Can-Am hosted sessions for CBS's Shake, Rattle & Roll, the two-part 1950s- and '60s-era rockudrama set to air November 9 and 11. The program is the brainchild of veteran record producer/music executive Spencer Proffer and CBS Television exec Michael Wright, with music produced and arranged by Proffer and engineered by Francis Buckley.
Musical artists of today appear as both legends of the past and fictional characters. Dicky Barrett of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones is cast as Bill Haley. Terence Trent D'Arby (go 'head on, girls, swoon) plays Jackie Wilson. B.B. King is the fictional Blues Master. K-Ci & JoJo appear as half of a doo-wop quartet. Hit songstress Chante Moore sings a Carole King original, and members of Blink-182 channel Jan and Dean. Original songs by Lamont Dozier, Bob Dylan, Graham Nash and Leiber & Stoller are also featured.
I stopped in to chat about the recording with Buckley, whose credits include Alanis Morissette, Black Flag and Paula Abdul, as well as the 1997 Best Engineered Album Grammy for Quincy Jones' Q's Jook Joint. Buckley informed me that tracking for the project, in Can-Am's large and ambient Studio B, was mostly done live to (only!) 24-track analog. The stellar crew of musicians included drummer Jim Keltner, bassist Jerry Scheff, pianist Jim Cox and the triple threat of guitarists Tim Pierce, Andrew Rollins and Steve Plunkett.
"We tracked for a week and a half and cut about 40 pieces of music-28 songs, small pieces and cues," Buckley explains. "Studio B's concrete floor and live sound proved a real asset because, except for vocals and a few miscellaneous overdubs, the tracks were cut live. We put the piano and drums in the main room along with the baffled-off stand-up bass, and since there are a lot of little extra rooms at Can-Am, we put the guitar amps in them.
"We recorded quickly so that we could get the right spirit, and the philosophy was to use as little modern equipment as we could. The necessities were the board and the tape machine. As far as setup and mic choice went, we tried to stay true to what it was like in the '50s. I used all old mics except for one from RODE, and the vocals were mostly done with a 47 to an LA-2A straight to tape. The only modern thing about the setup was that we used a few more mics on the drums than they would have in those days."
Buckley says they worked the mics instead of introducing EQ. "We had a 2-track slap echo running, and the only reverbs we used were plates. You won't hear chorus or digital delay, because in those days they just had chambers, plates and slap echo," he says. "There were a few spring reverbs around, and the effects we generally used on guitars are the spring reverbs in their amplifiers. We listened to the old recordings and tried to emulate them-the premise, though, was not to re-create the records."
The plot of Shake, Rattle & Roll is based on the evolution of a band called The HartAches. Their hit song, "Baby, Here I Am," is followed musically from the songwriter's first strummed inspiration through the process of teaching it to the band, playing it badly at an audition, and, finally, recording at a re-creation of Memphis' Sun Studios.
"Spencer and Michael Wright were involved with casting; they made sure they got not only actors, but actors who were musicians," Buckley says. "Nothing drives Spencer more crazy than to watch a movie and see inaccurate musical details. His company, Morling Manor Media, went to Fender, Gretsch and Gibson to get period guitars. They also found a drum historian and got drum sets from him. You won't see a camera pan to a musician with his hands in the wrong place, and there won't be some guy playing a 1975 model guitar."
Proffer-known for his work with artists as diverse as Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, and Quiet Riot-has always been a multifaceted personality. He's a songwriter and arranger, has owned a commercial recording studio and has been a record company president and publishing entrepreneur. He's also served as supervising music producer on more than 70 films and television programs.
"Both sonically and visually, an enormous amount of care and love went into Shake, Rattle & Roll," Proffer comments. "I've spent my life writing, arranging and producing music, so being one of the driving forces on the project, I felt it was my responsibility to be true to the art form. Most music for television is off the rack-it's licensed stuff that preexists...here we actually crafted both the music and the sound to be congruent with the essence of the project. I worked very closely with Mike Robe, the writer and director, and CBS VP Michael Wright to create the dramatic beats to be punctuated, so that the music drives the drama, and the drama drives the music."
Proffer also chose actor/musicians who were inspired by the characters. "I went to people who were truly influenced by, and wanted to play the role of, musical figures who had an impact on their lives. When I went to Terence and offered him the role of Jackie Wilson, it was a very natural thing-he loved and revered Jackie. It wasn't a hard sell, nor was it to K-Ci & JoJo, to play part of a doo-wop group singing 'Tears on My Pillow.' I assured them that everyone in this project was coming from the real place and that they'd be in good hands."
Big changes at Sony Music Studios in Santa Monica: the installation of a Neve 8078 console, the hiring of Roger White as studio manager and the promotion of Phil Kaye to vice president of studio operations. White, who was previously with Studio Referral Service, and chief engineer Peter Barker gave me the tour. The new desk, which replaces a Sony/API, was originally built in 1971 for Ronnie Milsap, and was most recently housed in Sony New York's Studio D. Now highly customized for the L.A. facility, it features 40 31105 input channels, 32 32425 monitor channels, four Shep compressors, and 72 channels of Flying Faders. For those who might miss that API console, also installed in-board are eight API mic pre's and 16 API 550-S EQs, along with Lynx controls and a 5.1 monitoring matrix. The board also includes eight Neve 10 series mic preamp/EQ modules mounted above the monitor section.
"We heavily modified the monitor section," Barker notes. "In most of these consoles, the monitor section clips at plus-18. Ours now clips at plus-26 like the rest of the board, so the headroom isn't compromised anywhere. We also added a balanced output driver so you can go to tape from the monitor section if you want to. The 5.1 monitoring is built in, and everything necessary for it comes up to the patch bay. If someone needs a 5.1 mix, we can set up the Genelecs and get the whole thing going in ten minutes or so."
It's obvious that some loving restoration went into this classic Neve. Besides the added components, panels have been re-silk-screened, and it's finished in solid oak with a leather bolster. New outboard in the already well-stocked control room includes a pair each of Distressors and LA-3As; two Studer 827s and a Sony 3348 now reside in the machine room.
"We've been putting the board through its paces with a wide variety of sessions," White comments. "From orchestral dates to techno, the feedback from clients about the new board has been uniformly great." Clients in working on the Neve include Donny Osmond with Erik Zobler engineering, Faith Hill with producer Byron Gallimore and engineer Michael Dy, Collin Raye with producer John Hobbs and engineer Ben Fowler, and ad agency Elias & Associates scoring an orchestra for a Mercedes-Benz spot with Bill Smith engineering.
Other improvements include a homey redecoration of the lounge, now equipped with a wide-screen TV and DVD system. The mastering room, staffed by engineers David Mitson and Stephen Marsh, has also received upgrades: It now features a Dunlavy SC V monitor system coupled with Dunlavy subwoofers, and a new "floating" design for the console. The desk, built by Sony in conjunction with Matchless Woodworking, was constructed to alleviate low-end buildup in the room by allowing the sound to "breathe."
Either analog or digital processing is, of course, available in the mastering room, with Weiss compression and EQ, and vintage Sontec, GML and Tube-Tech processing. A new favorite is the Maselec MLA 2 stereo compressor, which Barker describes as "very quiet and transparent."
Recent mastering projects have included work for Barbara Striesand and The Blair Witch Project soundtrack.
Also on the premises: ISDN capability, a CD-R duplicating room and an Avid video editing suite. The busy CD-R room, equipped with a Rimage Perfect Image Producer and Sonic Foundry for assembly and level matching, is capable of burning four CDs at a time from any 2-track source.
Kaye sums it up: "Our facility is unique in that we're able to provide our clients with not only the features of our world-class recording studio and mastering room but also special services including EDNet lines, video duplication, CD replication and broadcast-quality Avid editing. Our staff and facility are second to none, and that's how we always treat our clients."