“Walk This Way”: Rap & Rock Icons Revisit A Classic Track

April 26, 2011 by  

MIDTOWN MANHATTAN: We bump into Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels in the elevator at Manhattan Center Studios. Though not exactly a shocking encounter, as we’re our way to visit his session in Studio 7, the meeting is no less thrilling: “You’re D.M.C.!” we gush. “Awesome!”

DJ Johnny Juice with D.M.C. freestyling

We’re about to flash back to 1986, the year of that famous Rick Rubin produced worlds-collide moment that is Run-D.M.C. doing Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry.

Inside Studio 7, as Aerosmith producer Jack Douglas greets D.M.C., Public Enemy DJ Johnny Juice is already going on the turntables – that classic “Walk This Way” beat and iconic riff pumping through the studio monitors.

They’re all here to work on a “Walk This Way” remake to benefit The Felix Organization / Adoptees For Children, the charity D.M.C. co-founded with Sheila Jaffe. A new lyrical spin on the classic tune will help them promote the cause and raise the funds to send 200 foster kids to Camp Felix, the organization’s Putnam County summer camp.

Public Enemy bassist and producer Brian Hardgroove is co-producing the session with Douglas, the producer of the original Aerosmith track and the 1975 album, Toys in the Attic. Tommy Uzzo (L.L. Cool J, Method Man, Redman) is engineering. And we’ve got a front row seat on the action, as D.M.C. is freestyling with Johnny Juice on the decks.

“Man, the original sounds so incredible,” says D.M.C. “It’s funny, when we did this originally, we had never even heard the vocals – never heard it past the first guitar riff because the DJ would never let it play that far! Rick Rubin said ‘take the record, go sit in the basement, and learn the lyrics.’

“When we finally heard the lyrics, we got on the phone with Rick and said “Nah, you’re taking this rock-rap stuff too far. Africa Bambaata won’t understand one word he’s singing! But Jay knew what to do, he was like ‘Don’t do it like Steven and them, do it like it’s a rap written by Run-D.M.C.’ Me and Run, we weren’t getting it yet…”

And they weren’t necessarily sold on the idea. “We didn’t even know who Aerosmith was,” D.M.C. emphasizes. “I remember when we first met them in the studio, I was like “The Rolling Stones are here!” Because we knew who Mick Jagger was, but we didn’t know Steven Tyler.”

Listening back to the Aerosmith version in Studio 7, D.M.C. muses, “When you think about it, Steven is rapping on this song.”

Here, Douglas interjects, “Yeah, we didn’t know what else to do with it. We had the track and then we got the title from the movie Young Frankenstein. We’d all gone to see the movie one morning, and you know how the hunchback says [read in Igor voice] ‘Walk this way…’ Well, we came back to the studio and tried that line as the chorus! That’s how it all came together.”

Adaptation of a Classic: “Walk This Way” Anew

Referencing both the Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C. versions of the track in Studio 7, Douglas, Hardgroove, D.M.C. and DJ Johnny Juice work out a slightly new arrangement for the Camp Felix-inspired take off. Then D.M.C. walks everyone through the Camp Felix lyrics before taking to the booth to lay down his verses, emphatic and strong.

D.M.C. in the vocal booth

Later, they track the musicians – including Andy Bassford on guitar, and singer Jean Beauvoir on the chorus – via the studio’s Neve VR console into Pro Tools. This is a highly capable room, with access to one of the largest tracking spaces in Manhattan (the Grand Ballroom) as well as microphones and gear of most every flavor.

Douglas notes, “I’ve worked out of Manhattan Center many times. I did the Supertramp record [Some Things Never Change] downstairs! We also mixed Aerosmith’s A Little South of Sanity here.”

With only one day to get the entire piece done in NYC, Hardgroove tracked the bass parts for “Walk This Way” ahead of time on his Pro Tools 9 system at home in Santa Fe. “I made the effort to get the bass as ‘classic’ sounding as possible,” he explains. “I used my Steinberger Synapse XS-1FPA-Custom with a little compression. When Jack and Tom Uzzo heard it, they dug it. No need to re-track it.”

When Hardgroove began producing sessions out of Manhattan Center’s Studio 4 (aka The Fuse Box) last year, he brought in manufacturer sponsors, including Sennheiser, to enhance the studio’s recording capabilities. So the mic cabinet here runs deep with Sennheiser and Neumann models – including Neumann U47s and 47 FET, U67s, U87s and TLM mics and Sennheiser 421, 441, MKH 8000 and 800 series and Evolution 900 series mics.

Tracking “Walk This Way,” Uzzo describes, “We used the Sennheiser MKH800 on D.M.C.’s rap, as a distance mic on the electric guitar, and to record the cowbell. We used a 421 as a close mic for the electric guitar. The singers (other than D) were recorded with a Neumann U-67, all through the Neve mic pre’s.

“The interesting thing about the session was the sound of the MKH800. I had never used one before. We compared to the U-67, and of course it sounded a little different, but the quality was very high, as you hear on D’s vocal. The pad also worked well, and didn’t destroy the sound, making it useful for the loud things like the cowbell.”

Co-producers Jack Douglas and Brian Hardgroove

But gear aside, this session was about old friends coming together to revisit a classic track for a worthy cause.

Says Hardgroove: “This project is close to me for a few reasons: first, my parents adopted three girls when I was a young boy, second – back in the day, I could hear Run-DMC spinning “Walk This Way” in Jamaica Park (Hollis, Queens) from my bedroom and third, I got a chance to bring some of my best friends together to work for a terrific cause.”

Manhattan Center chief engineer Darren Moore was gladly on hand to assist. “This is putting me back in junior high school in Brooklyn,” he said. “I totally remember the first time I heard this track. The first time hip-hop went pop.”

For more information on The Felix Organization / Adoptees For Children, and to donate to this cause, visit www.adopteesforchildren.org.

Catching Up With…Jamie Siegel: On Working With D.M.C., Matthew Morrison & Blondie

January 12, 2011 by  

Chelsea, NY: We stopped by Jamie Siegel’s JRock Studios in Chelsea last week and caught up on some of the producer/engineer’s latest projects, including a song he recently co-wrote and produced for Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels upcoming record. For Siegel, a lifelong rock and hip-hop conspirator – as musician and later producer and engineer – working with D.M.C. felt, understandably, climactic.

JRock sessions with D.M.C. (l-r): JRock assistant engineer Tony Lenoci, Jamie Siegel, Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels, and Ralph Roundtree.

“I remember walking to elementary school, listening to Run D.M.C. on my Walkman,” Siegel shares.

“And I’ve worked on a ton of hip-hop and R&B in my career, but I came up playing guitar and have a live band background. This track, and working with D.M.C. — who’s really into that fusion of rock and hip-hop — was the perfect combination of those two worlds.

“He even came in wearing a vintage Guns N’ Roses t-shirt that I think I still have,” he adds (with infectious Jamie Siegel laugh).

The D.M.C. song grew out of an instrumental track Siegel produced with writer/producer Ryan Kinelski.

It’s a simple, and somewhat somber piano progression over minimal beats, building through the verse with electric guitars and melodic textures into a modern rock chorus, sung and co-written by Kendal Naughton.

“D.M.C. has been working on his record out in LA with some heavy rock dudes, like Travis Barker and Mick Mars, and a friend of mine [Ralph] Roundtree ran into him out there,” Siegel relays. “He was still looking for more songs, so Roundtree set up a listening session here. We played him a dozen tracks and he totally picked the one I didn’t expect, the ballad. It was the emotion of the track that he gravitated towards. The lyrics he wrote are about finding out he was adopted and what that’s meant in his life. He came in and knocked it out in like half an hour.”

Like his rock and beats-driven approach to pop production, Siegel is also a true hybrid in the studio — both a musician’s producer (Taking Back Sunday, Janita) and skilled engineer who has recorded Lauryn Hill, Whitney Houston, Joss Stone, The Brand New Heavies, Del Amitri, Smashing Pumpkins and (many) more. His production aesthetic derives from his chops as a guitarist, beat-maker, sonic texturist and sound engineer. Clients may come into JRock to record or mix with Siegel but end up benefitting from his commercial-yet-inventive pop production sense.

Case in point: when we visited JRock, Siegel was mixing a track for Matthew Morrison’s (Mr. Schue on Glee!) upcoming record, being produced by multi-instrumentalist/arranger Rob Mathes. Obviously Mathes is hugely capable, but comes to Siegel for a different production POV.

“The Matthew Morrison record is singer-songwriter-pop. My production role has been to ‘hip it up’ wherever I can,” Siegel notes. “Rob Mathes is amazing. He plays every single instrument under the sun. What I’ve been bringing into the production is a lot of ebow textural stuff and drum loops, supplementing sounds that Rob might not go for on his own.”

Siegel records, builds his productions and mixes within Pro Tools HD3 using a combination of live instruments (guitars, mostly) and programmed sounds. “I do a lot of it with [Native Instruments] Battery,” he says.

Siegel on the board at Mission Sound in Williamsburg

“I have a library of sounds that I’ve mostly recorded and sampled myself, I don’t really use any stock sounds. The guitar sounds I do using mostly real amps, although sometimes I’ll use Amp Farm if I want to do something quick and dirty. And then there’s a lot of sound design involved — taking a guitar or string part and flipping it into something you can’t quite identify. The SoundToys plug-ins are my favorites — EchoBoy, Decapitator, etc.”

Morrison also cut vocals at JRock. “We’ve kind of been starting and finishing the songs here,” says Siegel, who’s recorded some of the best vocalists in the biz (Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige, Joss Stone, etc.). ‘I’ve been getting the songs as MP3 demos and creating a lot of the instrumentation – programming drums, adding guitar parts and textures – before we start working with any musicians. Then Rob comes in and we add more music before going in to track with a live band. And then we’re cutting or at least comp’ing vocals back here, taking care of any additional production and doing rough mixes for the label.

“It’s been really fun working with Rob on this record. I feel like we bring different things to the table and it really seems to gel.”

Earlier last year, Siegel had the chance to record another legendary vocalist when Blondie came through the studio. “Matt Katz, who’s playing keyboards in Blondie, brought Debbie Harry in here to re-record vocals and add instrumentation to a song for her new record,” Siegel shares. “We ended up adding a bunch of stuff and re-cut a lot of elements including her vocals. It was great working with Debbie, Tommy Kessler, who’s now playing guitars with Blondie, and Chris Stein.”

And the resulting song, “What I Heard,” is awesome — a punchy, modern electro-pop Blondie! You’ll have to take my word for it though (or listen to this live version); Blondie’s new record, Panic of Girls, is still a work in progress, reportedly due out later this year.

And a more recent project put Siegel in touch with another musical legend — Ron Alexenburg, founder of Epic Records and the A&R behind Michael Jackson among others.

“I recently produced an EP for a new artist, a singer/songwriter named Jamie Bendell,” says Siegel. “She said she wanted to bring her manager/consultant, and the next day, in walks Ron. He’s an incredible guy. We finished her 3-song EP right before Christmas and it’s already charting on radio. Totally looking forward to working more with Ron. As you can imagine, he has the most amazing stories!”

Visit Jamie Siegel and JRock Studios at www.jrockstudios.com. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jrockstudios.