So: I produced my first recording session yesterday. I’m a regular Eddie Kramer ovah heah!
A more accomplished friend of mine put out an open call for some novelty music based on Ennio Morricone soundtrack music. I said, what the hell; I’m in.
I had planned to do it all myself, as I had our living room free for the clutter of musical instruments, cords, microphones and the like. And that’s when they showed up.
I got back to our house at 7:30 or so on Saturday morning after running out for my weekend breakfast treat of bagels and cream cheese. They were in my driveway, waiting.
They really darken up our nice neighborhood, what with their roots-music tough-guy attire and poorly-kept painters’ minivan.
“Isn’t it a bit early for you to be up and about, especially on a Saturday morning?” I asked.
“Sheee-it fire,’ the oldest of them responded. “We can’t get no Friday-Saturday gigs like them young bucks down in Fell’s Point can.’ That was Leland Hateful, the Kowpunk Klarion. He’s from Bel Air, or Perry Hall before it got too ixed-may, they’re one and the same. I don’t know why he talks like he’s going to bump bolts with a tire-changer down in Glen Burnie.
“Yeah man, Friday and Saturday shows are for softies. Tuesdays thru Thursdays are for LIFERS!” his younger buddy interjected. It was a guy I saw back in late winter, on one of my rare excursions on the town: Clarence ‘Plaque’ Artclass, the Stormpooper of the Blues. E Pluribus Unum. He’s one of, oh, many thousands of kids from MICA simultaneously playing ‘roots’ music and boring the paint off the walls of many a dive bar with anecdotes and trivia culled from a decade or more of reading books on music at the Borders or Barnes & Noble at the shopping center back home.
I’ll say this for Clarence ‘Plaque’ Artclass: he’s at least getting a little combo together. (I don’t think he and Leland Hateful play together, I think they just party together. You gotta have your ears closed in the Baltimore roots world. NO MIXING OF IDIOMS!) He managed to find perhaps the only 23 year-old with no ambition and supportive parents to buy a standup bass and learn it, to play roots music, which no one under 30 likes. Well, he met a guy who was impressed with him to follow him around like a puppy dog and get his parents to buy a bass.
As I’ve been telling you, it’s 7:30 in the morning and I’ve got roots-music dork-creeps in my driveway. I do have a recording project to do, but just between you, me, and the internet I don’t really want to listen to any of these guys sing. Harold Reid of the Statler Brothers got small-time guys like this down to a tee with his Lester ‘Roadhog’ Moran and the Cadillac Cowboys project. These guys don’t do melody but they DO do a lot of phlegm and sputum. I was about to give them the brushoff — see now, good fellows, you’re making me look like a loser in front of my neighbors just by standing here, it’s a cul-de-sac, out is that way, well, look at the time — when HE came out shambling out of the painters’ minivan, the loop on the leg of his painter’s pants getting caught on the latch in the driver’s side door opening.
It was Dex Magnum. Man, what a talent!
If you’re curious about the rumors about Dex Magnum, they’re all true. He’s every bit as charmless and brusque off the stage as he is lackluster about working the phones to cajole the good ol’ boys at Two Thousand Flushes in Millersville to hear the finest interpretations of the Great American Songbook.
“Dexter, it sure has been a long time! These idiot friends of yours didn’t tell me you were sitting in the minivan! I’ve got your disc of folk music that your old drummer gave me years ago….”
I quit speaking, because I noticed that while his head and eyes were pointed at me, he was staring right thru me. He turned around and mumbled to L.L. Pilfer the Bass Dawg Bandit.
L.L. turned ashen. And his skin is pale and shitty-looking on a good day, I’d bet.
Dexter pretty much sat on the couch until one, when we were ready to record vocals. I don’t think there was even a book, magazine, comic book, Puzzle Buzz, political leaflet or doorknob hanger around. He just sat there and stared at the wallpaper.
If you’re thinking of getting Baltimore middle-of-the-week saloon warriors to record rhythm tracks for you to a metronome, forget about it. You’re better off doing what I ultimately did, which was get 4-6 bar chunks of the song recorded on time and then copy and paste, copy and paste.
At one, we finished the rhythm tracks, and then it was time to lay down the vocals. We did the novelty version for my accomplished friend, and then a ‘straight’ version for me. I handed the mike over to Dexter, and he nailed in two takes. Perfection. One for each set of lyrics. It was a stunning phenomena to behold. He transformed himself from a lump on my couch into to some sort of 10-foot tall titan, radiating all the loss, power and sorrow from the Maestro’s composition into the recording and the room. The cats sure won’t forget it. And with the last decay of echo on the vocal track it was gone, and Dexter was just another blank cipher again. “Uh, I gotta piss,” he said as he handed the mike back to me. He let himself out thru the garage and sat in his minivan while Clarence ‘Plaque’ Artclass wheedled me into letting him put an authentic ‘rawkin’ blues guitar solo’ on the version I kept for myself.
I’ll say this: those guys are dopes, but I got surprisingly good work out of them, for which I will take ALL the credit.
So here it is, from some Italian movie called ‘Machine Gun McCain:’