Since Graham Parker emerged from England's pub rock scene in the '70s, his success has been spotty. But that has more to do with the times than with his talent-that's a constant. This soulful new wave survivor still puts out a great album every couple of years.
Last year Parker released Acid Bubblegum (Razor & Tie), a collection of well-crafted, angry pop songs-as the title suggests. When he went on the road to promote the release, he hooked up with New York club rock favorites The Figgs. "They met Graham at my farm," says The Figgs' manager/producer Brad Morrison. "I had a party here, and Graham had heard a track of The Figgs on a Graham Parker tribute record. He thought it was the only thing on that record that was any good. They ended up hitting it off and having this big drunken jam session, and then he called back ten days later and asked them to be his backing band. When they started playing shows, it immediately struck everybody that this was really good."
Parker and Morrison hit on the idea that they should record one of the shows live. "It was originally designed to be a promotional item," explains Morrison, "We'd issue it to radio and give attention to Acid Bubblegum. Subsequently, it became a commercial release. I think everyone was a little surprised with how well it turned out."
The live album, The Last Rock 'n' Roll Tour, was recorded one night last November at a 300-capacity club called Bogie's in Albany, New York. "It's The Figgs' home turf-a place where they came up through the ranks to be headliners," says Morrison. "It's a long, thin room, about 40 feet wide by 80 feet long with a 12-foot ceiling. It's all hard substances, with an elevated stage that has a small drum riser."
The album was produced by Parker and recorded by Morrison in Steve Remote's ASL Mobile Audio Productions truck. "But since we were still under the impression that this was just going to be a promotional item, I had to save money on every front," says Morrison, "so I brought a Tascam MS16 machine from my house and installed it in the truck so we could save on tape stock and on the truck's 2-inch costs." Morrison did use Remote's new 96-channel Otari Status board and Genelec 1031A monitors, though, and the owner was on hand at all times to make sure the project went smoothly.
Morrison took first split from the Bogie's stage and used a similar setup to what The Figgs use in the studio: an Electro-Voice RE20 on kick drum, a Shure SM57 on snare, Sennheiser MD421s on rack and floor toms, a couple of AKG 460s overhead, another RE20 on bass, SM57s on all three guitars, and SM58s on vocals. "I would never take DIs on guitars," says Morrison. The only way to get the personality of a guitar is to mike the amp itself." The mic choices suited Parker fine, too; he brings his own 58 vocal mic to every gig.
Morrison used all of the Otari's preamps, which he says he was quite happy with. He also used a good deal of UREI 1176 compression. "When you're recording live, the big issue you're worried about, especially with vocals, is whether you're going to have level for every moment," Morrison says. "You want to make sure that if he's swigging a beer and singing a song, you still get it on tape. So I hit him really hard going to tape, and I also cut tape very hot."
The mix was done at Trax East (South River, N.J.) by Morrison and the studio's owner, Eric Rachel. The facility is equipped with a Sound Workshop 34 console and KRK, Genelec and Yamaha monitors. They used the console mainly for returns, though, sending all of the tracks through Schoeps, Focusrite and Neve outboard EQs and preamps. Other outboard gear Morrison and Rachel used include dbx 160 compression and Drawmer gates on the kick and snare drums, and Eventide 3000 and TC Electronic M5000 reverb on the snare and on vocals. "We essentially custom wrote the program for each track as we put it up," says Morrison. "We mixed the whole record-22 songs-in three days."
The mixing process went smoothly, but there were a few important fixes. In the middle of "Saturday Night Is Dead," lead guitarist Guy Lyons broke a string and wasn't able to finish a solo, so Morrison and Rachel re-recorded the solo and edited it in. "To cop the sound [of the performance]," Morrison explains, "we miked up the same amps-same mic setup, same basic signal chain-and we played back the mix into the room so that it would sound like the mic did onstage, with the band bleeding in." They also repaired Parker's cover of the Prince song "Cream." Parker sang some verses in the wrong order, but backing vocalist Mike Gent sang them correctly, so the engineers flew the lead vocal out and flew the individual lines in where they should be.
The only other changes involved using Rachel's Pro Tools system to edit out lengthy pauses and stage chatter, and to deal with over enthusiastic audience members. "On 'Don't Get Excited,' there was a double stop in the middle," says Morrison, "and right at that moment, some drunken cowboy screamed 'Don't get excited!' horribly out of pitch and louder than anything else in the room. We eliminated a few people from the audience using Pro Tools."
Reproduced with kind permission from Barbara Schultz and Mix Magazine.
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