By Matthew Greenwald • Posted: May 1, 2010
This interview, conducted by Matthew Greenwald back in 1997, first appeared in issue 14 of The Tracking Angle. As Rhino readies the new Doors LP box set (now set for April, 2008), we figured it was a good time to present it here-ed.
and he was good friends with Herb Cohen, who managed Tim Buckley, and Herb was a friend of Jac’s. When Jac was looking for a good place to record out here in California, after he had signed Arthur Lee and Love, he asked Herb where to go, and he told him about me and Sunset Sound Recorders.
MG: Can you give us some idea of what Sunset Sound was like in terms of the room and the equipment?
BB: Well, we had one room, which was Studio One, which still exists today, although the control room has been heavily modified over the years. It was a compression room…the back wall was all brick, the floor was asphalt tile, the right wall looking out to the studio was shelving with sliding doors. That’s where we put the tapes, because we didn’t have a tape vault. Then there was the glass window, and there were three Altec Lansing 604e loudspeakers hanging above that. The left was a block wall covered with acoustical tile, and then there was a big door, which held the famous Sunset Sound echo chamber, and then there was the entrance into the control room.
The console was a custom tube console with 14 inputs that Alan Emig built for Sunset Sound. He also built Elektra studios, and was one of the original mixers at Columbia Records when they had their studios here in Hollywood. Alan recorded Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five,” the famous Stravinsky recordings at the American Legion Hall, things like that. A multi-talented man. He was also one of the design engineers who originated the design of the tube amplifiers that United Recorders used. He designed a lot of those consoles, and then brought that technology over to Sunset Sound.
The whole control room was all brick, and it had individual panels of acoustical tile to deaden it down. Basically it was a very live room. The console sat on a platform, which was about six or eight inches off the floor. The tape machine sat behind us; we had an old Ampex 200 three-track, which had separate record and playback electronics so that you could select separate record or playback curves. They had a thing back then called A.M.E., which was Ampex Master Equalization, and then they had N.A.B., so if you recorded A.M.E. and played it back N.A.B., it would come out brighter. It’s like recording with Dolby and not decoding. We also had an Ampex 300, I believe, three-track, which I converted over to a four-track with sel-sync (the ability to perform overdubs).
BB: Yes, everything was done half-inch, especially in the case of The Doors and Love, until we got to the second Doors album, where we had eight-track.
MG: Was the room itself changed during those years?
BB: No, the room stayed the same from the day I walked in the door, which was about 1963 to 1968. When I came back to do some mixing in 1970 it was still the same, except that they changed the console to solid-state.
MG: Robby Krieger told me that when they built Elektra Studios, you got the board from Sunset Sound. Is that true?
BB: No. We built Studio 2 during the recording of Waiting For The Sun, at Sunset. It was a big room. We didn’t know what we were doing, but we built the control room walls, and Tutti Camaratta, who owned Sunset Sound Recorders, had bought out a studio in Las Vegas and gotten a solid-state console that was full of Langevin components. We rolled that in—it was on wheels—into Studio 2. We had Altec 604e loudspeakers in there powered by McIntosh tube amps. Then later on, when we did “Unknown Soldier,” we recorded that song in that room. The rest of that album was recorded at TTG Studios, which stood for “Two Terrible Guys” (laughs). They weren’t terrible guys. It was Ami Hadani and Tom Hildley, the same guys who designed and built all the famous Record Plant studios. Anything but two terrible guys. The cool thing about Ami was that he was a General in the Israeli Air Force, and he’d be doing a session and there’d be problems and he’d have to leave the session and go fly off to Israel, fight the war, then come back and finish a session. Weeks could go by, it was kind of funny.
But anyway, back to the console. Tutti used to go to England a lot, and he purchased a solid-state console over there. For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of it. We all thought it was kind of cool. It had a lot of features that the tube console didn’t have. It sounded different, you know? Tubes still sounded the best. Anyway, Jac Holzman purchased one as well, and we had it customized for our needs at Elektra Studios. So, that’s how the console got there.
MG: Elektra was really on a roll when they launched the 7000 series, their first rock stuff. Beginning with the first Love album, do you have any recollections from that period of time of how Jac Holzman went about exploiting that market?
BB: He saw things, basically, that other people didn’t see. He understood innately what to do, because there weren’t any ground rules. He was inventing as he went along. He was the first in a lot of areas, to seek out live air play, to do billboards. Just plain old guerrilla-warfare record selling! And he still is, to this day, very creative, and has been a great influence on me in his ability to take things where they haven’t been before.
MG: Can you give me some comments on the first Love album?
BB: If I remember correctly, the first Love album took us about four days to record. The band came in, they were well rehearsed, and we basically documented where they were at. Jac got the performances out of them, made the decisions. Then he went back to New York and I mixed it by myself and then sent him the mixes. The industry standard was three seconds between each song. But in Jac’s sequencing, he would make the spaces 10 seconds if they needed to be that long, in order to set up the songs properly. He was also very cognizant of the keys that the songs were in, so that we didn’t have train wrecks of songs going from the one key into another. He invented a lot of that way of doing things. It wasn’t just sequencing the songs, where you’d put the single at the top of one side, bracket the ends and throw a bunch of other stuff in between. He didn’t do that. He treated it as an event where you listened from beginning to end, and I think that has influenced the entire industry. He’s probably not that well known for it, but he invented that process.
MG: On the second Love album, Da Capo, did you just work on the songs on one side? Because I think that they recorded some of it at RCA….
BB: That’s right. With Dave Hassinger as engineer and Paul Rothchild as producer. They recorded all of the single songs except for two at RCA Studio B. The reason for that was that Dave was doing the Rolling Stones albums at that time “Satisfaction,” “Get Off My Cloud,” things like that. So, they really thought they’d like to go over and get that sound. Then they came back to Sunset Sound for “Revelation.” We did that and two other songs.
MG: What about the single, “Seven And Seven Is”?
BB: “Seven And Seven Is” was produced by Jac Holzman. That was the first thing we recorded after the first album. That was done specifically as a single, and ended up on the Da Capoalbum.
MG: Jac told me that Arthur played most of the instruments on that one.
BB: That’s true, he played drums because Snoopy (Alban Pfisterer) couldn’t play it, it was too fast.
MG: Was Forever Changes started and stopped a few times?
BB: It stopped twice, and started three times. First time, I was going to produce it alone with Neil Young, and about two days into it he said that he couldn’t really do it because of his commitments to The Buffalo Springfield. Then I was going to produce it alone, which I did, even though the credit says Arthur Lee and Bruce Botnick. That’s because we’d gotten into a disagreement, and my pride outweighed my sanity, and I called Jac and insisted that my name not even be on the album. Later on I regretted what I did. So then I got the guys together and Arthur had all of these great songs, and they were playing really badly. Extremely badly; there was nothing there. I said to Arthur, “This isn’t going to work; we’re not going to get an album.” Then I called Jac and told him that I’d like to do a couple of cuts with studio musicians, and I called in the Wrecking Crew, Hal Blaine and those people. Arthur played acoustic guitar and we did a couple of songs, which wound up on the album—you can really hear the difference.
MG: “The Daily Planet”?
BB: Yes, that’s one of them. I can’t remember the other one at the moment. They’re really obvious, but they’re really cool nevertheless, ‘cause they’re Arthur. The band sat in the control room crying uncontrollably; I mean, it was unbelievable. They all came to me after and said, “We’d like another chance, we’ll get ourselves together,” and I said, “Okay.” We went over to United Recorders, which was at that time Western Recorders Studio One, because I couldn’t get into Sunset Sound for some reason, and we recorded the basic tracks with all of them, and then we came back to Sunset Sound and recorded all the brass and strings, Arthur’s vocals, Bryan’s vocals.
MG: Did you record some tracks at Leon Russell’s home studio?
BB: We did some overdubs there; what exactly, I don’t remember.
MG: When you came to record the first Doors album, did you get an immediate sense of how important and lasting their music would be?
BB: No, I don’t think anybody is good enough a fortune teller to tell you that the first time they hear something that it’s going to be really important and stand the test of time. But I did relate to it immediately; it was nothing I’d ever heard before and innately knew what to do with it.
MG: You had already worked with Paul Rothchild by this point, right?
BB: We had already done the first Tim Buckley album.
MG: Da Capo was also happening at the same time….
BB: It all intermingled, it became a big flood.
MG: Back to The Doors’ first album, what was it like working in the studio with them, and what was your involvement beyond the technical task of getting their music onto tape?
BB: I was the engineer, I recorded it. But in any good relationship between artist, producer, and engineer, there is a meeting of the minds, and a lot of it is unspoken. It’s an understanding and there’s a chemistry there. The six of us made those records. There was nobody that said, “You’re the producer, or you’re the engineer.” It was a team effort. You didn’t think about these things; it’ s just the way it was, nobody felt threatened. Any good producer tries to extract performances and not put his or her viewpoint into the fore. My name on the cover of the album is not going to sell the album; the artist is going to sell the album.
MG: Let’s talk about Van Dyke Parks’ Song Cycle a little bit.
BB: One of my favorites.
MG: What do you recall about the evolution of recording that album?
BB: Van Dyke Parks recorded all around town; he did a lot of stuff that was on four-track that later got bounced to eight-track. On some of the cuts the strings were done at Western Recorders Studio 2. Van did a lot of it at United Western. I didn’t do a lot of the recording; Lee Hershberg did the majority of it. The man should be canonized. Anyway, I did a couple of tracks at Sunset Sound, and some of the vocals, but I did all of the mixing, and this is where it all sort of came together. We did a lot of experimenting; I came up with something called a “Farkle” (laughter). In those days we didn’t have a lot of tools to modify electronic sound. We didn’t have phasers, we didn’t have flangers, we didn’t have anything like that. They didn’t exist, so you kind of had to make things happen [by using your imagination.]
The “Farkle” was sort of like that. It was basically where I could take the return of the echo chamber and bring it back into a quarter-inch mono tape machine, and on the capstan I had hand-folded masking tape into eighth-inch pieces, so it was like a fan, and then taped it around the capstan. When the tape would go through, it would make this fluttering sound, and the tape would bounce over the heads. If you listen to that album, you’ll hear a lot of that. So, that was one of the things that I came up with because we didn’t have those kinds of tools. Basically it was a lot of experimentation, different reverb types, using the combination of the acoustical chamber and an EMT (plate reverb) simultaneously, playing stuff out into the studio and bringing it back on crystal microphones just to get weird pick-ups.
But also beyond the incredible creativity of Van Dyke and his mind, the one person who really understood how to pull it together was Lenny Waronker. I’ll never forget when we were mixing it down at Sunset Sound. Joe Smith was there, Mo Ostin was there, Lenny was there, and Jac Holzman was hanging out. Jac started bidding for the album with Mo, “Let me put this album out on Elektra, I know just what to do with it; I must have this album….”
MG: To put it out on Elektra?
BB: Yeah! (laughter) And they’re bidding right in front of us, we’re watching, heads going back and forth like a tennis match. Van Dyke’s credibility shot up a lot because Jac Holzman realized what the album was. He probably knew that the album wasn’t going to really sell, but he wanted it because he knew creatively it was going to enhance all the other acts. One of the things about Elektra, and it holds true about Columbia Records, Atlantic Records, in — I don’t want to say “the old days” — but in days gone by, was that labels had a sound, they had an identity. And you signed with a label because of the artists who were on it. Everybody didn’t do rap, everybody didn’t to this or do that. Elektra didn’t do jazz. They didn’t do any soul music. They did folk, folk-rock, and rock ’n’ roll.
For The Doors to sign to Elektra, they did it for two reasons. Paul Butterfield, and of course Love. If you went to Columbia Records, you were on the label with Bob Dylan and The Byrds. There was a sound, even to the records. You could identify a Columbia record by the tape-delay reverb. You’d hear their pop stuff, like Robert Goulet, and hear (claps hands loudly) “Ba-bam!”…You knew what it was. It was a Columbia record, it had that sound. Elektra Records had a sound, too.
MG: That is so true…any other thoughts on Song Cycle?
BB: Well, still to this day it’s one of the highlights of my life. I listen to it and I’m amazed. We did so much with so little.
MG: The mono mix is really amazing, too. Tell me about doing mono mixes during this period.
BB: Well, it was normal. Up until when the industry really went stereo, I’m not talking about recording studios, I’m talking about the record stores carrying only stereo records. Up until that point, mono was still our medium, as AM radio was mono and 95% of the homes in America had mono phonographs. We didn’t hit stereo radio with pop music until the late ’60s and early ’70s. Also, we used to listen in mono a lot. Even though I had three speakers, I was always listening in mono, because in three-track, the thought wasn’t for making stereo records, it was for splitting up the elements for later mixing. You could turn the vocal or the strings up and down against the rhythm section. We didn’t even always have separate drums. You made a live mix in those days. You made the decisions live; it was normal.
MG: Do you still — like mono recordings?
BB: I still like mono to this day, because there aren’t any distractions. It’s like a black and white movie, where you can create incredible dimensions, depth-wise, and hide things. That’s very hard to do in stereo. That’s because we don’t record in stereo: We record multi-track point-source discrete audio. The difference in the mix was when we would open it up to stereo, we would have to change things, because it didn’t fall in the same place. Spatially, things would fall into other places.
MG: Since we mentioned eight-track already, I was curious about one of your first eight-track recordings, Strange Days. What’s going on with the bass-drum sound on that? It sounds like it’s being punched-in in places; it’s got a funny popping sound….
BB: That was the first time we ever recorded without a head on the bass drum. I listen toStrange Days now, and where I thought the drums were up where they should be, I think they’re down. But I always used an Altec “salt-shaker” mic, which were used in airports for P.A. work. They’re still great, I still use them. But the sound you’re talking about was just the “pop” of the drum without a head. I think it was the first time we heard it, and went, “God, this is a great sound,” and we equalized it. You know, it’s not like today where you add 12 dB at 35 Hz to make it shake the room.
MG: It sounds to me as if the first Doors album had the best high-frequency extension, transient snap, and overall transparency, and that with each album— sonically fine as they are—those qualities seemed to diminish. Would you agree or disagree?
BB: I’d agree with that to an extent, because the first album was all tube. Strange Days was done on a tube console, but with a solid-state eight-track. From then on it became all solid-state consoles and solid-state tape machines. There was also this direction that Paul wanted to take it, a more intellectual kind of a sound, not as raw as the first album. The sound started to become more scientific as it went along, a little more clinical, because studios, by and large, are hospitals, they’re not places to record music. Technology is the evil person here.
MG: I guess that’s not fighting technology, it’s kind of going around it.
BB: Sound since the 1960s has gone backwards instead of forwards, in my estimation. In the recordings that I do today for motion pictures, I use tube microphones, tube microphone pre-amps, and I try to bypass the solid-state consoles as much as possible. It’s more open, it’s rounder, it has more depth. I can give you an example. If you take a room that has some reverberation— not a chamber, just good clear liveness— and you put an earphone in the middle of the room with a click going through it, so you hear the “tick, tick, tick.” Plug up a good microphone, maybe a (Neumann) U-67 or something like that, split the signal so it goes into a tube microphone pre-amp, and then the solid-state pre-amp, bring them both up on the console, and switch back and forth, and listen. With the tube, you’ll hear all the reverberation in the room; the solid-state will close down. Ten times out of 10. So that’s somewhat what you’re hearing. Even the equalizers back then were tube; we had Pultech EQ-P1A’s.
MG: What’s your opinion of digital multi-track recorded sound, and your opinion of digital recording, period, compared to analog? Which do you prefer?
BB: I would venture to say that 95% of the music that I’ve recorded in the last eight years has been all digital. Digital does not basically sound better than analog, but what it does do, is that the sound doesn’t change from what you’re recording. With analog, you record it, and when you play it back, you will get a fair representation of what you heard on line-in. Play it back a half an hour later, and it will have changed, there are less highs. Play it a day later, and it will really have changed. The high end just changes, it’s a natural process of the magnetism of the particles, and when you magnetize, record them, they change. The magnetic particles have a memory and want to go back to their original inert state. It’s just the way it is. In digital, you record it, and it doesn’t change. The problem with digital is the quality of the analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters. At this point in time, the A-to-D and D-to-A’s are getting where you can record on it and it doesn’t sound “digital” anymore. “Digital” meaning that it sounds cold. “Cold” meaning that digital doesn’t show you all of the details, like the depth of the reverb and harmonic room tone. Because there’s lack of detail, and especially lack of harmonics going way out, that sound would seem colder, and “digital.” Right now, I’m recording 96 K, 24 bit, and whew! It’s good! I mean, you’re really, really hard pressed to tell it from the source.
MG: How about the remastering of The Doors’ catalog?
BB: The next batch of Doors albums, when we remaster the entire catalogue, will all be 88.2 K or 96 K. We don’t know what the exact format for the new DVD disc will be, but either way, if I record at 88.2 K or 96 K, it’s no problem going down to 44.1 K or 48 K for the final disc. I don’t know all the technical jargon, but I do know what it sounds like. Digital is really getting to that point where a lot of people who were really anti-digital are going, “Really, this is quite good.” I also like digital from a functional standpoint of punching in and out, copying tracks, building the master without (generation) loss. I build a lot of vocals today where I’ll have 10 tracks, and I’ll digitally copy the vocal to an open track, and I’ll just keep taking a word from this track, and a word from that track and build a master comp vocal and not have messed anything up, and not have to turn things up or down by hand. Also, the ability to store memory on the digital multi-track and slide it and place it where you need it. It just beats the pants off of analog as far as a tool is concerned.
MG: Jumping back into some old groups that you recorded, Brazil 66….
BB: I really loved that time. That was for Herb Alpert, who was the producer. I prefer Brazil 66, the first album, over Equinox, sonically, because that was another case where it was done on four-track, tube all the way. Also the fact that it was all new to us and it was a big sound, I really liked it.
MG: Was that done at Gold Star Studios?
BB: No, I never had the good fortune to record at Gold Star; they were both done at Sunset Sound. Equinox was eight-track. It’s a funny thing, I remember when I was doing Earth, Wind & Fire, and we had one of the first 24-tracks. I remember going out to the band and saying, “We’ve got 24 tracks, let’s not use all of the 24 of the tracks if we don’t have to.” What’s happened with the advent of multi-track technology is that it’s given us too much of an opportunity to push off decisions until later on, and so indecision is now the rule of the day.
MG: Let’s move on to the new Doors box set. On some of the tracks, like the 1965 demos, you put them through Sonic Solutions™. Can you describe what that does, and how it improves the sound?
BB: Well, basically, the only noise that was on there was surface noise from an acetate that Ray Manzarek has. Using the Sonic Solutions™ in the “de-crackling” mode, we were able to take out all of the clicks and pops. We didn’t use the NoNoise™ process to reduce tape hiss; there was no need to do any of that.
MG: There’s a couple of songs that you guys did some overdubs on, “Whisky, Mystics and Men” and “Orange County Suite”; tell me about those.
BB: We did all the overdubs at Ocean Way Studios. We did some of them in Studio B, and the majority of them in Studio One, which was the same one that I did Forever Changes in, and the same room where Sinatra recorded “Strangers In The Night” and Barbara Streisand did “The Way We Were.” The muse is very strong there.
MG: “Orange County Suite” is very interesting. On the basic track, Jim was playing piano and singing, and I would say that it’s fair to assume that he didn’t have the greatest sense of time. Did you have to do anything to compensate for that?
BB: (laughs) Well, I played some games, in order for them to be able to play along (with the track)….
MG: A magician doesn’t want to give away his secrets.
BB: Right…(laughter). We electronically manipulated it so that the guys could play along.
MG: Fair enough. What processing or remixing did you do on some of the lower-quality live material, like the tapes from the Matrix?
BB: Well, there was no remixing. Those were bootleg recordings. Basically what I did with those is NoNoise™ them (using a series of digital filters), with the Sonic™. Also, do you understand what azimuth is on an analog machine?
MG: Not exactly.
BB: What azimuth is, if you hear a tape that hasn’t been azimuthed correctly, and you switch it to mono, you can almost hear, like, phasing. What that it is, is the head’s not perfectly in alignment, so if the head is out of azimuth there’s a delay between channels. The tape (machines) that they used to make this bootleg were out of azimuth. When played back on the same machine the tape will play back the same way it was recorded. But play it back on another machine with different alignment, the azimuth will be out. So I was able to take one of the channels, say the right channel, and just move it by digital samples, and put the azimuth back in line, and it made a big difference in the imaging. So I did those things, and a little EQ-ing, and that was it. God knows what kind of microphones were used, and it could have been recorded at seven-and-a-half ips or even three-and-three-quarters ips, for that matter, even quarter-track, who knows? I’m just grateful that we have the document.
MG: Same thing for the PINE Coliseum cuts with Albert King?
BB: Same kind of situation. It might have been recorded on stage, or someone had a cassette machine and just popped it in. Same thing with Miami, the first cut; somebody in the audience. I’ve been asked, “How can you accept the sound quality the way it is?” I’m not listening to the sound, I’m listening to the moment. That’s what’s important. I want to clean it up to the point where it’s clear, and you can at least hear what’s going down and you get the music, ‘cause that’s what’s speaking.
MG: Well, you certainly have to be thinking that way in order to do what you did. I mean, the Miami tape is the first thing. That’s a bold maneuver. How did the programming of the box set come about?
BB: What I did was, I put it all together, and being that the Doors live in different areas spread out all over the city, I would do it and make them DATs, and they would listen and go, “You know, this is really great,” or “This isn’t great.” I’d woodshed, and woodshed some more, and make another version. I think on the first disc I only made one change. The second disc, I didn’t make any changes. The third disc, I think, went through three complete different versions. Different songs, different everything. That came together at the last moment. It was a hard one, because I couldn’t feel the way it was supposed to go. But it had a natural flow, a life of its own. Again, it goes back to what Jac Holzman had created with his sequencing and his spacing and the emotion that you’re trying to tell. It’s very difficult for me to say to you, “Go listen to that cut ,that’s indicative of the album.” You really need to sit down and listen to the whole album.
MG: Or at least one disc…all the way through.
BB: Yes, because it’s an experience all by itself.
MG: What kind of condition was this “Live In New York” disc in? Was it from the same period as the Absolutely Live album?
BB: Same period. The only problem was the BASF tape that we were using was starting to get a little gummy. After 27 years the tapes still sound superb. I baked them, played them once, transferred them 20-bit to a digital 24-track and then mixed them down digitally, 20-bit, to my Genex Optical Disc recorder, and then 20-bit D-to-D right into the Sonic™, so the second disc is all 20-bit.
MG: You had mentioned remastering the entire catalogue, and when I was talking to Robby Krieger, he mentioned that one time you guys went into the studio and did a different mix ofThe Soft Parade without the strings and horns, just for fun. Those might make great bonus tracks….
BB: Well, we’ll see. There’s one song from it, “Who Scared You,” and if you listen to that compared to The Soft Parade album, there’s a great difference, sonically. The Doors were under a lot of pressure — Jim had just been arrested in Miami, there were issues going down internally within the band. Going forth into strings and horns with The Doors, going in that direction, some of it stands out to be the most dated because of that. “Who Scared You” was pretty indicative of what the rest of the album sounded like, except for “Wild Child,” which to me sounded phenomenal; I loved that one. The Soft Parade album has some of the worst drum recording I ever did. Why, I don’t know. The snare sounds like a paper bag, and the drums are all locked in one track, which makes it very difficult. Later on in that period I kept the bass drum separate on the eight-track. When I mixed “Who Scared You” for the box set, I played it out into Studio B’s studio and brought it back with tube microphones and tube mic pre’s. Between doing that and using the non-linear program on the AMS RMX-16, I was able to give it a more raw, three-dimensional landscape. That fixed one of the main things that troubled me about that album.
So if we were to go back, which brings me to another thing about the whole thing of remastering catalogs, is that I am not a fan of remixing stuff, because I am not the same person I was then. I’m not thinking the same way, I’m not eating the same way. I’m not the same age. I’m hearing things differently. As time has gone by, I’m hearing more drums than I did then. I’m hearing a more rhythm-oriented mix than we did then. I had to be careful when I was mixing Live In New York from the box set, because I did mix it with a little bit more drums, but I didn’t go all the way that we would do it for “today’s” market. I don’t believe that anything’s gained by remixing, unless the original master is destroyed.
MG: So the tapes sound good.
BB: All the master tapes from all of the albums sound great; they’re in good shape. All I’ve got to do is get a good 96 K/24-bit document of it and get it out there and people will hear stuff that they didn’t even hear off the analog disk, the vinyl disk.
MG: What else did you add to for the box?
BB: The “Adagio” we recorded in April of 1968 at TTG, but we didn’t have the other guys on it. We put them on the day before we did “Orange County Suite.” Robby did all his guitar work, John added his drum part, and Ray’s part was the only part that was original.
MG: I wanted to talk to you a bit more about recording….
BB: Well, we still can!
MG: Great!. But before we do, I wanted to ask you about “The Doors,” the movie, because I know that you worked on it. What did you think of it?
BB: My thought is that it’s probably the best film made that portrayed what it was like over here during that period, being that he (Oliver Stone) had done “Platoon” and portrayed what it was like over in Vietnam during that era. (The director Francis Ford) Coppola showed what it was like to be over there, too, although a bit skewed, for “Apocalypse Now”. But as far as capturing the mood, and what it looked like and felt like, I thought it was superb from that standpoint. Story-wise I can’t be real critical about it, because to make a motion picture out of life is very difficult, because life in itself is not interesting. Incidents that happened by themselves were not interesting. Sometimes what Oliver would have to do was put together two or three events to make a good cinematic scene. There is a bit of fiction in there, there is a bit of fantasy in there; there is truth. Paul Rothchild was there the whole time; I’m sorry he’s not around for you to talk to. He was a brilliant man. He basically kept it as honest as possible. He kept it within the realities of making a movie, because we’re in the business of making movies to sell tickets in order to make more movies. As far as the music is concerned, it was honest. We took the original Doors tracks and had Val Kilmer sing in my old studio, Digital Magnetics. We set up a situation with earwigs on the set and didn’t use any P.A.; Val sang live, on camera, and that was what was used.
MG: Yeah, that stuff looks pretty good….
BB: His voice was in his mouth. The only other thing that was done was to take, let’s say if they did four or five takes, and this word was better than that word or something like that, you’d take it, and by using a Synclavier (that’s what we had at the time), replace the vocal. But it was still him. It’s no different than doing a composite vocal in the recording studio, except it was done for the film. It was an amazing process, and I’m very proud of what Paul Rothchild did; I think it’s great.
MG: Can you tell.me about working with The Buffalo Springfield?
BB: Ah! Yes.
MG: “Expecting To Fly,” I guess, was essentially a Neil Young solo track….
BB: It is! He wanted to leave the band, he was realizing that he should be a solo artist. Between Neil and Stephen Stills there was a lot of competition, and rightfully so; those guys were brilliant. Somehow or another Neil hooked up with Jack Nitzsche, and they came in and did “Expecting To Fly,” and it was totally an arrangement by Jack. Neil was playing electric guitar and the big rhythm guitar was played by Russ Titleman, who produces Eric Clapton.
MG: How about “Bluebird”?
BB: Well, when The Springfield came in to Sunset Sound as a unit, they made peace or whatever it was, and we did “Bluebird,” and I think two other songs. The other two never got finished.
MG: “Bluebird”’s got an incredible guitar sound; what was it like working on that? You and Stills built that up together?
BB: The electric lead guitar is Neil, and the cool thing about that is that it’s out of sync. The whole solo’s out of sync. When I did that overdub, I forgot to put the machine in sel-sync (laughter). So it’s out of sync, 167 milliseconds, which is the difference between the record and playback head at 15 ips, which is the Elvis Presley Slap Back. Any of you out there that need to do that? (laughter). It’s 167 milliseconds. Do it on tape, though, it sounds better! (laughter) What happened was we recorded it, and I remember Ahmet Ertegun was there, and we played it back and everyone was going, “What a great solo!” I realized my mistake and switched the record head in sync so that it would play back properly and they went, “No, no, switch it back, it’s perfect!” and it stayed; it was just a total accident.
MG: It’s interesting, things that happen at random like that are very often the best things.
BB: Right. Then there’s the acoustic-guitar sound. Stephen had the most beautiful-sounding instrument, and I remember using a (Neumann) U-47 tube microphone with a Fairchild limiter and just limiting the ever-lovin’ daylights out of it.
MG: Fantastic…. I was always curious how you got that sound. Miked pretty close?
BB: Oh, yeah, it was breathing heavy. It was on tape that way; we didn’t get those sounds afterward.
MG: It’s great, it smokes. Maybe the greatest acoustic-guitar sound from that period….
BB: What we had at Sunset Sound, if you’ve ever been there, the main studio, which was like a shoe box, pretty low ceiling, maybe 10 feet high, and, you know, asphalt tile, concrete floors, brick walls. It had two iso (isolation) booths. The big one, I could put a small string section in, and the other one I could put vocals in. Stephen was in the vocal booth, playing acoustic guitar. If you listen to that track, with the pumping (of the limiter), you can just hear the drums roaring in, even through the door. It’s great.
MG: Okay, let’s get down to business. Pet Sounds and “Good Vibrations”….
BB: It was at Sunset Sound, and it was with the Wrecking Crew, except that Dennis was playing drums. I did about two or three of the tracks
MG: Did you work with Chuck Britz?
BB: No, he was at United/Western; they did all the vocals and mixing with him.
MG: Tell us about the sessions.
BB: When Brian was recording “Good Vibrations,” he was recording his tracks at Gold Star or Harmony Recorders, and then (he’d) go over to do his vocals at Western Number 1. Anyway, he started off and recorded the entire track at Gold Star, and then he came over to me (at Sunset Sound) and recorded the choruses. What I’d do is I’d edit the newly recorded choruses in and throw away the old choruses. Then, he came back and recorded verses, and I’d throw away the verses, and then did the bridge. So it ended up being all my track.
MG: How long did you work on the Pet Sounds tracks?
BB: I think no more than two days. I just did the tracks. In those days they didn’t do what they do these days, basic tracks with lots of overdubs later. It was a phone call from Steve Douglas: “Have you got time? They’re coming down to do a session.” Steve Douglas was the A & R man for Capitol records, and his main responsibility was The Beach Boys, and he also played baritone sax on the sessions. Unfortunately, he’s no longer with us. Great musician. It was nothing in those days to record two to four songs on a session. Like when I was doing The Ventures, to do an entire album in a double session, with live stereo and mono mixes, and it was on the street within days.
BB: It’s interesting, you were talking about mono earlier. Brian, at the time, was partially deaf in one ear; he was born that way. My understanding, and I could be wrong, is that he did have an operation, and they were able to cure his hearing, to a point.
MG: Yeah…I’m not sure about that.
BB: Well that’s what I heard, and this had to do with a lot of his unbalanced mentality, because, after a whole lifetime of hearing one way, all of the sudden (he was) hearing things completely differently. I never realized that he could only hear in one ear, except that when he would listen to things, he would have his left ear facing the speakers. Especially when I had three speakers going. It was mono to him.
MG: Did you work on any other Beach Boys stuff?
BB: No, that was it. No, wait…with Annette Funicello, “The Monkey’s Uncle”. I was able to get The Beach Boys to perform with Annette. I got a chance to remix that a couple of years ago for an Annette Funicello box set; it was pretty funky. Also, Brian used my piano; I had an upright tack piano that I had put the tacks in myself, and detuned it the way I thought it should be done. In those days they just used to let pianos go out of tune, and I didn’t believe that. I always wanted the center string in tune, the lower string down two cents, and the right string up two cents, so you had this beating (of notes). So I had the piano tuned that way, and Brian loved that.
MG: Yes! I remember a song that has that sound. “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times,” and some others….
BB: That was the sound. That piano left Sunset Sound so much, and went down to Gold Star; it finally got to the point where the piano was dying.
MG: Can you give me a general observation on that period? It was so rich…
BB: (pause) Well, you have to understand that during that period we were all working together. Van Dyke Parks, Brian Wilson, Randy Newman, Lenny Waronker, from that side of the fence. The Doors, Arthur Lee, Jac Holzman, and The Buffalo Springfield, The Turtles, and on and on. Everybody knew and respected each other.
MG: It was a nice time to be recording music….
BB: It was a great time. Nobody was conscious of what it was they were doing, they were just doing it. People were in the studio in the daytime, then performing in a club at night, or doing a gig at night, then pop in the studio for a couple of hours and then go back and do the late show.
MG: Did you ever go and see any of these bands?
BB: I had very little time to go out and see music. I did go and see Hendrix a couple of times at The Palladium. I never went to any of the love-ins or anything ‘cause I was busy all the time. We were making music.