Whenever I bop over to East Nashville, I invariably end up at the local coffee shop hang called Bongo Java. It is probably the best place to meet some of the most interesting and intelligent creative folks in town. It was there that I met Warren Pash, a gifted songwriter, artist and producer, and also one of those discriminating listeners who loves to hear a good song. The first time I dragged Pash over to my office and played him some tracks, it was clear that he's a pull-no-punches kind of guy and someone I can count on for thoughtful and instinctive feedback.
Warren Pash—songwriter, recording artist, producer, coffee drinker—is currently working on two labors-of-love.
Photo: Rick Clark
Pash rolled into Nashville in 2000 from Portland, Ore. His music career began in 1978, when, as a kid from Montreal, he bought a one-way plane ticket to L.A. Three years later, he found success as a songwriter with Number One hit “Private Eyes,” recorded by Hall & Oates. Pash began co-writing with the likes of Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Alan Gordon (“Happy Together”), Dan Hill and even Bryan Adams, who showed up unannounced at his front door one day to write a song. As a musician and artist, Pash has shared the stage with The Pixies, Roger McGuinn, Lucinda Williams, The Waterboys, Todd Rundgren and The Mekons, and he's even played bass for R&B legends Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Rosco Gordon.
Recently, during a night of listening to good music, Pash wowed me with a preview of two labor-of-love projects he's been working on: a solo album titled Plastic Rulers and an album by singer/songwriter Tupper Saussy called Chocolate Orchid Piano Bar.
Pash started by playing Plastic Rulers' song “Child's Play”; it's a perfect slice of guitar-driven Anglo pop/rock — part Tom Petty, part Big Star, with clever descending bass lines, a taut string section and rock-solid drums. Pash paints a scene rife with apocalyptic images that are only “child's play” as compared to what's evidently coming down the line. Well, it was love at first listen. I started listening to the album from the top, and it's a gem.
Plastic Rulers was largely recorded in a home studio in East Nashville on an MCI 2-inch at 15 ips. Additional tracking and overdubs were done at Sound Emporium, Sound Stage and Sheryl Crow's Talent Shop studio (all in Nashville). The album was mixed by Eli “Lij” Shaw at his studio, where Pash cut most of the basic tracks. It was mastered by Eric Conn and Don Cobb at Independent Mastering on ¼-inch at 15 ips.
After we listened to Pash's album that night, he began excitedly telling me about his work with Tupper Saussy and his crusade to make people aware of his work. Tupper Saussy is one of those names that is hard to forget once you hear it, but I had trouble placing it until Pash asked me if I remembered Saussy's group called the Neon Philharmonic, which scored with “Morning Girl,” a late-'60s baroque-pop hit that sounded anything but Nashville. In fact, most of the Nashville music community knew little to nothing about Saussy — and they still don't. When the single and the album, The Moth Confesses, was announced at the NARAS Nashville chapter's Grammy Awards ceremony in 1969, Saussy recalls they “got a sprinkling of polite applause.” If Saussy had been living in L.A., he would have been received with the kind of respect accorded to someone like Van Dyke Parks.
“We were virtually unknown outside the players we'd used on the sessions and the people at Acuff-Rose [publishing],” says Saussy. “I never sensed that I was part of mainstream Nashville music. I'm really an outsider; as soon as I feel I'm inside a group of anything, I have to break out.”
Before the Neon Philharmonic, Saussy's work in Nashville was primarily in jazz: His earliest compositions were featured on two early '60s albums of jazz piano he recorded for Monument Records. He was also commissioned to compose two large orchestral works for the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. His career as songwriter for Acuff-Rose (Sony ATV) resulted in recordings by Brenda Lee, Perry Como, Al Hirt, Patti Page, Floyd Cramer, Chet Atkins and Ray Stevens.
Fast-forward to 2005, when Pash happened upon an old 45 of Neon Philharmonic's “Morning Girl” in the East Nashville Salvation Army thrift store and was blown away. Six months later, Pash was introduced to Saussy at a dinner party at producer Fred Mollin's house and the two clicked.
What was initially to be a Neon Philharmonic tribute CD quickly evolved into an album concept Saussy had conceived in 1975, called The Chocolate Orchid Piano Bar, featuring just Saussy at the piano — no other players. Pash and Saussy used the “Liberace Baldwin” in David Briggs' studio, House of David, and Ronnie Milsap's Yamaha at Groundstar Universal.
A self-professed “analog guy,” Pash wanted sounds such as the damper hitting strings and pedal thumps to be preserved to enhance the authenticity of the performance. “Unlike the Memorex commercial, where the guy hanging on to his chair is being pushed away, we wanted to draw people in,” explains Pash. “To draw them in, Tupper might play a soft passage that conveys a vulnerability or sensitivity, and when he sings, there are those moments where the listener might wonder if Tupper's voice will really reach that high note, and when he hits it, they say, ‘Wow!’ We want the listener involved, rather than impressed.
“One of the joys of making this record was watching Tupper cut nine songs in one day, five songs in another day,” concludes Pash. “These are great performances. It made me think of how producers like Rudy Van Gelder and Tom Dowd must have felt producing those great performance-driven records back in the '50s and '60s.”
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