The Making of Give Me The Reason By Luther Vandross ..Part 2
So, We were now at the studio Air Montesrrat a truly legendary studio where the best of the best have camped out and recorded. Most notably before us The Police and Duran Duran. We were greeted by Yvonne Kelly who was the studio manager and kind of legendary in her own right. We had Karl our assistant and the most important man on the scene George, the legendary chef who I have heard so much about from number of different sources. First thing we did was to head to our accommodations. One group would be staying at the Villa, the other at Ovalston House. We were at Ovalston house with most of the people in the band, Yogi, PJ Jr, Doc Powell, Marsha and their significant others and on the table thre was a guest book. I opened it up and wow some amazing names , Duck Dunn, Steve Cropper, and people from Duran Duran. We had the rest of the day off and remember Marcus wasn’t here yet as he forgot his passport at home. We are all settled in this very nice house and then we are picked up to go to the studio for dinner.
As we walk in and walk right by the pool, Yogi does a quick little nudge to Marsha and there she goes into the pool. Soakin wet I take off my jacket and give it to her and that earned some points on the friendship meter. The food was amazing, George cooked delicious Island food and we all sat around the table talking and for some of the folks were getting to know me and Kathy and I was glad that she had come along. No matter what, there would be a lot of pressure to make this album something special. That’s why I was there! So back to Ovalston house to chill for the night and we start the album the next day. As we get to the studiom who shows up but Marcus and now ready to go.
I set up my gear in the control room. I brought a slightly scaled down setup with DX7, Yamaha TX Rack, PPG 2.3, Matrix 12, Emulator 2 and a Linn 9000. The first track we cut is a Luther original “So Amazing” a beautiful song that didn’t need me at the basic track as it was live band with acoustic piano. There was something however that would soon change. Luther wanted to make the album with perfect time and he wanted to make it using the newest technology, using SMPTE time code and the drum machine. This did not make Yogi very happy. He would lay down a beat with the band and then Marcus would program it into his Linn Drum and we would build it from there. Everybody liked the vibe but definitely tension brewing because of the drums. It wasn’t unusual back in the 80’s for musicians to be upset when they saw synthesizers. Many times, to them, it meant that Synths would take the place of other instruments and now more than ever, with drum machines, that reality was a bit bigger, even though I never thought drum machines could ever be a substitute for live drummers. But it was creating a new vibe for music.
So Far though, I did some programming and the reactions were good. We cut a song that Luther’s other keyboard player, Skip Anderson, wrote called “There’s Nothing Better Than Love”, which as we look forward, was a big hit for Luther and Gregory Hines. Everybody seemed very happy. We would spend a couple of hours in the studio then eat lunch. Then back to work till dinner, then we’d really hit it till about 2 AM. Back to the room, Sleep till 9, take a walk, eat breakfast and then back to the studio. Yes, we also had some break time where we’d hang out at the Pool and swim. Kathy was nice and relaxed after substitute teaching that whole year and she always had my back, keeping me abreast of the scene outside the session. Luther was cool towards me. We didn’t interact a lot and really he hardly knew me, but if he was happy, so was I. In-between, Marcus and I got up a rivalry playing ping pong. We had some killer games and we pushed out our chests a bit, because we really were playing some good competitive games, until we played Paul Jackson Jr, who totally kicked both our asses.
One thing I noticed was that Air Studio really had a great sound, both in the live room and the control room. Ray Bardani loved working in the room and he was really getting a great sound on the tracks. He showed me a lot of support because, he also realized it was time for Luther to cross over and create a new sound. The sound of the tracks so far was outstanding. The formula they were building upon was working and little did I realize that a new paradigm was being set in how Luther would make his future albums. He was liking the control over the many variables available to him using synthesizers. He showed me some vibe but was just matter of factly going about the business of making this album.
It was about 1:30 in the morning when Luther wanted to try to get one take on the classic Burt Bacharach song “Any One who Had a Heart”. It seemed like a great song to do, seeing how Luther and Dionne Warwick were so tight. I was in the control room when Nat, Doc, Paul, Marcus and Yogi were in the studio, with Luther, singing Live. Nat was in the control room playing my keyboards. There was big window in the control room looking at at the pool and the Caribbean. I will never forget listening to Luther sing at 2 AM and looking over the clear sky over the Caribbean with a beautiful moon. It was perfection. I remember it so clearly to this day.
The next day we were due to do our first song using sequencers and all electronics. We were going to sync everything to tape via click and Smpte time code. This was a song Nat and Luther wrote called “Stop To Love”. The first part was to get the drums going. They sound great and good choice of drum sounds from my library. Nat works very slow but we were making progress. Now we were going to do the synth bass and that was my first great moment, when I came up with a killer bass sound that was shaking the walls. Using the Matrix 12 and the TX Rack, it was really killer and everybody dug it. Now for the big mistake. All the times Marcus and I worked together, we always printed code from my Linn 9000 and then printed a click and then synced it via the Dr Click 2. It worked great on TuTu and David Sanborns album. For some reason, we printed the code from Marcus’s Linn Drum. We never had done that before. This went right by everybody. All of a sudden nothing was syncing correctly to tape. I mean it was a freakin nightmare. The sequencer would skip, speed up and we didn’t know what was happening. I certainly didn’t and Luther was getting pissed. It got so bad he said “You may be finding yourself swimming back to Antigua.” What a drag. We started adjusting some input levels and all of a sudden Voila! We’re back in business. One of the worst hours of any career. Now we had the bass, Piano, and the Killer Oberheim Pad on tape and it was sounding amazing in that room. Big Smiles on all faces and relief on mine. Yogi came up to me before lunch and said “Man don’t let that yelling and vibe have an effect on you. You are doing a great job and I’ve been fired by Luther like 5 times. You’re fine.” That was a great moment, as Yogi was in the whole drum machine controversy, but knew I was there to do job. We started to use my Linn for everything and it was then all working fine. It took us a year to retrace our steps and figure out what happened.
I was given the night off, as they wanted to get some guitar fixes on some of the tracks. Every night somebody would get picked on at the dinner table. They were merciless with Paul Jackson Jr. Paul is a very devout Christian. I respect him for his beliefs and how he carries himself. However no breaks cut. They even had Paul’s wife convinced he was this underground drug king pin of LA. I was laughing so hard I was choking on my food. Paul took it like a man and the one thing I knew, it would be my turn one night. Paul set a good example. Just let it happen, go along with a sense of humor, and all is well. That helped when it was my turn. The wives got it as well. No harm meant, to some us a right of passage into Luther’s scene. Meanwhile, the food was killer and the album coming out great.
After dinner, Marsha came up to me and said that Luther wanted me to finish the album with them, and there would be a lot more dates to add, and she would get them right to me. Needless to say, it was a very good night out, hanging at the studio by the pool and then back at Ovalston house. I was so happy Kathy was there. She got me through some tough scenarios.
We got in the pickup, driven by this cat named X, and went to call it night. I couldn’t believe that I made it through what was a very stressful day. I got a grip on the situation and the next day we were back at it again.
Ray Bardani was an engineer incredibly dedicated to his work. Sometimes too dedicated. I never knew him to take a day off or even chill. I don’t know if I ever saw him in the pool once. If it was the 7th game of the world series with basses loaded and 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th, it wouldn’t be unusual for Ray to start talking about SSL or Neve Boards or some aspect of the business… He was a true creature of habit and if you broke his routine it may screw him up for life. He was however very encouraging to Luther about my work. You see, Ray wanted the perfection that Luther wanted as well and could see how spot on, of course, the tempos were and how the tracks were progressing, with this new way of working. He really did have those tracks sounding great and already “Stop To Love” sounded like a smash, even with no vocal on it.
The next column I’ll finish the story of Air Montserrat and on to NYC and LA for the next 2 months to make this album with a chance meeting with Muhammed Ali, The Eurythmics, 50 German bathing suit models and more exploits.
Music Tip of the Month….
My Album of this month is Clareia by Brazilian artist Sabrina Malheiros. I really love the vibe of this album. She’s the next generation after Bebel Gilberto. The album has lots of hooky, vibey (real songs) with a super vibe of attitude of voice by Sabrina. It starts off a little commercial, but by song 3, you start to realize you won’t be taking this off the playlist anytime soon.
From his synth programming on Miles Davis’ 80s masterpieces to his current album Kind of New with Ingrid Jensen-dubbed by one insightful veteran journalist as the “Quincy Jones of Contemporary Music”—has not only helped shape the landscape of contemporary jazz, but also brought his rich sonic textures as a keyboardist, arranger and producer to artists in a multitude of genres.