Chapter 20 Part 2
I have produced or recorded and/or mixed a lot of other projects as well. One such group is Jaffna. What a unique group! They were, when I worked with them on their first project Acoustic Allies, an oud and sarod player of Palestinian descent, Roger Mgrdichian, an acoustic guitarist of Indian descent, Raji Malik, a dumbek player of Lebanese descent, Joe Tayon, a tabla player of Sri Lankan descent, Branavan Ganesan and an American violinist of Jewish descent, David Edelman. What a sound they had! What music they made! Influences from all of their cultures and American music as well, with a pinch of bluegrass here and there. They had come to me asking for help about how to record themselves live with the problem of Joey’s dumbek being so much louder than all the other instruments. Putting him in another room seldom worked because they needed to see each other as they played while sitting on the floor, and most studios had isolation booths but no glass walls. The studio at AIPH had a drum booth that was glass to the floor. Perfect. I met them for a preproduction meeting in an apartment in Old Philly near the Middle East Restaurant where they often played as the house band for the belly dancers. At the meeting, David the violinist and I got into a conversation about human evolution. He had studied in the Anthropology Department at the University of Pennsylvania like I had. We studied with the same faculty and were rambling on about his Doctorate and my Masters. I studied with the skeletal collections with Janet Monge measuring humeri and he did the same measuring femurs. We went on for so long that the rest of the band had to stop us to get back to the music. I have referred to Dave as “Doctor Femur” ever since. Often, they would be talking in the middle of sessions and discussing the time signatures of some of their music. They played songs in 15 and 17 time. I can’t even write those time signatures correctly. Oh my God, that was unbelievable. I recently got to see them reunite at an outdoor concert when Dave who had moved to California many years ago was back in town and played the show with them. They were as great as ever! (www.Jaffna.com)
Jaffna led me to another band, Renaissance Bitch. Everyone in the band were Indian (as in Southern Asian not Native American) except for the bass player who was this very tall blond Nordic type who did not look like he fit in at all. One of them was related to the guitarist from Jaffna. They were an interesting band in that live they did stuff like Beasty Boy covers and original stuff. I only recorded them at AIPH and got to record all original stuff. It was fun stuff; they were very nice guys, and I recently re-recorded all the DAT mixes I had from my DATs to digital files for them. They reunited at the same concert with Jaffna. It was a great day indeed.
One day I got a call from the Ingui brothers Charlie and Richie. They were the Soul Survivors singers I worked on an album with them in 1976 for PIR. This was the early nineties, and they said that didn’t know that I was back in Philly. They had heard from someone that I was back and called. They were recording a record with a low budget in a studio put together in a music store in Berlin, NJ. They asked if I would come and mix the single for them. I said I’d love to. We talked money and it was cool what they offered, and I booked time with them. I drove from town to Berlin on the day we agreed on and I arrived in this new environment and checked a few things about the monitors, was shown the ins and outs of the room by the engineer who had recorded it all and I was ready to go. There was no computer. It was an old analog board with lots of sweet analog outboard gear. I jumped in and whipped up the first mix in half the time that they expected. So, they asked if I would do another song and I did. I was at the top of my game and loved real time “feel” mixing. I finished two songs in the time they expected me to do one. I drove home and as I walked in the door my phone was ringing it was them. They were raving about the mixes. They wanted me to come back and do more. I said yes, and we locked down the dates. I ended up mixing nine of the twelve or so songs they had. They only stopped having me mix the album when the engineer who recorded everything complained that he wasn’t going to get to mix anything. I could relate to that. Among the songs I did get to do, all of which they were great, were two worth mentioning, “Miracles” a ballad featuring a terrific solo and soprano sax work by Ron Kerber. On my phone, I labeled my mixes of the project with that title as the album title and a cover of “Some Kinda Wonderful” a king of showcase song they had been doing live since the beginning of their careers. They had re-recorded their big hit, “Expressway to Your Heart” that Gamble and Huff had done for them in 1969 for this album too. The other guy got to mix that one. The real shame of the whole thing was that the labels all passed on the project because they only think of artists like them as “Oldies acts” that never have anything to contribute again. Just to show you how wrong those labels were, a year or so later Huey Lewis and the News released a version of “Some Kinda Wonderful” very similar to the one that I had mixed, and it was a hit! The stuff was great! In January of 2017 we lost Ritchie. I had last seen them at the dedication of the plaque that the city of Philadelphia had put up across the street from 212 South 12th Street where Sigma Sound Studios had been. Joe Tarsia had a thrown a party at the Philadelphia Constitution Center after the dedication. So many of the old players and artists were there. There were instruments and a PA set out on a balcony. Charlie and Richie, Bunny and Billy Paul and others all unrehearsed performed impromptu. The time before that was at a memorial service for T.J. Tindell the guitarist, producer, writer who had passed that previous summer. Charlie and Richie always tore it up!
One day at my office at AIPH someone and I were listening to a playback of something I was working on for my first CD and I mentioned I was looking for a female vocalist. “You should hear April Iorio from the Registrar’s office, she can really sing”, he said. “April? The quiet, shy little woman who is always so nice and considerate?” I asked. Yes, indeed it was her. The next time I went up there I asked her about it. It turned out her mother and father both were very musical, and she did sing but was very shy about it. I asked if I could hear her and would she stop by my office on her break to talk about it. She did, and I found out also that her boyfriend, Dave Fecca was a blazing guitar player. When I asked her to sing on my CD, I had no idea how good she was, but I was assured that she could wail! I said that it seemed hard to believe but I would go for it. I had written an all-out rocker called “Long After Midnight” and I thought I’d have her take a shot at it and have Dave play on it too. We went to a studio and cut a rip-roaring rocker with Rusty Crowe on drums, Steve Karsh on bass, my nephew Jimmy Becker on one electric guitar and Dave on the other guitar. Dave and April proved themselves to be all that they were advertised to be. I hardly had to produce them at all. I ended up having them sing (Dave sings too) and play on all three of my CDs. In fact, they are on two songs on each of the three CDs.
That first song with me inspired them to move forward with music in their lives. They have been in a band of their own almost ever since. They are April Mae and the June Bugs. They have recorded three or four of their own CDs now including one in the famous Sun Studios. They stood and sang and played where Elvis and Scotty Moore stood and sang and played! It’s really good stuff. They did a cover of Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful” that is my favorite of all, yes including the one by Cream! I like to think I had a little bit to do with coaxing her to bloom like a wildflower! “Catfish” Dave didn’t need any coaxing believe me. Pam and I were so happy to be at their wedding. They live in the same town as we do, and we so love that we are counted among their friends. I always say about them that they don’t just talk the talk, they really walk the walk. One example of it is the “Boogie Bus” they drive to their gigs all over the country. It is a small, converted school bus that burns vegetable oil instead of gas! It is painted really cool too! A song from their last record is “Grease It Up and Go!” Keep on Rockin’ and Rollin’ you guys! We love ya! (AprilMaeandthejunebugs.com)
I began writing songs around the time I first owned a quarter track tape recorder that my cousin Georgia Ann gave me not long after I moved to Philly. I know this because I recently was archiving my old reel to reel tapes and found recordings of my dear friend who taught me guitar Carrol Adams Cobbs Jr. playing with me and by himself and on those tapes, I found my first ever song, “Since I Went Away”. I am considering producing a version for my next album. It’s amazing the power recording gives us to capture moments in time and retrieve them any time, sometimes unexpectedly.
I wrote a lot of poetry throughout my life but began trying to create songs that I hoped would be good enough to get some other pros to recognize that I was not just an engineer but a creative person as well. I wrote and began copyrighting them and then going into studios and recording them. After a while, I realized that I had enough songs for a CD. I enlisted a fellow department director Rob Crites (from the Photo department of course) to do the cover shot. The concept was Jim Gallagher: producing, writing words and music and engineering. So, we shot five pictures of me at a console doing all those things. Two shots saying yes and no as a producer, one holding the lyric sheet, one playing my guitar and one at the board. Not everyone got it… Oh well. I also had my hair cut the day before the shoot and weirdly had had it cut shorter than I had worn it since I had been in high school. I was so not pleased with my image with short hair that I grew my hair back out to my shoulders for the next cover shot. Oh well…
I have referred to a number of my songs throughout this book but one in particular is worth telling about as I felt it qualifies my adding songwriter to the list of my accomplishments. As I was doing my first album Pam and I talked about how it was shaping up. She said that my songs could be a bit more esoteric. She said, “Try to write something more like Sting.” I said, “Yeah right.” But I did end up writing “Days Go By” and she approved. I was working at AIPH and still occasionally doing freelance sessions and I got a call from a woman from Washington DC who was recording her premier jazz album. Her name is Changamire and her album Only Human was being produced by Lincoln Ross. They were not happy with how a couple of the songs were developing as they recorded them in DC. They did not like the programmed synth sounds they were getting while doing two of the slow beautiful ballads. James Purdie who always promoted my work (especially strings and horns) recommended that they come to Philly hire me, rent Sigma, cut the tracks, contract the Philly strings and record them and mix there as well. They saved their nickels and dimes and did just that.
At that time, I was in the middle of my second CD I believe but was promoting my first one. So, after we cut her tracks, I gave Lincoln and Changamire a copy of the disc and said check it out. I forgot about it and a few weeks or months later I got a call, and we were on for the string overdubs. I show up and we cut the strings and scheduled a mixing date. Then they said to me that she loved one of the songs on my CD, “Days Go By”, and that she wanted to put it on her album. I was overjoyed. That was exactly why I had made the record in the first place. I said that they had two options: Lincoln could cut their own version back in DC or up here with me. Or they could buy my production and replace the lead vocal with hers and remix it and I would be the producer of the track. She said that was what she wanted.
I booked time with Stephan Rossmeisl AKA Turtle at his studio and recorded her vocal and mixed it. The song came out a while later on her album with me as the producer and the writer of that song. I was so happy. I felt legitimized as a writer! Two cool things came as a result. First, not long after the album release there was a review in a DC newspaper praising the album, Changamire’s voice and style but also singled out my song saying that other artists, and she mentioned some very big stars, should pay attention to that song. Check it out:
I was thrilled. Secondly, after she promoted and sold the record at her gigs, etc., some days went by and I received a check in the mail. It was the first royalty check of my career. Ok, it wasn’t for much, I think I paid more for the frame… But thank you, Changamire, I consider myself a real writer now. I have written or co-written three CDs of songs now and am working on a new one. I hope that someday there will be more royalty checks in my future.
A way in which I got to try out some of my new tunes became available for me when at one point I decided to have monthly Jam Sessions in my basement studio, the Vinyl Room. I had put together my studio from tons of gear that was going to end up in the dumpster as we phased out the audio program at AIPH. The tech guy Cal Davies would come in my office and say, “Do you want an LXP-5? I’m supposed to get rid of it.” I’d take it. I took a lot of stuff, even the beat-up drum kit. I brought it home and bought some hardware and stands and parts and I had a great kit of drums. I pieced together quite a studio. I refer to it often as my “Frankenstein” studio. I did, after a certain point, buy some important parts: a central A&H mixer, great KRK monitors and some decent microphones.
After a time, I knew that I would be capable of recording tracks or almost anything. I began inviting a bunch of musician friends by email to come to my house the third Monday night of every month. I always entitled the email, “How Much Pizza Should I Get?” as I always bought a pie or two for everyone since most of us came straight from work and didn’t have dinner. Pam never attended but asked that we never run late passed 10:00 PM as it was a work/school night. These sessions went on for years. At one point, I realized that there were sometime great moments happening. Fantastic jams, Chuck McCrory wrote a tune as the band followed him live… I started trying to record the better moments while still just playing too. I had these jams, so I could play with real musicians. Recording was a secondary concern. I even got some PA gear just for the jams as we almost always had trouble hearing each other well because the room was thrown together for recording, not live jams. Sometimes I had song lists, sometimes new guests would call the songs. I almost always did, no matter how badly it turned out, “She’s a Woman” by the Beatles. It kind of became a tradition but ironically it got worse as time went on, not better. That, I can’t explain… Interestingly, it never was recorded so it isn’t on the album….
But I was lucky enough to capture some great stuff anyway. Friends invited friends and even people’s bands would show. I met lots of new people and made a lot of new friends whom I often enlisted to play on my albums. I realized I had a lot of good stuff and so I mixed it all and put it together and had some discs burned. I gave copies to most of the people who often came. I had the “Jam Band Regulars” play on one particular song that I had first tried out during a jam session. There was a core group that showed up almost every time. Look up “Winners Take All” on my second CD, The Light and the Dark on my website to see the Music Credits for that song to see who were the “Regulars.” When the CD was finished what else could I call the album but, “How Much Pizza Should I Get?” by The Vinyl Room Jam Band. We had a lot of fun. Eventually it, as all things do, ran its course and I stopped having them. In fact, I even stopped writing for a number of years but am back at it again now. Who knows, maybe the Jams might come back again too. I have renovated the studio and a lot of PA gear that I had just for the jam sessions is now gone. Acoustic jams might be the next phase, ya never know…