It will be a fabulous three months of anticipation for fans of the Fab Four.
That’s because The Fest for Beatles Fans, which bills itself as “the world’s longest running Beatles celebration”, will take place in New York City on February 7, 2014 – the 50th Anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in America.
According to the event’s founder, Mark Lapidos, the 2014 Fest is happening Friday, February 7 through Sunday, February 9 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City. In a stretch of historical serendipity, the dates and days of the week correspond exactly to the dates of the Beatles’ 1964 arrival at JFK Airport, and their Earth-changing performance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Beatle trekkies will have plenty to sink their teeth into at the New York Fest. Close associates of the Beatles that will be on hand include British Invasion music stars including Donovan (“Mellow Yellow”), Peter Asher (Peter & Gordon “World Without Love” and former A&R at Apple Records), Billy J. Kramer (“Bad To Me”), Chad & Jeremy (“Yesterday’s Gone”), and former UK head of the Beatles Fan Club, Freda Kelly who is profiled in the recent documentary “Good Ol’ Freda.”
On the live music side, additional guests include Ringo Starr’s current musical director Mark Rivera and former producer Mark Hudson, the Smithereens, Birds of Paradox (Steve Holley of Wings, and Gary Van Scyoc & Adam Ippolito of John Lennon’s 1972 concert band, the Nutopians), Ed Sullivan Show production executive Vince Calandra who stood in for George Harrison during “Sullivan” TV rehearsals, last season of NBC’s “The Voice” finalist Garrett Gardner, and the Beatles tribute band Liverpool.
Beatles book authors will also be on hand. Among them are Mark Lewisohn (“Tune In”), Vivek Tiwary (“The Fifth Beatle”), Larry Kane (“When They Were Boys”), Bruce Spizer (The Beatles Are Coming!: The Birth of Beatlemania in America), Mark Hayward (“The Beatles With Norman Parkinson”), Jude Southerland Kessler (“She Loves You”), and Al Sussman (“Changin’ Times”).
The weekend will also include two Marketplaces, Auction of Beatles memorabilia, Gretsch Guitar’s George Harrison Mobile Exhibit, Eric Cash Art Exhibit, Neal Glaser’s Celebrity Art Exhibit, Beatles Museum & Art Contest, Battle of the Bands, Puppet Shows, Friday Evening ’60s Dance Party, Trivia and Name That Tune competitions.
Master of Ceremonies for The Fest is Martin Lewis, noted Beatles scholar and producer of the DVD edition “A Hard Day’s Night.”
In addition to two performance stages and expanded hours, one of the many new features of this year’s festivities is the “Q104.3 Lounge” hosted by presenting sponsor, New York’s Classic Rock Station Q104.3, whose DJ Ken Dashow will serve as Co-MC.
Ready to attend? Tickets for the New York Fest are available on The Fest website.
Here’s the price breakdown for advance tickets (through January 17th).
TICKETS TO RIDE:
All-Access (All 3 Days) $195
Weekender (Sat & Sun) $145
(Friday plus Sat OR Sun)
Friday only $55
Sat only $79
Sun only $79
Special Rates For Younger Fans:
Junior Fans – From 6 through 16 – HALF PRICE
Mini-Fans – From 5 and under – FREE AS A BIRD
In 2014, The Fest will also return to Los Angeles in October for the first time in 14 years, in addition to its annual event in Chicago. The Chicago Fest will take place on the weekend of August 15-17 at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare. The Los Angeles Fest will take place on the weekend of October 10-12 at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott.
Music producers know a return trip is never guaranteed.
That’s true even for audio experts like David Kahne, whose production discography is a who’s who across the artistic spectrum, including Tony Bennett, Fishbone, Sublime, Sir Paul McCartney, The Strokes, Sean Lennon, Linkin Park, Ingrid Michaelson, and Regina Spektor. But he’s been around the block enough to know that even his technical mastery, extremely keen ears, and hitmaking habits may not produce a call back for the next record.
One artist that’s made sure to stay in a groove with Kahne is James McCartney, whose first full-length album has just debuted in the form of Me, released by ECR Music Group. The new 12-track collection was created after McCartney contracted Kahne for his two 2011 EP releases, Available Light and Close at Hand, a strong pair of sets that made his newfound fans eager to hear more.
No doubt, the unassuming Kahne was happy for the chance to be back with musical royalty – after all, James is the only son of Paul and Linda McCartney, and has a critically important heritage to build on. Together they’ve created a record designed to escalate the art of songwriting – acoustic, open, and instantly engrossing.
Shaping the Record
The NYC-based producer began work in earnest on Me in November of 2012, when McCartney had more than 40 new songs written and was ready for Kahne’s touch to bring the best ones to the forefront.
“I hope the reason that James wanted to work with me again is because I’m very patient, and I’m also very vocal-centric,” Kahne reflects in his suite at Avatar Studios. “He’s such a fluent guitarist, piano player, and bassist, so I was pushing him on vocals, which led back into the songwriting. We spent a lot of time developing the songs, and went back and forth on them for months. I wanted to take the time to do that with him.
“The vocals always lead the song for me,” continues Kahne. “If the vocal wasn’t sounding right, then we needed to work on the song some more – rather than trying to arrange the song into something dynamic.”
The persistence paid off. Me is filled with tracks of highly satisfying songcraft. The arresting opener, “Strong As You” is a gift for guitar lovers, brimming with confidence, woodsy hooks, and sparkling sounds. “Butterfly” is atmospheric, trippy and thoughtful as it forcefully builds. The evocative piano and thick vocals of “Snow” is virtuoso honesty, while “Snap Out of It” is intimately spare before surging forward on galloping drums.
Meanwhile, the natural six-strings and breathy drama of “You and Me Individually” may make it the album’s most unforgettable selection. At the end, brace yourself for the bonus track “Virginia,” a barnyard thumper that hits you like a guitar army – a bizarre and glorious singalong.
From working with McCartney on his 2011 EPs, Kahne knew to be always on the lookout, lest a gem of a line or hook go shooting past.
“A lot of times he has ideas that are very off-hand and are improvisations,” says Kahne, “Sometimes it will be a really fast reaction to something, and he won’t even know he said it – it’s just a joke or a piece of wordplay, but it’ll be great.
“An example of that is on ‘Virginia’, with the lines, ‘My baby left me down on Charring Cross/My baby left me and I don’t give a toss.’ He didn’t sing it the first time like we were going to use it, but I said, ‘That’s great.’ He just threw it out there, and it was perfect.”
Tracking for Me took place in a studio with good DNA for a McCartney – Abbey Road. After the demos had been thoroughly worked out on vocals and acoustic guitar, McCartney rehearsed with his band for a week, then arrived at Abbey Road’s Studio 2 to record the dozen tunes that had made the cut from the original 40.
“In the end, it was songs that got an emotional, personal feeling from him – songs that hit home,” Kahne says. “I also wanted to show that he can really play. James is one of the best guitar players I’ve ever worked with, and a lot of people don’t understand that. The stuff he’s doing on ‘Virginia’ or ‘You and Me Individually’ – there’s very people who can play like that, and he just does it effortlessly.
“As far as recording at Abbey Road, the only reason to work there is that it’s a fantastically great room. It’s a big room that doesn’t sound cavernous. You can mike an acoustic guitar, and you’ll hear the room in the sound. It’s not bouncing all over the place – it just feels good.”
To capture McCartney’s vocals, Kahne typically depended on a Neumann U 47 or Lucas CS-4 microphone, going into preamps and dynamics including Neve 1073, Mike-E, LaChappel 583, Neve 2264 Compressor, Urei 1176, Retro Channel Strip, and Federal Limiter.
Another vocal performance of note on Me is “Thinking About Rock & Roll”, featuring a subtly layered duet of James and Paul – a father and son’s magic meeting at the microphone.
“That was one of the last songs that James wrote,” Kahne says. “Paul heard it and liked it, and thought it would be fun to have a date recording with James. They came over and spent an evening putting it down here at Avatar’s Studio A. There is something simpatico about the blend between them. I don’t think James sounds like Paul, but there is some family thing in there. I’ve found that over and over working with family people: They have a blend when they sing together. It makes sense, right?”
Tracks in hand, Kahne returned to his suite at Avatar. A comfortable and casual yet highly ergonomic space, Kahne’s room is optimal for song production and mixing. The gear in his racks constantly circulate as he auditions hardware. Then he maintains a close watch on how much use he’s getting out of his keepers – if something stays stagnant for too long, it’s in with the new.
Working on Cubase 7 in a Windows environment, Kahne loaded up tracks of vocals, guitar, bass, drums, strings, percussion, and much more. Thanks to his MADI connections, Kahne can seamlessly blend his DAW, plugins, analog processors, and summing amps. A/D conversion is from an Antelope Eclipse, while an Antelope Orion handles D/A duties, with monitoring via Barefoot MicroMain 27 and Equator Audio D8’s.
When it came to McCartney’s vocals, which display a musically rich characteristic throughout the album, Kahne used his Dangerous Liaison’s flexible routing/switching/Matrix/flip/audition capabilities to help him blend analog dynamics from choice pieces such as the Retro Channel Strip, a Federal limiter, and Fairchild 670.
He also didn’t overthink the effect he was going for on McCartney’s vocals, which can be up close and personal one moment, and Kurt Cobain’s evil twin the next. “It just sounds right,” Kahne says. “I want it to be warm sounding, but James also has a power mode he can go into that blows your speakers apart. So when he’s singing very quiet the compressors bring out the sweetness and warmth. It’s a little bit transparent, without trying to build out the low mids or be boxy, more like a warm blanket.”
Kahne is also a voracious user of plugins and soft synths, with new releases always going to good use in his workflow. “As far as new plugins, I really like the Noveltech Vocal Enhancer – it’s a very good way to shape the high end,” he states. “The House of Kush UBK-1 [Motion Generating Compressor] is a FATSO, and it’s so solid – I use it a lot on guitars, rooms, and keyboard busses.
“I’ve also been using Auto-Align from SoundRadix, which is ridiculous it’s so good and smart. From Softube, the CL1 B compressor is a really good plugin. I use it mostly for parallel bussing, it’s really warm and juices things up. An older plugin I use a lot is the Elysia compressor. And the Cubase plugins themselves are excellent.”
The rhythmic beauty and alternating textures of “Strong As You” is a song that Kahne found particularly challenging to mix. “It’s an anthem, but also very close — it could have been twice the size it is when it came into the chorus. It had to feel anthemic, but without breaking the personalness of it. That’s because it can be a weird thing to say, ‘I’m as strong as you’ – if you pushed it too hard it could come across as creepy. But it’s successful because he isn’t going off, and instead it’s clear he admires this person that he’s as strong as.
“So I didn’t want it to be thicker, but I wanted the lift. Again, I solved it mostly with arranging, and I mix as I go that way. I think I changed the drum sounds, added different kinds of electric guitars, and kept changing where they sat in the mix.”
For critical listening, Kahne depends chiefly on the aforementioned pair of Equator Audio D8’s, set up side by side in a compact stereo/mono setup to ensure his mixes are true. “I work on getting the vocal center in the track, and this way I’ll know that it’s there and I’m not fooling myself,” he explains. “I like mono recordings a lot. Some people like to spend a lot of time goofing with the left and right stuff – listeners are spending a lot of time on earbuds and headphones now, and they want their sounds going side to side. But I don’t want to lose that vocal, because that’s a where a lot of important stuff happens.”
Kahne use the Dangerous 2-Bus as his summing matrix, with 64 tracks of MADI returning from the computer being directly patched into his four Dangerous 2-Bus boxes. “I can also do split sends from the computer into my analog gear, and then the analog gear folds directly back into the Dangerous units,” he explains. “Very efficient, and perfectly summed.”
When everything was ready, Kahne assigned the finishing duties to Sabino Cannone, an Italy-based mastering engineer. “He’s very flexible, he’s very fast, he asks a lots of questions,” Kahne says of Cannone. “He works to get it right until its right. And he just loves music.”
Perfecting A Personal Statement
With James McCartney playing guitar and piano on a 47-city solo-acoustic tour that just concluded at Bonnaroo, his music is getting out there in the most real of ways.
“It’s interesting that he called the record Me – I think his experience of it was he said a lot of things he always wanted to say, and how he wanted to say them,” David Kahne relates. “It’s a particular set of problems and opportunities, being who he is, and he wants to have his own voice, like we all do. With this record, he got to go to the place where he could say, ‘This is who I am.’ A lot of the things he believes in are revealed in the songs.
“He may want to do a really loud rock record down the line, but this is a personal one where he’s making a statement of purpose for himself. And he’s done a great job at it.”
– David Weiss
Towards the end of Dave Grohl’s directorial debut, the rock documentary Sound City, drummer Mick Fleetwood warns us about “the downside” to all the technological advances that have so changed the face of music production: That they might lead a person into “thinking that ‘I can do this all on my own.’”
“Yes, you can do this all on your own,” Fleetwood quickly concedes. “But you’ll be a much happier human being to do it with other human beings. And I can guarantee you that.”
Sound City is at its best whenever it takes this tone – Which it does most of the time. Those of us who feared (like I did) that the film might come across as an ode to diamond-encrusted buggy whips, can breathe easy.
That’s not to say that Grohl and his interview subjects – the likes of Tom Petty, Paul McCartney, Rick Rubin – don’t pine for increasingly impractical analog technologies that have been largely supplanted over the years. Or that they don’t sometimes look down their noses on the digital tools that have come to dominate music production. They certainly do both, from time to time.
But when they do, it’s largely because they’re out to promote the values that these outmoded technologies tend to reinforce: Practice, preparation, dedication, collaborative spontaneity and that in-the-moment experience of making inspiring music with inspired peers.
Despite its steadfast and somewhat conservative perspective on how music should be made, the tone of Sound City remains one of aspiration, inspiration and affection – never derision or condemnation. Even Neil Young who, now nearing his 70s, can be something of a crotchet when it comes to audio technology, is made to seem accepting of other ways of working – even as he makes a curiously unstudied remark about the birth of the CD.
His is not the only small technical lapse that may raise eyebrows among sound engineers in the know. Immediately after extolling the virtues of the amazing ambient character of Sound City’s live room and how good it is for drums, the film cuts to making a big deal out of the drum sounds on Fleetwood Mack’s 1975 release by way of example. Although it’s a damn cool sound, they are in fact, some of the deadest, driest drum tracks imaginable, and could have probably been made just about anywhere, given enough baffling.
But these questionable moments don’t detract much from the movie at all. As much as Sound City pivots around changes in technology, it never obsesses over the geeky, techy details. For the most part, that’s actually a good thing. In addition to keeping the pace light and forward-moving, it allows the film a potential to reach beyond the market of a few tens of thousands of working musicians, engineers, and recording enthusiasts.
A brief cameo by that legendary designer of recording consoles, Rupert Neve, sets the tone in that department: Director Dave Grohl hams it up for the camera, nodding and smiling as if dumbstruck while Rupert Neve talks about his namesake console, which the film centers around. Grohl’s feigned ignorance is likely to comfort lay audiences as he makes pretend that basic audio terms like “microphone amplifier” and “crosstalk” are the very height of techno-babble.
This kind of self-effacing affability is part of what makes Grohl so likeable throughout Sound City. As much as he tries to make the studio and its vintage recording console the stars of the movie, it’s the personalities of the subjects that shine through. Perhaps his own, most of all.
Grohl can be both silly and sincere, sometimes at once. He has a cadence that borders on that of the ADD-surfer dude, and he seems unpretentious and un-self-serious, displaying the kind of understated confidence that comes along with knowing that you’re really damn good at playing the drums.
You don’t have to like the Foo Fighters to like Dave Grohl. And that’s a good thing, because as much as this is a story about a studio and a way of working, it’s also a personal story for Grohl. Nirvana’s Nevermind, the album that changed his life and the lives of so many others, was recorded there. And that story is tied up with the story of Sound City.
Although Grohl likes to wax poetic about how great the Sound City Neve console sounds; about how magical their room was, and about how their way was the best way to make real records, apparently the rest of the world didn’t think so for long stretches at a time. The truth is that the crusty old studio with the carpet on the walls was on the verge of going under more than once before it finally closed for business in 2011.
It had been on the verge of bankruptcy just before the Nevermind sessions came through. And it wasn’t until after that record shot past Michael Jackson and Michael Bolton on the way to #1 that the studio was hopping again.
Grohl romanticizes that console and that space, but in reality, it was the fact that great music was recorded within its walls that put the studio on the map to begin with. After a long dark period, the fact that great music was recorded there once again is what made it a hot spot once again. None of the gear had really changed.
The truth is that compared to the power of a great record, a good room and a great console have almost no power at all. Sound City’s many successes and failures are clear testament to that.
Although that point may have been lost on Dave Grohl at times, he does a surprisingly good job as both director and emcee. Paul Crowder’s editing and pacing are commendable as well.
The one place where the film gets just a touch self-indulgent is toward the very end when Grohl – rather than taking on the quixotic mission of trying to save Sound City Studios – simply buys their old console for himself and installs it in what’s essentially an oversized home studio. Here, Grohl collaborates with a string of A-list rock stars, to mixed results.
Some of the pairings are more awesome in theory than they could ever be in real life, such as when Sir Paul McCartney and Nirvana bassist Krist Noveselic swing by to join Grohl in writing a new rockish romp, reminiscent of Helter Skelter, right on the spot.
A jam session with Trent Reznor of NIN and Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age leaves the two seeming just a bit pompous compared to the down-to-earth Grohl, but the result is a downright memorable instrumental track, plus a few mixed words in defense of both digital tools and formal music training.
For me, the standout musical moment was an unexpected one: Lee Ving of Fear sings a bewildering punk rock tune at breakneck speed that sounds just a little bit like Nomeansno. Out of the entire movie, it’s probably the one song that Kurt Cobain would have really, really liked.
Even this whole section, the spottiest in the movie, is still a good watch. The only thing that really doesn’t work in the entire film is – ironically enough – the sound mix.
At times, the level fluctuations in Sound City are laughably ill-advised. I’ve never in my life found myself riding the volume control on my remote like I had to while watching this movie.
Perhaps those jarring jumps in loudness between music and dialogue were intended to be exhilarating. Maybe they even work inside of a movie theater. But seeing that the movie is playing in exactly two theaters worldwide, it’s safe to say that the majority of viewers have been watching at home, just like me. In this context, the rollercoaster levels are at times beyond awkward, even bordering on frustrating.
But these quibbles aside, Sound City is a surprisingly able debut. Regardless of whether you’re 100% sold on all of the film’s conclusions, it makes its case warmly and often, and it’s easy to recommend to any fan of rock music or recording technology.
At $7 to rent and up to $13 to download, the price is slightly higher than average, but it makes sense for a niche film like this one. Based on the overwhelmingly positive user reviews for the movie, it’s safe to say that most of the thousands of people who have ordered it so far have felt it was money well-spent.
In the end, it’s an uplifting movie, even if the moment of the studio’s shutting down strikes you like an honest tragedy. I found myself getting a little choked up as the original studio came to a close. And not just because it was so sad, but because the movie made it all seem so avoidable, as if it was merely principled stubbornness over technology and workflow that came between the studio and financial solvency.
As Sound City reached its heartbreaking nadir, my girlfriend turned to me and asked, “Why didn’t they just adapt? It seems like it would have been so much easier.” It’s a good question. And I didn’t have an answer. I still don’t.
Justin Colletti is a Brooklyn-based audio engineer, college professor, and journalist. He records and mixes all over NYC, masters at JLM, teaches at CUNY, is a regular contributor to SonicScoop, and edits the music blog Trust Me, I’m A Scientist.
HARLEM, MANHATTAN/JOPLIN, MO: Sometimes you go looking for a story. And then, every now and again, a story finds you. I think John Lennon put it best when he said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”
You may have heard about his town. It was recently decimated by a massive tornado; one of the worst in more than fifty years [see some of the unforgettable photos of the devastation here]. Or maybe you’ve forgotten by now. It was in the headlines for a while but not anymore. Along with the 24 hour news cycle, we’ve all gotten on with our busy lives: Always another terrorist act, YouTube video, depressing economic bombshell, or political scandal in the headlines tomorrow to steal your attention, right? Surely those folks must be fine by now.
And why, you may ask, are you reading this on SonicScoop? Who is Ross Gipson and why should you care? Because, ultimately this a story about music, New York and what New Yorkers do best, which is pulling together when the going gets tough and helping their fellow man. If like most people, you too have forgotten the details of how Joplin, Missouri made the headlines, here’s a little refresher in Ross’s own words:
“I am getting ready to move to North Carolina to attend law school and have been living with my friend Sean Poindexter and his wife Amanda until that time. When you live where I do tornadoes are something you deal with every year, and most people I know have always had a jaded attitude toward them.
“For the most part, they are isolated things that form in fields and tear up farms. So when they issued a tornado warning that day we weren’t overly concerned. The sirens went off on our side of town and the Poindexters and I gathered our cats and went to their bathroom, which was the safest place since it was an inner room. The reason we went is because the radio said that a tornado had actually been spotted outside of Joplin.
“When there’s one on the ground near you then you should always take shelter. So we did but we still weren’t that concerned. Like I said, this has happened before. We sat in the bathroom and actually joked about it. This was the day after the supposed Rapture was to happen that the crazy preacher predicted. I remember Sean saying, ‘I guess this is the Rapturnado.’ We all chuckled.
“Then the radio started coming in with reports that a tornado was actually entering Joplin and had been spotted at a location a block away from us (This report actually turned out to be inaccurate. The original storm was so big that it had been spotted from a camera at that location, but we didn’t know that). The mood became very somber.
“Suddenly my thoughts became very existential. It was one thing to be in a situation where tornadoes were around you. It was quite another to actually be in one. I thought, ‘So this is how it ends? Sitting on a toilet, with the Poindexters, surrounded by cats? Great.’ Within about five minutes the power went out, and we heard the storm roaring through the city. Again, we thought it was a block away from us, so I expected the roof and the walls to start giving away, and I thought I was probably going to die. It sounded exactly how people describe it – like fifty freight trains coming through. We continued to listen to the battery operated radio.
“They sent a reporter out after the storm had passed to survey the damage. He reported as he was driving, and when he got to Rangeline he started screaming: ‘THE WALGREENS IS GONE! HOME DEPOT IS LEVELED! WALMART IS RUBBLE!” It was that report, coupled with reports that St. John’s Hospital had been hit and destroyed, that made me realize this was no small tornado. This was a big one and I was lucky to be alive and to still have a car and a place to live.
“I went outside after the storm passed and two things struck me immediately: First, the smell of sawdust was thick in the air. Second, was the sound of sirens in the distance and the sound of thousands of car alarms going off. It wasn’t until the next day that I actually witnessed the damage firsthand.
“I actually drove what was left of a neighborhood I used to live in around 24th and Pennsylvania. This is the area the high school was in. It looked like a nuclear bomb had gone off. Trees looked like barkless sticks jutting up from the ground, twisted wreckage as far as the eye could see against the back drop of a blank horizon. I instantly thought of all the people I knew in these neighborhoods, of the grocery store that I still shopped at, of how I could have easily been out and about when this storm hit.
“I was lucky. None of my friends or family lost their lives. A few of them lost homes. My friend, Beatrice Haase, lost her friend and co-worker at Missouri Southern State University, Professor Jose Alvarez. And her daughter Victoria DuBuis lost a good friend named Will Norton who had just graduated high school and was on his way back from graduation with his father when their car was carried up by the storm. I spent four days with this family, and it was difficult to see them going through this anguish. It once again showed me how fortunate I was, but also made me sad that I couldn’t do more.”
In the end, 160 people lost their lives, more than 8000 homes were destroyed and 211 businesses were lost.
Joplin, MO, Meet NY, NY
A few weeks after the tornadoes hit, while the news was still fresh here in New York, singer Chris “Breeze” Barczynski, whom I had played with for some time in a band we had together, Citizens Of Contrary Knowledge, approached me about a project to help the people of Joplin.
He said he wanted to record a version of the Pretenders’ song, “I’ll Stand By You” and asked if I would be into producing it. The idea was to send it up online, ask people to give to this cause and donate the proceeds directly to the folks in Joplin. It sounded like a good thing so I said yes.
I picked up the phone and called some of my talented musician friends to see if they would be into lending their support to our effort. All responded with a resounding YES! From a production standpoint, one would be hard-pressed to improve much on The Pretenders’ classic arrangement so we took a decidedly more acoustic, Americana tack with our approach, which was performed as a duet with another great singer we both knew, Christine Tambakis. The song came together very nicely and every time we needed a particular musical element, it just seemed that the right person was there to say yes. It was kind of effortless.
So in that spirit, I posed a funny question as we were completing tracking: “Wouldn’t it be cool if we reached out to mix guru, Bob Clearmountain, and see if he would want to come onboard to help out our cause and make this effort the best it can possibly be?” Aside from an incredible discography of some of the biggest hit songs and albums over the last thirty plus years, he also mixed the original hit for the Pretenders.
Well, in that “F*ck it, why not” moment I emailed his manager, told her our story and flat out asked if Bob would possibly be into it. A few days later, she wrote back to say that if we could be flexible with the mix date, he might actually consider it but he wanted to hear a rough mix first…(damn, really?) So we crossed our fingers and sent off a rough mix to him.
To our great surprise, they wrote back around the Fourth of July and said he liked our arrangement and that he was onboard to mix it. We were floored. But the caveat was we would have to wait a few weeks as he was finishing up Bruce’s new record (yeah, that guy from New Jersey). What do you say when Bob Clearmountain says he wants to work with you but you have to wait until he finishes up with the Boss? You wait!!!
Experience “I’ll Stand by You for Joplin” produced by Rainbow Bridge NYC.
Way too Late – or Right on Time?
So we used that time to start reaching out and planting seeds with some key connected folks we knew who could help our message spread. Not surprisingly, some people responded by asking the question, “Isn’t it a little late now? It’s already been like more than a month (now almost four!) since this was news. A lot of people are already helping. Who’s going to care about your idea?”
(Of course! Why didn’t we think of that?!)
Surely, these folks must be out at Best Buy buying their new replacement plasma TVs by now, right? And that’s when the lightbulb went on to illuminate our mission: After the news trucks have all left and the major disaster relief corporations have done their part to help stabilize a recovering community by rebuilding some of its basic infrastructure, what happens to the folks who are staring down a very long road asking how they’re ever going to rebuild their lives to some level of normalcy? Who is there to rebuild their hopes and dreams?
And so our project, Rainbow Bridge NYC, was officially born. Musicians bridging the gap in the aftermath. Checking off the Joplin “Things to do” list one situation, one soul at a time. It was our way of saying to the folks in Joplin that 10 years ago on September 11th, when we New Yorkers found ourselves in the headlines during a time of major crisis, the world responded with a huge outpouring of love and support. It helped to pull us through a tragedy no one could ever have anticipated.
We wanted to say to the people of Joplin that, “Today, NYC has got your back and we’re going to help remind the world that you could still use a little help.”
Our approach is to build this awareness by making people a part of the story, rather than passive observers. We began to seek out artists in Joplin to let them know what we were building in New York on their behalf and asked if they would be interested in becoming a part of our production to help establish that two way communication between us. Music would be the bridge.
Building the Rainbow Bridge – Meet Ross Gipson
That’s when I happened upon Ross Gipson, searching Google for singers in Joplin. He had a song he wrote, “Wounded Town,” that he has up on iTunes and was donating the sales proceeds to the relief effort in Joplin. He had a different look about him, and the high voice I heard in the song made me wonder if it was him or someone else singing. It turns out his answer is one hell of a story that began long before his town ever became headline news.
I wrote to him and introduced myself, which began an email conversation that painted for me a firsthand picture of the situation on the ground in Joplin. Ross opened my eyes to a tiny slice of life somewhere out there in that “real America” we sometimes hear about from the concrete confines of our great big city.
Ross Gipson is 31 years old and didn’t exactly have your run-of-the-mill childhood, as it turns out.
“When I was six years old I was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. The doctors put my chance of living five years in the single digits. The way they treated leukemia and other cancers in 1986, as compared to now is very different. The best metaphor I can give you is that I went through bloodletting compared to what people go through today.”
“Growing up was hard. I was smaller than all the other kids. I couldn’t run as fast, kick the soccer ball as far, or do the other stuff kids my age did. I had friends and the kids at school were nice. They didn’t tease me for looking different or being different but I never really felt like a normal kid completely.”
Ross began his musical journey playing drums in 5th grade because he didn’t have the lungs or lips to play a horn or a saxophone, and he always had a knack for rhythm. He started writing songs around his senior year of high school, which is also about the time that he discovered Robert Johnson and started exploring blues music in general.
He cites Bob Dylan as the king of lyric writing and the catalyst for his true journey into the craft of songwriting. Other influences include Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Jackson Browne, Ben Folds, The Mountain Goats, Dan Bern, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Robert Johnson, Son House, Skip James, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, “and anyone else who writes a good song.” It turns out there’s also a strong visual component to Ross’s art.
“Up until my senior year I wanted to be an artist. Ever since I was old enough to pick up a pencil I have drawn pictures. I still draw today, though now I think I am better at songwriting than art. After I started writing songs and I noticed people starting to like them my fantasy became the stage.” But it turns out that performing didn’t come so easily for Ross.
“I have small hands to begin with. And I have joint issues in my hands so playing a guitar is nearly impossible. I play ukulele because it’s small enough that I can at least play most of the chords. I also don’t have the lung capacity most people have, so my vocals tend to be on the quiet side, which makes running sound on me an issue unless we have good mics. And sometimes I just don’t have the energy to do it, which is why I have been exploring song publication rather than becoming a performer.”
So I asked Ross what he would most like to accomplish if he could do more with his music.
“Three things, I think. First, I want people to hear my songs and draw something from them they can relate to. When you can make an experience a shared experience then that opens the door to understanding, and then you’re really communicating.
“Second, and this is going to sound selfish but it ties into my third thing, I want my songs to help me make a name for myself. I want Ross Gipson to be a name people associate with songwriting because…
“Third, I want people to define me through my accomplishments as a musician and songwriter, and not as the guy who had cancer, or who looks and sounds different. I want the Ross Gipson story to be about music.”
When he asked why we wanted to pursue this project for Joplin I explained to Ross that we felt a certain compulsion to give something back and show some of our own love and support, considering what the world had shown New York in our time of need. Hell, after Katrina there was also a bit of “Never again, not in our backyard,” considering how badly America handled that travesty.
Said Ross, “I don’t know anyone specifically who went to New York and helped during 9/11. I do know that both sets of grandparents, my mother and father, myself, and other members of my family contributed to Red Cross during the recovery efforts. I know many, many good people who live in New York City, and my thoughts were entirely with them throughout that time. It’s good to know those good people are thinking of me during my city’s bad time.”
Quite contrary to the typically never-ending artists’ life struggle for recognition of their craft, tell someone that you are putting your time and artistic passion into creating a new movement, all with the goal of helping other people through music and suddenly the response is, “How can I help? How can I be involved?” The experience so far has been nothing short of transformative.
Here’s Where YOU Come In
So now you, the reader, have a choice. Joplin, Missouri is officially old news. So much has happened since then to fill up the headlines and our Inboxes that it could very easily disappear from your mind the second after you read this and who could blame you?
I mean you’re busy. You’ve got a life. Who has the time? And you could choose to leave it that way with “them” somewhere over there and “you” over here at a safe distance from caring. But these folks in Joplin, they still have a very long road ahead of them.
In fact, I just spent a recent weekend in New York playing tour guide to Rick Castor, band director for Joplin High School, which was another casualty of the storm. We’re working with him to help replace some of the many band instruments lost to the tornado, among other issues. He had been invited with five of his students to be on “Huckabee” to tell their story and jam with Mike.
All the students had lost their homes. One lost both his parents, was himself found technically dead but ultimately survived with a broken back and much more. He couldn’t even go to his parents’ funeral because he was laid up in the hospital. Doctors took out three lower vertebrae and replaced them with metal rods. Miraculously, he was walking with us around the city three months later. Tell us again about that really stressful day you’re having today?
Or you could choose the contrary path and get involved. It’s a similar path those heroic firefighters chose back on that tragic Tuesday morning, 10 years ago on September 11th, when everyone was running out of the burning towers to save themselves and they chose instead to run inside. It was all about putting others before themselves.
In this case, your choice is not life-threatening. But it’s no less important in the grand scheme of things. It’s about becoming aware, which begins by putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.
I hope if you are reading this, you will come onboard too and join our effort and that you will help spread this message. Our initial efforts will be focused on specific music-related causes in Joplin, which you can find out about on our new website, www.rainbowbridgenyc.com and our Facebook community page.
Some amazing things have already conspired to help us move this ball forward but that’s for another article. In the meantime, please check out the song on our website. We’re feeling pretty good about it. It did not suck to have Bob Clearmountain mix it either. We would love to know what you think.
If Ross Gipson taught me anything it’s this: John Lennon was right. You wake up one morning and the life you thought you knew, that you were going to get on with living that day just changed forever. And all you can do is try to figure out what comes next because nothing, from that moment forward, resembles what you planned it to be.
So here’s your chance to do something you were absolutely not planning to do after reading a SonicScoop article. Get involved. Get informed. Make a difference. Feel good.
NYC-based producer/artist/engineer/more Mark Hermann spends his life in the professional service of music. He has toured the world with rock legends, produced hit artists, and licensed music for numerous TV/film placements. Hermann also owns a recording studio in a 100-year old Harlem Brownstone. Keep up with him at his homepage.
Joe D’Ambrosio, founder and CEO of Mamaroneck, NY-based producer/mixer management firm Joe D’Ambrosio Management, Inc. (JDMI) has announced the opening of a European office based in Paris, France: Joe D’Ambrosio Management/Europe.
Former EMI Continental Europe and Capitol France executive Emily Gonneau will be running the European office as liaison between the JDMI roster and their European clientele. Ms. Gonneau is a graduate of the Sorbonne and speaks English, French, Spanish and German.
Now in its 10th year of operation, Joe D’Ambrosio Management represents such talent as Tony Visconti, Hugh Padgham, Elliot Scheiner, Kevin Killen, Joe Zook, Larry Gold, Rob Mounsey and Thom Monahan among others.
JDMI’s clientele have worked with U2, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Katy Perry, Rihanna, David Bowie, Beyonce, OneRepublic, Foo Fighters, Paul McCartney, Sting, Shakira, Pink, Kaiser Chiefs, Peter Gabriel, Morrissey, Ayo, Raphael, Norah Jones, Modest Mouse, Beck, Justin Nozuka, The Roots, Fujiya & Miyagi, Little Joy, Angelique Kidjo and hundreds of others.