Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Chapter 17: Tempted and Tested

          Here's one that Jack and I wrote together in record time. It was one of those inventions mothered by an opportune necessity to place a song on an album of promised prominence that was already in production. [Hint: it involved Jack's niece and a son of a Detroit Motown™ Temptation in L.A.]   It is the fourth and final entry in the “Well Ain’t She Suite” series.

          This was 1998. I had moved operations from Avery Street [in (Detroit Tiger Hall-of-Famer) Ty Cobb's old neighborhood] to Clinton Township—a Met-DET suburb near its northeastern extremes. Ask anyone who was around in the Avery studio [S. A. S. Productions] and they'll tell you we left a lot of good memories…fortunately, we still have most of the music in one format or another. [Note: Look for the release in the medium-near future of some of the best of this on a release titled "The Avery Tapes".]

          Anyway…1998. S. A. S. Productions was gone, and Lake Gennesaret SPS [Luke 5] opened its doors on Garfield Road. "Tempted and Tested" was Jack's and my first session there at the new location. Also new were the production methods. I had added my first DSP accelerator: the Creamware™ card; and I'd also just added [then Sonic Foundry's] Acid Pro™ music loop creation workstation.

          Having come up since 1983 a sequence purist, I would traditionally digitally sequence everything I produced that wasn't played by live instrumentalists. Even with Hip Hop, I would find and/or manipulate samples to match contemporarily whatever were the flavor-of-the-week sounds and styles. I felt looping was somehow cheating. Four years prior, I'd even felt that way about sampler playback synthesizers and the like. Then one day in the mail, I received a demo tape from Mark (Drummond) and Aljay (Boydd). One song had a looped breakbeat. And as much as it lacked the realistic linear expansiveness sequencing my own drums would yield, it did add liveliness that I didn't know how to recreate back then. Next thing I knew, I was collecting breakbeats on R-DAT [see Wikipedia] for my Casio™ FZ-1® sampler, and then adding that feel to my productions. When I found Acid Pro, it felt to me like I was printing money.

          The "Tempted…" session was the first time I'd used the new technologies on an Entejé [Jack and SID] production. The "Tempted and Tested" feel was built upon both new components—using Creamware loops sequenced on Acid Pro. Of course, there was Jack's guitar.

          And the results of that session (a drum/percussion groove, guitars, piano, and demo vocals) is where the song remained for ten years. Compared to "Lies" and "I'm Faithful", it is an early beta release.

          We had slated Jack's song "Marvel Comics and Motown 45's"—partly to tie-in with Motown's 50th and our metro-Motown location, but mostly because I loved the title. Unfortunately for its placement on The Mμne-Pi Parables, the vocal Jack heard for it wasn't what I heard for this album. Jack suggested "Tested…" and here it is.

          I needed to brush away a few cobwebs. And we needed a bass. I didn't hear a synth bass for this one. I could have emulated one; but with Jack's live guitars, I thought it best to use a live bass. For this, I called on Ralf Patterson. We were sidemen in the Rufus Harris band (pronounced Rufus Harris)

          I am decidedly technically high-tech competent. I worked a couple of years for Guitar Center as an independent contracting product support specialist/field tech, had built every computer in my studio until I added a Mac, do my own system maintenance, but in Rufus' group I was comparatively the most technically-challenged. It was literally the smartest band with which I've had the pleasure to play. Ralf was one of those main-brains. I would especially feed off Ralf's energy onstage. He had technique, he had tone, and I'm sure he had something else beginning with a "T".

          I sent a track of "Tempted…" to him. I was thinking something jazzy and laid back. What I got back from him was Louis Johnson. On such occasions where I've expected one thing and gotten another, first I cry…then I give a listen—to hear it through the criminal's ears. Then I get it. I got it.

          The great thing about it is before—going our legacy direction—there would have not have been any funky elements to connect "Tempted…" to "Lies" and "Faithful". With Ralf's interpretation, we have a funky four-song suite: a mini-musical melodrama about betrayal, mistrust, denial, and then finally contrition.

The Amazing Kenny Watson

          The last and primary element of the song was recording the lead vocal. This suite of songs only showcases one performance by an original choice (“I’m Faithful” featuring: Carey Denha). “Lies”, led by Lish, was to have been led by another singer ironically named Tish. I had produced a few songs on Tish when she was but a teenager. I thought it poetic that we might reunite on this album. Tish is now married with her own young children, and living out of state. As such, scheduling obstacles proved insurmountable. Likewise, scheduling problems exacerbated by the Michigan winter cold season took out most of my vocalists and limited Carey to one song performance (originally Carey was to have sung “What’s It Gonna Take?” and “Tempted and Tested”). The former showcases my own lead vocal, which is my original demo vocal. The latter came dangerously close to being led by me as well. Until…

          My wife Susan saw Kenny peforming in a church Christmas program. Sparked by the encounter, she raved to me about how amazing his performance had been. I had thought that “Tempted and Tested” might best be served by a Seal-like delivery. She was certain Kenny was my guy for the job. I watched a video of Kenny on You Tube™; he was singing Leon Russel’s “A Song For You” in Donny Hathaway’s vocal style. I was impressed; but to be honest, after Musiq Soulchild and the hosts of Neo-Soul artists battering the idiom over the last ten years, I was a bit apprehensive. We met at the studio and I asked if he could Seal the deal, so to speak. He assured me it was no problem. To keep a long story from becoming a miniseries, what he gave me was neither Seal nor Donny. It was better; it was the amazing Kenny Watson. As well, his very convincing performance sold the story and served as a very effective conclusion.

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