Memphis-based mastering engineer Gebre Waddell recently mastered producer/songwriter David Porter’s project The Classics at his Stonebridge Mastering studio. Porter is best known for songwriting credits including Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man” (1968 Grammy winner), Mariah Carey’s “Dreamlover” (1993 Grammy nominee), and Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” (1999 Grammy winner), among many others.
Waddell relayed Porter’s goals for this particular project, which involved mastering new recordings of Porter’s hits for Stax Records. “I asked David about motivations for this project, and he said, ‘It came about because Issac Hayes and I have written some songs that have been unbelievably successful for us as songwriters and producers. I wanted to pay honor to both of us as inductees into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005. This was some of the most important music in my career and material I was tremendously proud of,’” Waddell says. Porter had been approached by major film and commercial producers who wanted to do national commercials with instrumental versions of the songs. All of these factors played a role in the motivation to record those songs.
Some songs on The Classics include Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man,” “Hold On, I’m Comin’,” “You Got Me Hummin,’” and “Wrap It Up” (which was later covered by both The Eurythmics and The Fabulous Thunderbirds). For Waddell, this project gave him insight into an artist who has impacted the foundation of American music. “Memphis is a city known to be at the root of music, and David is at the roots of the city,” Waddell says. “Performing my craft on the project, in my hometown, felt like being accepted into the ranks from which my inspiration in music began. David’s classic work is something I grew up with. He gave me valuable feedback and listening impressions that shaped my decisions.”
Waddell and Porter worked with tracking engineer Boo Mitchell and mixing engineer Kerry Kernan.
Mitchell (John Mayer, Rod Stewart, Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk”) recorded The Classics at his legendary Royal Studios. “We recorded it in an old-school manner, maybe four to five mics on the drums,” Mitchell says. “It was really cool to try and emulate the songs. There was a xylophone/bell sound where we tried to make it sound like the original, so we put one of the synthesizers through a guitar amp and miked that. We tried to make it sound like the original recordings as much as possible—how we miked the horns, drums, everything. It was one of my favorite sessions.”
Musicians on The Classics include legendary drummer James Robertson and Stax greats Ray Griffin on bass, Lester Snell on keys, and Michael Toles on guitar.
Kernan has been mixing projects for Porter over the past three-plus years. “The opportunity to mix some of David’s classic and iconic songs was a real honor and treat,” Kernan says. “On this project, David wanted the mix to have a more modern sound, as he has had requests from film/commercial producers as well as artists who want to sample the songs for use in their productions.”
While Waddell has also expanded his skills into software development (he designed the Brainworx bx_refinement plug-in for UAD-2 and Apollo) and writing (he wrote Complete Audio Mastering: Practical Techniques, McGraw-Hill/TAB Electronics), he has no intention of leaving his first love: mastering. “Someone asked recently if I would continue in mastering, and I said mastering is something I will always do. Experiences like working with David Porter give me perspective and experience that shapes not just my mastering, but also my software development in ways that are extremely rare in programming.”