Classic Tracks: Supertramp's "Give a Little Bit" - Mixonline
Though he no longer recalls precisely where or when “Give a Little Bit” was written, Hodgson explains, “I’ve always known that love is what I long for, what I want, what I believe we’re here to learn, ultimately.” And as the love chant of the ’60s was fading, he says, “Maybe it was an answer—‘Oh, just give a little bit.’”

Supertramp arrived on the scene in 1969, with its most-beloved main lineup falling into place in 1973, when founders Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies were joined by bassist Dougie Thomson, drummer Bob Siebenberg and saxophonist John Helliwell. Two albums in 1974 and 1975, produced by Ken Scott put them on the map, with “Dreamer” and “Bloody Well Right” from 1974’s Crime of the Century getting airplay in the U.S. But it was their fifth album, Even in the Quietest Moments, in 1977, that left an indelible mark in listeners’ ears, due in large part to Hodgson’s uplifting, magical hit single, “Give a Little Bit.”

“The song definitely hit a nerve,” the songsmith notes. “It’s the closest thing to an anthem that I’ve ever written.”

The band had been touring and recording, on and off, for two-and-a-half years, plugging and tracking their previous two records, and by June 1976 they were exhausted, recalled the late Russell Pope, the band’s live sound engineer (considered by all, its de facto sixth member; he passed away in August 2017). “Everybody needed time out.”

The band’s manager, Dave Margereson, approached Jerry Moss, co-founder of their label, A&M Records, and asked for six months off, which was happily granted.

After taking July and August off, the band settled down in a two-house property Margereson had rented up in Malibu, one house of which, high upon a hill, became the band’s home base for rehearsing and demoing for their next album over the next two months.

Hodgson and Davies wrote songs separately, though they were credited as by both, a la “Lennon-McCartney.” Davies, Pope noted, “would write two songs in six months, all really good, structured, thought out and orchestral. But Roger would just churn out melody after melody. He always had dozens of songs sitting there, in embryonic form—some almost complete, and some were not.” Notes Hodgson, “I still have 60 songs that haven’t been recorded.”

Supertramp "Give a Little Bit" single

The songwriter was particularly prolific several years earlier, between ages 19 and 21, coming up with the hit title track for their following album, Breakfast in America, at 19. “Music was where I expressed myself the clearest,” he notes. “I was very affected by The Beatles growing up, particularly when they began experimenting. I could really see how much more music could do—they had turned it on its head.”

He would record demos on a Sony 2-track reel-to-reel, sound-on-sound machine, where he learned to layer his guitars and vocals. “Even using the cheap little mic that came with that Sony deck,” Pope says, “which had nothing below 100 Hz, with his fabulous rhythm guitar playing—particularly on a 12-string—and his ethereal lyrical consciousness, and that great voice, he could make a home demo sound like a hit. They were remarkable.”

Though he no longer recalls precisely where or when “Give a Little Bit” was written (he thinks likely when he was 21 or 22), Hodgson explains, “I’ve always had a longing. I’ve known that love is what I long for, what I want, what I believe we’re here to learn, ultimately. And things had begun to sour for The Beatles, with their breaking up, and the whole love revolution of the 60s, and John’s ‘All You Need Is Love’ kind of fading, maybe it was an answer—’Oh, just give a little bit.’”

The song got tucked away. “I didn’t think much of it. I thought it was too simple for Supertramp. And I didn’t even play it for the band for about four years.” He would, as was his habit, play it here and there in his hotel room for bandmates or crew after shows, among other compositions, Siebenberg even remembering hearing it on occasion.

But it wasn’t until the demo period in Malibu that Hodgson formally introduced it to the band, where they then made a recording in the home’s living room—again on his Sony deck, which he used for that set of album demos (this time using a Shure SM57). “I was in New York, not with them,” Pope recalls. “He sent me that demo, which was the first time I heard the song, and it frankly sounded just like the final record.”

The band held meetings to discuss which songs they would record and focused on seven tracks, refining, prepping and demoing. “We had meetings to discuss which songs we were going to do,” says Hodgson. “We weren’t a band that would go into a studio and record 18 songs and then choose nine to release.” A balance between his and Davies’ songs was always key.

“My job, for most of the albums, was deciding which of my songs matched the songs he’d written the best, to make the best listening experience,” even mapping out a running order prior to recording. “I’d spend weeks going through the songs to figure out the best running order, and the best musical journey of an album. And always keeping in mind, ‘This song’s gonna go into this next song, so how would be the best transition?’”

While Ken Scott had produced and recorded the group’s previous two albums, the band was ready for a change, and, being Beatles fans, made the obvious next move—asking Geoff Emerick to record them.   

Related: Classic Tracks: Supertramp's "The Logical Song," by Tim Morse, Mix, June 1, 2000

“We were looking for someone new, and we obviously loved Geoff’s work with The Beatles,” Hodgson states. Emerick happened to be in Los Angeles in early October, staying with producer George Martin, with whom he would imminently leave for Hawaii to record America’s Harbor album through mid-December. “I was living with George and his wife at the time, at their house on Kimridge Road in Beverly Hills,” the engineer remembers. “Jerry Moss approached John Burgess at AIR Studios, who was my manager at the time, about doing the Supertramp record. But I wasn’t available due to my commitment with George on the America project, so I suggested Peter Henderson.”

Engineer Peter Henderson, left, and Supertramp bassist Dougie Thomson at Caribou’s original Neve Melbourne console during tracking. (Photo: Tom Likes)

Engineer Peter Henderson, left, and Supertramp bassist Dougie Thomson at Caribou’s original Neve Melbourne console during tracking. (Photo: Tom Likes)

Henderson had started at AIR Studios in 1974 at age 18 (Emerick was just a year older when he took over as The Beatles’ engineer in 1966), working exclusively as Emerick’s assistant for a year and a half before becoming an engineer and working on his own. Early in 1976, having just turned 21, he, in fact, tracked Paul McCartney & Wings’ Wings at the Speed of Sound at Abbey Road, under a similar referral from a busy Emerick. And when the Supertramp project arose later in the year, he once again recommended his protégé—”Which was very nice of Geoff, I have to say,” Henderson states. “Geoff couldn’t do it,” notes Pope, “so he said, ‘I’m working with this young guy who’s really good. I have trained him, he knows all my stuff.” All parties agreed, with the understanding that, upon completion of recording, Emerick would then mix the album.

The young engineer arrived in Los Angeles on Thursday October 28, and after settling in at the Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica, he took a drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to meet with bandmembers Thomson, Helliwell and Siebenberg to go over the songs.

“Dave Margereson sat me in a room with a tape recorder and hit ‘Play,’” Henderson recalls. “That was the first time I’d heard any material—very different from how things work today.” Everything except the complex “Fool’s Overture” was “fairly close to arranged,” including “Give.”

That evening, he drove to Topanga Canyon to meet Hodgson and Pope at the very-Topanga “Inn of the Seventh Ray.” “This was only the second time I’d been in the States,” he notes, “so landing there, it was very strange.” Pope recalls. “We sat down for dinner, and this kid walked in the door—looked about 14—and we went, ‘What, you’ve got to be kidding!’ But within two days of hearing his approach to the recording, we knew he was perfect.”

Caribou Ranch

The band wasn’t just tired, they were also tired of L.A. Recording would take place somewhere else. “It was on Roger’s wish list to not be in a crowded city, not have to deal with L.A. traffic to go to the studio every day,” Pope recalls. “Dave thought, ‘The band would do great if they repeated what they did for Crime of the Century,” for which they rehearsed at a farm in Dorset, “go to some isolated place—no wives, no girlfriends, no record company people, and just close the curtains and see what happens.”

Caribou Ranch was the perfect fit. Built in 1972 by Chicago’s producer, Jim Guercio, on a former Arabian horse ranch near Nederland, Colo., 17 miles west of Boulder, the facility had already become legendary, having hosted the likes of Elton John, Joe Walsh, Chicago and The Beach Boys. “We’d heard about Caribou, and I just really felt like getting out of Los Angeles, going somewhere we could really focus on the music,” Hodgson says.

Caribou’s three-story “barn” studio building. The studio was on the second floor; windows at top are in the third floor pool/recreation room. (Photo: Tom Likes)

Caribou’s three-story “barn” studio building. The studio was on the second floor; windows at top are in the third floor pool/recreation room. (Photo: Tom Likes)

He, Pope and Thomson piled into an old VW bus the band owned—the same one from which Hodgson’s original beloved Guild 12-string acoustic had been stolen the year prior—and departed from the house in Manhattan Beach where Hodgson and crew friends had been living (he would relocate to Topanga two years later, Pope notes, following the success of this album and its successor, Breakfast in America). Davies and his soon-to-be-wife, Sue, had left earlier; Henderson flew, arriving on Sunday October 31. “We drove up from L.A,” Pope says, “and just parked ourselves there until the week before Christmas.”

They were met by Caribou staff assistant engineer Tom Likes, or “G.B.” as the band called him. “I have big feet, you know, Gun Boats,” he laughs. [Likes wasn’t the only one who acquired a nickname, Henderson reveals. “They used to take the piss out of me—especially John Helliwell—because I was very young, traveling around the world.” This now being his second visit to the States, Likes remembers, “Pete said he’d been to America twice now, and they just went, ‘Oh, he thinks he’s bloody James Bond because he’s been to America twice!’” Thus was born Peter “J.B.” Henderson, and was so credited.]

Likes had grown up in rural Lamar, Colo., 100 miles east of Pueblo, and, after moving to Denver, played drums in bands in clubs there. He and his colleagues eventually formed a group around musician Gerard McMahon—or, G Tom Mac, as he is now known—to whom Guercio took a liking and signed to his Caribou Records label. After the group recorded Gerard at the studio in 1975, Guercio asked Likes and electronics tech wizard Al Burnham (A.B.) to stay on when McMahon left to go on tour. He became staff assistant engineer, as well as assisted Burnham in maintaining gear. “My main job was running the tape machines and tuning them up every day,” he says.   

The band took immediately to the environs of Caribou Ranch. “The environment was incredible—the nature, the beauty of the place were unbelievable,” Hodgson recalls. He, Helliwell and Thomson would spend time hiking or cross-country skiing. “It felt like a real adventure. If we were going to make an album for months, we wanted to make it something special.” Adds Pope, “The food was unbelievable. We ate like kings every night.”

Besides the studio building, Caribou had a main lodge and office/kitchen structure, with not only a spacious mess hall with a large banquet table where the band ate all their meals, a large sun deck, and a fireplace, but upstairs rooms where, typically, band and crew would stay. There were also four individual—and extravagant—”cabins,” though that appears to be an understatement.

“The beds had brass plaques that said, ‘Grover Cleveland slept in this,’ there were giant animal heads on the walls, giant beds, the furniture was all triple-sized,” Pope recalls. Hodgson stayed with Henderson, Davies and his girlfriend in another (tending to keep to themselves), Helliwell and Sieberberg in another, and Pope and Thomson in Ouray, the fanciest of the lot (and normally reserved for the main recording act/star).

Guercio had built the studio itself into a very large former barn structure, rebuilt to comprise three floors. The first floor, with full-length porches on either side, housed Likes’ and Burnham’s tech rooms, another kitchen, musical equipment storage, loading and unloading area, and the entrance to a hydraulic freight elevator to the second level. The elevator opened up upstairs to a hallway which led to the studio live room and control room, as well as a stair to the third floor, where musicians could relax playing pool or pinball (and a vintage “Pong” table machine, all the rage at the time). Guercio also had pairs of 35mm and 16mm projectors there, to show on a pull-down screen at the far end of the studio below. “Universal actually sent us Jaws in June 1975 to show Elton, a week before it was in theaters!” while the artist was there recording Rock of the Westies, Likes recalls.

The studio live room, about 30 feet wide by 50 feet deep, was, as was the rest of the barn, paneled with vertical wood plank. The southernmost three-quarters was carpeted, while the front quarter nearest the control room window had a parquet floor. A piano cove was built into the eastern wall, near the control room, in which the body of a Steinway grand piano sat—the same one which Elton John and countless others had/would play.

             Caribou Studios rate card, showing the studio interior, looking northward toward Control Room. Note piano cove on far right, parquet floor in front of Control Room window (where Siebenberg’s drums were tracked), and, through the doorway at left, the elevator in which Hodgson’s acoustic guitars were recorded. (Photo: Courtesy Tom Likes)

Caribou Studios rate card, showing the studio interior, looking northward toward Control Room. Note piano cove on far right, parquet floor in front of Control Room window (where Siebenberg’s drums were tracked), and, through the doorway at left, the elevator in which Hodgson’s acoustic guitars were recorded. (Photo: Courtesy Tom Likes)

“It was carpeted and soundproofed like a drum booth, but with room for us to get in and access the soundboard and place microphones,” leaving the keyboard itself exposed into the live room, Likes explains. Henderson actually did not use the cove, instead placing the piano in a booth the team built at the south end of the room.

Opposite that custom piano booth was a drum booth, though, for the Supertramp recordings, Henderson instead placed Siebenberg’s Ludwig kit, with its four toms and 14x6.5-inch Supraphonic snare, on the parquet floor, facing south into the room, to take advantage of the additional reflection from the glass.

Near the drum booth was a custom guitar gobo box (or “amp tunnel,” as Pope calls it), for Hodgson’s MusicMan amp, among the first, Henderson notes.

Caribou’s original Neve Melbourne console, used to record “Give a Little Bit.” (Photo: Tom Likes)

Caribou’s original Neve Melbourne console, used to record “Give a Little Bit.” (Photo: Tom Likes)

The wood-paneled (and heavily carpeted) control room, at the north end of the building, featured, at that time, the studio’s original 24-input, 8-output Neve Melbourne console (which would be replaced sometime after 1980 with a newer model). Two 24-track Ampex tape machines were available, recording to Ampex 406 stock, running, for these sessions, at 30 ips. The machines could be locked if desired, using an ECCO Dual Cue synchronization system. “We were one of the few studios trying it out at that point,” Likes notes, manufacturer’s reps having come to install it, while it was up to Burnham to keep it functioning. The pair of machines could be controlled by a custom-built remote console to the left of the desk, with controls for both sets of 24 tracks. Sets of 3M 2-track and 4-track machines were also available.

Outboard gear included Teletronix LA-2A and LA-3A compressor/limiters, Pultec equalizers, UREI 1176 limiters, EMT and AKG stereo echo chamber units (kept, isolated, on the first floor behind the tape storage), among other pieces. Monitors were Altec A7 Voice of the Theatre speakers, along with Tannoy Lockwood Academys (with the barn’s large chimney fireplace open at the back of the control room between the rear speakers). The room was set up for quad mixing, though that feature was not used for these sessions.

The room was outfitted with one other piece of specialized equipment the band brought with them. “They brought the umbrella that was on the cover of their Crisis? What Crisis? album and put in there,” says Likes, “for good luck.”

             Caribou’s custom recording remote, built to operate both 24-track Ampex machines, when operating in lock. (Photo: Tom Likes)

Caribou’s custom recording remote, built to operate both 24-track Ampex machines, when operating in lock. (Photo: Tom Likes)

Recording commenced on Wednesday November 3, with Hodgson’s “Babaji,” followed by Davies’ “Loverboy” on Saturday, November 6, and the remaining tracks started on the following Saturday, Sunday and Monday. That last day, Monday November 15, saw not only a redo of “Loverboy,” but basic tracking for “Give a Little Bit.”

Tracking usually included piano, bass and drums, Henderson explains, with no click track and no live guitar (except, of course, on tracks, which were guitar-based, such as “Give” and the album’s title track, which were centered around Hodgson’s 12-string acoustic). “They would practice and rehearse, a lot of which they’d done already, while we’d get set up,” Likes says. “Then we’d do basic tracks. And when they were satisfied with the basic tracks, we’d move on to another song.”

A master was sometimes made up of the best of several takes, often taking place during tracking. “I was editing between takes,” Henderson notes. “Sometimes you would get a good first verse from one, a second verse from another,” until the best master was created.

Overdubbing took place from November 16 onward, and continued for another five weeks, until December 21. The long stretch did, actually, invoke occasional cabin fever. “We worked hard,” says Pope, “We knew why we were there. But it was winter, and we were up there week after week, working six or seven days, with nowhere to go. We all knew each other; we didn’t need to bond.” So occasional trips down to Boulder—a 45 minute drive, assuming no snow—happened three or four times, once to see a performance by Robert Palmer, a friend of Helliwell’s.

Related: "Supertramp in Paris '79" Restored at Cups 'N Strings, Mix, July 21, 2006

While the credit for the recordings says “Produced by Supertramp,” Pope notes, “That’s a catch-all phrase for any and all of us. But the truth is, mostly it was Roger. It was a joint effort, but Roger was the most significant voice in the room on most things. And he had the really cool, ethereal arrangement skills, which is what’s in ‘Give a Little Bit.’”

Henderson agrees: “At that time, Roger was probably the main arranger in the group. Rick was also kicking in ideas, but because Roger is more of a multi-instrumentalist, he was very, very good at coming up with parts—he had had a real knack for arranging. Sometimes there would be parts that he would think of there and then, and sometimes he would already know what he was going to put on.”

Almost an equal voice in production was that of Pope, Hodgson relates. “Russell was very, very key, in that way,” he says. “He was very important as a partner for me, in the vision of the band. And when we met Pete, that was a very powerful triad.”

Pope had moved from Devon, South Africa, around 1969, and, broke, with no work permit, recalled, “Some guy walked into the flat I was sharing and said, ‘Does anybody want to go to Norway for two weeks? This band I’m working with needs an extra pair of hands.’” Eventually, Hodgson recalls, “Russell was around, and I think we just said, ‘What do you do? Do you want to do sound for us?’ And, of course, he had no experience at all,” though became their live sound engineer, and remained so. He became a literal equal partner and considered a true member of the band, even to the point of being listed in the credits for Quietest Moments within the list of band members.

“He not only did their live sound, but was really valuable to them for throwing in his opinion,” observes Henderson. “If he heard something that was out, he was somebody they’d listen to—even helping out with lyrics. Plus, he was like the missing bridge between the band, management and the record company. He was in the thick of all of the decisions. Plus,” he smiles, “he had a very sardonic sense of humor. He would always want to say more than he did. He always held a bit back.”

Tracking “Give a Little Bit”

As mentioned, the basic track for “Give a Little Bit” was recorded on Wednesday, November 15, 1976. Hodgson played his Guild 12-string acoustic live to a drum part by Siebenberg and bass from Thomson. Thomson’s Fender Jazz Bass, using semi-flatwound strings, was recorded via DI, with no amp present in the studio, as was the common practice at the time. Davies did not play live on the track.

The drums were miked with an AKG D19 on the snare, top only, Coles 4038s for overheads, Sennheiser 421s on the four toms (tuned precisely by Pope), and either a D20 or RE20 on the kick. Henderson used no ambient or room mics.

To record Hodgson’s Guild, it was decided to place him in the elevator, located in the corridor just outside the studio and control room. The 8x8-foot hydraulic freight elevator had no cab, and just a simple gate (no doors), allowing the microphone, a Neumann U87, to pick up all of the unique resonance the wood hoistway had to offer, lowering the elevator halfway between floors to maximize the effect.

Recalls Likes, “We were trying to get a big sound for Roger’s acoustic,” something that would also provide separation from the drums. Finally, somebody said, ‘Well, let’s try putting him in the elevator.’”

“There was a lot of experimenting that went on, finding the best-sounding place, because any acoustic instrument is prone to whatever environment you’re in,” Hodgson explains. “The elevator sounded good, so I was stuck in the elevator.” The “room” was also put to use for his acoustic for the album’s title track.

The end of that day saw the last basic tracking completed, with overdubbing for the entire album beginning the following day. Henderson’s practice with complex recordings such as these, was to do a submix of those basic tracks—enough to reference/monitor while overdubbing—onto a second machine/tape, locked to the first via SMPTE timecode, and record the overdubs onto that second reel, in order to preserve the condition of the original tracks for later mixing. “When you’re working on quite a long project—and these Supertramp albums were long—playing tapes over and over and over again, a million times degrades the oxide. So the idea is to keep the initial tape as fresh as you can, and just use it for mixing.”

             Engineer Peter Henderson’s track sheet for Reel 2 of recording/overdubbing on “Give a Little Bit,” which he copied from the original Caribou sheet onto a Record Plant blank upon arrival at the studio. (Courtesy Tom Anderson)

Engineer Peter Henderson’s track sheet for Reel 2 of recording/overdubbing on “Give a Little Bit,” which he copied from the original Caribou sheet onto a Record Plant blank upon arrival at the studio. (Courtesy Tom Anderson)

In the case of “Give” (as seen on the track sheet), the SMPTE stripe from the studio’s ECCO code generator was placed on Track 1 of the second reel, and the drums and bass mixed to a handle-able seven tracks (kick, overheads (“Kit”), snare and a pair of toms), with Hodgson’s 12-string placed on another track. Individual items (particularly drum elements) could easily be pulled out of the monitor mix, then, while overdubbing other instruments, as needed.

Among the first things to address for the song was building up the 12-string, taking another pass with the Guild in the elevator [Though the track sheet states, on Tracks 12 & 13, a pair of Martin 12-strings, it is today not remembered whether Hodgson’s trademark Guild remained, either on the original Reel 1, or was copied onto Reel 2 and replaced by a Martin guitar, or if it had been a Martin all along, and that is the recording that was copied, and then doubled, onto Reel 2.] The pair of guitars gave a big sound, though apparently not big enough, as they would be addressed later.

Rick Davies added a Clavinet, interestingly played through the band’s Leslie 122 speaker system and miked for stereo, sounding much like a guitar played through such a speaker. The instrument, which Davies recorded in the control room, was connected to the speaker via an interface box Leslie made to allow a simple guitar cable to connect an instrument such as a guitar or keyboard. [A Hammond could connect directly, via its proprietary multipin connector, allowing an organist to control speed, rotation, etc., from his position. Such controls were unavailable to a guitarist, so the interface box allows not only the connection, but offers those other controls at the box itself, for that player to operate.]

Davies also added a little bit of organ, as well as piano crashes heard at the end of John Helliwell’s sax solo. “The piano was, really, really compressed, like Beatles compressed,” Henderson notes. “I think I recorded it with a D19, and then, the way it’s compressed, it really comes back up You barely hear the impact.”

Siebenberg also overdubbed a cool ride snare, an almost military sound, played nearly throughout and overdubbed onto the two tom tom tracks, which the engineer tracked using a U87, rather than the D19. “A dynamic mic doesn’t work very well with a ride snare, you need a condenser,” he notes.

Helliwell’s solo was also recorded at Caribou. “The great thing about John,” Hodgson states, “is he’s such a spontaneous, tasteful, melodic player. He’d go out, and every take would be totally different. We’d then just listen for the magical phrases he’d get in each take, and then, often, would just fly them in to create one incredible, memorable solo.”

Henderson recorded Hodgson’s vocal at the studio using a Neumann U47 FET. “When we did Breakfast in America at The Village,” he notes, “we had a valve [tube] 47, which is much, much better. I always thought the voice sounded like it had bit more proximity on. He really could have gone even closer on it, but sometimes, with those FET 47s, once you get a bit of moisture on them, they just cut out. So you have to be very careful.”

Hodgson’s unique range and tone, with an impressively high register, took the singer some time to learn to manage properly. “I really didn’t have much experience singing or working in the studio,” he relates. “I had to learn, ‘Okay, I get a bigger sound out of my voice if I don’t try hard and force it.’ The more I forced it, the more it would get squeezed and small. That was the general rule from the get-go. And then it became a matter of getting my voice sounding big enough to match the tracks that it was on top of. That was always the biggest challenge.”

He was also incredibly adept at double-tracking—as he was with his guitar playing—which he did here. Says Henderson, “Roger was very, very quick. He was almost like automatic double-tracking. He could do it accurately in one go, then just dropping in a few lines here or there. He sings very similarly every single time.”

Hodgson also did another favorite activity by recording harmonies (which were double-tracked) and “Ahhs.” “I love it. That was very satisfying, and easy for me. I love doing that,” he says. “And then we’d generally put a bit of Rick in there to make it sound richer, and not just all Roger’s voice.”

With that, the song was essentially complete. A rough mix was played for visiting A & M’s Bud Scoppa, one of the company’s key A & R men. Says Pope, “We played it for him at enormous volume, and he just lost his mind. He was dancing around the room like a lunatic, and went back to Jerry Moss and said, ‘Hallelujah!’ I listened and just thought, ‘That sounds really unstoppable. There’s nothing wrong here, there’s nothing missing. That’s done.” Or so it was thought, at least.

One other piece of business was addressed in Colorado: the photographing of the album cover. A gutted (i.e., no soundboard) grand piano was brought up to Eldora Mountain Resort, about five miles southwest of Caribou. “It was left overnight, and it snowed,” Hodgson recalls. “That’s genuine fresh snow on that piano on top of a mountain.”

On to The Record Plant

Lots got done at Caribou in the five weeks of overdubbing, but not enough. After a break for the holidays, Henderson and the band returned to L.A., and on January 3, started up at Record Plant on 3rd Street, where Emerick was planning on mixing the album.

Assisting Henderson was Tom Anderson (or “T.A.” as he was often called, and so credited). Anderson, nominally, was based at the studio’s Sausalito facility, which he helped build in 1972. “Sometimes they’d need a warm body in L.A., so they’d ship me down south,” the engineer says. “I really liked to go work at L.A. [Record Plant founder] Chris Stone used to say, “Up here [in Sausalito] you’ll work at 33-1/3; down south we work at 45, if not 78.” Work indeed ran from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily.

Engineer Geoff Emerick and assistant Tom Anderson mix the album at Record Plant L.A., Feb 1977. (Photo courtesy Tom Anderson)

Engineer Geoff Emerick and assistant Tom Anderson mix the album at Record Plant L.A., Feb 1977. (Photo courtesy Tom Anderson)

Anderson’s history with Emerick began the year before this project, when Martin and Emerick recorded America’s Hearts album in Sausalito. “That was actually the first time Geoff had worked in an American studio,” he notes. “Geoff and I hit it off from the very beginning of the sessions, and they took me with them to L.A. to work on all of the overdub sessions.” That was followed by Harbor, in Kauai, for which Anderson and Record Plant’s Jack Crymes constructed a complete 24-track studio in a rented house. “So after two very successful recording projects, Geoff made the specific request to have me on the Supertramp sessions, which was fun, and also required a lot of creative input and thinking.”

The L.A. studio, as many know, had three rooms, Studio C, the largest, built into an existing soundstage-type building, in which the overdubs and mixing would take place, Emerick being a particularly big fan of the room’s custom-built API mixing console. “I was in awe of mixing on that console,” he says, “It gave me sounds I knew I couldn’t get through the Neve consoles back in England. It inspired me to try and craft the album. It has a sparkle and a depth,” something he makes use of to this day, using a similar API desk at North Hollywood’s LAFX studio.

Henderson and team added all manner of overdubs—keyboards, guitars, most vocals, on nearly every track, most importantly the complicated “Fool’s Overture.” That track and “Loverboy” received a string overdub on January 19 by arranger Michel Colombier, taking the place of their usual (and UK-based) arranger, Richard Hewson. His work, unfortunately, didn’t quite fit the bill for the band, and much of it went unused. “We often wouldn’t know what an arranger would come up with until we heard it in the studio,” Hodgson states. “It’s hard scrapping something that expensive, and which so much work and expense went into—plus, telling a composer, ‘That’s not what we want,” the “Loverboy” tracks replaced later with synth.

“From Now On” even had a “friends and wives” chorus overdub, with 30 or 40 people there to fill out the chorus. “We rounded up staff from the A & M Promotions Department to come in and sing,” Anderson remembers. “They were thrilled to be on a record; it was an easy sell! I actually had to make up cue cards for them.”

As described earlier, most overdubs went onto the second reel, though sometimes Henderson would find himself in a spot, having run out of space, forced to slip, say, a guitar solo or tambourine onto a keyboard track, where a break in the keyboard action offered a small piece of real estate. “When you’re in the throes of it,” Henderson relates, “there’s always one more track, one more idea, etc. What are you going to do? So some tracks had three different things on them.”

The main task at Record Plant for “Give a Little Bit” was to beef up, even more, Hodgson’s 12-string guitars. A Martin 12-string was added—two passes, to allow a stereo mix, as with the previous pair—this time recorded using a Frap pickup, via DI. And, toward the end of overdubbing, it was felt that still was not enough, so two passes of a Rickenbacker electric 12-string were also recorded, via DI, used because of the unique sustain it had over the acoustic instruments.

“With a total of six guitars playing the same part, and because it opened the song,” says Anderson, “it had to be as precise as possible,” something Hodgson excelled at. “It was amazing to watch him. Roger never got frustrated, he would just do it over, as needed, until he got it right. He would just patiently say, ‘Okay not quite. Let’s do it again.’”

Hodgson also added a 6-string electric guitar at Record Plant, to double Davies’ Clavinet part (though this time, recorded without a Leslie).

Emerick was due to arrive in L.A. from England (where he was continuing work on overdubs with Martin on the America album) on January 16, but with overdubs not yet completed on the Supertramp project, he came a week later, though still couldn’t begin mixing until Monday, February 7. Henderson and the band finally completed recording two days prior, the engineer leaving for England himself on Sunday to begin working with Paul McCartney at Abbey Road on Wings’ London Town later that week.

Emerick found the task a difficult one, due both to the presence of the many miscellaneous pieces of overdubs found in unexpected places on the multitracks, as well as from having conflicting methodologies between himself and the band. “There were so many different things on a lot of the tracks, it was a bloody jigsaw puzzle!” he remembers.

“For somebody coming in fresh to understand that and know where everything is,” says Henderson, “I know that was difficult. He still gives me a hard time about how messy the tracks were!”

He and Anderson would sometimes break portions of the song out and mix in different sections, to accommodate the changing content on tracks, Anderson recalls. “We would mix a section, but then have to stop and change inputs and EQ for the next section, because a new instrument would show up. So one song might have, say, three edits—there were three track sheets attached to that song.”

Regarding working with the band, Emerick says, “We’d go around in circles. Tom and I would get a mix together, working four, five or six hours, and then one member of the band would come in and wouldn’t like this, another member wouldn’t like that. You’re trying to accommodate everyone, but there’s no way you can. And in your own mind, it’s perfect.” Hodgson understood. “It was challenging for him, no doubt. We all wanted all the little details to be right, the way we were hearing them. And, to him, it was sounding great. So it was difficult.”

Emerick worked for two weeks, before he, too, had to leave to go to work on the Wings album, a previously booked commitment—but mixing wasn’t done. “We had talked about this,” Anderson remembers. “I said, “Gosh, what’s gonna happen when you leave? Who’s gonna do it?’ and he said, ‘Well. . . you are. Nobody knows the tapes like you do.’” So the two worked until the last moment on Friday evening, February 18, until “Literally, we were watching the clock—we were in the middle of something, and he stood up and said, ‘Okay, that’s it. We gotta go.’ We got in the car and I took him to the airport. Off he went, I drove back, parked the car, walked in, looked around and said, ‘Okay, I’m Geoff Emerick now.’”

Even in Quietest - Cover

Anderson ended up mixing three or four songs for the album. Among the tasks left uncompleted was the mixing of “Give a Little Bit,” which Emerick had started, but which Hodgson felt still needed more work. “It’s a very subtle song. There are certain places that need to really lift—the end section, the whole runout, particularly, to really feel like we were playing out and jamming. So we addressed that.”

The biggest challenge in the mix were the 12-string guitars. “12-strings are, historically, one of the toughest instruments to make sound good,” Hodgson notes. “And you can imagine how many variables there are with six 12-strings. Sometimes it sounded God-awful, and sometimes they sounded great. And you never knew why. It’s been that way on every song I’ve done with 12-string.”

The difficulty, he says, “was not only to have six 12-strings add up to feel like the biggest, most gorgeous-sounding single instrument possible, but then have it fit in with drums and all the other instruments and make sense. It’s very tricky.” Anderson addressed it with a combination of EQ and compression. For the former, he says, “We didn’t have outboard EQ then. We used the API equalizers in the board.” The result, in combination with Hodgson’s precise performances, is one seamless, powerful, 12-string that drives the song long a magical musical locomotive.

As seen on the track sheet, the song was mixed with the pitch raised a quarter tone, to give Hodgson’s voice a slightly higher pitch.

The album was mastered by Frank DeLuna at A & M on March 17, with the album pressed and on the street on April 10, just days after the start of the band’s first tour date in Canada on April 6.

Not long after, and following his return up north to Record Plant Sausalito, Anderson was called upon to create not only a single edit for radio (trimming the song down from 4:07 to 3:32), but also one in mono, for AM radio (the U.S. promo single featured stereo mixes, LP and edit; the mono appeared in Canada and elsewhere). After a few tries, he found the band accepted his trimming out some of the vamping at the end of the song.

Canadian promotional 45 rpm single, featuring Tom Anderson’s 3:32 mono edit for radio. (Courtesy David Mendenhall)

Canadian promotional 45 rpm single, featuring Tom Anderson’s 3:32 mono edit for radio. (Courtesy David Mendenhall)

For the mono mix (which he created from the multitracks, not simply a fold-down of the stereo), he notes, “It had always bothered me when I would hear Carly Simon’s ‘You’re So Vain’ on the radio. It starts with a bass drum, and the radio limiter would just suck her vocal down until it would get filled out with music. And I was damned if I was gonna have that happen to our record. So I gave them something the radio compressors would work on as little as possible, and still have fidelity.” To accomplish this, he ran the mix through an old Fairchild 660 compressor and mixed through the speaker of a Radio Shack transistor radio, to simulate what a listener would hear on a dashboard-mounted radio speaker in a car. “It sounded great in a car, as it should, but if you play that disc on something big, it’s all out of whack, when compared to the LP mix.”

Upon hearing the first notes, Emerick says, you know it’s Supertramp. “Those harmonies, the tonality of the instruments combined in the rhythm track and overdubs—that’s their sound, and it’s unmistakable. I don’t know where the magic comes from, but it’s there. It all locks together.”

The song itself has quite a lot to do with it, as is clear to this day to audiences on his own live shows [www.RogerHodgson.com]. “To me,” Hodgson notes, “it’s a magical song. Every time I play it in concert—which I still do—I open the show with it, and it has a magical effect on people. It instantly opens everyone’s heart up, including mine. I start playing it, and I start smiling, and the audience smiles back at me. It’s a very unifying song. It brings out the best in people.”