Music, Audio, and Other Illnesses

Waiting for the Black Cadillac

Who knows what’s behind our taste? A record that I think persists in its genius (My Life In the Bush of Ghosts) you may find abstract and boring. And that’s true even when it’s one that I worked on.

Over the years, I’ve got my favorite people I’ve worked with, and for a variety of reasons; some on the road, and some in the studio. I wish I had recorded with Bernie Leadon, but I met him when his solo record was finished — I toured with him off and on for about 6 months. There’s a guy who’s so on it that when I told him the songs that made me want to play were one-chord songs, he took it as a challenge, and immediately wrote a one-chord song; a really good one-chord song.

I have a lot of respect and affection for Jon Hassell. When we did City I was pretty intimately immersed in his career; I know a lot about the challenges he faces, and his persistence is impressive. I’m not sure I’m born to this, but Jon is. And I have fond memories of touring with Stan Ridgway (mostly in Europe). We came to a less-than-happy ending owing to his record company—Miles Copeland’s IRS Records— being incredibly cheap, but that was 30 years ago. We’re happy to see each other every now and then.

All this is a lead-in to writing about my #1 choice of the records I’ve worked on. I’ve written a bit about the title track before, but it merits a more detailed look. Up to now, I’ve written about one or two songs from records I’ve worked on. But with Rosanne Cash’s Black Cadillac, I like it all.

At first, all I knew was that we were booked to do an album. For a very brief period, Andy Slater and Julian Raymond of Capitol Records considered Bill Bottrell, Brian MacLeod and myself their “A-Team”; their go-to guys. We moved into a (Neve 8078-equipped) studio in the Cahuenga Pass called Larrabee East[1] for 6 months or more, and worked with a variety of artists in that period, most of whom you probably haven’t heard of, however talented they were. They came along too late in Capitol’s long history to make a dent in a dying industry. Some were just expensive experiments: Bill and I worked with Dhani Harrison during that time — he later introduced me to his band-mates as the original bassist in his band, the New No. 2.

We brought a somewhat large collection of gear with us — Brian brought 3 drum kits, including a 40s all-wood kit he called “The Blond Bomber”. Bill had half a dozen guitars. I brought 25 basses, a variety of racks of gear, along with a couple of old tubed amps (a Versatone and a Guild ThunderBass, both about 40 years old at the time) and tubed mic preamps to use as DIs (Telefunken/Siemens V-72 and EAR 824M)[2].

These have the virtues of distinctively different sounds — the Versatone, a “combo” amp with one 12” speaker, isn’t a very bottom-heavy sound, and is capable of the most god-head distortion ever[3]. But turned up to just below half way, it’s clean with a little bit of “hair” on it, a barely discernable amount of distortion, but when you play harder it breaks up nicely[4]. And the V-72, at least as it was modified for my use, does a very similar thing.

The other pairing was the Guild (with a separate cabinet and single JBL D140 15” speaker) and Tim DeParavicini’s EAR 824M, the insanely wide-band and uber-clean tubed mic amp. The 824M was also set up to do DI duty along with Tim’s Wedge-It input device. Though an absurdly expensive DI by anybody’s standard (somewhere north of $11,000), in combination with the Guild amp the resulting sound was full, warm, and pretty clean.

So for the run of the four or five albums we worked on, I had my set-up, and would swing a Neumann U-47fet mic between the amps. How important all of this is to anybody else — not saying it is, or it isn’t — it was the culmination of my pursuit of a sound to go with what my hands were doing. With the old Ultrasone 650 headphones, the whole thing comprised a feedback loop, so to speak, and was as important to what I did then every bit as much as the sound that I developed for City was for my playing at the end of the 80s.

There’s one other thing I want to say in this introduction to Black Cadillac that might aid in understanding the necessity of all this. I’ve written before about meeting Rick Turner, and learning about really good sound at a pretty early age. In some online conversation or other, Rick said of me that I could pick up a different instrument and find a different musician inside. This was a real surprise to me when he wrote it, but as I thought about it, I realized it was completely true. I don’t approach music one way; I approach it sonically AND musically. Maybe it’s a sense of a musical gestalt. I think most people, if they had my particular madness, would do the same. I just pursued it to a logical end.

Next time, I’ll go into the making of Black Cadillac.

[1] The studio was built by Tom Jones in the 70s, bought by the Andorra folks in the 90s, by the Larrabee people just before we worked in there — temporarily the 3rd in their empire — and finally by Dave and Jaimie Way and their silent partner Brent Spiner, before going private. [Brent Spiner?!? Data from ST:TNG?!?–Ed.]

[2] Direct-inject, a technique for recording an instrument without a microphone.

[3] Think Jack Casady on “Sunrise” from Paul Kantner’s Blows Against the Empire.

[4] Casady on the first Hot Tuna album.