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RE/P Files: An Interview With Producer/Engineer Tom Dowd
A wide-ranging discussion with a true recording legend, and a production analysis of Eric Clapton's "Layla"...
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Bill did a great deal of homework for these dates he probably spent a week or two taking the things apart. He’s a very conscientious chap. I sent him some 8 track out-takes so that he could listen to the individual tracks, then I sent him some rough mixes so he could sec it at that stage, then the records, and so on.

We spoke on the phone about everything! By the time I finally walked into the Fillmore for the first recording, it was all set up. You know, there might have been some miking that was different from the way I’d done it, but when the group was playing and I went back into the truck. Bill had it covered. It was clean, it was virile.

The next major thing I do for a live recording is check out the hall. One of the biggest problems is always the acoustics of the place where you’ll be recording. You get into what are now theaters motion picture houses that are carpeted and with velour upholstery on the chairs and so forth, and these rooms are heavy and dead to play in even when they’re empty.

When you take a sound check in a room like that, all you can do is make sure that the microphones are working. You can’t really evaluate the sound until you get all the people in there.

PL: So you have a limited amount of time in which to get the miking straightened out.

TD: Right, sometimes you have to make a very quick guess. If it’s an upholstered room, it’s going to call for a more spatial type recording. This is as opposed to a live, reverberant room where you’ll want very tight, close-up recording, because the ambience in the room is going to be coming down all the up-front mikes anyway.

With a dead room, you can back off and let everything breathe more, because there’s so little ambience. If you didn’t, it would sound like it was done in a studio instead of a concert hall.

The stage set-up for live recordings at the Fillmore West and Winterland of Cream during their Summer 1968 U.S. tour (excerpts from which appear on disc in “Wheels of Fire” and “Live Cream Volume II”).

Said Bill Halverson: “This was the second remote recording I had ever done. It was very unsophisticated back then—‘The Stone Age of Live Recording’—and no one had really done any remotes, at least not of rock n’ roll. At that time, I didn’t like rock & roll, but when I heard these guys stretch out like some new sort of jazz group, I was very impressed.

Live recording setup. Click to enlarge.

“The original Fillmore was a nice hall to record in. Even though it wasn’t that big, it had a very live quality. That and the short delay time made it like recording in a huge living room. At Winterland, we used pretty much the same set-up.

“For the Cream performances, we used a little 12-position rotary console that had a left, a middle, and a right. It had a 3 and 6 at 100 and 7500—that was all the EQ that was on there. I only had room for the vocals and drums through the board. Everything else I ran through Ampex mixers, padded way, way down.

“For the miking, I used what were then Shure 546s on almost everything, which is absurd. We used them because that’s what Heider’s happened to have at the time — that and three Electro-Voices, which I couldn’t stand. I also used two Sony C-28s—an old tube model—for the audience. They were positioned right at the edges of the stage, usually pointing at the center of the back of the hall. We used three more C-28s as overheads for Ginger.

“This was the first time that I had ever recorded Marshalls. The key to recording them is that you put the microphone right in the middle of the four speakers — anywhere else and it’ll blow the poor microphone’s brains out.  You keep it in really tight — about three inches away. This way, it doesn’t have any sound coming directly at it and it’s surrounded by a “wall” of sound which blocks out all the leakage from the drums. That was really important because there was often only a foot between the amps and the drums.”

Take the PSW Photo Gallery Tour of audio equipment ads appearing in RE/P magazine, circa 1970.

Our sincere thanks to Mark Gander of JBL Professional for his considerable support on this archive project.

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