Monday, February 25, 2008

Track 6: It's About Time

Writer: Dennis Wilson (with minor contributions from Al Jardine, Carl Wilson had musical input, most lyrics by Bob Burchman)
Recording Dates: I'll get to this...July '69?
Location: Brian's House
Lead Vocal: Carl
Musician's Union Contract Status: Unknown
Known Musicians: Earl Palmer, Drums; Dennis Dragon, Conga; Carl Wilson, Guitar
Tracksheet: Unknown Status

This one baffles me. Gotta hear the session tape for this.

The basic track was done at Brian's house to 2" tape. There's a bootleg that presents the isolated percussion tracks, and another run through with the organ track added to the drums and conga.

Seems Dennis W. wasn't even present at all, according to Fred Vail.
Carl's voice appears out in the studio, he says "all the way through now." So he's likely on guitar.

However, there is no guitar leak into the drum or conga mics. Desper recalls sending Carl and Al's guitar direct into the board to be re-amplified later. I would guess the Ed Carter is involved too, all three may have gone direct. There is a little leaking of the piano into the drum and percussion mics, so there was a piano played contemporaneous with the drums. That could be Daryl. Bass could be anybody. It might have been overdubbed.

Like I said, gotta hear the multitrack session tape to figure this out. It's one of my dying wishes for my life, to hear the tracks from this isolated.


Anyway, no tracksheet, my guess:

1. Drums L
2. Drums R
3. Bass (string bass in bridge punched in?)
4. Rhythm guitar
5. Rhythm guitar
6. Lead guitar w/leslie
7. Conga L
8. Conga R
9. Piano L
10. Piano R
11. Organ
12. Organ
13. BGs
14. BGs
15. Carl's lead vocal
16. Carl's lead double


It is, of course very possible that there was a reduction mix made at some point.

Carl's lead on U67, both passes. Mike on RCA77 for bridge.

Very interesting recording.

Track 5: Deirdre

Writer: Bruce Johnston
Recording Dates: I'll get to this...
Location: Gold Star
Lead Vocal: Bruce
Musician's Union Contract Status: Extant
Known Musicians: Bruce Johnson, Piano; Daryl Dragon, Vibes?; Ed Carter, Guitar; John Guerin, Drums; Joe Osborn, Fender Bass; Frank Capp, Percussion; James Bond, String Bass; Larry Knechtel, Piano; Al Casey, Guitar
Tracksheet: Unknown Status

Bruce's first entry marks a different production style than the first four songs. Bruce's inimitable nostalgic, show-tuney, at times sappy style is in top form.

The basic track was done at Gold Star, probably to 8-track. Again, Desper may not have been present for the basic tracking session.

Nonetheless, the track is sonically very interesting. Note the very dry drums. Probably close miked. Desper remembers U67s overhead the set...

Osborne's bass is very transparent and nimble. Perhaps a combination D.I. and Amp. Carter and Casey's rumbling acoustic guitars propel the track along. Ed Carter had been a road guitarist for the Boys for a few years and was finally getting a chance to do some things in the studio besides out-of-place screaming lead guitar work, as on Bluebirds Over the Mountain.

No tracksheet for this that I know of, so here's my guess:

1. Drums
2. Drums
3. Basses
4. Carter Guitar
5. Casey Guitar
6. Pianos
7. Vibes
8. Percussion

It's possible drums were in mono and the pianos or basses were split up. No idea.


Another nice vocal sound. Bruce's lead is split into "stereo" by an Orban comb filter/stereo synthesizer. You can test this yourself by inverting one channel of audio and combining L and R to mono. You'll see that Bruce's voice disappears as you OOPS it. This is a Desper technique for sure.

The string and horn overdubs were done later, in conjunction with some other overdubs for different songs. Desper recalls using mostly the RCA ribbons for the string and horn sections, with Schoeps spot mikes here and there.

The group backing vocals were done with the AKG C422, in true stereo.

Special: Daryl and Dennis Dragon

If the Beach Boys were a family affair, it helped that during Sunflower's sessions, they adopted another family into the Wilson fold. No less than four Dragon siblings played for the Beach Boys on Sunflower and into Surf's Up. Daryl and Doug, Keyboard players, Dennis, a drummer just like the Wilson Dennis, and one of their sisters played flute on Disney Girls on Surf's Up. The Harp-playing sister might have contributed too!

And all the Dragon boys went on the road with the Beach Boys at some point as well, on a few occasions all of them were on stage at the same time.

But it was Daryl and Dennis who might deserve honorary Beach Boy status. Especially Daryl for his support of Dennis (Wilson).

Here's Dennis in the studio, picture from myspace.com/thedragonsbfi



Dennis Wilson, below him Daryl and Carl jamming at Brian's house.


Dennis played drums or percussion on 1/3 of Sunflower, plus a bunch of outtakes.

Slip on Through, This Whole World, Got to Know the Woman, It's About Time (congas)


Daryl was also a major presence, adding his touch to:

Got to Know the Woman, Tears in the Morning, Forever, Deirdre, and likely more.

We will know more as more union sheets surface. And the ultimate, perhaps for a Sunflower Box-Set, we'll get the Dragons in a studio and play them the multi-tracks and see what they can remember!

Much thanks to the Dragons for their help in making Sunflower happen.

I'll spotlight more musicians as we go along.

Track 4: Got to Know the Woman

Writer: Dennis Wilson
Recording Dates: February 13, 1969; July ?, 1969
Location: Sunset Sound
Lead Vocal: Dennis
Musician's Union Contract Status: Extant
Known Musicians: Dennis Dragon, Drums; Daryl Dragon, Piano; Doug Dragon, Piano; Joe Osborne, Bass; Ed Carter, Guitar
Tracksheet: Unknown Status

A deceptively simple track, engineered by Bill Lazerus, with Desper likely not present. It seems (thanks Mark!) that when not tracking at Brian's house, the Boys would follow tradition and book an in-house engineer. Therefore, Steve may not have engineered the basic tracks for several songs on Sunflower. In the cases where he didn't, he would have to add his sonic signature at mixdown.

Since this session was not under the command of Steve, especial attention to stereo imaging was not paid. The two pianos, played by the Dragon brothers, were likely recorded in mono by Sony C-37a mics or some similar tube LCD favored by Sunset Sound engineers. Dennis' drums sound pretty tight here, suggesting a full close-miked set-up. Osborne could be direct or his Super-Reverb amp might be miked up. Desper recalls putting lots of compression on the bass at the tracking stage, but since he may not have been there that could have been a mix decision. Carter's Les Paul guitar is largely inconsequential in the mix. It doesn't seem as if there are any Beach Boys involved in the basic track. Dennis was not a controlling producer, and his hand was pretty light, so he was probably content to sit back in the booth.

I think I have seen a Tracksheet for this, but I can't for the life of me remember it, so I'll guess. This was another one tracked to 8-track and transfered to 2" later.

1. Drums L
2. Drums R
3. Piano 1
4. Piano 2
5. Bass
6. Guitar
7.
8.

There is some sort of overdub attempt involving a "Fuzz Bass" that does not appear to end up in the final mix that may be on the first generation tape.


This song is most interesting due to it's vocals.

Dennis' lead is interesting because it was done standing up, hand-holding a Schoeps CMT6U. Apparently Dennis had to move around a lot to express the lead properly.

The rest of the backing vocals involved a massed choir of several Beach Boys and some studio ringers. Julia Tillman, Carolyn Willis, and Edna Wright added their feminine touch to the song at Sunset Sound on February 14th, 1969.

Mike's ludicrous and wonderful bass vocals were sung into his usual RCA77. The rest were likely split between U67 and stereo AKG C422.


Above: AKG C422

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Track 3: Add Some Music to Your Day

Writer: Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Joe Knott
Recording Dates: exact date unknown, October, 1969
Location: Brian's House
Lead Vocal: All Beach Boys sing at least a line
Musician's Union Contract Status: Unknown
Known Musicians: Select Beach Boys
Tracksheet: Extant

This track changes the pace of the album a bit, a little slower, more relaxed.

The arrangement is more open, too. From what I can tell, this arrangement was built from the ground up, assembly line more than capturing a live band.

The first generation tape looked something like this, again from memory:

1 - drums left
2 - drums right
3 - Roxichord 1-Roxichord was a versatile electric keyboard, here used to sound like a clavinet
4 - Roxichord 2
5 - acoustic Guitar L
6 - acoustic R
7 - Fender Bass
8 - acoustic guitar 2 L
9 - acoustic g 2 R
10 - Chamberlin string line

The drums were probably handled by Dennis. Brian probably played both Roxichord parts. Bruce claims to be the bassist on this track, Desper says it was Brian. I tend to think it was Bruce simply because he played so little bass in the studio he'd be inclined to remember when he did. Carl and Al certainly could have handled the acoustic guitar duties, both guitars captured in stereo with U67s or U87s in XY pattern. The bass sounds directly injected via a Jensen DI box.

A reduction was made to another 2" 16-track tape. This is not from memory:

1 - drums
2 - Roxi syc left
3 - Roxi right
4 - prc
5 - BGs - acoustic left
6 - Bgs - acoustic right
7 - bass
8 - bgs - acoustic 2 left
9 - bgs - acoustic 2 right
10 - bgrd (al)
11 - bgs
12 - bgs
13 - lead (basic)
14 - vio cello strings
15 - vio cllo strings
16 - lead o/d

As you can see, lots of combining. Drums went to one track, this might have been the stage that the reverb was added to the kick drum. Percussion was overdubbed, and strings were added. As you can also see, lots of accomodations needed to be made for the backing vocals. Check out the stellar A Capella mix of this song on the superb Hawthorne CD. Since you can hear the Chamberlin string line on the A Capella mix, it must have been bounced in with some BGVs somewhere. A pretty complicated little track for what seems like a home-brewed little song!

It should be noted that before the final version was mixed, a different mix featuring different lyrics was attempted. Mike and Al do the bulk of the lead work, and their voices are panned hard to opposite sides. The better mix definitely made it to the album.

Track 2: This Whole World

Writer: Brian Wilson
Recording Dates: November 13, 1969
Location: Brian's House
Lead Vocal: Carl Wilson
Musician's Union Contract Status: Extant and available
Known Musicians: David Cohen, Guitar; Jerry Cole, Guitar; John Conrad, Electric Bass; Ray Pohlman, Fender Bass; Dennis Dragon, Drums; Gene Estes, Chimes+Bells; Brian Wilson, (likely) Piano.
Tracksheet: Extant


Full disclosure: this is my favorite track on the album. A great, power-poppy, country-guitar infused arrangement with top-drawer musicianship.

Brian is in full control here, and the band gets the take in just a few takes. Jerry Cole, playing a Fender Telecaster, counts off and starts with the C5 power chord to open the song. Both he and David Cohen were likely playing their Teles through Fender amplifiers. Steve Desper seems to have favored EV 666s, RE-15s, and Shure 57s on guitar amps.

There are two electric basses, recorded to one track. Beach Boys session stalwart Ray Pohlman joins John Conrad in the bass section. There is no way to know exactly what instruments are being played, at least one Fender bass is assured, but the double may be another Fender, or possibly a Danelectro 6 string bass or Fender VI. John Conrad seems to have done some sessions for Gram Parsons, but I could find very little about him. Help would be much appreciated with him.

Dennis Dragon is on drums. Desper favored a simple approach to miking drums. Less was more, so often the drums would be captured in stereo and sent to two tracks by 3 or 4 microphones, usually U67s low overhead, an RCA44 or AKG D12 on the kick, with an occasional spot mic on the snare. This certainly varied, however, and it sounds like there may have been some filling in on the drumset on this day.

Gene Estes provides percussion, getting payed extra for pulling double duty.

The basic session was captured on the first eight tracks 2" tape, looking something like this (from memory, sorry):

1. Drums Left
2. Drums Right
3. Basses
4. Lead Guitar
5. Rhythm Guitar
6. Percussion
7. Percussion
8. Percussion

O.D.s. were cut, perhaps right after the basic session. Piano was overdubbed in stereo, presumably by Brian. Celeste was added as well.

Carl sang a single lead vocal through a U67. Presumably the rest of the group vocals were primarily through the U67 as well, with Mike on his RCA77. Desper remembers triple tracking Mike's bass vocal in places, and limiting it heavily. At times, I hear the group vocals in stereo, sounding very much like they went through the AKG C422, a stereo coincidence Large Diaphragm Condenser microphone.

Brian's oohs during the second "bridge" are heavily compressed, and Brian also attempted to sing the lyrics to the first bridge, and his pass still exists on tape.

Of particular note to me is the sensational guitar playing on this recording by David Cohen. It is a shame that his work is hard to hear in the wall of sound. He plays twangy, county-inspired interval licks during the verses, and during the bridges he and Jerry Cole spar with Pedal Steel Guitar influenced interludes. Really creative stuff. Brian was very wise to let those two guitarists inject a little bit of their stylistic calling card into the production. I just wish it was more audible on the album track!

Desper also remembers using a sidechain compressor on the basses, activated by the kick drum. I'm not sure if this is possible, because the kick did not have it's own discrete track, and the effect does not appear to be printed to tape. Either way, there is a great throbbing interplay between basses and kick that rumbles the song along.

Note:

Eastern Airlines used this song in an advert at some point. The version used for that commercial is a different mix with seemingly slightly different instrumentation in places.

Track 1: Slip On Through

Writer: Dennis Wilson
Recording Dates: July 8 1969, October 6 1969
Location: Gold Star (Unreleased Version), Brian's House
Lead Vocal: Dennis Wilson
Musician's Union Contract Status: Unknown
Known Musicians: Dennis Dragon, drums; John Audino and Tony Terran, Trumpet
Tracksheet: Extant

Slip on through is a great, exuberant opener to the album. It's funky latin-infused drive told listeners right away that the Beach Boys had evolved sonically.

Interestingly, the version of the song that appears on Sunflower is the second version of the song. There was a completely different recording attempted that was scrapped in favor of the new arrangement. The first arrangement was recorded at Gold Star, and definitely has the signature Gold Star sound to it. No vocals were apparently ever attempted for that backing track.

The album version, recorded at Brian's House, is probably the superior arrangement. It rolls along on a solid bed of bass and Dennis Dragon's looping drums. Desper remembers recording the drums for Slip on Through outside, which might account for the crisp, tight, and unreverberant tone of them. Dennis Dragon, who we'll hear a lot more about over the course of the album, was a very accomplished drummer with a kind of unique style, which always helps...

The bass player is unknown at this point, but it is likely a session man, since the bass-playing Beach Boys would seem to lack the natural instinct for the groove. It could be any number of contributors, from Ray Pohlman, to Lyle Ritz, to Captain Daryl Dragon.

The rhythm is driven along by a unique processed cowbell. Desper had a special delay unit made by the Phillips company that created up to 5 discrete delayed signals, all fully time adjustable. For the cowbell, Desper set up the 5 delays in short increments, perhaps 5 ms apart. So there are 6 iterations of the sound in close succession, creating a sound like, in Desper's words "a big cricket."

It would appear that the basic track was indeed very basic. It may have been done to 8-track and then bounced to a new 16-track tape for overdubs. The basic session would have looked something like this:

1 - drums left
2 - drums right
3 - piano l
4 - piano r
5 - bass l
6 - bass r
7 - guitar l
8 - guitar r

Desper liked to capture everything in stereo when possible. The basic track was likely bounced to 16-track like this:

1 - drums left
2 - drums right
3 - piano, bass, guitar left
4 - piano bass gtr right

On top of that went the vocals and the cowbell and trumpet overdubs. The trumpets were recorded with an RCA 44.

There were lots of backing vocals involving the full group, spread out over at least 4 tracks. Mike's vocal bassline got it's own tracks; it was doubled.

There is a bootleg of a vocal overdub session that suggests the tape was slowed down for Dennis' lead vocal overdub, then sped up to make it easier for Dennis to sing. Desper also writes in his book about doing some half-speed backing vocals as well, so when speeded up the vocals would gain a sheen.

The group vocals were likely done around a U67, with Mike on his separate RCA 77, as was usually the case due to his soft, resonant tone when singing bass. Dennis' lead was tracked with a U67.

As stated before, an excellent opener. Hopefully the Union Contract will show up so the players can be verified, and perhaps the multi-track tapes might one day reveal more answers.

This will be a recurring theme. When Union contracts are missing, we must rely on deduction to fill in the details about the recording sessions. Having access to the Multi-track tapes and the session outtakes are excellent tools to help figure out what happened.

I will continually Think and Wish and Hope and Pray that I will get the opportunity to figure out exactly what happened over the course of this blog, and my life.

And as always, if you know something about this that I don't, contribute!