Friday, August 26, 2005

Pulling Out All The Stops

Dick Hyman. That's a name to make a junior-high kid snicker.
It's also the name of a keyboardist who's been active in recording since the 1940s.
This is the story of what I'm sure he considers one of his lesser efforts.

When I was a small child we moved away from my parent's hometown of Cresaptown, MD, to Fayetteville, NC, leaving behind both sets of my grandparents. Shortly thereafter, my maternal grandparents moved to Amboy, WV (i.e, the boonies). It was so boring there that my sister and I would have outdoor fly-killing contests to pass the time when we visited.

Let's backtrack a bit. Somewhere in the mid-60's these same grandparents bought a Silvertone console stereo (it now sits in my parent's den, still sounds great, and will someday sit in my den). Besides the killing of flies, the stereo was my other main source of entertainment on those visits to my grandparent's when it wasn't Christmas. Momma's record collection wasn't extensive - a couple of Al (He's The King!) Hirt albums, a Floyd Cramer disc, a Ricky Nelson greatest hits collection (must have belonged to my Mom), a bunch of those Goodyear and Firestone Christmas albums (my Dad got those through his job at Kelly-Springfield) and the focus of our story today: Dick Hyman's "The Man From O.R.G.A.N."

OK, I'll confess - I am a sucker for cheesy combo-organ music from the 60's.
I probably have 100 albums (of varying quality) by the most obscure lounge organists that ever put on their blue tux and hired a drummer to help them cash in by recording something "for the kids." Now, I'm not sayin' that this album should be considered in the highest pantheon of great musical recordings, but of all the combo organ recordings that I've heard, this is the best (and I don't think that it's just nostalgia for my childhood/missing my departed grandparents speaking).

The Man From O.R.G.A.N. is a rock concept album (the first, perhaps?) consisting of "the explosive themes inspired by the lurid adventures of the whole contemporary coterie of espionage agents - not only 007, and the Man From U.N.C.L.E., Honey West, the Liquidator and their familiar colleagues but eyebrow raising surprises such as Agent Double-O-Soul." (that's just a small sample of the wickedly over-the-top liner notes - a trademark of Enoch Light's Command Records).

Track list for this album is as follows:
The Liquidator; The Third Man Theme & "Danger" Theme; The Man From O.R.G.A.N.; Theme For "Honey West"; Theme From "I Spy"; A Man Alone (from "The Ipcress File"); Thunderball; Mister Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (from "Thunderball"); The Man From U.N.C.L.E.; The Cat (from "Joy House"); Theme From "The Spy Who Came In From The Cold"; Agent Double-O-Soul.

I've chosen to massage your eardrums today with two selections.
The first is The Man From O.R.G.A.N. which Hyman wrote and therefore must be considered his own personal theme song (at least for the duration of this album). From the extensive liner notes:

"Dick Hyman's keen ear for irony has led him to represent The Man From O.R.G.A.N. has [sic] an espionage agent Southern style. The Nashville sound seemed to him to be right for this piece primarily because it would catch the listener off guard by being the very opposite of what might be expected. Then, too, its brightness serves as an interesting contrast to the minor quality of most spy themes."

OK, if you say so. I just like the organ faking the pedal steel parts, myself. And the tympani. And the twangy answering guitar parts (paging Duane Eddy).

Our second selection today is my favorite on the album: Agent Double-O-Soul.
Again from the liner notes:

"This is a ringer - it does not come from either a movie or a television series - and it is further evidence of Hyman's sly humor. He first heard the piece on a record by Edwin Starr which was brought to Hyman's attention by his 14-year-old daughter who keeps him au courant on musical matters directed at the teen set. Initially he was amused by the title but then it struck him that 'this was a blues commentary on the whole James Bond scene.' So he shot the works on it: The Girls are back again to give a proper shouting quality to the roaring beat. There is the sharp, insistent rhythm of two drum sticks whacked together. And when Hyman decided that a pianist was necessary to carry out the total effect properly, Tony Mottola laid down his guitar and made his recording debut on piano."

If I owned a big ol' Lowery organ I'd be sure to play along with this song at least once per day.

Thanks Grandma!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Who's at Fault?

Set the wayback machine for the winter of 2000. Dateline - Charleston, SC. Shannon Jones, my bandmate in the late lamented (by at least 3 band members) gLaZe asked if I would be interested in producing and engineering some demo sessions for a country songwriter friend of his named Rip Lorrick, who was dropping into town for a week before he moved to Austin, TX (to join the outlaw country movement, I would surmise). Never being one to turn down the opportunity to camp out in the studio I immediately said "bring 'em on."
Rip and Shannon are guitar players, and gLaZe lead guitarist Mike Poirier was also on hand, so we needed to assemble a rhythm section. I immediately thought of a slew of fine bass players, but ended up playing bass myself.
For drums I had but one player in mind; someone whose playing I had been familiar with for nearly 15 years, and who had just experienced the breakup of his long-running and successful alt-country/no-depression combo
The V-Roys - Gentleman Jeff Bills.

To my surprise he quickly agreed to drive to Charleston for a whirlwind weekend of recording.

Something in the results of that session must have impressed or at least not disappointed Jeff, because he called me sometime in the next few months and asked if I would be interested in coming to Knoxville to engineer the recording sessions for the band that was currently being referred to as the 3-Roys or the X-Roys, but which would eventually come to be known as The Faults. After giving the matter grave consideration (for all of about two seconds) I signed on the dotted line.

The following June I boarded a plane out of Charleston with about 200lbs of audio equipment in both carry-on and checked baggage - I think I may have included a change of clothes next to the compressors. A few of the items in carry-on lead to a few tense moments when trying to get to the gate, as large diaphragm condenser mics seem to show up on x-ray machines as bomb-like. Those were easy to explain when demonstrated, but the PZMs almost kept me off the plane (and I wasn't going anywhere without those - they are a secret weapon in drum sounds). I finally got to Knoxville after stops in Wilmington, Charlotte and Atlanta, (thanks for the stunning routing, Expedia dot com) where Jeff picked me up at my parent's house and drove me to the undisclosed location/bunker in which the band was ensconced. It turned out that the secret hideaway was the rehearsal space cum studio of Knox rockers Superdrag, whose own Don Coffey, John Davis, and Sam Powers hung around for the majority of the sessions and contributed to the track under discussion today.

My (fading) memory tells me that this was recorded late in the two-week period.
The basic track (one take only) included Mic Harrison (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Jeff Bills (drums), Robbie Trosper (acoustic guitar) and Paxton Sellers (bass). Overdubs included John Davis (backing vocals, Rhodes, electric guitar) and a cast of dozens (hand claps and general tomfoolery).

I ran off rough mixes on the last Sunday of the two weeks just before catching my flight home.

I've always been a fan of recordings that include a lot of studio ephemeralia - chatter, false starts, etc., so I was disappointed when the Nashville-professionally-mixed album came out and Poisonland was considerably shortened from the (what I'll admit is excessive) longer version that was recorded.

So, to rectify that error, I present to you the original rough mix/extended dance remix 12" version of The Faults - Poisonland.