ANDY HUMMEL IN HIS OWN WORDS PART TWO.
Here's Part Two of what will be three parts. See the last post for background info. Again, this is Andy is writing in response to my questions in July 2007.
I’m trying to recreate as much as possible a timeline for how the album came together. Here are the key dates as far as I can tell. So even being able to place when songs were written and / or recorded within these blocks of time would be helpful.
June 1972 – #1 Record released
October 1972 – live dates wind down
Dec 1972 – Chris leaves the band
May 1973 – Rock Writer’s Convention
December 1973 – Radio City mastered
So many writers have micro-analyzed this subject that whatever you have must come from more accurate sources than my memory. Instead of addressing this directly, let tell you a bit about musical relationships. You should be able to overlay the timeline on this fairly easily. This might be somewhat helpful.
First, just for the record - In the early days, before Big Star, Chris and I were pretty inseparable musically as I recall. Outside the studio we both played with various combinations of folks occasionally. And, of course in the studio one went with the flow of who was present on any given evening. But our primary musical vehicle/core was the 3-piece of Jody, Chris, and me, with Tom Eubanks doing a stint as a fourth for a while. We actually played out quite a bit doing fraternity parties, department store openings and the like. The other people we, and especially Chris played with, like Terry Manning, Steve Rhea, etc. have weighed in so heavily on this subject that you get the impression early Big Star and pre Big Star was some sort of commune as opposed to a cohesive band. Of course they’re just going by their recollections and this is what they remember. At one point a few years ago I had read so much of that type of stuff I almost became convinced myself. But nothing could be further from the truth. Especially by the time we hooked up with Alex we were very much a committed 3-piece band with a decent amount of both gig and studio experience.
Anyway, as we recorded the 1st LP on National Street, and later Madison Ave, Chris and Alex became very tight musically. There was never any question we four were the band and we behaved as such, but Alex and Chris were just way more experienced than us so Jody and I were pretty much side men at this point. They each had songs they brought to the table, but when it came to producing and recording them they collaborated pretty seamlessly. I think they were rather surprised when I showed up with that horrible India Song. I never should have let Alex talk me into putting it on the record.
As we neared completion of the 1st LP however, for whatever reason, Alex and Chris became increasingly independent of each other musically. Alex was all about branching out and experimenting musically while Chris was going through a personal crisis which inhibited his ability to socialize musically.
So Alex and I began to hang together. By this time I had taken John’s Audio Engineering course and was competent to run the studio solo. Previously we had been dependent on John, Chris, or Richard to provide this skill set. For the two of us, like most of these folks, hanging out meant hanging out musically. We did all sorts of crazy things, recording until the wee hours of the morning, listening to all sorts of odd musical influences and the like. We recorded Do Right Woman at Dan Penn’s studio with Spooner at 4:00 one morning. I’m sure it was horrible. I guess this would all have been happening roughly throughout 1972.
Anyway, the reason for going into all this is that by the time we began R.C. there was kind of a concept of operations (ConOps) in effect. Alex and I did lots of demo type stuff in the middle of the night with whoever was around. I have a really cool demo I recorded one night of Vera singing DIVORCE with Alex playing all the instruments and singing backup. I usually ran the studio and Alex played the music. When we were ready to do a real band track we’d get John to record it if necessary, then we’d spend the next month or so doing all the overdubs ourselves – of which there were a lot as I’m sure you know. Most of what I call the “mainline” R.C. songs were done this way. Alex later used a similar ConOps for the Dobly Fuckers stuff, usually, but not always with Richard recording.
Anyway, all that stuff about early BS is just me venting a little about the perceptions past articles and books have created. But this latter stuff is how I remember R.C. happening, at least at the 20,000 foot level as we say in the aircraft business. And I think it’s useful to understand this ConOps of how we operated in the studio before going into details about each track and stuff.
As far as the specific timelines go for R.C. … and this is not my strong area … first I’ll have to download the LPs from iTunes. I don’t seem to have copies. In the meantime, please note the following disclaimer: It has been about 35 years since all this occurred and I do not pretend to remember it all perfectly. So if you run into other evidence which seems to contradict me, it is probably more correct.
As an interlude while we’re waiting I’ll tell the keyboards story.
I started studying classical piano in the 3rd grade. My mother had a small Knabe grand at our house she got about 1947. It was a great piano. It had easy action and a nice mellow sound. I studied formally with various teachers for about 7 years, until about the 9th grade.
But I played that piano constantly experimenting with all sorts of stuff including figuring out a lot of rock songs. I can’t think of anything better than growing up with a nice piano at your disposal like that. You can’t help but learn a lot.
I actually played organ for a while for a soul band during my R&B period.
When we first started going to Ardent on National they had what must be about a 5’5” Chickering grand. I think it had a walnut finish. It must have been early 60s vintage. This was also a great piano. It was brighter and with a bigger sound than the Knabe. Most of the piano on the 1st LP was this Chickering. Everyone used it for everything. When we moved to Madison we brought the Chickering with us and installed it in the B studio, the one we mostly used. So most of the piano on RC was also the Chickering. One hopes Fry still has it. Often I – and others – would go in and just play it for hours alone.
For the A studio they had to buy an additional piano. Fry, I expect at Terry’s urging, did not skimp. He got a brand new Yamaha concert grand. I think it was 7’ at least. It was solid black. It was a wonderful instrument. Smooth action, not the pronounced double action you get with Steinways, and a beautiful big bright tone. We used it some for recording but since it was in A studio, which we liked less and which was less accessible (all the big paying sessions were booked there) not nearly as much as the Chickering. But I – and a lot of others – loved to just go in there, close the door, and play and play, and play. Again, I hope it’s still there and in good shape. I liked that piano so much when it came time for me to by my own after I moved to Texas, I got a big black Yamaha C3 – with was their 6’ concert model at the time. I still have it and taught 3 kids how to play on it, not that it took with any of them. I taught myself to site read in the process though!
Alex had a Chickering at his house we played some too. I gather he grew up with this piano much like I did the Knabe. I remember it as being almost identical to the one in the B studio. His Dad was a jazz musician and used it when he jammed with his buddies,
I don’t believe Chris ever had a piano. I gather his family wasn’t musical like Alex’s and mine.
Also in B studio was a Hammond B3 organ with a big old tube Leslie. Hammonds are kind of a special case in the keyboard world to me. You play them kind of like lead guitar players play except on a keyboard. Also you have all those drawbars to manage. I never quite got it although I played it all the time trying to. Love B3s though. I wish I had one. I don’t think we ever used the B3 on a record but we used its Leslie all the time. Ever since Eric Clapton first ran a guitar through one, I think either on Abbey Road or Badge, everyone wanted to use that sound. And we did. It didn’t hurt that in addition to the rotating Leslie speakers it also had a great tube amp that distorted perfectly.
Other keyboards in the studio:
- • They had one of the first Moog synthesizers. The damn thing was so complicated to operate I don’t remember using it very much. Then they replaced it with an Arp. I didn’t think it was much better but the Beatles apparently did so we screwed with it a lot. It probably ended up on a record somewhere. I’ll listen for it when my download completes.
- • For a critical while they had an old pump organ out in B studio. I played this on Daisy Glaze. It belonged to someone though and they took it away finally.
- • Frequently Jim Dickenson would bring his tacky piano over. This was an upright and someone had actually stuck thumbtacks into all the hammers to get that tacky sound.
- • They bought an early Mellotron. We all loved it. Notionally you didn’t need to hire strings or horns anymore! They were very controversial with the musicians union as you can imagine. We used it a lot.
That’s all I can remember about keyboards so let’s resume with the timeline discussion.
As the Number 1 effort, and its very lame tour, wound down in mid to late 1972, new songs had already been written, both separately and jointly, mostly the latter. We hadn’t laid any tracks down to speak of but we had played many of the songs quite a bit in practice sessions, studio jams, and the like. Some writing occurred with the three or four of us in Alex’s bedroom. I know we did What’s Going Ahn there. Ditto Life is White and Back of a Car. It’s probably safe to say that the songs listed with both Andy and Alex writing credits were done this way. I’m almost positive Chris was present during some or all this. So it happened early on.
So we had these songs nearly ready to record. We also had a couple of Chris songs, Got Kinda Lost and another slow Chris song that escapes me right now. So there came a point where we were like, hey let’s record again. We were all getting kind of sick of the conventional method or recording; close miking everything, laying down 30 tracks before you settle on one, then millions of overdubs to get the final song. Plus we were really interested in mono. So – to make a long story short – we got Fry to engineer a session in B studio in mono, basically using one old big Neuman microphone in the middle of the room, with the whole band at once, and recorded four songs. I don’t remember how well we succeeded but the goal was to do them all in one take. I think we came pretty close. They sounded great. They were hot, fresh, full of enthusiasm, etc. and the mono sound Fry came up with was amazing I know we did Got Kind of Lost and the other Chris song. We also did Back of a Car. I’m not sure about the last one but it was probably Oh My Soul or You Get What You Deserve. I still have a tape of the Chris songs. I think Fry does too. You should listen to it. Anyway the master of this eventually got lost but it became the genesis of RC.
So after Chris left and we finally decided to do another LP, we started with these songs, subject of course to the deal Alex and Chris had cut on who would get writer credit on what, so we didn’t use the two Chris songs. Pity. But since the master was gone we had to re-record them. I recall a fairly long tortuous period during which we laid down the band tracks for Car, Soul, probably Life, Deserve, and later September and West. We then spent months producing and overdubbing them, often using the ConOps described above although eventually Alex took Fry’s course and started soloing on the console. This was sort of the Mainline part of the LP.
As we got well into this process Alex and Richard started up the Dolby Fuckers thing. I believe they/we did all that ourselves. Fry wasn’t needed to do the tracks because they were usually just a guitar and drums with everything else overdubbed.
The last two Alex songs were done way later right before mixing started.