. I didn’t know it but he was sitting in the back of the lounge and when I had finished, he rose to his feet and applauded. I was dumbstruck. The greatest of singers, Frank Sinatra was standing and applauding for Don Meehan? Wow! Was that something to write home about or what? I went over and thanked him, met briefly and heard him tell me to keep up the good work. What a frigging thrill! I thanked him, shook his hand and I never saw him again. He had been my idol since high school days, and there he was cheering me on. This event did wonders for my confidence over the years. If Sinatra liked what he heard, then I must have had something to offer, I felt. In addition, that song with its meaningful words, became my favorite to this day as you’ll see later in this post.

Arriving back from the Nassau port as the shuttle neared the ship, we had passed right by a barge with the end doors open and down, and set up with movie cameras about a hundred yards away from the ship, obviously preparing to film our departure in an hour or so. I figured that our sailing that night would probably be a major scene in the movie, so I decided I would be in the movie. I went to my cabin and grabbed the bedspread and went to the position under the first lifeboat on the starboard side. I’d be that tiny speck up there under the lifeboat waving the bedspread. When we began to sail, I unfurled the spread and began to wave it high and wide to the cameras.

RMS_Queen_Mary_Long_Beach_January_2011_view

What would you think if you saw the movie and some idiot was waving a bedspread under that first lifeboat

When I saw the movie, they obviously edited it to where the ship was well on the way and to a point where no waving bedspread could be seen. I probably disrupted an expensive one take only scene. And I asked myself through the years, “Why would you pull such a dumb stunt like that?” No answers have emerged, except my usual craziness, and to say, “Yes, I was there.” But the memories of Frank Sinatra applauding me that night would be etched in my mind forever, and Hail to the Queen!

Four years later, unbeknownst to me, that undear first wife had been secretly planning a divorce, and while I was in LA recording the Barbara Streisand movie, On a Clear Day, she had cleaned me out of everything, the savings and checking accounts, safe box, and stocks and bonds that I had lovingly put in both names. Dumb ass I was and in total shock, since I had no clue it was coming. Being totally broke, I was never ever so pissed off in my life as when she handed me a card with her lawyer’s name on it. A bloody divorce ensued that left me with at least my CBS job, a few club dates and a struggle to stay alive.

I met up playing with old friend and bandleader Paul Jean again at that time and I asked him if he might have a cruise that I could go on and get me away from the shit for a few days. The answer was yes, and the timing was perfect. He would be leading a trio on a ten day cruise job on the great ship, the France, and would love to have me there. And I would love it even More.   SS_France_Hong_Kong_74

The beautiful ship, The France

It was a great getaway.  As the greatest luck would have it, the second day out I met Fran, from Philly, and we wound up spending all the time we could together. I would sing some of her favorite songs in the lounge, one of which also happened to be my favorite, More, and of course, I would sing it a couple times every night. The more I sang it, the more I felt the true meaning of the words. We really got to know each other during those few days, as well as our togetherness on as many days as possible after the cruise, and falling in love. About nine months later we said our vows to spend the rest of our lives together, and Fran became the true woman in my life, my hero, my queen, my strength, and my everything. The words of that song, More, could not have had truer meaning then or now.

Two years later we were forced to go for custody of my children, since their mother was hauled in for neglect. There was a huge custody battle, but with Fran at my side, we finally got custody, and learned the ex had paid judges with my hard earned money she took. Imagine the fears, worries and anxiety of a young woman, barely 28 years old, suddenly forced into and having to become the mother of my four neglected kids. But neither I nor my children would have survived without the More than the greatest love of Fran, there by my side all the way.

And once more, a Tribute and Thanks to Paul Jean, for bringing Fran and me together. On July 16, 2013, Fran and I will celebrate our forty-first anniversary. And every word of that song, More, rings loud and true now as it did then. We’ve lived through the good and the bad as the song goes: “waking, sleeping, laughing, weeping.” And as a side note, I can still see Frank Sinatra standing there, applauding and cheering me on after singing those same words. Maybe he was somehow seeing into the future and my growing love for my loving wife, Fran, who is “More than the greatest love the world has known  –  No one else could love you MORE.”

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY SWEETHEART!!!!   July 16, 2013 And may we have many many MORE!

Those were the days? Not quite but almost Some were Some weren’t

It was February 13, 1953 when the Fort McClellan, Alabama Special Services major met Dwight Malcolm and me  and took us to the Service Club to rehearse for the finals of the first Third Army Talent Contest. They had flown us from Camp Rucker, Alabama in probably the smallest plane they had. It was us and the pilot and Dwight’s marimba, without an inch to spare. There were people there from every Third Army camp to compete. The major pulled me aside and told me he had this colored fellow to play the piano that he had brought in off the field dressed in fatigues, dirty and looking very tired. He apologized, saying that he didn’t know how well he could play. He wanted me to let him know.

In those days we still had segregation just about everywhere. It even still existed in the Army, but never among musicians. And this fellow was blacker than black and referred to as “colored” in those days. So, with a bit of skepticism wondering about his musicianship, I indicated that my songs, showing my versatility, would be a medley of My Blue Heaven, and then into Mario Lanza’s Be My Love, and wind up with a swinging Bye Bye Blackbird. And I told him the keys for each song. I was taken aback when he nodded on each song and key I told him, as his fingers were flying over the keyboard. I set the tempo and he did an intro and I started to sing. My God, this guy was fabulous. And one has to play great piano to transpose keys like he did.

I was being accompanied by just about the greatest piano player I had ever heard. And before I could I give the thumbs up and a nod of approval, the major asked me what I thought? I gave the guy a grin, a wink and a nod then did a little take like I wasn’t so sure and said, “Oh, I guess he’ll do.” I still didn’t know who he was, but then, the major introduced us. “Private Don Meehan, say hello to Private Wynton Kelly.” Holy shit! There I was singing with one of the greatest jazz piano players in the world and the asshole major didn’t even know who he was. And I didn’t either until I heard his name. He’d been written up in just about every music magazine, and had played with Dizzy, Ella, Dinah, and every jazz great. After the Army he had great times playing with Miles Davis. And there we both were making about $50 a month private’s pay.

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Jazz Great Wynton Kelly

The contest went well. Lucky Friday the 13th. And my jumping from crooning a swinging ballad to an operatic high tenor and then to a swinging Bye Bye Blackbird brought the house down. So, I won for the singing with one of the greatest jazz pianists, Wynton Kelly accompanying me. These were all pops and standards I was singing but the next day, Valentines Day, I would be flying to Nashville to record some of my country songs on my RCA Victor session one of which was That Long Long Road of Love. Yeah, it’s traditional from those days. Elvis discoverer Steve Sholes was producing and Chet Atkins leading the band of Nashville greats. There’ll be more on this later in another post.

Wynton and I went on to becoming great friends for the rest of our Army days and after, until his untimely death in 1971.  It was Commanding General A.R. Bolling’s decision to put a variety show together from those in the contest, to travel to all the Army bases. Our little caravan of several Army staff cars and a truck took us to all of them. As one of our guys described us, we were “the general’s pets,” and usually were treated first class in most all the camps we went to except one. Gordon Terry, described later as the best bluegrass fiddle player in the country came on board. By then country great Faron Young had joined our group. I’d play bass with our trio, and when I’d sing a country song with my guitar, Wynton would pick up the bass and play with our country band.

c-papersign-showers-white-colored-EM-army

We all bunked together at our Fort McPherson, Georgia base, and were always in decent quarters all together at the various camps. After all, we were the general’s pets. We would be up quite late as usual, and also would sleep late as usual, and our commanding officer, a lieutenant, against regulations, most of the time, would bunk in with us at the various camps. However, at one camp they had put us in an isolated barracks to bunk, with the old sagging mattresses on two tiered bunks. It was reminiscent of basic training, whereas two or three sergeants and corporals came busting in at 5AM blowing whistles and demanding everyone line up at attention like you see in the movies. The sergeant almost flipped out seeing two “colored” boys between us, since integration had not been completely implemented in the Army yet. “Get dressed,” he yelled. “And get those colored boys out of here.”

Our lieutenant, stripped to his shorts was also a real sight standing there with us at the sergeant’s order, especially when he finally stepped forward to try to identify himself, but not before they began to rummage through our personal belongings. He quickly put on his uniform and flashed his gold lieutenant bar and suggested they talk alone. He told us later that he had to negotiate with the sergeant that neither would tell on the other for disobeying certain regulations. I.e., he wasn’t supposed to bunk with us enlisted men and most importantly, the sergeant was supposed to know who we were. (“The generals pets”)

We were on the road constantly between camps and had to stop for meals.  Remember, this was 1953 and we were in the Deep South traveling with a dozen white guys and two African Americans. Every time we had to stop for meals they would say that those “colored” boys would have to go around to the back and eat outside.

colored served in rear

And we all went around to the back with them.

 

colored dining roon rear

 

It was reminiscent of the stories of people like Sammy Davis Jr. and others in Las Vegas having to stay across town in boarding houses, and not being allowed to stay in the hotels where they were performing. We had to contend with this kind of garbage throughout the south. In November 1954, the Will Maston Trio featuring Sammy Davis, Jr. became the first African Americans offered complimentary room, board, drinks and access to a casino on The Strip at the Vegas Frontier, and a big $5,000 a week for the trio.

Picture twelve white guys and two blacks sitting on the ground at the back entrance of a restaurant, with plates, consuming a meal. They never expected the rest of us to join them. There was only one restaurant during all those months that set up a private closed dining room where we could all eat together. We all went to a pizza place in Augusta, Georgia once, where they weren’t allowed in and we finally had MP’s guarding us outside while we all sat on the MP and staff cars eating our pizza. And some of us have the nerve to repeat the phrase, “Those were the days?”

drinking fountain colored

Another post will be forthcoming about my earlier years of being born in, living, playing and singing, and having to deal with Deep South racial hatred.

Dick Van Dyke was doing an afternoon variety show on WSB in Atlanta in 1953 and I was booked on it to sing. By then, Wynton Kelly and I were like brothers with our music. I also played bass and with another jazz great, Harold Karabell on clarinet, we had the best little trio around. So, Wynton and I took a bus to the station, not a very good sight in the south for a white boy hanging out with a “colored” boy in the ‘50s. He had to go and sit in the back of the bus. If I had tried to sit with him I probably would have been arrested.

back of the bus

We didn’t know if it was Van Dyck or the producers who ordered that that (and using the “N”word)  could not appear on camera with me. What a bunch of shit. One of the greatest piano players in the world and he couldn’t be seen or even get a mention. And I felt like walking right out. But I knew that if I did, I’d probably be court-martial-ed.

Our Lieutenant almost put me on FECOM (Korea duty) when he threw me out of the show once for wearing the wrong jacket during a big outdoor concert and show in Atlanta. I just wanted to look good with my solo performance before thousands of people, but he charged me with disobeying an order. The only good thing about that came about when I met Barry Newman in the band. He and I teamed up for a Martin and Lewis type comedy routine at the service club. He later got big and became Petrocelli on TV. Strange that his bio said he was born in 1938. Let’s see, if I was 22 that would make him 13 or 14 at the time. That’s showbiz. You must be “young.” Good thing the lieutenant didn’t find out that we unhooked the odometer cable and drove one of the staff cars 250 miles from Fort Jackson, South Carolina to Myrtle Beach and back one time.

I guess I was just a natural born rebel rouser. At Christmas time that year, I was living in an apartment off post, and I put up some decorations in the upstairs window. I expressed some of my sentiments by painting a large representation of four choir boys singing and set up a speaker to play Christmas choir music outside. The painting consisted of one lone black boy and an oriental boy singing shoulder to shoulder with two white boys, and the wording,”Peace On Earth.” My sentiments won me the first prize for the best decorations, and I wasn’t court marshaled. By the way, our lieutenant was finally arrested and went to prison for stealing some wallets.

Those were the days? I just have to say that we did our best to make the most of them with our music.

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.”

More On Bob Dylan and My Favorite Mixing Technique

Continued with posting my comments on a forum

So I told the guys on the forum that my style of mixing was and is to bring everything to 8 busses and lay my eight fingers on the faders and constantly ride each one with a finger, like playing a piano, against the singer or lead instrument. This will allow snare and tom fills and anything else to be brought up when appropriate. The singer track will always be on my right hand index (bass) playing finger which was and is the most sensitive. I would always help the snare and toms in the mix on their individual buss pots.

This album was no exception. And this procedure makes a powerful player even more powerful. I know that some set up a mix and let it sit there, raising and lowering this and that across a board of 24, 32 etc inputs, but my style has always been to play the mix.

Another habit of mine in those days and what I did on that album mix was to mix a stereo onto two tracks of the 24 track two inch tape, in line of course, with all the tracks. I never used automation. This way if we got a great mix with a slight lacking of a vocal part or instrument, or the bass drum wasn’t loud enough, etc. we could run that 2 track mix again to a 2 track adding the stuff needed.

This is a technique I still use today in digital and I guess others might also be doing this. Do your mix in line with everything else and add or help what is needed with automation. Another idea is to do maybe two or three different mixes in line and then add them together, making sure they are in perfect phase. In my experience, though, I could never achieve that kind of mix with a mouse mix.

In my experience with mouse mixing my taste tells me that it is nowhere near the same as a live mix with spontaneous control, although in c I recorded myself in my personal studio singing 227 (for 227 years) overdub voices on America The Beautiful and did a mouse mix in Vegas 4. As a mouse mix, it’s not as hot as I would like it to be. I did 5 or 6 mixes and a cappella. But none of them had the energy that they should have had for my taste.

Oh well, I added 3 more voices and did it right for the year 2006. However, lately, since I don’t have a digital mixer, I make the most of automation, but I’m thinking of ousting the mouse and going out of the box from digital back to analog to mix through the board back to digital. This way I can use my eight fingers technique with a spontaneous mix. Any comments on this?

By the way, someone spoke of Bob Johnston. He was out of the picture for “Desire.” But if anyone is interested, I have another interesting story about the original hit mix (and my mixing notes of July 26, 1965) on Simon & Garfunkel Sounds of Silence, the album mixes, and Tom Wilson, and Bob Johnson and 6 watt monitor amps. This is all part of a book I am working on. I often wonder if anyone would really be interested?

RoughmixDon Meehan, the unsung hero of Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence. So, another engineer took the credit and ran with it. By the way, here’s those notes on my original mix on Sounds of Silence and Somewhere mixed from 4 track. Note the uncanny high end Pultec EQ boost.

SIMON GARFUNKEL S O S MIX crop072665