Nashville Skyline

For most of us, the path we take in a music career is a circuitous one. It seems the only way to get anywhere is to learn a lot of different skills and
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Ed Pettersen (left) with Bob Olhsson

Photo: Rick Clark

For most of us, the path we take in a music career is a circuitous one. It seems the only way to get anywhere is to learn a lot of different skills and be ready to do it yourself. Maybe you start out thinking you're going to take over the world as a rock god, and along the way you take on various other survival disciplines that lead you to do some songwriting, learn a few instruments, pick up engineering and/or producing chops, and any number of non-music sidelines. Then one day you look at yourself and realize that, whether or not you've made much money, you've just about become your own turn-key creative industry.

Ed Pettersen's ( musical odyssey is a classic example of this. A native of Syosset, N.Y., Pettersen started as a songwriter years ago, with little expectation he was going to have a recording career. Nevertheless, armed with his love for music (The Beatles, Motown, country, etc.) and a work ethic instilled by his family, Pettersen plugged on and figured out that the best way to get his songs out there was to learn the ropes as a singer/songwriter and put out his own music. His first album, Desperate Times, was released in 1995. Since then, Pettersen has released six albums.

Pettersen has also became a producer, amassing credits including Devendra Banhart, the Black Crowes, Michelle Shocked, The Mavericks, BR549, the Blind Boys of Alabama and more.

Pettersen had been traveling to work in Nashville since 1995, but decided it was time to make a permanent move in 2002 — thanks in no small part to the encouragement of Motown legend Bob Olhsson and music entrepreneur/booker, the late Gerry Livers. “They had both been urging me for over a year, telling me that there were many like-minded people here in Music City and that my talents might be better recognized here,” says Pettersen.

“Once I got here, I started just hanging out at Bob Olhsson's house almost every day. He didn't seem to mind and I learned tons of stuff. I haven't met anyone in my 20 years around the music industry who knows more about or cares more about audio than he does. There isn't one update or bug or fix or trick that he hasn't known or at least tried once. He's striving for a level that only very few know about, and I'm just lucky that he lets me hang around.”

Eventually, the two decided to begin working together on projects. “Bob suggested we put our own team together of old friends of his and some new friends, too,” he continues. “It seemed to kind of just come together based on who we thought were the absolute most talented folks available and who would be right for the sound we were going for. I wanted one foot in the past, but I also wanted to turn it up a notch based on my pop experiences working in New York. It really feels like the perfect combination of very creative, talented people: musicians, engineers and studio. Before we knew it, we were recording not just demos, but all kinds of projects.”

For Pettersen's new album, The New Punk Blues of Ed Pettersen (a nod to the titles of two albums — The Folk Blues of Muddy Waters and The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier), he sought “a mixture of what made the older, classic recordings classic — great arrangements, really well-crafted songs and tight, creative rhythm sections, combined with the edginess and attitude of contemporary music.”

Olhsson and Pettersen are very much into using a lot of the older mics in their recording.

“Bob has three or four U67s from back around his Motown days and we often employ his RCA 77s, the Shure ribbons — like the one Johnny Carson used to have on his desk — [and] a vintage B&O BM5 stereo ribbon, which his father bought him over 40 years ago and he never used until recently because his dad didn't bring back the right cable from Sweden. It sounds killer! We used only Bob's mics on the Black Crowes session, which we tracked live with no headphones.”

Pettersen is also quick to talk up some newer mics that he is fond of: the Heil dynamics and the Telefunken R-F-T AK47. “We've been using them a lot lately, such as on the Freedy Johnston album I just produced, as well as the Old Crow Medicine Show,” says Pettersen. “The only other new gear we're using are my Coil EQs that I co-designed with Robert Derby of Valvotronics. It's basically a passive filter EQ with a few modern twists — kind of a cross between a classic solid-state console and a vintage filter EQ.”

Pettersen's favorite studio to work is The Castle (Franklin, Tenn.): “They have a tremendously talented, professional staff, everything works and they go out of their way to make us and our clients comfortable. I also really dig working with Rich Feaster at The Castle. Rich grew up here but has spent some time in New York City, so we have a common language and he brings experience on mainstream country sessions, and his insight into that market is invaluable during mix time.

“We did the Blind Boys of Alabama sessions there, as well as many others for the Song of America project due this September,” continues Pettersen. “For the Blind Boys we used the U67s and a pair of Coles that belong to The Castle in dual-Blumlein stacked on top of each other. I think we used The Castle's FET 47 as the room mic, which we used as an echo send in the mix. That FET 47 is one of the best mics I've ever heard, period. We also did the Devendra Banhart session at The Castle. Rich Feaster was a wonder keeping up with all the different players and personalities. So many sessions in the last two years! We've been working virtually nonstop.”

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