My Side of The Glass

A Blog by Record Producer Brian Charles

Tuesday Night Recording Club – July 30, 2013 Inspiration: Elvis Presley 1956 RCA Sessions

Elvis Presleywink
Tuesday Night Recording Club – July 30, 2013
Original Song: “Make It (Alright)” Written by: Aaron Perrino

Inspiration: Elvis Presley Circa 1956, RCA Studios
Musical Contribution from:
Aaron Perrino: Vocals Judd Williams: Drums Jim Haggerty: Upright Bass Jim Scoppa: Guitar Backup Singers: Corin Ashly, Joe Chehade, Steve Scott, Pete Weiss
Produced & Engineered By: Brian Charles & Annie Hoffman On Tuesday Night, July 30, 2013 at Zippah Studios, Boston, MA
Visual wizardry: Will Claflin aka Sacruhlicious
I was nine years old when Elvis Presley died. I remember how every radio station on the dial played his music on a seemingly endless loop for days. Television stations were broadcasting documentaries, tribute shows, and concert footage. I remember watching the “69 Comeback Special” where Elvis was dressed in a black leather suit that would make every era of Batman envious. Not only was Elvis the definition of “cool”, but he tnrc-elvis-fullalso had a seemingly uncontrollable electricity about him…especially when he sang. Elvis sang with every cell in his body, and it was infectious. I can easily put this stuff into words now, but at nine…it just blew my mind. On the Sunday after his death, I remember my Atlanta, Georgia newspaper included a huge pull-out tnrc-elvis-rca77 rca-44-tnrc-elvis-350wsection devoted to the “King Of  Rock & Roll”. The entire thing ended up on my bedroom wall. I began collecting everything “Elvis”. I begged my parents for jobs around the house so that I could earn money to buy his records…my mom’s friends would often come by and ask to borrow from my Elvis record collection. I even had my mother cut open the pant-legs of my jeans and sew extra material in them, so that I could have “bell bottoms” like Elvis had. Yep, I was one of the weirdest nine-year-olds around…but this infatuation is what led me to begin learning to play the guitar that following year, and also led me to learn about The Beatles and tnrc-elvis-gates-collinsThe Rolling Stones. Elvis was basically a “gateway drug” to my musical life. Paying homage to “The King” on one of our Tuesday Nights was going to have to be done right. Further intensifying my challenge is the fact that I wanted to take inspiration from 1956 era Elvis…RCA studios-style. My goal was to make a recording that could convince even the most schooled listener that it was recorded over 50 years ago! The first person I contacted about participating tnrc-elvis-drumsas my pal Jim Haggerty. Besides being one of the best electric bass players you’ll ever hear (not even exaggerating a little), he’s downright amazing on the upright bass…it kinda resembles a Siamese sibling as he thumps and slaps out what could easily be an entire rhythm section. Those of you who’ve seen him play, know what I mean. I asked him to round up some rockabilly ringers, and he did just that with Jim Scoppa (touring master of the telecaster since 1967) on the guitar and Judd Williams (The Amazing Royal Crowns) on the drums. With these guys lined up, I was off to a good start for sure, but I still had the onus of duplicating the legendary sound of RCA studios in the 50’s. I began my research by looking at photos from the original sessions, and realized that Elvis sang through an RCA 77DX ribbon microphone (I have one of those) and the Jordanaires (backup singers) sang through an RCAtnrc-collins212y-600 44, which my friend and fellow engineer, Pete Weiss was happy to loan me for the session. I also had a decent collection of RCA ribbon style clones that ended up working out great.The plan: 5 microphones for 8 musicians, all playing live in the studio with no headphones. All microphone amplification was to be done with vintage gear loaded with vacuum tubes and transformers and recorded to analog tape (mixed to one mono track). Aaron brought in a song that he wrote with lyrics that depicted a boy from the wrong side of the tracks, dating a girl with a disapproving father…perfect! So how did we pull this off? (Audio nerds read on…everyone else, click play on the videos at the bottom of this post.)We set the RCA44 (backups) and 77 (lead vocal) Mics up side by side utilizing the null spots of these figure eight pattern “monsters” for maximum cancellation. The outside null spots for each mic were placed to reject the drums and the guitar amp located on the far and optnrc-elvis-1posite ends of the room. Single figure 8 ribbon mics were placed over the drums, in front of the upright bass and also the small guitar amp. For mic pres used are as follows…Drums – Altec 436c, Bass – Collins26U, Guitar – Maxson D.O.C., Background vocals (RCA44) Federal AM864U-1 and Lead Vocal (RCA77) Collins 212Y amp into a Gates Sta-Level limiter. Many of these old tube limiters have enough gain to use as mic preamps as well…hence the term “Leveling amplifier”…the Collins AM864U-1 (bass) was actually cranked up all the way…and it worked like a charm. We tracked these signals to five different tracks on the tape machine…I tnrc-elvis-cutteralmost sent them all to one channel, but then realized that it would be interesting from an analytic stand-point to have these tracks separated. Elvis’ guitar player – Scotty Moore, used an amplifier made by “Echosonic” which had a tape echo unit built into the bottom. Since there were only 60 of these made, we used a 50’s tweed deluxe amp and an echo-plex tape delay…pretty convincing sound with the right player. Aaron began working out the song with the band, while our “Jordanaires” worked out the backup vocals in the control room – led by harmony-master Corin Ashley (The Pills), and joined by talented singers Joe Chehade (The Life Electric), Steve Scott (Air Traffic Controller) and Pete Weiss (The Weistronauts, Sool). Originally, Aaron’s vocal approach sounded a bit like Johnny Cash so we tried changing the key (higher) only to lower it back down but with the melody sung an octave up. Rather than try to sound like Elvis himself, I urged Aaron to channel the same “energy” that Elvis might have, when singing a rocking song. I knew that Aaron had that type of energy himself, as much of the Sheila Divine’s appeal was due to Aaron’s vocal “electricity”. He tapped right into it, and immediately, I felt that rush! It was like Aaron in full on rock mode…but in 1956. Everybody seemed to react to this once it clicked, and we decided to run some takes. During the first take, I had to run out to the live room to adjust the height of a mic, and the energy in that room was off the charts. Three takes later we had our track. Out of the four takes, we chose take three and made note of the shortest Recording Club evening yet! The next day my assistant Annie and I broke out the 40’s record lathe and cut an acetate of the song…just for fun (see the additional video clip below the feature)
Tuesday Night Recording Club – “Make It (Alright)” Inspiration: Elvis Presley Circa 1956 from Tuesday Night Recording Club on Vimeo.

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