Music, Audio, and Other Illnesses

Waiting for the Black Cadillac, Redux

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 six 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 number one 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 three drum kits, including a 1940s 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-inch 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 discernible 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-inch 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-47 FET mic between the amps. However 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 [formerly of Alembic, now of Rick Turner Guitars – Ed.], 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 1970s, bought by the Andorra folks in the 90s, by the Larrabee people just before we worked in there – temporarily the third in their empire – and finally by Dave and Jaimie Way and their silent partner Brent Spiner, before going private.

[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.