ANDY HUMMEL IN HIS OWN WORDS PART THREE. Here's the third and final installment of my written interview with Andy (see previous posts for more background) three years ago. One thing that came across loud and clear was how much he enjoyed his life – family, work, community, hobbies – and even though he still loved music, he had not an ounce of regret from walking away from Big Star. He participated in two of the greatest albums ever made and then went out and lived a great life without looking back. I listened back to the long phone interview that we did after the written part and you can just hear the enthusiasm and contentment in his voice. One funny bit was that when he brought up Led Zeppelin (who he like as much as Alex didn't like), I told him that I had a lot of LZ boots. He had never heard the word "boots" used to refer to bootleg discs and thought that somehow I had a large collection of Led Zeppelin footwear. Pretty amusing.
O My Soul
Co-written by Chris Bell?
Song seems to have been demoed several times – was the final album version recorded when the band regrouped after the Rock Writers Convention (May 73).
Who played Mellotron?
I have real memory problems on this song. I get the impression from everything I’ve read that it is considered an early one in the R.C. story. But everything about it, including what memory I do have, tells me it happened closer to the Dolby Fuckers period later in the process. I remember very consciously trying to depart from the “standard” Big Star sound on this. It sounds much more sparse than our previous stuff. I remember we were working with Jody to try and get out of the usual sort of rock and roll drum style of ride cymbal, bass drum on the downbeat, snare on the upbeat, etc. And in fact that’s what you hear. Jody’s just playing lots of sort of broken rolls and stuff, almost like an eclectic drum solo throughout the song or something. Also I’m not sure it isn’t an overdub. The bass part is definitely an overdub. This is the one where, once again trying to find different sounds, we put that old Showman out in the middle of the studio, turned it up until it distorted mightily, and recorded it through a Neuman set several feet away. All as opposed to running the bass direct. It’s my old Precision Bass for sure. I was trying to do a Paul Kossoff (or whatever his name is) [note - later we confirmed it as Andy Fraser] off-the-wall sort of bass part. And Alex pretty much did the same on guitar – very little strumming. I think this was when he really started getting great on guitar, picking out Little Wing, the Bach Bouree’ he liked so much, etc. Definitely Alex on the Mellotron. I think we had it set up in the control room. All in B studio of course. Also note the structure of the song. It starts off like it’s going to be a traditional sort of Big Star rock song, but then he started adding other parts different than the original line. This was very anti traditional Big Star and much more like Daisy or Dolby Fucker-like. In fact if no one had told me otherwise I’d say it was a Dolby Fucker song. If I had to guess I’d say the initial line was something that was written early on, then when we got around to producing it all the other parts and the different sounds got dialed in. Don’t know about the demo’s. Never really paid much attention to them. They were just a means to an end.
I can’t help you much on the convention timing issue but I’d guess it was way after.
Life Is White
What part(s) would you have worked on?
When recorded? (i.e. after Writers Convention?)
Who played piano? Alex?
I heard an acoustic demo by Alex and it was pretty astounding how complete it sounded in terms of having the arrangement worked out. It had to have been done after the song had been completely written (i.e. it was all there). Was is it common for him to do a demo once the song was finished?
From a standpoint of production concept I’d say this was a predecessor to Soul for sure. I hear all the same stuff, just not as mature in implementation. I’m playing the Rickenbacher direct I believe. I think I recorded the harp overdub with Alex playing out in the sound lock but it could have been Fry of Richard. I’m pretty sure it’s Alex on piano but it could very well be Dickenson or even Jack Holder. At this point Alex pretty well came into the studio with his parts completely worked out if memory serves.
Way Out West
Most accounts I’ve read confirm that this is solely your composition. However I did find one article that asserted that Chris was involved. Would like to nail down once and for all that you wrote it, how it developed from piano ballad to guitar song, and the unusual structure (how after the first verse and chorus, it gives way to a verse and chorus of guitar – not your usual pop song format). Did that come about when the song was cranked up in the studio with the band?
Was this worked on early on i.e. before Chris left?
I definitely wrote all of West except Alex’s solo. Chris wasn’t even around by then. He and I arranged it. I had written it late one night on my mother’s Knabe. I had planned to do it as a solo act. It’s about Linda of course. She was at college in Denver at the time. I don’t remember if I had a demo or not, I might have. We had all the equipment set up in A studio for jamming. We did this a lot. Jammed in A, recorded in B. So I played this song, on the Yamaha I guess, and Alex immediately turned it into a rock and roll song. Oh well – best laid plans and all. We got it completely down that night arrangement wise. The arrangement is because there weren’t any more words. I had written the lyrics before the music and they were what they needed to be – no more. So the solo broke up the two verses. I was way too afraid to try singing after the India experience so Jody did it with Alex on back-up. Could have knocked me over with a feather when I hear the Bangles had covered it.
That will have to do for tonight.
What’s Going Ahn?
This one is intriguing because you’re a co-writer (any recollections as to what parts you worked on?) and yet it was recorded with with Richard and (likely) Danny Jones. Richard says that unlike the other two “Dolby Fuckers” tracks that this was a John Fry session and not done “after hours”.
So might this have been written in the second half of 72 before Chris left (or around then) and then recorded by the Alex with Richard and Danny sometime in the first half of 73 before the band reconvened? Or…???
The acoustic demo that exists of Alex is again pretty spectacular – pretty much the entire arrangement is right there. Might that have been done…when?
This is the only song for which no track sheet extists (although Adam Hill @ Ardent is still looking). Do you recall any overdubs being done later? (electric piano, some tom toms I think – sound like the tom overdubs on September Gurls and Daisy Glaze)
General question about the three “Dolby Fuckers” tracks. When the band started to work on Radio City after the Writers convention, how did these three songs enter the mix? Was it assumed from the beginning “well, we can use these tracks…” or did Alex (or someone else) introduce the idea of including them later on as a way of shortening the time for completing an album (i.e. getting over the magic 30 minute mark)?
OK, I’m going to try this again. I’m on a different PC and email account now so maybe things will go better. I think this is where we left off.
If I recall, this is a song written in one of those songwriting sessions at Alex’s. As I’ve said before, I kind of think this occurred early on while Chris was still around but I could be wrong. It’s neither inconceivable nor unlikely that we might have had other such events later on. We hung out at Alex’s in his bedroom and listened to LPs on that cool little KLH stereo of his frequently there for a while. I don’t think it would be possible to say I wrote a particular thing or Alex wrote a particular thing. That’s not the way I remember it happening. The song was basically his idea. I just helped by throwing out the occasional chord turn, lyric, whatever. I think I took 10% writer credit or something like that. It’s his song.
I wouldn’t disagree with Richard about recording it, especially since I wasn’t there! That sounds about right.
The timing you suggest is about as close as I could come.
The only overdubs I kind of remember are the toms and the lead guitar parts. Once again, I wasn’t that involved with the recording of this song very much.
You Get What You Deserve
When (approx.) was this song written and developed. I’ve read accounts that say that it was possibly the fourth track you recorded with Chris in late 72 (same demo session) as O My Soul, Got Kinda Lost, and There Was a Life. Speaking of these songs, I listened to a demo at Ardent that I believe came from your collection(?). Adam Hill and I both thought that they sounded like they were recorded post –Chris (sounded like the three-piece with Alex singing). When do you think the demo might have been recorded?
I’m pretty sure this is another of those songs we had from early on. It was probably written before Chris left, but entirely by Alex I think. I also think this was one of the four we did in the famous mono session. My recollection is that they were Deserve, Car, Lost, and the other Chris song. By everyone else says different, so who am I with my 35-year old memory to press the point?
The mono session was definitely done while Chris was still around. I mean you can clearly hear him singing on both the surviving Bell tracks on my ¼ track copy, even though Alex sings lead on the slow one! [Note: see discussion before the first installment. Chris was not there and Jody sang the backup.]
Back of A Car
I’ve read a quote from you that this was “only recorded once” and that it was the first song recorded. When might that have been? Before Chris left in late 72 possibly?
Do you recall your input into the song?
It seems pretty established that this is one of the songs that Chris worked on before leaving and dividing up songs with Alex. Do you have any clear recollection of what the other song(s) might have been (this is a expansion of the question about O My Soul)?
There have been a lot of conflicting accounts as to whether or not Chris actually played on the album…any thoughts, recollections? It would seem that if that were the case that this would be the song.
As I’ve said, I believe this is one of the songs originally recorded in the mono session. To me it has Chris written all over it. I think the concept of the song, the verse chord change and the initial words were something he came in with. But we collaborated in turning it into a song. You guys have unrealistic expectations if you expect us to be able to remember every little lick we may have contributed to a song. I mean a song writing session is not like, let’s see how much of me I can get into this. Whoever was there was just trying to come up with a song we could play. In any case, I remember this as being the first song we recorded with John as a 3-piece and that it went very smoothly. I also think this was on our set list at the Rock Writers Convention.
I am pretty sure Chris did not play on any of the RC songs. We started from scratch when we decided to do RC after he left. We probably would have used the mono session masters in some way, shape, or form but of course they couldn’t be found. They were the only recordings of any of the RC material that existed at that time as far as I know. I guess it’s possible he did some overdubs or something later on but I’m not aware of it.
This song reminds me of driving through the Big Boy and Krystal parking lots in my old man’s Lincoln listening to a Led Zepplin tape right after their first LP came out. It floored us both. We had rigged up an early cassette recorder in the glove box.
Any significance to the original working title of Knoxville? (John Fry actually speculated that Chris might have had input because it refers to where he / you went to school. Jody didn’t think so.)
Richard says that this song took a long time to develop and that Alex worked on it – jamming with various people – over months. I’m thinking that he may be confusing it with O My Soul (which would lend itself more to that.) The only song credited to you, Alex and Jody, how do you recall it being written? When recorded (before or after Writers Convention)?
This has some of the most inventive overdubs on the record. Who do you recall playing pump organ? Any recollection of the guitar in the first half of the song that more or less modulates on the beat? Any other recollections?
I don’t particularly recall the name Knoxville but then we used a lot of obscure nomenclature in those days and a lot of stuff had gone down in Knoxville over the years.
I don’t remember Chris having anything whatsoever to do with this. It was entirely (and probably the only) true Alex/Jody/Andy collaboration. My recollection of the genesis of this song was of Alex playing one of Handel’s Concerti Grossi (opus 6) for me on the little KLH in his bedroom. It’s the one with the intro where they play the same note over and over but twice as fast each measure or whatever. I’ve got the LP around here somewhere. I think John used to have it too – or maybe I have his, not sure. In any case we were in B studio later and just began playing licks and stuff around this. We all input and eventually, after several sessions of this, it became the music for a song. I kind of remember that we actually recorded it as we wrote it although that’s probably not the final band track. John probably recorded us doing that from scratch at some point. The Handel riff starts off the fast part of course. Then Alex went off and wrote some words and we finished it up. I know I overdubbed the pump organ part although it’s conceivable it was later re-overdubbed. I don’t think so however. The bass is my Rickenbacker direct. The acoustic rhythm guitar part was done as previously described in my email exchange with John. I think Alex played oscillator and I console on that. But it could have been John on console.
Once again I have difficulty remembering the timing of things with respect to the convention. My sense of time just wasn’t particularly focused on that event. I do think this one was in work a while before it was actually produced into a song. But I don’t think we were working on it as late at the Dolby Fucker period
She’s A Mover
You overdubbed the bass part and mention using a Fender Showman. What would have been your regular bass amp in the studio?
After listening to this I become a bit confused because I think it’s the same bass rig on both this and Oh My Soul – or at least parts of the latter which is possible due to punching in and out which we did obsessively. But I thought we had only done this once. Obviously not. It’s my Precision Bass through the Showman as I discussed earlier. It was a pretty cool sound.
When I was obsessing over the poor quality of the bass sound I’ve been getting lately my current guitar player, who has a very cool rig with a Rivera tube head and Mesa Boogie speaker, actually had the gall to suggest the amp sound doesn’t matter for a bass. So why don’t I just get one of those modern Ampeg high power non tube amps with all the elaborate “effects”?!?!. How wrong. The Showman rig’s sound is a perfect case in point although I liked the HiWatt better.
But as I’ve said before, we usually ran the bass direct. In an ideal world I suppose I would try to recreate the direct/tube compressor sound on stage. That would take some doing though.
Quite the masterpiece to say the least. Listening to the master tapes at Ardent I was floored that you did three takes and used the first take. If you isolate what the trio did live in the studio, it’s easy to hear that the band had real potential as a live band. Any thoughts?
About when do you think you worked on this song?
Any thoughts / impressions upon first hearing it? Anything specific you recall about recording it?
Yes – if there was ever a BS star that had major potential as a hit this would be it. Too bad. Remember, our goal when we started doing the RC band track sessions with John, based on the experience we had on the mono session, was to try to get them in as few takes as possible. Also this was the period not too long after the 4-piece “tour” and was right around the time of the convention, etc. So we had indeed been playing a lot and this was almost certainly one of the songs on the playlist. So we were tighter at this point than any other in BS history I suppose. We could indeed have been a pretty good live act if things had worked out a little differently. I didn’t use to like playing live. It scared me to death. Now I love it although it still scares me to death sometimes!
Once again, can’t help you much with the timing other than to note that this was certainly one of that early group of RC songs we did with John.
As far as the song itself, it seems to me this was kind of the high point of the original sort of Chris-inspired Big Star sound I believe I discussed earlier. We were all still playing in that style. The song was written pretty much in that style, although much more evolved. And we had become kind of expert at it. All three of us came up with great parts, it was a great song to begin with, and it just worked.
I’ll close with a brief comment on my recollection of this. I remember very late in the process, but while I was still running with Alex some, we ended up in A studio late one night, both blasted on Quaaludes or whatever I’m sure. He started playing this song on the Yamaha and we decided to record it. I can’t remember if we ran one or two mikes but I know the piano went through a compressor which we turned up as much as it would go, essentially totally eliminating the dynamic range of the instrument. It’s a very cool piano sound. The decay of the notes is a loud as when they’re first played. John later re-recorded this properly I believe but kept the compressor thing.
This was pretty much my last hurrah with BS. After this Alex, or John and Alex, properly became concerned with finishing up the LP and getting it released. I was drifting off into other pursuits, like getting out of college. Alex was/had drifted off into the Lesa thing that consumed them both for a while. I was not involved with mixing the LP at all. That was pretty much a John and Alex effort. I remember getting together in John’s office or somewhere to divvy up the writer’s credits once it was sure it was going to be released. I also remember a discussion among the three of us about the Northeast tour they were planning after release (I think it was after the release). But it was nearly September and I needed to matriculate. So I did. And as fun as it is to remember all this stuff every 5 years or so when someone wants to do an interview, I’m glad I did. No offense to anyone, but from what I can tell, the music business sucks. And being involved with designing and building airplanes is kind of fun.