Bob Dylan Captures 2016 Nobel Prize

I hope I helped a little in getting him the Nobel Prize

The announcement that Bob Dylan has been chosen to receive the coveted Nobel Prize for Literature is enough to make anyone stop in their tracks and take notice.

AND I DID TAKE NOTICE

I can truthfully say that I did have a small hand in it in 1975.

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© Nobel Media AB 2016

To hear that Bob Dylan is the Winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition” just blows me away that I have been associated with a Nobel Prize Winner.

“Bob Dylan lands his fourth Multi-Platinum Album with his 1976 hit, ‘Desire.’ Dylan’s most acclaimed albums from the 1960s,” wrote the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) in 2013. I am so Proud to say that I engineered and mixed it and actually produced it while producer Don DeVito watched. Bob Dylan’s “Desire” Album was my best recording and a classic.

 Also, I’m proud to say I did Bob’s Hard Rain album and the celebrated single, Hurricane, from the album was used in the movie. It is most notable that these nine titles are part of Bob’s “Literature Achievement.”

Viewing that RIAA page, I also learned that in other Streisand news, Barbra’s 1967 release, “A Christmas Album,” certified at the five million sales mark. It was the first holiday album by a vocalist to reach the five million level. I am also very proud to say that I mixed that album. I’ll have a few words to say about one of her other albums down the road.

Well, the guys on an Internet forum were intrigued with my explanation there and wanted to know more about the Dylan “Desire” recording, so I wrote some more:

“Thanks guys, for inviting me in. I guess I’m proud to say that “Desire” was one of my best, if not my best recordings and a classic. By the way, Rob Stoner played great bass and Don Devito had the credits read: “This record could have been produced by Don Devito.”

 

desire could have been

Actually, I made all the production decisions, as well as recording, mixing, and mastering. The album made him a vice president for his entire career at Columbia/Sony, and he was gracious and generous to share his CBS bonus with me at that time for my production efforts. But there were no extra bucks after that. I had broken Don in earlier as a trainee in the A&R department, and then he became Walter Yetnikoff’s right hand man. He went on to greater heights with other names. No sour grapes. More on our combined efforts later with Hard Rain. “Desire” has now gone multi-multi-multi-multi platinum and hangs on the Music Wall at Meehan’s Irish Pub in St. Augustine, FL. (Please click on it)

Actually I have a a lot more, at least 30 or more platinum and multi-platinum awards  credited and certified by RIAA, but I’d have to pay the freight if I wanted one or more. I’ve heard that they run about $300 per. Let’s see; 30 X $300 = $9,000. That wouldn’t be very much out of Sony’s billions.

desire platinum

Oh well, at least I have the first Gold and Platinum for “Desire” and a Gold for “Hard Rain.”  On the left is my first Gold for Looking Glass’ “Brandy”

dylan-close-up-at-pub dylan-2-time-front-at-pub The Four Time Multi-Platinum Award hangs in Meehan’s Irish Pub in St. Augustine, FL, established by my late son, John Meehan               Photo by Reggie Maggs

The four million album seller “Desire” all began on or about July 7, 1975 at a recording session in Columbia Records New York Studio E, a small cozy and well equipped little room on the sixth floor of the old Vanderbilt family guest house at 49 East 52nd Street. I had already worked the whole day on another project when I got the word that Bob Dylan and some Columbia executives wanted me there. Don DeVito was Columbia President Walter Yetnikoff”s assistant and I had just recently broken Don in on studio workings and he was there and wanted me there to make things go smooth.

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I ‘m honored to be on each side of Bruce Springsteen’s guitar on Meehan’s Irish Pub‘s Music Wall                                                                                                                                                                            Photo by Reggie Maggs

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On the other side is my 3 time Multi-Platinum Award for Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence                                                                                                                Photo by Reggie Maggs

This was Bob’s first session on the new album, I knew from past experience that he liked to record live with absolutely no overdubbing instruments or vocals later. This unnerved me a bit since I had settled into a habit of recording things separately, especially vocals. I had mixed a few of Bob’s songs earlier working with the great John Hammond.

Well, musicians began arriving one after another and at last count, there must have been at least twenty, paying tribute to the great Bob Dylan.

There were no teachers; we learned on our own

I’m sure some readers will scoff and say this is old stuff, or that it is nothing new. But just let me say that we had no teachers. Every engineer guarded his (and I say his because there were no ladies) recording and mastering techniques and gave no clues to anyone coming in new. It was the “good ol’ boys,” the “control men,” the “mastering men,” the “maintenance men,” etc. Every session was an experiment, though, constantly trying new and outlandish and sometimes stupid things. One producer said to me once, “Don, you’re crazy.” Guess I was, as I was always experimenting with something outlandish. And back in those days, the engineers were the unsung heroes for some of the producers.

 

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Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Emmy Lou Harris in Columbia Studio E on the first night of “Desire” – I’m in the control room hiding behind the board

 

I studied and learned from the Beatles’ records

When the Beatles came along and I saw the meters stay pinned at “0” or plus 4 level throughout a recording this was my clue to go for high energy on anything I recorded or mixed. When I came to Columbia in the 60’s at least 50 staff engineers and research men laughed at me for wanting a limiter and a Pultec in every mixing channel. At that time we had 40 watt monitor amps in the studio and 6 watt line amps in the mixing toms. Later my wants and demands became the norm and Columbia became the busiest studios in New York with 24 track. We could limit and equalize each track at will without patching.

Drums and bass are my favorites to record. Maybe because I’m a bass player too. In the corner of Studio E at Columbia Records at 49 East 52nd Street in NY we had a drum booth sound proofed and double glassed around the top. Dylan always recorded live with no overdubs, (except for the one cut, “Joey”, I talked him into adding accordion and guitar later).

Drums need isolation to prevent leakage into other microphones

It was important to have almost total isolation on drums. As with other drummers, I usually worked with Howie Wyeth for probably an hour or more getting the right sound. My standard procedure was to fold papertowels into about 3 by 5 inch pieces and tape them onto the top of the share with masking tape as he tuned. I would continue to add padding if necessary to get rid of the ring.

This was and is standard procedure for me after a lot of trial and error. I hate the ring of a snare when it isn’t dampened. Needless to say, this is still probably standard procedure anywhere you go. I used all dynamic mics, like Electrovoice RE 15 (on snare), RE 20, etc and 2 condensers for overhead all padded. Nine mics total onto nine tracks on the 24 track, Bass drum (with blankets inside), top of snare, bottom of snare (phase turned around to mix later with top of snare), high hat (pointing away from snare as much as possible), mic on each of 3 toms and 2 overhead. I would always limit the BD, snare and 3 toms, and gate the toms on the session. You really need the isolation for this.

Later in mixing my standard procedure was to gate the bass drum and gate the snare and mix the snare with the original top and bottom (phase turned around to match the top). Bass drum, snare and toms were limited again in the mix. EQ on snare was usually slight boost at around 1500. We had EMT echo units and one 6 floor stairwell. I liked a 4 or 5 second decay on the EMT and fed that to a tape machine at 15ips and back into the mix for the added delay. Echo was always EQ’d rolling off the bass and high end. Bass drum and Rob’s bass cut off at 60 to 100 and boosted at around 100 (and limited) got rid of unneeded low frequencies and allowed more room for everything else including the drums. I’ll have more on the bass and bass drum eq later on.

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.

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.

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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.