As guitarist Jeff Baxter once said to me during the “heat” of a Rod Stewart recording session: “We can do anything—the impossible just takes a little longer.”
Along with talented musicians like Jeff, engineers, producers, and live mixers often are called upon to solve problems that are at first glance, flat impossible.
To a technically challenged client, all the flashy and complicated gear, computers and the alacrity at which a pro uses them to produce nearly instant, seemingly magical results (I think) hypnotizes or lulls people into a state of “anything is possible”—even though what they want defies the basic laws of physics!
One such situation occurred to me a while back when I was in Sydney Australia recording an album with an R&B band called The Rockmelons. (A rockmelon is Aussie for a cantaloupe if you were wondering) Australia is a wonderful and mystical place especially out in the middle of the country—a U.S.-sized desert.
So perhaps the laws of physics are suspended in parts of the “down under” but they were not for us at EMI 301 Studios in downtown Sydney.
The lead singer in the band, at that time, had the worst case of “red light” fever I’ve ever encountered—actually more like a severe headphone phobia. As soon as he heard the track and his voice in the cans, he acted intimidated and overwhelmed; he would stop, not sing at all, or sing terribly.
All of us were puzzled because at live gigs in front of an audience, he was wonderful—the main attraction. The most peculiar thing was that if we suddenly stopped the track’s playback, for a few measures he would sing the most spectacular soul riffs and melodies all acapella.
Robin Smith, the producer was obviously extremely concerned because if this guy couldn’t sing, we would not have an album—they were not an instrumental group.
The first flash of “can do” brilliance came from Smith when he had the second engineer setup a two-track tape deck so that it recorded the same audio feed from my vocal recording chain at the session’s multi-track received. This machine was to be kept it in record, rolling at all times.