By Christopher Walsh.
Strawberry Fields isn’t very far from the Pro Sound News offices, but Monday's sub-freezing temperatures kept me away from the annual, informal gathering commemorating the life of John Lennon.
Anyone who knows me knows I’m all messed up on the Beatles, and I’ve usually tried to stop by Strawberry Fields on that cold dark December day, as well as on John’s birthday. But like my quiet observance of St. Patrick’s Day--perhaps a single pint of Guinness and a listen to Van Morrison and the Chieftains’ Irish Heartbeat, leaving the mayhem and city streets thick with vomit to others--this year I reached for the John Lennon Anthology’s Disc 3, Sony MDR-7506 headphones and a cup of tea as 10 p.m. crept toward 11.
“Stranger’s Room,” a home demo from 1980, is a positively chilling, yet remarkable glimpse into the artist in the act of creation. The recording, which became “I’m Losing You” on Double Fantasy, features Lennon at the piano, drawing lyrics out of himself:
“Here in the afternoon/Alone in some stranger’s room
What am I doing here at all?
No need to overdo it/I’m bleeding now
I’m bleeding now/Stop the bleeding now”
Twenty-eight years later, the wound seems so fresh.
But life goes on. Alan Stoker of the Country Music Hall of Fame, recently explaining the archiving and restoration of the remarkable Hank Williams: the Unreleased Recordings (see the December 2008 Pro Sound News, coming soon), advised me to check out “Cool Water,” written by Bob Nolan of the Sons of the Pioneers in 1936. Alan sang Hank’s “Coooooool, cleeeeaar, water” over the telephone. “Man, that sounds just like ‘Old Dirt Road,’ from Walls and Bridges!” I said (which is why I selected Disc 3 of the Anthology in the first place--it closes with an early take of same, recorded at Record Plant in Hollywood, right?).
“Ah yes,” Alan replied in an email. “'Trying to shovel smoke with a pitchfork in the wind.’ One of my favorite lines in any song.”
Music: it unites us all, right? Recordings made in Los Angeles in 1974, or in Nashville in 1951, are as vital now as they were then, and forever will be, just like water. Cool, clear water.
December 6--another infamous anniversary, Altamont Speedway--brought Johnny Winter to B.B. King’s in Times Square. I had never seen him, and am so thankful that now I have. Sixty-four years young, Winter is in fine voice and possessing even finer guitar chops, driving a capacity crowd wild with one blues shouter after another. But his slide playing on a Gibson Firebird, to close the show, was my favorite.
In the audience at B.B. King’s was one Brian Tarquin, he of Bohemian Productions and Jungle Room Studios, the “Studio Showcase” in the April 2008 Pro Sound News. If you like your rock and roll loud and your guitarists heroic, by all means get Bohemian Productions’ new releases Fretworx and El Becko, available in music stores including the iTunes Store. A portion of profits from Fretworx, featuring a host of heavy hitters, will benefit the Friends of Firefighters 9/11 Foundation.
Brian informs me that he is now working on Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton tribute releases, and did I hear something of another Led Zeppelin salute in 2009?
Last week, authors Brian Kehew and James Ryan, with engineer Malcolm Addey, delivered a very fun and illuminating presentation based on their incredible book, Recording the Beatles, at a most appropriate venue: the Ed Sullivan Theater. In the room where it all began for us in the U.S., the trio presented, in words, audio and photography, an intimate look into the technical and creative processes of the Fab Four.
The event was brought to you by the Audio Engineering Society and sponsors Dale Pro Audio, Avatar Studios, Sennheiser, API, New York-based Apple specialist Tekserve and Solid State Logic. A splendid time was had by all.
And in the goody bag, two fabulous releases from Avatar’s 441 Records label: It’s Prime Time by Joe Farnsworth, and Birdland by M. Sasaji & L.A. Allstars. The former was recorded at New York-based Avatar, the latter by Allen Sides at Ocean Way Recording in Hollywood.