Walking tall into the unknown; Texas, a part of the States I’ve never visited apart from my dad’s obsession with westerns – but that was Hollywood, wasn’t it?
Post 9-11 security contributed to my normal dread of airport transit, borne out of a hard disc which was once refused entry into my hand luggage as I didn’t have its power supply. It had to be hastily packed, unpadded, into unsecured cardboard box and placed into the aircraft’s hold. “But…” I pleaded “…it contains all my work from the last 2 months.” That time, hard disc arrived intact, and on this occasion my dread appeared unfounded as I have a British passport and we are brothers in arms for the ‘war on terror’, no?
Texas was hot, very hot – and it was May. We met Joe Richardson and his then manager, Frosty (not a difficult name to remember). Joe had the accent my dad would have killed for; that southern states deep resonant drawl and the character of a diamond, if I can mix cultural references. Alan’s decision to work with someone totally unknown to us was a risk but, if first appearances were to be believed, the signs were positive. Certainly if this guy sang like he talked, we would get some rich voices for the album. And if he could play guitar like his hair implied, then the blues would be well represented. Obviously the similarity between Joe’s and my own hair were purely accidental – he had a few years of length over my baby grey mane.
The journey to the studio would be my only view of the geography of Texas – which is just the way it always works out, but then I feel secure in the studio, isolating myself, travelling as I do like a lily-livered Brit. Everything looked slightly desert with the heat dry and on arrival at the studio, the lizards could be seen scampering.
Jack’s delicious Moscow Mules were matched by the quality of his environment. Each piece of kit in the studio had character drawn through years of high quality functioning and the few ubiquitous modern processors were put in the shade when they would be revered elsewhere.
Joe the guitarist had recorded here before and recommended we use this space. It was obvious why. One would naturally imagine that it would be one of the top commercial studios in the world but Jack keeps its secrets well hidden. A hobby for him, he is justifiably proud of such a studio which doubles as his home, hence his desire to keep it low key. I feel honoured to have been given the chance to see this place and I haven’t even mentioned the pre-amps, the microphones, the tape machines. I risk staining, so I’ll stop.
Ok, so you understand we had suitable equipment to achieve the desired result but, to this point, we hadn’t heard Joe, John and Richard playing, which was the reason to go to Texas in the first place. Downtown Austin bar was arranged for the evening to hear The Joe Richardson Express perform in public. Frosty drove us in his outrageous gas guzzler. I have some recollection that the colour was possibly loud but can be reasonably sure that it was a Lincoln Continental. Casting back to my ‘I Spy Book of Cars’ from 1960, the Lincoln was the longest automobile of its generation and arriving downtown was nothing short of impressive.
This was my first experience of being obliged to smoke outside a bar and the moment was with added adventure as I was probably the only dude to roll a cigarette (not a jazz woodbine) this side of the Rio Grande. I made sure the act was virtually invisible as trying to explain ‘Golden Virginia’ to a Texan cop was not my idea of fun. Few beers and Joe played and played, strangling his guitar and his vocal chords in some delightful contortions. All South and rocking. I think we knew the recording would be a success; the bass was solid and the drums were as large as Richard’s smile.
Back in the studio the following day, I was faced with too many decisions and insisted that Jim, an accomplished engineer, run the recording side of the session. He knew the studio inside out and had worked with Joe before. We didn’t have a lot of time for experimentation and faced with all the possibilities, I’d still be there now working on the drum sound. At the end of the 4 days we had everything plus a little more for Alan to bring back to his place and edit, construct, reconstruct.
Throughout the eventual mixing of the album back in England, I realised that for the first time in my life in studio world, I applied virtually zero eq. on the guitar takes, such was the purity and beauty of performance, guitar, amp, microphone and tape in the chain-gang of Joe Richardson. All the distortions were pure, no digital sizzles. And the harmonica was growling and authentic. The art of recording has been rendered almost invisible by the computer’s predominance but, in Austin it was akin to a Damascene analogue conversion.
Did I mention the finest Tex-Mex meal I’ve ever tasted?