To make the music sound fuller when heard on the lo-fi TVs of the 1950s, Haskell learned to roll off the deep lows below 100 Hz to remove the “soggy” sound, and to add more bottom above 100 Hz for punch on the bass and kick drum.
To keep the highs crisp after up to seven generations (bounces), the engineer would boost at 5 kHz, 7 kHz and even 20 kHz, knowing that some highs would be lost on each generation.
Haskell sometimes told the engineer to add 3 kHz to make Rick’s vocal and James’ guitar a little harder or brighter.
Occasionally Rick would suggest that they add 3K to the mix.
A good example of this EQ technique is Rick’s 45 single recording of Believe What You Say, a power-packed rocker.
Figure 6 shows the long-term averaged, 1/6-octave spectrum of the song as measured by Harmonic Balancer. Unlike many recordings whose spectrum rolls off above 1 kHz, this mix is strong out to 4 kHz, which creates a very aggressive sound. You can also see a low-cut below 50 Hz and a boost at 100 Hz.
Want to hear some of these terrific recordings? I highly recommend the 6-CD boxed set Ricky Nelson - The American Dream. Mastered from the original tapes, it includes a large book with loads of photos, history and session notes—truly a labor of love.
Figure 6: 1/6-octave spectrum of Believe What You Say.(click to enlarge)
It’s a fascinating compilation. In many cuts you can hear studio talk, alternate guitar solos, false starts, versions without Rick’s vocal, and instrument tracks without vocals. Re-issue producer: Bob Jones, Mastering: Bob Jones with Mike Brown, 3-track mix: Bill Inglot.
Using equipment and techniques that are simple by today’s standards, many recording engineers of the 1950’s were able to create fabulous sounding records. We can learn a lot from them.
• “Rick Nelson - The American Dream” by Todd Everett (the book included with the 6-CD set of the same name.)
• Interview with Jimmie Haskell at http://home.att.net/~kwm2/rickynelson/interview.html.
• Email from recording engineer Marty Elliott, 8-27-02.
• Online article, “Guitarist James Burton reflects on Ricky Nelson’s life and music.”
AES and SynAudCon member Bruce Bartlett is the author of “Practical Recording Techniques 5th Edition” and “Recording Music On Location.”