Sunday, November 25, 2012

Confessions of a Side Man

"Since Steely Dan’s (and Donald’s) records always sound so perfectly recorded, I assumed the session would be at a top studio like Avatar or MSR or perhaps some secret, exclusive facility known only to the musical Illuminati.  But when I rode my bike up to the address I had been given, I found myself in front of [a] non-descript brownstone on a side street of the Upper Westside.

I tentatively buzzed the apartment number and was let into a crowded, messy law office in the first floor apartment where a bearded man sat busily shuffling through a sea of papers.

'Uhm… I’m here for the recording session?….' I ventured.

'Right down stairs,' he replied, hardly looking up. It turns out that the studio belonged to this lawyer, an old friend of Donald. This was clearly not a conventional 'professional recording studio,' and I’m certain it hadn’t being used for any other projects for quite a while. Since I assume Donald could afford to record at any top studio, I suspect he chose this alternative in order to have access to the studio any time of day or night, without the hassles of reserving time and all the other formalities involved with pro studios.

Down the narrow staircase was a long, windowless basement room. Picture an Egyptian burial chamber, filled not with sarcophagi, royal hardware and statues of gods, but with dust-covered synth keyboards from the 70’s and 80’s, old PA equipment, and semi-dismantled marching band instruments — a sort of a musical 'Island of Unloved Toys.' At one end, nearly buried in electronic musical relics, was an impressive 9’ grand piano. (I’m sure that the quality of the piano also figured in Donald’s choice of the place).

At the opposite side of the room from the piano was a very compact but well-appointed control room. I wish I could remember the gear that was used, but… I can’t. I do know that Michael brought in his own board, gear and monitors for the session.

In a clearing among the DX 7s, Oberheims and Prophets was Michael Leonhart, diligently setting up a sweet vintage Neumann for the harp, I believe it was U67 or a U47; both great mics for chromatic harmonica. As Michael and I were greeting each other, the door opened and Donald entered, somehow holding Michael’s Dachshund Normyn in his arms, while balancing two Grande Lattes, various bagels and other goodies and holding the door open with his shoulder."

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