Editor’s Note: From 1987 through 1994, diehard Steely Dan fans turned to a small fanzine called Metal Leg for information about Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Published first by England’s Brian Sweet (who went on to write the unofficial band biography Steely Dan: Reelin’ In The Years) and later by New Yorkers Pete Fogel and Bill Pascador, Metal Leg set high standards by providing solid information without resorting to paparazzi-style tactics.
First, let me say sorry for the delay of this issue. It seems as time goes on, my partner and I are finding less time to work on the magazine. In addition to doing Metal Leg, I have four other jobs that take up 90% of my waking hours, while my partner Bill has a crazy job on Madison Avenue and hasn’t seen a 40-hour work week in quite some time. I guess that’s why the average fanzine only lasts one year. Regardless of the time problems, “Metal Leg” is going into its 7th year, so please bear with us.
This issue covers the 1992 New York Rock and Soul Revue on the road with Donald and Walter and company. I was fortunate enough to take time off from my jobs to see all but one of the shows. I want to thank all the subscribers in each of the cities I was in. They drove me around, took me to baseball games, and fed me handsomely. I also would like to give very special thanks to Craig Fruin, Bob Longmeyer and Gail Fine from Donald’s management company. These three people really went out of their way to try to be nice to me. Your consideration was appreciated greatly.
The untimely death of Jeff Porcaro put a damper for me on the tour. I didn’t know Jeff personally, but after listening to Katy Lied eight billion times, I sure felt like I knew him. On page ten, we’ve put together a nice piece on Jeff and the impact that he had on the Steely Dan people as well as how much he meant to the music world in general. Jeff Porcaro will always be alive on the countless number of recordings he played on, but for me, nothing will ever top the work he did with Donald, Walter and Gary.
I Got The News
If you haven’t already heard by now, Jeff Porcaro, the ace L.A. session drummer died of a heart attack in early August. A full story appears later in the issue.
On a brighter note, Metal Leg’s extended N.Y. Rock & Soul Revue tour is also featured later in the mag. So now, on to the news…
Donald & Walter & a solo album on the horizon
The release of Donald Fagen’s upcoming solo album, Kamakiriad has been pushed back to April from February. The year is still believed to be 1993, but we’ll let you know if that should change also.
We’ve also found out three additional song titles from the album: “Springtime,” “Florida Room” and “Counter Moon.” This is in addition to the others: “The Trip,” “Tomorrow’s Girls,” “Snowbound,” “On The Dunes” and “Tea House on the Tracks.”
As of early November, Walter Becker is back in New York working on Donald’s album as co-producer, bass player and guitarist.
On this album, you shouldn’t expect to hear the same army of session players Donald and Walter have used in the past. Since Donald is playing all keyboard parts and Walter seems to be playing many of the bass and guitar parts, that automatically cuts down on the number of players needed.
Some of the horn players who have been in the sessions recently include saxophonist (Blue) Lou Marini and trumpet player Alan Rubin, both of Blues Brothers fame.
In the past, background singers have always played an important role in Donald and Walter’s music. The girls continuing this tradition are straight off the stage of the N.Y. Rock & Soul Revue tour: Brenda White-King, Catherine Russell and “Metal Leg” pinup girl, Mindy Jostyn. Another favorite of our readers, the lovely and talented Jenni Muldaur also made some of the sessions at River Sound.
While in Hawaii, Donald talked more about the album to Jon Woodhouse of the Maui News: “The project is something I conceived and I wrote all the songs, except for one I wrote with Walter some years ago. Walter’s helping me get it on tape. When we started I didn’t know who was going to play bass, but I asked him and he’s been doing all the bass and will probably do some guitar work as well.”
Talking about working with Walter again after a long layoff, Fagen said: “We fell into a very easy working relationship. We had both changed a lot, but we went back into the same mode, having fun and joking around. Walter is very funny and has a lot of energy, which keeps everything buoyant.”
On the theme of the album, Fagen continued: “Much like The Nightfly it’s a concept album in the sense that all the songs are related. The story is in the form of a journey taken by the protagonist. In The Nightfly. the songs came from the viewpoint of someone in the late ’50s and early ’60s, and were pretty much autobiographical. This journey takes place a few years in the future, looking towards the millennium. The literal action concerns this guy who’s about to embark on a journey with a steam-driven, kind of new age auto with a hydroponic garden in the back.”
Suggesting that this odyssey works on a number of levels, Fagen continues: “It’s kind of a psychological and social history; too. And it will work on the level of just being fun to listen to. I’ve been trying to strip down a bit. The music’s maybe a little simpler than I’ve written in the past and they’re fewer instruments.”
Just because he’s examining the future, Fagen says we shouldn’t expect to hear any spacey, industrial beats: “I didn’t want to create a science fiction landscape. The music has a lot of influence from soul music, the music I listened to in my young adulthood.”
When asked if the music is danceable, Fagen replied, “I hope so. The kind of music people dance to now seems so horrific to me, I don’t know if they’ll want to dance to it. I like everything to have a great-sounding groove. I couldn’t work on anything that didn’t have a swing to it.”
While information on Donald’s record is starting to appear, not much is known about Walter’s solo project. According to Roger Nichols, Becker is recording his songs at a much quicker pace than Donald. Nevertheless, Donald’s album will still be released first. So Walter’s record is currently scheduled for release in mid-summer 1993. Incidentally, Walter’s album will be released on Giant Records, the same label that released the N.Y. Rock & Soul Revue’s Live At The Beacon. Giant Records is also run by Steely Dan’s former manager Irving Azoff.
So what does this bode for the future? The scenario is this: Donald releases his album in April and Walter releases his album in July. The timing seems to make sense for both artists to support their new records with an August tour. There has been a lot of speculation about this duo-tour and Fagen and Becker haven’t ruled it out, either. It’s easy to imagine the format: Donald does some of his new songs; Walter does some of his own. And the icing on the cake could be some Steely Dan tunes that weren’t performed at the Rock & Soul Revue tour. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
Although Walter is quite busy working on his own album as well as Donald’s, he is also producing an album for the NY band The Lost Tribe for Windham Hill. The band plays a lot at the Knitting Factory and their music is hybrid of jazz, funk and rock.
Another side project of Donald Fagen has appeared on the soundtrack to the movie Glengarry Glen Ross. It’s an instrumental composition called “Blue Lou,” written for saxophonist Lou Marini. The song is performed by The Joe Roccisano Orchestra which also features Blue Lou himself. Joe Roccisano, if you don’t remember, was the conductor and arranger of The Hoops McCann Band and also did a big band version of “The Goodbye Look” at one of the “NY Nights” gigs at the Lone Star. The Glengarry soundtrack is excellent and features other jazz artists such as Wayne Shorter (Aja title track sax soloist), Little Jimmy Scott (another “NY Nights” veteran), Shirley Horn, Take 6, The Bill Holman Big Band, Georgie Fame, David Sanborn, Al Jarreau and Dr. John. The soundtrack was produced by Tommy LiPuma and is available on Elektra.
In award news, almost one year after its release, “The New York Rock and Soul Revue – Live At The Beacon” won “Best Rock Album” and “Best Rock Group” at the NY Music Awards. Donald Fagen accepted the awards at the ceremony which was coincidentally held at the Beacon Theatre. Bring on the Grammys!
Bill Clinton: Dan Fan… and other odd things
Now that the baby boomers will be storming the White House in January, they will apparently be taking their music with them. President-elect Bill Clinton utilized ’70s rock music to give his supporters the warm fuzzies at his campaign rallies across the country. While Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop” was the main battle hymn, the Dan tune “Reelin’ In The Years” followed a close second. In fact, “Reelin”‘ was played right before “America The Beautiful” at Clinton’s victory speech in Little Rock, Arkansas on election night. CBS anchorman Dan Rather even closed his nightly report with a story on what music will now be heard in the White House and a picture of Donald and Walter (circa 1980) appeared on the the screen of millions of American television viewers. Word also has it that “I.G.Y.” was another Clinton campaign fave. And we all thought that people from Arkansas were just a bunch of drunken hillbillies.
The soundtrack to the 1970 movie You Gotta Walk It Like You Talk It which Becker and Fagen composed pre-Steely Dan in their starving artists days, has been released on CD on See For Miles Records in the U.K. Obviously, the company is trying to make money off of Fagen and Becker’s name, but given their motives, the company has actually put together an attractive package. The sound quality is top-notch, apparently from the original masters. The CD itself is a picture disc with black and white screened photo of Donald & Walter from 1976-77. The CD cover features the original artwork from the 1970 record release. The liner notes were written by Fred Dellar and also include lyrics to the songs “Dog Eat Dog” sung by Fagen, “Roll Back The Meaning” sung by drummer John Discepolo, “If It Rains” sung by producer Kenny Vance and the title track sung by everyone.
To tell you the truth, this album isn’t really Fagen and Becker’s best work and they aren’t really proud of it. The movie was supposed to be pretty crummy also. The movie featured Richard Pryor and was about a NY loser who attempted to fulfill his sexual needs but merely got his share of nosebleeds, also flunking out on suicide, marriage and a nifty Madison Avenue job. It was a cheapo disaster that ran for only two weeks in Manhattan. The CD would be of interest if you’re a hard-core collector since it is only available as an import.
In the cover version department, two CD releases feature a Steely Dan composition each. On saxophonist Michael Paulo’s One Passion release on MCA, he covers “Home At Last.” Another saxophonist Rastine, covers “Peg” on his Afrodisiac release on Zoo Entertainment.
In other CD news, MCA has released the rest of the remastered Steely Dan discs in the wake of their now-infamous CD scandal. The new discs are marked with a sticker.
Steely Dan producer Gary Katz, along with his work at River Sound Studios is shopping a new band from Boston, “The Swinging Steaks,” to record company executives. The band’s music is sort of a country rock style and appears to be a ’90s version of The Eagles. The are currently playing showcases around the New York City area including the Lone Star Roadhouse.
At Fagen and Katz’s River Sound Studios in NY, The Allman Brothers and John Scofield are some of the artists who have been working there recently.
Larry Carlton has a new album out, Kid Gloves, on GRP Records. The record includes a cover of “Just My Imagination” with a voice-box synthesized vocals a la “Haitian Divorce.” Carlton recently played two nights at B. Smith’s restaurant in Manhattan to sold-out audiences. The first set was brodcast live on CD101.9-FM and Larry was faced with a number of audience members who were shouting out for Steely Dan songs. Carlton started laughing and said, “I think New York City is the only city that keeps yelling Steely Dan at me. So you’re the last hold outs. Fifteen years ago we cut those records — time to get a life.” He then proceeded to go into his composition “Room 335” which copped parts of “Peg.” And during the next set, Larry played “Josie” from his On Solid Ground album.
Another Steely Dan guitarist, Steve Khan, also has a new release. It’s called Headline and is on Bluemoon Records.
Jimmy Vivino, the guitarist from the now-defunct Little Big Band, along with his saxophonist brother Jerry Vivino have just released their debut CD Chitlins Parmigiana as the Vivino Brothers on the DMP label.
The record also features two other Little Big Band veterans Catherine Russell and Ronnie Cuber. In his syndicated record review column, Kevin O’Hare was impressed:
On their sizzling debut album, New Jersey’s Jimmy and Jerry Vivino get a whole lot of help from their friends while ripping through a white-hot set of clean, crisp, soulful jazz and R&B.
The key contributor is veteran keyboardist Al Kooper who serves up some vintage Hammond B-3 work on an assortment of cuts. The Vivinos, who’ve worked with artists ranging from Donald Fagen to Phoebe Snow and Johnny Johnson through the years, trekked through 13 mostly self-penned titles. They run the gamut from several instrumentals, powered by Jerry’s saxophone work, to the disc’s vocal centerpiece, Jimmy’s soul-stirring “Miss Mona.”
There’s a reason the Vivinos have been among the most sought after musicians in and around New York and it’s readily apparent here. First class from start to finish.
Donald Fagen gets special thanks in the liner notes. And it’s kinda funny that although we’re a Steely Dan fanzine, we still get letters about how great Jimmy was in the Hades, China Club and N.Y. Nights shows. Again, the Vivino Brothers CD is on the DMP label, catalog number CD-492. Check your local record store for “Chitlins Parmigiana” or write DMP, Park Square Station, Box 15835, Stamford, CT 06901.
For those of you in the N.Y. area, you might be able to see some of the sidemen and women who have played with the NY Rock and Soul Revue and The Little Big Band at a club on W. 57th Street between 8th and 9th Avenue called Le Bar Bat. This nightclub was formerly the Media Sound Recording studios and upcoming shows feature Mindy Jostyn, Drew Zingg, Kevin Bents, Catherine Russell, Harvey Brooks and Cornelius Bumpus.
A Steely Dan Book? Brian Sweet, the British founder of Metal Leg is currently approaching publishers in London for the go-ahead to start work on his life-long dream project, a book on Steely Dan.
We do not know at this time if Brian’s book will be authorized by Becker and Fagen, but we know that Brian has already conducted several interviews with others who played a role in the Steely Dan story.
The New York-based editor and publisher of Metal Leg wish Mr. Sweet the best in achieving his goal. Hopefully in his book, Brian will be able to answer some of the deep, dark questions that we at the NY office of “Metal Leg” have been trying to answer for many years like, Did Denny Dias ever sleep with Stevie Nicks and did Jeff “Skunk” Baxter ever sleep with Elton John? (Just kidding Brian!)
Jeff Porcaro 1954-1992
Jeff Porcaro, one of the top session drummers in the music world, died of a heart attack on August 5, 1992 at the age of 38.
For the past couple of years, Metal Leg had compiled a lot of information on Jeff’s work with Steely Dan and was working on getting an exclusive interview with him. Unfortunately this interview will never take place, but what’s even more unfortunate is the fact that the music world has lost a world-class drummer as well as a first-class person. Out of all the session work that Jeff had done, the Steely Dan recordings were always very special and the remainder of our article attempts to show the reasons why.
Jeff Porcaro was born on April 1, 1954 in Los Angeles, the eldest son of jazz percussionist Joe Porcaro. Naturally, coming from a musical family, Jeff started playing the drums at an early age and soon demonstrated his prodigious talent. He used to play Steely Dan songs in a high school band, little knowing that when he was only 19 by an incredible quirk of fate, he would be playing at a small LA club called Dante’s when Becker and Fagen walked in to get a drink. Later when they were seeking to augment the touring version of Steely Dan with a second drummer, Porcaro went down to audition. Michael McDonald also auditioned for the keyboard player/vocalist job and was given the nod because he could assist Fagen with the high parts. At the time — late 1973 — Jeff was playing with Sonny and Cher and earning $1500 a week. But he quit without hesitation, despite Steely Dan’s offering him only $400 a week. He said: “When I first went with Steely Dan that was my first taste of being in what I thought was a so-called hip, cult rock and roll band, of being on the road with a band that I thought was cool.”
McDonald explained to the BBC’s Andy Peebles how he met Jeff at a Christmas party in LA for a TV show that was wrapping up. “Jeff was about sixteen at that time and he was a monster drummer, I couldn’t believe how good he was. I met him through this girl bass player who had to go to Vegas to play a gig with the Harry James Orchestra — the money was too good for her to pass up — and she asked me to put this band together. David Paich and David Hungate were in this band, but we had never met before, so we played anything we could think of that we might all know. And the people got so drunk in the first hour that they didn’t realize that we were playing the same ten songs over and over again all night. I remember Jeff talking about how he was doing this Pretzel Logic album with Steely Dan and I was insanely jealous, ’cause I knew them and I loved their music. Sometime after that he called me and asked me to come down and audition for the tour.” On that 1974 tour, Porcaro and Jim Hodder were given the spotlight for a drum duel, which usually occurred during an extended version of “Do It Again.” When Steely Dan commenced recording a song, they were primarily looking for a rock-steady drum track and very often it was Jeff Porcaro who provided that.
A quick glance at the credits for each album after Hodder’s departure reveals that (Porcaro) was the most-frequently used drummer on Steely Dan records, closely followed by Bernard Purdie. Jeff Porcaro was also rumored to have been selected as the Aja tour drummer, had that idea not been abandoned at an early stage. Jeff and his brother Steve formed Toto in 1978 with childhood friend David Paich and David Hungate, Steve Lukather and Bobby Kimball (real name Toteaux). Having already played together as session regulars for such acts as Jackson Browne, Aretha Franklin, and especially Boz Scaggs on his two smash albums, Silk Degrees and Down Two Then Left, they took the name of their band from Kimball’s real surname and the dog from “The Wizard Of Oz.” Toto’s debut single was also their first hit which sold over a million in 1979 with a Paich-penned song “Hold The Line.” From then on, it was a steady climb to the heights of AOR success. Four years later they scored their first chart-topper with “Africa,” which was co-written by Paich and Jeff Porcaro; it also proved to be their biggest album ever. The following year, Toto was commissioned to write the theme for the Olympic games in Los Angeles. Combining their own group with busy session careers wasn’t a problem for Toto. But despite their success, Toto was never one of the critics’ darlings and many of them panned Toto’s recordings mercilessly.
Porcaro was particularly evident on The Nightfly where he plays on four of the eight songs and contributes “additional drums” to “I.G.Y.” And ironically in 1983, Toto dominated the Grammy Awards, winning in six categories (including Record of the Year, and Best Pop Vocal Performance “Rosanna,” and Album of the Year for “Toto IV”) and denying Donald Fagen himself an award or two for The Nightfly. That same year Jeff was asked about his most memorable sessions. “Of course, there are sessions where the music is unbelievable. If you work for Fagen and Becker, it’ll stick in your mind forever. Then there is the opposite end of the spectrum where you do something that is so stupid and horrible, you can’t understand why it exists and why people are spending $150 an hour in the studio with this person. You don’t have to accept it, but if that’s your way of making your living, then you say ‘Yeah’ and it’s a great way to make a living.” Porcaro thrived on the pressure. “They demand perfect time and it’s so nerve-wracking, yet I love it. That kind of pressure from those guys is cool because from my point-of-view, their music is the most prestigious music that’s ever existed and it’s great to hear no matter what. Some people can’t stand the perfection, though.”
In the same article, he also admitted “I can’t tell you how many tunes I’ve played where I’ve ripped off the same thing Jim Gordon used on “Charlie Freak.” The beat I used on “Lido Shuffle” is the same thing Gordon did, except at twice the tempo. There’s no originality there. I think it’s bad to clone yourself after someone, although I actually cloned myself after Jim Keltner when I was seventeen or eighteen. I even thought it was cool to wear a vest and I copied his style. A drummer’s own style comes from eventually being on his own, but I copied Gordon and Keltner and all these guys I dug. I remember realizing this, but after a while the accumulation of all the guys you copy becomes your own thing, hopefully.”
And not only were the Steely Dan sessions the most memorable: “In all honesty I would have to say the Steely Dan tracks that I’ve done are the most challenging as far as perfection goes, so I would say they’re my personal favorite performances.” In common with many other session guys Jeff Porcaro enjoyed the challenge of a Fagen and Becker composition. On one well-documented occasion after the composers had given up and gone home, resigned to the fact that the track would never reach an acceptable standard, he and Steve Khan went into the control room and begged Gary Katz to be given the chance to try a few more tracks, determined to achieve an acceptable one. Along with Anthony Jackson and Rob Mounsey they finally succeeded. The song was “Gaucho” and the next day Donald and Walter realized it, too — although some editing had to be done and the track was finally pieced together bar by bar. Steve Khan later told Metal Leg: “I regret that I haven’t had more opportunities to work with Jeff as he’s such a gifted player.” Rick Marotta, interviewed in Modern Drummer, told how Jeff paid him the biggest compliment he’d ever been given. “Jeff told me that he made a tape loop of “Peg” and rode around in his car listening to the groove for hours.” Later when Larry Carlton asked Becker and Fagen’s permission to copy “Peg’s” changes for a song on his own solo album, Jeff played on “Room 335” and executed the part perfectly.
At Jeff’s funeral on August 10 in Los Angeles, Jimi Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary,” played in a continuous loop with “Home At Last,” “Deacon Blues” and “Third World Man.” Steely Dan producer Gary Katz read from a letter that Donald and Walter had sent: “In 1974 we decided to sell out and do commercials for Schlitz beer — here we were in Hollywood, it seemed like the thing to do. Our guitarist, Denny Dias, knew of a drummer in the Sonny and Cher band and set up a meeting. On the appointed day, a cocky little Italian kid walked in and said in a voice that seemed an octave much too low for a person of such diminutive stature, ‘Yo guys, let’s groove!’ The session was pretty silly for reasons to complex to mention. Ultimately, the Schlitz people said ‘Pasa-dena’ on the jingle, but Jeff was a keeper, not just as a musician, but as a friend. Fans would always think of Jeff as a great musician; the musicians he worked with will always think of him as a great guy.”
Gary Katz talks about Jeff Porcaro
Steely Dan producer Gary Katz had a great personal and working relationship with Jeff Porcaro for 18 years. Even though Steely Dan broke up in 1980, Gary continued to use Jeff on almost every project he was involved with. The following excerpts were taken from Modern Drummer and Musician Magazine:
“Every moment I spent with him, I had a smile on my face. I met him in ’74 at Cherokee Ranch when I was working on Steely Dan’s “Pretzel Logic”; Donald and Walter had a song called “Night By Night” that wanted more precision and exactness than they were able to give, which for them is saying something. Late one night, Denny (Dias) recommend Jeff; Donald said we’d give it another day and told Denny to make the call and see if we could get the guy out here. Denny hung up the phone and said, ‘They’re on their way’. Cherokee Ranch was a studio built in a barn, and had above its doorway an ornamental rope with a noose attached. Forty-five minutes later, Jeff arrived and saw the noose; Denny introduced us and Jeff’s first words were, ‘I know you guys have a rough reputation on musicians, but this is way out of line!’ ”
“When Jeff was working, especially with Donald and Walter, his sense of devotion was unmatched. If he’d feel he wasn’t doing exactly what Donald wanted, Jeff — being the huge fan and the man that he was — would throw his sticks at the wall in frustration and say, ‘Get someone who knows how to play a shuffle! Call Purdie!’ A few minutes would pass, he’d collect himself and do another take, and on those occasions he always brought to my face another smile.’ Jeff’s formidable efforts on behalf of Gaucho rescued the track from being scrapped.”
“We were recording tracks for Steely Dan’s Gaucho album at A&R. It was Jeffrey and three other musicians. In those days, we would record tracks forty, fifty, sixty times until Donald felt he had a track that was steady enough. In those days (’79), we didn’t use click tracks, and the kind of click track that was available, Jeffrey hated. We played the track for quite a long time that night, and at about 11:00 or so, Donald said it wasn’t working for him. When that happened, it was usually the kiss of death; we never tried the track again and the song would be lost. So at 11:00 he and Walter felt they had exhausted that track and were going to call it a night. Jeffrey and I were upset about that, because it was definitely going to hit the can, and we loved the song. Donald said, ‘Okay, you guys stay, and if you cut a track that you like, call us and we’ll come back.’
“We stayed there most of the night. I had a chart, and Jeffrey would play a take, and I would hear eight good bars — not that all the bars weren’t good — but I tried to think like Donald. But I would mark those bars, and then the next four good bars… we did about seventy takes. We finally left at about 5:00 in the morning, and the next day I went to the studio with Roger Nichols and Jeff, and we literally edited this track bar by bar. I had all these markings on my chart… it was a fluke that I made a track that felt good. We called Donald, and they came over late in the afternoon and couldn’t find anything wrong with it. And as nonchalantly as he had left the night before, he said, ‘There’s another track.’ ”
“The style of music that I liked was compatible with Jeff. I never found myself in a room thinking, ‘This isn’t Jeffrey’s thing,’ although he would say that on a couple of occasions, mainly about shuffles. Having done a TV show, as he did when he was so young, and having to read charts for these various people — if you could put it out there, he could play it. I was never in the studio with Jeffrey where it didn’t work. Part of the style of records I make was Jeffrey. Now I’ve got to figure out something else.”
“When we met in ’73 and started making the many records that we made. I’ve made more with Jeff that weren’t Steely Dan than that were — I never went to the studio feeling anything but, ‘I know I’ll get this track.’ It’s funny, the only record I didn’t work with him on in years was the one I recently finished with Laura Nyro — and that was because Jeffrey told me I should hire Purdie.”
Jeff Porcaro, by Ron Cohen
The following article was written in 1977, a year in which Porcaro was surfacing as the best studio drummer on the West Coast. As Jeff’s profile was really starting to rise, he gave Ron Cohen some of his first public impressions on playing with Steely Dan.
The bespectacled young drummer taps his hi-hat as the band skips gently into a new tune. Soon both his hands are fluttering between the hi-hat and the snare. He bares his teeth smiling, almost. Quickly, like magic, his hand is hovering over the bell of his ride cymbal as he drops his stick upon it. The music is growing louder. The hi-hat is driven by his foot now, up and down very fast. His arms are churn-ing around the drum set, filling gaps in the music with thundering rolls. A guitar screams, another follows. The energy of the music and the musicians continues to rise. The drummer is pushing the music even harder, he jumps from his seat as he reaches for his cymbals. One crashes, then another and another, then two cymbals and he’s standing; he looks as if he’s going crazy.
The drummer is Jeff Porcaro (pronounced poor-car-o) who besides owning one of the most-frequently misspelled and mispronounced names in the music business, also owns a very impressive list of credits. At the age of 23 he is already an experienced and very successful studio musician. Over the last four years, he has recorded with artists such as Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs, Seals and Crofts, Barbra Streisand, Jackson Browne, and most recently with Daryl Hall and John Oates. Jeff has played some jazz with Hampton Hawes, and the Larry Carlton/Robben Ford Band of which he says, “I get nervous, but it’s a challenge.”
“Steely Dan was my favorite group even before I knew who they were. I thought they were a bunch of bikers from up north (California). They looked so mean and bad on the inside jacket of their album, Can’t Buy A Thrill. But I thought they were it… harmonically, the lyrics, man, Becker and Fagen blow my mind. And still to this day, they are it, they are what should be happening now.”
People Get Ready
On tour with the New York Rock and Soul Revue tour
Although there had been a lot of speculation that the New York Rock and Soul Revue would eventually hit the road, the tour dates were never actually finalized until only a few weeks before the tour started. This made it a bit difficult at the outset for Metal Leg Editor Pete Fogel who, of course, would be attending most or all of the shows. Metal Leg has a tradition of providing in-depth coverage of the workings of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, and we would be neglecting our journalistic responsibilities to our readers if we didn’t provide the best possible coverage of this historic event: the first tour by Donald and Walter since 1974. Pete booked his 3-week vacation from work and started making arrangements for transportation, tickets and lodging.
The first round of good luck was that the management of the U.S. airlines decided to launch an unprecedented fare war which allowed Pete to book travel at ridiculously low prices. The next step was to actually get tickets for the shows. Through the worldwide network of Metal Leg readers and other friends in high places, tickets for all 13 performances were obtained. Next step was lodging, but that didn’t end up being a problem due to the hospitality of readers and friends in each city. With the basics being covered, now all that was needed was a press pass so those of you west of the Mississippi would get a chance to see what it was all about.
If you thought that getting this press pass would be easy, think again. While Metal Leg has a reputation among fans of Donald and Walter, our reputation among tour managers and promoters was that they’d never really had any experience with us, so they kept putting us off as long as possible. But as things always seem to work out, Pete finally got the press pass, albeit minutes before the first show in St. Louis on August 14th…
St. Louis, Missouri, August 14th, Riverport Amphitheatre
In the August 12 issue of the Riverfront Times, Terry Perkins talked to St. Louis native Michael McDonald in this preview of the opening date of the NYR&S Revue tour called “Glowing Revue”:
The New York Rock and Soul Revue — Donald Fagen’s more focused ’90s take on Dylan’s freewheeling Rolling Thunder Revue of the ’70s — hits the stage at Riverport Amphitheatre this Friday for the first show in a 13-date tour.
And you can bet the primary focus of many in the crowd will be on the duo of Fagen and Walter Becker, founders of the legendary Steely Dan, who will be appearing together on stage for the first time since 1974, the last time the Dan went on tour.
Still, although the concert at Riverport will contain several Steely Dan classics — such as “Chain Lightning,” “Pretzel Logic” and a tune or two off of “Aja” or “Gaucho” — the primary focus of the Rock and Soul Revue’s performance will be on music from an earlier era. You’ll be hearing versions of classic soul standards from the ’50s and ’60s — tunes like Eddie Floyd’s “Knock On Wood,” Jackie Wilson’s “Lonely Teardrops” and Joe Simon’s “Drowning In The Sea Of Love.”
These songs — and others from the same era — served as the inspiration for young songwriters Becker and Fagen when they first attempted to blend their fondness for jazz with the pop sensibilities that dominated the music charts in the late ’60s.
In attempting to recreate the feel of that music, Fagen has recruited an all-star supporting cast of vocalists and musicians — Chuck Jackson, Boz Scaggs, Phoebe Snow and Michael McDonald.
Certainly you can’t get any more authentic than Chuck Jackson when it comes to ’60s soul. He had a string of hits on the Wand label from 1961 to 1964 that included classics like “I Don’t Wanna Cry,” “Any Day Now” and “Beg Me.”
Boz Scaggs has faded from the spotlight in recent years. His last album was released in 1989, and he seems to prefer running his San Francisco nightspot, Slim’s, over touring and recording. But that doesn’t mean Scaggs has lost any of the soulful vocal style that dominated the charts in the late ’70s with hits like “Lowdown,” “It’s Over” and “Lido Shuffle.”
Phoebe Snow has never regained the chart success she achieved with her very first single in 1974, “Poetry Man.” But over the years, the New York City singer has continued to record, building a strong reputation for her soulful, jazz-influenced vocal style.
Michael McDonald is quite literally the symbol of “blue-eyed soul”, with a gospel-tinged, wide-ranging vocal style that more than backs up his qualifications on eye color alone. From his years as a backup singer in Steely Dan, through his breakthrough with The Doobie Brothers and his subsequent successful string of solo albums, McDonald has built a lengthy career in the very unpredictable music business.
I recently caught up with McDonald by phone. Speaking from New York City, where he was in the midst of both recording a new solo record and preparing for the Rock and Soul rehearsals, McDonald said his presence in the Revue came about through a phone call from Donald Fagen, whom McDonald has known since his work with Steely Dan back in 1973-74.
“Donald called me in California and explained what he was trying to do with the Revue, and asked me if I’d be interested in being part of a performance at the Beacon Theatre in New York City in early 1991 to benefit the R&B Foundation,” says McDonald. “I told him that I definitely was, and it turned out to be some-thing that continued — that seemed to have a life of its own.”
The Beacon Theatre performance — which also included Scaggs, Snow, Charles Brown and Eddie Brigati of the Rascals — was taped and ended up being released on the. Giant label. According to McDonald, the taping took place almost as an afterthought.
“I think everyone was looking at it as a change of pace — a fun kind of thing — and nobody really thought about documenting it until right before the show,” McDonald recalls.
The record turned out well, capturing the live, unrehearsed feel of that evening and showcasing the talents of everyone on some great tunes.
McDonald stayed involved with the Revue, working with a lineup that changed somewhat with every show. He’s happy to see the Revue going out on tour rather than just doing occasional one-nighters, but hastens to add that the audiences can expect the same spontaneous feel that made the original Revue shows so enjoyable.
“One of the best things about the Revue is it’s always changing with every show,” McDonald explains. “So we don’t want to stage it too much. It’s a show that really doesn’t need a lot of production, and one where you need to allow room for spontaneous things to happen. We’ll do five days of rehearsal in New York, then come to Riverport for our first show. I guess that’ll be our dress rehearsal, in a way.”
McDonald is looking forward to returning to St. Louis and catching up with friends and family.
“My Dad still lives there, and I try to get back at least once a year — hopefully more often,” he says. “For the most part, all the guys I grew up with and a lot of friends are still there. It seems like there’s always things to catch up on — people getting married and having babies.”
In addition to playing keyboards behind Chuck Jackson and singing on his own and with Phoebe Snow during the Rock and Soul tour, McDonald is also looking forward to playing — and hearing — Steely Dan material.
“When I’m not singing upfront, I’ll be playing keyboards along with Donald. Doing the old songs and hearing the diversity that everyone brings to the show is great, but for me the old Steely Dan stuff is the real show. Hearing Donald sing those songs live, and having Walter up there to play, too — that’s the E ticket for me.”
Cleveland, Ohio, August 26, Blossom Amphitheatre
The following review of the NYR&S show on August 26 at Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio (near Cleveland) at the Blossom outdoor amphitheatre appeared in the Cleveland Scene entertainment weekly. The article was written by Kymberli Hagelberg.
Steely Dan were my band long before I was a critic; they were the band whose records I would gladly have rescued from a burning dorm room long before I bothered to wake my roommate. And since Walter Becker and Donald Fagen stepped on a concert stage as Steely Dan for the last time before I even graduated high school, they were always at the top of my mental list for “Concerts I Wish I Had Seen.”
As consolation, the 13-piece New York Rock and Soul Revue provided everything but the hallucinogens for a near-perfect trip back in time. It’s just as well, I suppose. Better to be lucid and have clear memories of a show this good. In anticipation of the three-hour performance of what Fagen calls “durable music,” ex-musicians who grew up to drive Audis and Beamers jammed the VIP parking lot. In honor of their newfound financial solvency, tour T-shirts sold for $25 a pop.
Some of the most respected musicians of the late ’60s and ’70s: Becker and Fagen, Boz Scaggs, Michael McDonald, Phoebe Snow and a raft of session stars braved the Ohio monsoon season to play for a full pavilion and some soggy onlookers who languished on the lawn in spite of the weather.
The concert’s pacing was modeled after a series of 1990 performances that later became the CD release “The New York Rock & Soul Revue, Live At The Beacon.” With the exception of tunes by The Rascals and Charles Brown, most of the night remained faithful to the album.
Though McDonald and Scaggs stayed on stage most of the night as sidemen, only McDonald was underutilized, coming upfront only for “Lonely Teardrops,” “Minute By Minute” and the duet with Phoebe Snow, “Knock On Wood,” which opened the show.
Scaggs owned two of the many bright spots of the show, providing vocals that seemed warmed by black coffee and southern sippin’ whiskey on “Drowning In The Sea Of Love” and coasting through Jr. Parker’s “Driving Wheel” dead on pitch without benefit of on stage monitors that temporarily cut out during the worst of the storm. Other highlights were a clever and funny blues version of “Tossin’ And Turnin”‘ by Snow and Becker’s psycho cover of Paul Butterfield’s “Mary, Mary,” prefaced by Fagen’s wry comment, “The Monkees recorded this, but we’ll do it anyway.”
Guitarist Drew Zingg was the ideal sideman. On lead guitar, he was in command of the technical demands of a mishmash of styles — Latin, jazz, blues, you-name-it — throughout the night and was still creative enough to go beyond note-for-note renderings of the recorded solos.
“Green Earrings” was the first of a list of Steely Dan and Fagen solo numbers offered to appease anxious fanatics. “Chain Lightning,” with Fagen on melodica, followed suit. Finally, after intermission, the duo unleashed their 800-pound gorilla of a backup band on versions of “Black Friday,” “My Old School” and “Deacon Blues” — which subbed a violin solo for one horn part and boasted monster reedwork on another by saxman Cornelius Bumpus. “Home At Last” topped off the SD cuts for the evening, the response to which moved Fagen to promise he’d come back to Cleveland soon. If his proposed return has anything to do with the fact that Fagen’s parents now live in Beachwood, we should have moved them here sooner.
Boston, Mass., August 21, Great Woods Performing Arts Center
The following review — “Steely Dan duo steals the show at N.Y. Rock and Soul Revue” — written by Dean Johnson appeared in the Boston Herald. It took a look back at the August 21st show at the Great Woods Performing Arts Center in Mansfield, Massachusetts.
The New York Rock and Soul Revue began as pop music’s version of “Hey gang, let’s put on a show!” The idea was to assemble a group of talented mid-level singers like Boz Scaggs, Phoebe Snow and Michael McDonald, back them with a crack session band, and have them sing a few of their big hits and a batch of hip rock and R&B cover songs.
The Revue followed roughly the same formula for a three-hour, sold-out concert. But the hordes really showed up for the unofficial reunion of the two front men in Steely Dan, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, also part of the Revue.
Almost a quarter of the Revue’s nearly thirty songs came out of the Steely Dan songbook. The show marked the first time Fagen and Becker have done Steely Dan tunes live in this area in two decades.
Though there were pleasant non-Dan moments in the show, like Scaggs’ “Drowning In The Sea Of Love” and Snow’s “Tossin’ And Turnin’,” the Dan tunes were the night’s highlights.
Back-to-back takes of “Deacon Blues” and “My Old School” at concert’s end were the show’s emotional peak. Both tunes were dead on target, the latter liberally peppered with squirrely, high-octane lead guitar lines from Becker and the gifted Drew Zingg.
Since Steely Dan had been basically Becker and Fagen and studio musicians, the 16-member revue (with Harvey Brooks on bass and Boston native Mindy Jostyn on vocals, violin and blues harp) had little trouble capturing the essence of Dan tunes like “Chain Lightning,” “Josie,” “Green Earrings,” a torrid “Black Friday” and the bluesy “Pretzel Logic.”
Fagen was the unofficial host/interlocuter for the evening while Becker basically busied himself playing lead guitar and taking the occasional vocal. He sang lead on a cover of the old Paul Butterfield tune “Mary, Mary.”
Maybe the ecstatic reception Becker and Fagen received will make them consider doing the real thing next year.
Excerpts from other articles
The local newspapers on the tour track did so many previews and reviews on the shows that we didn’t really want to reprint every single one of them. However, we decided to highlight the juicy bits that caught our eye.
“Becker looked like a tourist who somehow wandered on stage and stuck around… Fagen also looked out of place. He could have passed for an attorney were it not for his high-top gym shoes…” (Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune, Review of Poplar Creek show)
“‘There was a large, vocal minority in the audience that was very insistent about hearing some of those tunes; Fagen says. ‘I actually was very reluctant to start singing those Steely Dan tunes, but I realized that if I wanted to be involved in the thing, I’d have to make a compromise. After awhile I started to enjoy singing them and reinterpreting them.’ Likewise, the touring Revue will perform a handful of Steely Dan songs ‘to mollify this element of the audience,’ says Fagen. ‘If they keep making trouble after that, we’ll just have them executed.”‘ (Gary Graff, Detroit Free Press, Preview of Pine Knob show)
“Fagen’s piano playing and distinctive voice flavored the Steely Dan numbers which were arranged in an open, jazzier vein. Many of the band members read from sheet music. The loping blues structure of “Chain Lightning” allowed room for solos from Ron Botticavoli on trumpet, Cornelius Bumpus on tenor sax and guitarist Drew Zingg…” (Steve Zipay, New York Newsday, Review of Jones Beach shows)
“Just how ahead of its time was Steely Dan? Tuesday night at the Spectrum, more than 10,000 people stomped and sang along to the bitter, vindictive ‘My Old School,’ from the group’s 1973 ‘Countdown To Ecstasy’ album, and there was nothing nostalgic about it. Here, delayed by 20 years, was the intelligent, precise music we were told would never be played live. Here were guitar solos that retained the spirit of the originals, but were even more daring, and vocals ad-libbed as soulfully as classic blues. Becker and Fagen’s tour as the backbone of the New York Rock & Soul Revue is a big step in their evolution, and a signal that Steely Dan is still beloved.” (Tom Moon, Philadelphia Inquirer, review of Philadelphia Spectrum show).
“So what brought Fagen, 44, out this summer — toting along former Steely Dan partner Walter Becker as well as singers Boz Scaggs, Phoebe Snow, Michael McDonald and Chuck Jackson? ‘I realized August would be coming around, and I’d have nothing to do… except go to my summer house in the country, which doesn’t have a swimming pool,’ the New Jersey-born singer-keyboardist cracks. ‘That’s in the contract, by the way; I must have a piano-shaped pool, just like Liberace. I love to play live. The reason Walter and I stopped touring didn’t have much to do with not liking to play live. There were a lot of other circumstances — we didn’t like one-nighters, we didn’t like playing in Honolulu one day and in Miami the next, we didn’t like opening for heavy metal bands. It was very tough.”‘ (Gary Graff, Detroit Free Press, preview of Pine Knob Show)
Notes from the road
Hi, Pete here. My partner Bill thought it would be a great idea if I reminisced about my experiences on the road with the New York Rock & Soul Revue. Well, I actually wasn’t on the road with the Revue, but I did follow it for every show, except for Indianapolis. You may wonder why I chose to skip the Indy show. The first reason was that it was in Indianapolis, Indiana. The second reason was that I had great seats for the Chicago Cubs-San Francisco Giants game at Wrigley Field, plus I wanted to try the ribs at Carsons, the famed Windy City rib joint. The Cubs game was great, but the ribs at Carsons sucked, though the au gratin potatoes were dynamite.
Arriving for the first show in St. Louis, I didn’t yet have my press pass. So I headed down to the pool at the Holiday Inn near the airport, picked up the house phone and called the tour’s office back in NY. They kept telling me to call back, even though I kept telling them that the show was starting in three hours!!! In between laps in the pool, I managed to get through to NY without getting electrocuted and the good news came: Metal Leg would now be able to take photos for those of you who weren’t going to be able to make any of the shows.
Without any time to celebrate the news, the press pass restrictions hit me like a ton of bricks: I would have to get a new pass in each city, I couldn’t use a flash, I had to shoot from appointed areas, and I could only take pictures during the first three songs. Well, at least I got the pass.
When I got to the Riverport Amphitheatre in St. Louis, the first thing I noticed were two gigantic video screens on each side of the stage. That’s when it hit me that Donald and Walter were really touring. And the video screens, usually reserved for Madonna and the New Kids on the Block, were now going to broadcast the mugs of two of the most camera-shy rock artists in the world.
As I traveled from St. Louis to Cincinnati to Milwaukee, I got to see the shows progressively getting better. Surprisingly at the first two shows everything seemed a little bit unorganized. Milwaukee was the first show where things really started heading in the right direction and the band seemed to become more comfortable with the show. A good portion of the crowds at the first three shows were clueless compared to the audiences at the rest of the shows.
The best crowd was at Great Woods in Massachusetts. Walking around the parking lot before the show reminded me of my first Grateful Dead concert. Everyone was blasting different songs from the Steely Dan collection, food and drink and other substances were flowing freely. The Boston fans were knowledgeable, psyched for the show, and out of their minds.
The next best audience was at the Philadelphia Spectrum (the only indoor concert), followed by Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit. Surprisingly, for me, the worst crowd was at the first Jones Beach, NY, show. (Shame on you! You were worse than those stiffs in Milwaukee!) The Garden State Arts Center audience in New Jersey were okay, considering the 90%+ humidity and echo-chamber acoustics for those past the 10th row. The Merriweather show was a big hassle since the venue was run by a bunch of morons who probably couldn’t get a government job in nearby D.C.
The band seemed really supercharged at the Cleveland show at Blossom. This may have been due to the torrential thunderstorm that hurled a lightning bolt at Boz during his second song. It knocked out power for a couple of minutes, but once the electricity was restored, the band picked up Boz’s song at the exact spot where it went off. From that moment on, the whole band tapped into the electricity in the air, which carried through the rest of this most-satisfying performance. Also at this show, I sat a couple rows behind Donald’s family who live in the area. I really wanted to ask Donald’s mother if he really listened to Charlie Parker records at age two, but I held back, and let them enjoy the show.
I brought along a tape recorder on the tour so I could get comments from people at each venue. But every time I asked the question, “What was your favorite part of the show?” the answer was always “MINDY! MINDY! MINDY!” Given that these responses were all coming from guys, here are some typical, unaltered comments from fans at different shows along the tour route:
Doe, Al and Jeff, Dicken’s Inn, Philly: “She’s beautiful, she’s talented, just incredibly gorgeous. We want to take her home and she can bear all of our love children.”
Ted, Quality Inn, Columbia, MD: “She’s not just talented — she’s multi-talented. She’s got great hooters.” Pete: “You mean she’s going to join the Hooters. “Ted: “Oh, yeah. She’s gonna join the Hooters, too.
“Nice oral action on that harmonica. I was very impressed. I was hoping she was going to show up here tonight.”
John, Great Woods Parking Lot, MA: “She was great just standing there shaking her hips. And when she pulled out that bow, I was dead meat.”
I must say, before I found out about Metal Leg (via WNEW-FM/Pat St. John) I felt like I was one of a couple lone wackos that loved Steely Dan’s music.
One cold November night in 1989 (November 2nd to be exact) I was driving my car out of NYC’s impound garage and heard Donald Fagen’s voice on K-Rock as I began driving home. He was plugging a then upcoming Rock & Soul Revue and spinning some of his favorite records with one of the station’s DJs. I freaked; I thought Becker and Fagen had gone into permanent seclusion. Immediately, I headed for K-Rock’s studio; I was going to meet Fagen and get his autograph, even if it meant getting my car towed away again.
I parked in front of K-Rock’s building and listened to the remainder of Fagen’s stint on the air from about 11 to just before midnight. All the while I kept thinking that at least a couple of fans would also show up out front, but I was apparently the only nut-job interested in meeting this guy. Maybe the late hour and the cold kept them away, I don’t know.
Donald said good night to the listeners and I got out of my car, anticipating his departure through the front lobby. As I stood outside in the cold, alone on an eerily desolate Madison Avenue sidewalk, I wondered what in the world I was doing — what had driven me to this? I began to think this was just a little too strange and was afraid that Donald would think the same. How would I approach this guy? What if he thinks I’m a Mark David Chapman waiting to gun him down?
Despite my fears, I waited. At the stroke of midnight, from my vantage point through the building’s glass front doors, I spotted a person that looked like Donald emerge from an elevator and sign out at the building’s security desk. As he walked down the lobby toward the front doors I positively identified him and got my pen and paper ready, so as to look like an autograph seeker, and not anything else, like a murderer. As Donald came through the doors he immediately headed away from me; being this was NYC, I’m sure he spotted me and was unsure of my intentions. I quickly called out, “Donald”.
To my, amazement he looked to me and said with an air of uncertainty, “Yeah?”
“Could I get your autograph?” I asked.
Without any hesitation he stopped and agreed. For the next minute or two we spoke, or rather, I babbled and he was kind enough to put up with it. I let him go, or rather, he escaped while I thanked him for so much great music. He promptly hailed a cab and disappeared into the night.
As pathetic as this whole scene was, it was really, for me, the beginning of a great new era as a Steely Dan fan. Since then I have discovered Metal Leg, work with some Dan fans, and have seen two of the Rock & Soul shows.
Thanks to your efforts I now know that I’m not alone — there’s lots of us Dan wackos out there. You’ve certainly put this fan in touch with the Dan scene. Thanks.
Fort Lee, New Jersey
Just because I pretend not to know who you are as often as not on those rare occasions when I see you, usually in New York at a Rock and Soul gig or some such thing, or because I have not in the past responded to certain requests that have been received by me however indirectly, from you or from your pal Brian Sweet, who it must be admitted was most accommodating in sending me all those years’ worth of clippings from his copious Steely Dan scrapbook; this does not mean that I am in any way unaware or even perhaps unappreciative of your splendid efforts through the years on behalf of the loyal fandom of the mighty Steely Dan, particularly of your extraordinary tact and discretion in not contacting me or mailing material to me at my home in Hawaii or for that matter anywhere else, considering that my address and my whereabouts at any given time are surely known to you and your confederates — for all of this and for other considerations which I won’t go into at this time, I say “thanks” and hold out to you, symbolically as it were, the hearty handclasp of friendship. And as a token of my not-unappreciativeness I am offering you for publication in your little mag the complete unedited version of the liner notes which I wrote for the late Spinal Tap “Break Like the Wind” album. As you will I am sure agree, even a casual comparison with the original reveals that the version which appears in the CD itself has been edited to remove all of the good parts — and why such a thing has come to pass, I myself cannot say. When I was approached by Mike McKeon, he told me that the notes would be used in a throwaway fashion, more as a design element than anything else, and that their legibility would perhaps be nil; I told him I would try to make them amusing nonetheless and that he would be free to edit them as necessary to conform to their layout. By putting my trust in the Tap gang’s innate sense of what was amusing and what would work best for their overall concept I was perhaps erring on the optimistic side insofar as a good outcome was concerned; this lesson has not been lost on me and, what is more, by availing myself of your good offices so as to set the record straight, I feel that I may yet snatch victory from the clutches of disaster, especially since your circulation may well exceed the sales of the doleful Tap disc, once we correct for the high percentage of non-readers or remedial readers in the ranks of Tap purchasers, many of whom bought the CD by mistake anyway, thinking it was either a) an actual heavy metal album, or b) funny.
In any event, I am hoping that the publication of the original (unedited, and in conjunction with this note) will serve to educate and entertain your readers in a way that meets with your editorial approval. If not, feel free to toss the whole enchilada into the trash — in which case it may well end up in close physical juxtaposition to one of the countless Tap CDs or cassettes that are currently clogging up landfills all over this great nation of ours.
Spinal Tap Technical Notes
Remarkable as this recording may be on the esthetic level, it so happens that “Break Like the Wind” is equally notable for its breakthroughs in the state of the art of modem audio recording techniques. Let me explain.
Firstly, all of the vocals on the current album were recorded and re-mixed with the astonishing Crosley Phase Linear Ionic Induction Voice Processor System. This device was invented and first used by the late Graehham Crosley and was later perfected for studio use by producer Reg Thorpe, who had an aborted go with the Tap lads during one of their early mid-seventies comeback attempts. There were a few bugs in the system at that time (“Like, it wouldn’t fucking work. Period.” recalls Nigel Tufnel fondly) and so work with it was abandoned. In the intervening years Thorpe has managed to sort out the last remaining kinks in the system and made it available for these sessions. He himself generously offered to make the crucial fine adjustments necessary to eliminate background chatter and allow the awesome fidelity and signal to noise ratio of The System to stand out, as I believe it does, in the final mixes.
Here’s how the Crosley device works: when a vocalist sings, a stream of accelerated air particles issue from his vocal chords, out his mouth and out into the room where there is waiting, we hope, the diaphragm of an expensive tube mic. This diaphragm does a passable job of imitating the vibration of the air molecules by twitching in its little suspension, which movements are we hope turned into a low level electrical flux in the tiny wires attached to the diaphragm assembly. But wait! For there are many problems inherent in a device of this sort, including mechanical resonances in the diaphragm itself, variations in the temperature and humidity of the air in the room, foreign particles issuing from the gaping maw of the vocalist himself (a particular problem for the Tap lads — corrosive smoke particles and bits of mango pickle from cheap Indian takeaways) and so on, all of which result in reduced fidelity for you, the listener. However, the Crosley device does not care one whit about all of these things, for it measures only the flow of ionic muons (small charged particles with an atomic weight of between 1.699669 x 10 -17 Electron Units and roughly twice that much, give or take a teenie bit here and there) past a negatively charged grid, itself roughly the size of, say, a gnat’s cock (to use a comparison to which most of us can relate). The resulting current is used to modulate a constant voltage which is self-referenced to the known inductance of the system itself and to the body capacitance of The Artist. For in order for the system to work, the vocalist must wear on his person a number of small balance plates which will offset the fields created by various inanimate objects on his body at the time of the recording (afterwards he may wear what he likes). In the case of David St. Hubbins for example, after much experimentation the correct voltages were found to be applied to these small balancing plates when attached to his billfold, to his wristwatch (a fake Rolex which he evidently took for the real thing), and to the Raybans that he habitually wore in the studio (“Me lucky shades”). It was also necessary to put a plate in his groin region to offset the charge produced by, of all things, a roll of quarters tucked into his shorts. This combination — spectacles, testicles, wallet, watch — seemed to do the trick and soon enough a frighteningly realistic and three dimensional vocal image was suspended in space between the nearfields mounted on the console (Wombat G 7’s and Holographe 96/96, respectively).
Derek Small presented a somewhat more difficult challenge. After several failed attempts to get the system to work, Derek recalled that he had had a kidney operation back in the mid-sixties which had resulted in the installation of a brass kidney. This was evidently an experimental treatment which the national health abandoned after only a few tries, Derek being one of the unfortunate guinea pigs. It was necessary to install a plate, therefore, in one of Derek’s body cavities. Ears, nose and throat were obviously not available, Derek adamantly’ refused to accept catheterization, and in the end the necessary balance plate had to be installed — rectally. Derek resisted this onerous procedure at first and the whole Crosley gambit seemed as though it might fail, but like a true Englishman, Derek eventually agreed to compromise his personal comfort somewhat so that the team effort might succeed. I can only add that Derek ultimately came to tolerate well, if not actually enjoy, the daily installation and retrieval of the balance plate, and that in the process it was discovered by Ronnie, one of the second engineers at the studio and the individual charged with performing these delicate operations, that a) Derek’s prostate was enlarged to the approximate size of a grapefruit, and b) Ronnie’s engagement to Kimberly, the studio receptionist, was perhaps a bit premature.
The feed from the Crosley system was now presenting us with a glorious soundstage recreation of the band’s vocals. This was mixed in with the roar of the band’s amps and drums (so loud that mic’s were not necessary) and fed to the inputs of the huge BBC 16 channel cassette recorder which the band had schlepped over from David’s home studio. This machine (affectionately nick-named “The Beast”) was based on a design found in Hitler’s bunker at the end of the war and its sound quality, in the opinion of many recording artists, has never been equaled. This was then mixed down to acetate and bunged over to the digital (phooey!) mastering format for cassettes and CDs, in which form it is currently gracing your living room or, more likely, your car, as the case may be.