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‘Rave On Buddy Holly’


Buddy Holly

Photo courtesy Popperfoto/Getty Images

No one can say what styles of music rock ’n’ roll icon Buddy Holly might have recorded had he lived to see his 75th birthday this year. Would he have been into New York art-punk when Lou Reed and Patti Smith came along? The electronic blues of Florence and The Machine? The neo-soul of Cee Lo Green? No telling, but we do know that these artists and countless other have been inspired by all the music Holly put out before he died at age 22.
Rave On Buddy Hollyisn’t the first tribute to Holly’s legacy, but it celebrates him in spectacular, eclectic fashion. Collection producers Randall Post and Gelya Robb assembled a variety of performers who stretched their own musical boundaries to reinvent 19 unforgettable songs. “The impetus to do this came through Paul McCartney’s publishing company,” explains Post, who has developed a relationship with MPL Music Publishing through his work as a top-end film music supervisor. “Paul has been a fan of Buddy Holly since there first was Buddy Holly.”
>{?Post and Robb say that musician/producer Matt Sweeney also helped with A&R on this project, signing and producing three of the artists who participated: Julian Casablancas, who performs a cool, gritty rendering of the title track; Kid Rock, who has a surprisingly soulful take on “Well All Right”; and the Black Keys, who offer a spare reggae styling of “Dearest” to lead off the album.

Roy Hendrickson’s setup for the Paul McCartney sessions

The low-key Black Keys effort is followed by Fiona Apple and Jon Brion’s true-to-the-original version of “Everyday.” And then McCartney really tears things up with a hard-rocking, distortion-heavy version of “It’s So Easy,” a song the former Beatle has performed in concert. The McCartney track was recorded live in Avatar Studios’ (New York City) A room, with producer David Kahne and engineer Roy Hendrickson behind the Pro Tools rig. “It was set up as a traditional rock recording gig,” says Hendrickson, “where you would have everyone play together. Paul was playing and singing in his own booth—a large one—the guitar amps were in other iso booths and everybody else was in the main room.”

McCartney’s bandmembers are those Kahne brought together to play on the album Driving Rain: guitarist Rusty Anderson, bass player Brian May, drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. and keyboardist Paul “Wix” Wickens.

Hendrickson says he set up the usual miking scheme that he uses in A: Sennheiser 421s on toms, Shure SM57 and AKG 451 on snare, 421 on bass drum, a pair of 451 overheads and a couple of Neumann U87 room mics. He captured guitars with 57s and a Royer ribbon mic; bass went direct. McCartney’s vocals went into a U47; his voice is clear and unmistakable despite copious amounts of distortion. “We recorded his voice that way,” Hendrickson says, laughing. “That is just the U47, a mic pre and the [Neve 8088] console turned up really hot.

“That whole session was so inspiring to me,” Hendrickson says. “Everybody was so full of energy, super-focused, and it was just a really great time. I’d be in the control room, just laughing, smiling from ear to ear.” Producer Kahne then took the tracks upstairs to his Cubase/Sequoia-based studio at Avatar to mix. His setup allows him to access his racks of vintage outboard from his computer, though he says this was a pretty straightforward mix. “It was great to see Paul and all the guys having so much fun in the studio,” he says.

Florence Welch of Florence and The Machine

Florence and The Machine’s slow-grooving march to “Not Fade Away” begins with a couple of bars of “Iko Iko”–style percussion and gradually adds layers of drums, guitars, keyboards, sousaphone and Florence Welch’s magnificent, interpretive vocals.

The foundation of this song was laid when the band visited New Orleans’ Piety Street Studios with producer CC Adcock and engineer John Porter. Porter says he got a call from Adcock on a Friday night, asking if he could do the session the next day. “I said, ‘Sure, what’s the plan?’” Porter recalls. “And he said, ‘They’re having a great time in New Orleans; let’s just have some fun and give them a taste of what goes on here.’”

Close-up of Lou Reed’s vocal channel during tracking at Avatar

So on that Saturday, Porter grabbed one of his racks of Neve 1073 mic pre’s and headed to Piety Street, where the studio’s chief engineer, Wesley Fontenot, helped him set up. Adcock then brought in the bandmembers and drummer Terence Higgins (Dirty Dozen Brass Band).

Higgins and band drummer Christopher Hayden walked the room, playing shakers and tambourine to set up the tempo. “I recorded that and found a 4-bar chunk that was really happening and made a loop of that,” Porter says. “Then we set up two drum kits facing each other in the room with CC and their guitarist [Robert Ackroyd] on acoustic guitars. They played a groove that was sort of a New Orleans-y/Bo Diddley kind of groove. They played along to the percussion loop for about 10 minutes, and at that point, we were thinking, ‘This is sounding kind of cool.’ We made another loop out of that, and then Terence did a whole snare drum track on top of that. I think it was at that point CC and Robert played the song sequence to the loop.”

Porter and Adcock continued molding the track, editing the pieces into a more finite shape before having Welch sing in the main room into a mic Porter calls “the Avatar mic”—a modified Chinese microphone that he purchased from the studio. “I plugged that into an [UREI] 1176, and I think what you hear on the track is actually the first or second take,” Porter says. Added after the main tracking date were Matt Perrine’s electric bass and a sousaphone part. Added still later were three keyboard parts; the final mix was done at Mike Napolitano’s The Nappy Dugout studio (New Orleans).

“I thought that we could take it back to Bo Diddley—whom Buddy obviously was tipping his hat to here—and maybe even further to a Louisiana parade thing,” Adcock explains. “And mostly, as it was now going to be from a female perspective, I was thinking that cock-sure lines like ‘My love’s bigger than a Cadillac/It’ll take a’ you there and bring a’ you back’ should take on a larger message of love and fidelity. It’s kind of set up as a duet between the pure-hearted Flo and the worthless, no-good, back-talkin’ sousaphone, who had been doggin’ around town and come draggin’ in to answer her allegations and affirmations guiltily, and line for line.”


M. Ward of She & Him produced the adorable song “Oh Boy” at Type Foundry (Portland, Ore.), the home base of engineer Adam Setzer. “Usually what we’ll do is start with rhythm guitar and a minimal percussion track and build on that,” Setzer says. “We just keep adding and layering; on this track, we added percussion, guitars, keys, and then when we have everything up, we start making choices and stripping it back.”

Setzer recorded to an Otari MTR-90 2-inch and used a lot of old-school mics, including an RCA BK1 for vocals, AEA R84 ribbons on the drum kit and a Coles 438 on guitars. “I’ll sometimes add a small-diaphragm condenser on guitars, probably an A-T 4051, just for a little more high end,” Setzer says. Zooey Deschanel’s vocals were recorded in one evening, with her singing the lead and backing “Oh Boys” in one take: “Oh boy (oh boy) when you’re with me/Oh boy (oh boy)…”

“She came in and it was one of those serendipitous things where it was perfect timing; we had just finished the rest of the track. We got her vocal on maybe the second or third take,” Setzer says.

Toward the end of Rave On Buddy Holly, Lou Reed got his hands on “Peggy Sue.” Like McCartney, Reed and his producer Hal Willner did their tracking in Avatar’s Studio A, in this case with engineer Marc Urselli. “I had listened to the original a dozen times to be prepared,” Urselli says. “But I knew we were going for the Lou Reed sound.” That means it’s dark, distorted and guitar-heavy, with pounding drums and Reed’s unmistakable half-sung/half-spoken vocal on top. “It was basically recorded all live, as Lou likes it,” Urselli says. “Lou doesn’t like iso booths so we set up his station facing the drums and we had Sarth Calhoun’s bass-synth station to the side. The guitar was too loud in Lou’s mic so we re-did the vocals in the control room.”

Many of the mics came from Reed’s collection: a Manley Gold Reference on vocals, and Shure SM57 and Coles 4038 ribbon on his guitar amp. Urselli tracked through the custom Neve in Studio A, using the onboard preamps for “everything.” A violin part by Laurie Anderson was overdubbed later. Urselli mixed the track on the Harrison 10B console in Studio A at EastSide Sound (New York City). “I used a little bit of compression [McDSP Channel G and DE555 de-esser], but I did all my EQs on the board,” Urselli says. “That Harrison board just sounds fabulous.”

Holly’s sequel song, “Peggy Sue Got Married,” fell to singer/songwriter/punk pioneer John Doe, who visited producer Joe Henry’s Garland House studio this past January. Doe and Henry arranged and recorded a powerful version where the moody music track and Doe’s voice build dramatically; the line about Peggy Sue getting married isn’t used until the end of the song, so that this somewhat lightweight update actually finishes with a huge emotional impact.

“Covers can be tricky when you try to make it your own,” observes Ryan Freeland, who engineered the session. “I think that structural decision to put the ‘Peggy Sue got married’ chorus bit only at the end, instead of repeating it where it would normally go, creates more of an arc.”

Henry assembled a band of some of his favorite musicians for the date: guitarists Val McCallum and Greg Leisz, pianist Keefus Ciancia, bassist David Piltch and drummer David Kemper. On electric guitars, Freeland combines a 57 and Royer 121. “On this song, I think the electrics are both hard-panned left and right,” he says. He records to Pro Tools, using Apogee converters and his trusty racks of pre’s and processing. “Joe and I use a real old-school approach to record-making: Put a great singer and a great band in a room and let them go,” he says. “It was a luxury to focus on just one song with musicians who are so great and give their all on every take.”