In his current column, the native blues-traditionalist Al Cook is dedicated to his new record with the great Dana Gillespie, the recording sessions and the well-known Viennese blues label Wolf Records. Tip the ears! 02/19/2019
The fact that the blues are merely sad-self-pitying cotton picker music nowadays can only believe a so-called “dummy”. Already before me, numerous blues experts have refuted by thorough research long ago that it is teeming in this genre only by world-devastated field workers who burned politically colored protest songs against segregation and the injustice of the Sharecropping system in shellac.
In truth, the majority of blues artists simply focused on their everyday lives, which were determined by hard work and adverse living conditions, but were by no means criticized and pessimistically sung about. Interpersonal problems, alcohol and lack of money and the resulting social situation formed the predominant theme of the blues. And yet there was entertainment, fun and pleasure, although often rough and untergärig – what was then simply connected with the term “Party Blues” or “Hokum Music”.
When the record industry discovered this type of entertainment as a previously unused gap in the market, mass recordings were produced on which labels soon bore prominent names.
Nowadays, the era of party blues seems almost forgotten, as rock and pop music provides enough space for the open, which often displays banal stuff brutally. Unfortunately, the picturesque humor of floral ambiguity and the black double talk of the interwar period are no longer understood correctly. But that’s exactly what brought together British singer Dana Gillespie and me after decades of personal acquaintance for a joint project.
Dana is as much a household name to the international music scene as her highly erotic presence has made her known in film and television. Despite all the prominence, she just wanted to “only” produce a party blues CD in the classic down-home style. As far as I know, she also discussed this project with our boss Hannes Tortenterbauer, boss and mastermind of Wolf Records International, the famous Viennese blues label. So it was just a matter of making an appointment to fire the starting gun.
That the blues of the 20s to 40s is my specialty, can be assumed. So, for the time being, I let myself be showered with two CDs of selections, and Dana narrowed down her selection to leave room for some of her own compositions. In doing so, she voiced her concerns that any accompanying musicians and the studio would cost an additional penny. I wiped it off the table to my relief, as I am a strict representative of autarky and of the invariably functioning personal union.
Two phone calls with Charlie Lloyd and Harry Hudson activating Makeshift Studio – and off we go. Without any kind of studiostreß and in a relaxed-amikaler atmosphere, we managed after a cozy get-together to quickly create the optimal conditions. I sat down at the recorder and made the recording manager. Since it was still a bit cold in the basement, I switched on the radiant heater. Charlie played warm fingers on the baby grand piano, while Harry positioned the microphones around the drums. The volume levels were adjusted shortly, and we started recording.
It’s a different feeling when you have the necessary equipment and time simply does not cost anything. Above all, you do not need to be annoyed by vanity-troubled sound engineers who have no idea but know everything better. The blues are also subject to different criteria in terms of sound engineering than, say, contemporary music. The crosstalk while recording three sound sources were small, as it was actually discreet and recorded in the room volume. Two to three takes were enough to consolidate the reference base. Dana was flown in from London before the recordings began and sang her part very confidently and professionally … no wonder. When I first came to the stage, she was already recording her debut records.
The music pieces on the CD are, with a few exceptions, cover versions of well-known blues sizes. Where there are masculine themes like Big Bill Broonzy’s “Auto Mechanic Blues,” she rewrote the text from a woman’s perspective. Of particular note, however, is the clear ambiguity of one of their own compositions entitled “FCK Blues”. Dana sings: “The only thing that’s missing is you” – or just the “U”, which is well known in English. “My Handy Man” is a classic blues from the vaudeville era, the Charlie excellently accompanied on the piano. The term “mobile” in this case has absolutely nothing to do with a mobile phone, because in 1923 there’s something like that. Alberta Hunter sings in the original by a skilled man who can do it all. The rest is to be understood metaphorically. The only track reminiscent of the Rock’n’Roll Stone Age is “Red Light”, an uptempo number by Mercy Dee Walton, a Post War era R & B artist.
I hired Wayne Martin, an ambitious rockabilly guitarist who played the rhythm guitar in the style of Lee Kizard. Lee was the legendary lead guitarist of Ike Turner’s Delta Rhythm Kings, who made “Rocket 88” a hit in 1951 with his distorted boogie bass figure. Finally, I had the pleasure of accompanying Dana to two numbers with the piano. Since my game is umstandsbedingt limited to only E major, that was completely enough. Stylishly, the two numbers can be called hits, because “No More Waiting” with Harry Hudson’s washboard accompaniment is a catchy catchy tune, while “Love Operation” Dana’s bluesy-trimmed “Puffmutterstimme” through my heavy St. Louis barrel-house piano really make it stand out.
Finally, the whole thing was missing the polish. And I’m not talking about an acoustic frosting … with God. But when ladies can play double-bass, that’s just their fascination.
Karin Daym, a well-known bass player in our blues scene, was an absolute must for this production. She had already distinguished herself as a singer and excellent basslady on some of my previous productions. I took her on board and did well. At one point she even sang second voice. With these musicians I had an unbeatable troupe, over which I only had to put my guitar solos.
But the bones were still in front of us.
Hardly anyone can imagine how the music heard from the CD is acoustically acceptable mixed. If more than two instruments are involved in the recording, that sounds different on each system. Between portable radio, stereo equipment, car radio and smartphone are often acoustic worlds. At least from car radios I know that they are calibrated to bass-heavy pop sound. Pop music has the characteristic that when the volume level is lowered, bass frequencies and drums are left over primarily. Blues as well as rock’n’roll and all pre-sixties music, however, keep the singer or the solo instrument in the foreground. So what should be done so that the more bass-heavy part of the recording does not mask the vocals and the solo guitar?
Harry Hudson has a sensitive sense of music, while Charlie has an almost absolute sense of hearing. With my detective sense of style, together we are a hard-to-beat trio. The result is then usually that at least one dissatisfied as a compromise Pepperl remains. We agreed on Harry’s talent as a Mixing Engineer, while Charlie and I took on the assistant role.
On the first day the computer program did not work, then other technical problems robbed us of the residual energy. Shortly before the “fuck up phase” Harry discovered a CD direct burner among his belongings. Then we let the computer be computer and mixed from the recorder right on Vormaster. That worked at least – and then it really started.
Harry wired four (!) Pairs of loudspeakers of different designs, trying to mix the best sound in each case. Of course, that took four times the time, and we felt after the first six numbers already like disoriented Drahdiwaberln in the weightless room. Harry scraped up the last supply of energy for the last six numbers – and I also criticized him for mixing the CD with rock methodology, which he understandably threw away his nerves. After an hour, the situation calmed down and the work was completed. At home, I then put together the line-up for the titles and delivered the work. The finalization work such as cover and duplication were accomplished by Wolf Records.
But now the CD is officially on sale under the order number 120.984, and on May 9, 2019 at 8 pm the presentation with live concert will take place in the Metropol (1170 Vienna, Hernalser Hauptstraße 55).
Tickets can be ordered by calling 0043(01) 407 77 407.
Look – and listen – to yourself, ladies and gentlemen!