As COVID-19 has brought much of the music industry to a halt, it has also unleashed a tidal wave of musical creativity onto the internet as superstars and unknowns alike have livestreamed and posted homebrew performances during quarantine. Some of the clips are cute and others are inept, but after you’ve seen a couple, very few stand out—so let me tell you a bit about one that does, not only for the performance but also the resourceful story behind it. Both amusing to watch and musically satisfying, it’s a viral video of top L.A. session musicians remotely covering the 1980s hit “Easy Lover” by Philip Bailey and Phil Collins.
First off, they nail it—and even if your ears or taste in music don’t agree, they can statistically prove it: At press time, the jubilant clip has amassed more than 145,000 views on YouTube in just two weeks, allowing the behind-the-scenes players—guitarist Jay Gore, drummer Chad Wright, keyboardist Noriko Olling and legendary bassist Leland Sklar—to step into the limelight. Fronting it all on vocals is pro audio industry veteran Gussie Miller, who takes on both Bailey and Collins’ parts with suitable aplomb.
The “Easy Lover” clip was the brainchild of longtime friends and session pros Gore (Lauryn Hill, Michael McDonald) and Wright (The Jacksons, Bruce Hornsby). Getting Olling (Chaka Khan, Pink, Teena Marie) onboard to play keyboards was easy, as she’s married to Wright. Still, they needed vocals, and Miller quickly came to mind.
While he’s a journeyman audio pro who’s worked everywhere from Sam Ash to NASA—not to mention stints with Steinberg and TC Electronic—Miller is really a singer, having toured as a background vocalist for Lavern Baker, Seal and Cher, in addition to releasing his own album, Forever Plan, a few years ago. Miller recalls, “Jay got ahold of me and said, ‘Dude, Chad and I want to redo “Easy Lover.” Are you down?’ I said sure, but who’s gonna sing the other part? ‘Sing both.’”
The need for a bassist remained, but Miller had an idea. Having befriended Sklar at a Recording Academy event, he called up the renowned bass player, who, in addition to having played on hundreds of hit records over the years, has been Collins’ go-to studio/live bassist for the last 35 years. These days, Sklar has his own group, The Immediate Family, with fellow music legends Waddy Wachtel, Russ Kunkel, Danny Kortchmar and Steve Postell, but when asked to play on the video, he was immediately in, later joking on YouTube, “Gussie recommended me because he said I have a chart to it.”
One thing Sklar didn’t have, however, was a way to record his part. Miller explained, “I called him up and Lee said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it, but I don’t have any recording gear at home. Never had it—no interest. If you can help me through that, fine.’ I said, let me call some people.” Within minutes, Miller was on the phone with Phil Wagner, senior vice president of Solid State Logic, who recommended the company’s new SSL 2+ interface. “Lee needed an interface, so we made sure he had one in time to complete the track,” said Wagner. “We’re pleased it worked out as I’m a huge fan.” Set up with the SSL 2+ and a copy of Avid Pro Tools Free, “he cut the track and did an amazing job, because he’s Lee Sklar,” laughed Miller.
For his own contributions, Miller not only dressed the part(s) for the viral clip, recalling the sartorial finesse of Bailey and Collins in the original MTV-era “Easy Lover” video, but also got some inside vocal help from an unlikely source: longtime friend and fellow vocalist Valerie Bailey—aka Mrs. Philip Bailey—who sang on Miller’s album a few years ago. “You hear my record, anybody that’s singing above me, that’s Val,” grinned Miller.
Quickly drafting her as a coach, Miller sent Bailey sections of his vocal and got line-by-line feedback: “She was like, ‘Okay, you’re a little ahead of the beat. You gotta lay back; he’s more smooth than that,’ and she would literally talk me through it,” said Miller. “I cut his vocal with a U87, and while Phil Collins always used a Beyer M88, I own one but couldn’t find it, so I ended up cutting his part with a M69. It really made the sound because they’re radically different-sounding microphones. It helped find that urgency with the Phil Collins side.”
Once Miller filmed his cheery impersonations with an iPad (“I live in a condo, so my neighbors must hate me now from hearing the song a million times.”), he sent the footage to Olling, who used the project as an opportunity to teach herself video editing in Adobe Premiere, knocking out the edit in two days while husband Wright mixed the project in Steinberg Nuendo. Uploaded to Sklar’s YouTube account on June 30, the clip gained traction right away, to the delight of all involved.
“We’ve been overjoyed at how it’s blown up,” said Miller. “It has literally freaked me out, because I get email and cool comments, and people are following me or bought my CD. You can’t pay for this kind of advertising.” Indeed, Miller’s next album, My Name Is Gussie, will come out later this year, and he’s hoping the video’s success becomes a launch pad for the collection. For now, the thrill of seeing the clip go viral has given even its naysayers a bit of a shine for Miller: “11,000 people have ‘liked’ the video on YouTube, but 87 people just weren’t feeling it. I think that’s hilarious!”