I'll tell you the story of what happened with the recording at RCA. First of all, I had been recording at RCA for a number of years. I started there with Harry, as you know, then I went to a lot of sessions as a photographer. Bob Segarini & the Family Tree, then thee was the Airplane and there were others. In 1971, we moved up to Crestline. In 1972, the UCLA group came up -- about 25 people. Between them they expressed the wish to become a work rock group. In other words, a rock group with the intention of disseminating the ideas in the form of rock music. I did not determine whether this was a legitimate or illegitimate request. I didn't care. It didn't matter to me whether they wanted to be rock musicians or wanted to be workers in the Work, expressing it through rock. It didn't matter.
So we went down to Los Angeles and we went to Murray Stein's across the street. When I was working with the AF of M, local 47 Musicians Union I was getting work there. Right across the street was M.K. Stein.
M.K. Stein was this great place where you can buy incredible instruments and the owner was very friendly to people who were coming our of Union headquarters. He worked with all the musicians and was very fair. I picked up a great German double bass from him and a bouzouki. And we picked up the congas, and a wonderful goombah. They're still with me.
Then we picked up all kinds of percussion things. We bought a $10 tam -- tambourine -- and took the head off the thing and it became good, and it was the cheapest tambourine in the store, but it had the greatest pitch, tremendous timbre and pitch. So we assembled all these things.
We had a piano that Jeff Green had brought up from his bookstore down in Los Angeles on Hollywood Boulevard. He brought the whole bookstore up and part of the thing was a piano. So we put the piano downstairs and we used that to compose "Epitaph", and then later on we brought it into the recording studio and we used it in the recording studio downstairs in Red House. And that's where all this took place.
We set up a recording studio downstairs. I shouldn't say recording studio, it really was a rehearsal studio downstairs in Red House. Basically, I told people, "Lock yourselves in here for a month and just work out as many hours a day as you can. don't do anything else. There's nothing else you may do. We'll bring food, we'll slip it under the door. You can take an hour in the yard if you don't actually talk to the other prisoners."
So they locked themselves in this room. They didn't lock themselves in literally, but they did spend all their waking hours, all their daytime hours and nighttime hours doing this. Out of 24 hours, they were able to spend 18 or 20 together in the studio. And they rehearsed. Now keep in mind not one of these people played any instruments when they started out, so they had to learn how to play bass, and piano, and they used an electric bass downstairs and I had the acoustic bass upstairs and that was my instrument. I used that. And that was a bowed bass primarily for some of the things that we were doing at that time, so that's why I needed to reserve that.
So they clamored and clattered and hooped and hollered and whooped and banged and binged and bonged in every direction downstairs. You could hear this muffled wabum babump, wabum babump, wabum baaabump. It was then that I knew that their sense of time was occult, very very occult. Oz Fritz described their tempo as loose. I would say that it is more like on vacation. It was kind of like driving with Joyce Kenyon. it's one of those things that reminds you that you have to spend for $5 or $10 in an amusement park to get the same ride. you know, you go forward and back, forward and back, you lurch forward, zoom, and then screech, the brake goes on with this, there's just no acceleration, and then suddenly acceleration again, and no acceleration. And it's kind of like having an alternating current whiplash going through you at any given moment. And that's kid of what the time was, the tempo of this group was. So don't expect anything better than the kid of tempo that we had to work with and we had to suffer through. Now, here's the good part.
After a month, I called Al Schmidt. Al had been at RCA as an A&R man for quite some time. I knew him a long, long time. I said, "Look, I need to come to L.A. and we need to get some studio time. Can you recommend a studio?" He says, "Oh hell, come here. It's $75 an hour, but you can get the overdub, mix down time, and all that for nothing. I'll give you that in a small studio."
So, it worked out to the same as I would spend at Goldstar or anyplace else. So I said, "Yeah, sure, that's great." Wally Heider would have cost me $15,000 a minute. It was just brand new and nobody went into Wally Heider unless they had a gold album that they knew they were going to cut. So, we went into RCA, which I wanted to do anyway because I knew the people there, and Al's brother, Richie Schmidt, was our producer and he also was working the board.
There was Dick Bogert whom I knew from Harry's sessions and from Bob Segarini sessions and from the Jefferson Airplane sessions, so I knew these guys very, very well. I knew the mic man, I knew the transport deck engineer, and I knew the equipment.
I knew the capabilities of the equipment and how much we could put in there, and so forth. And the fact is these guys were back from the four-track days, so I knew that Richie could pull stuff in and just pile it in there with no tracks at all, and here we had eight tracks to work with.
Oh my God, this was an amazing number of tracks at that time. Now it's five million tracks because it's all digital and it doesn't seem to matter. It does. It gets kind of junky and piled up and starts to get, what we call, busy when you put too much down. Well, most of what you'll hear, there's too much put down in the first place, but let me tell you the circumstances under which it was put down and you'll understand why it happened this way.
The group gathered up their instruments at the end of this month and Richie Schmidt was going to be their producer. They knew only that they were going down to Los Angeles to some studio. In fact, I think that they knew they were going to RCA. Ken and Toni Paulson, Mary Ritter, Wayne Ritter, I believe, and Ron Matthies were at this
session. Ken and Toni did most of the photography of the session.
So we showed up with these newbie musicians who had never played instruments before in their lives and suddenly they had taught themselves to play piano, bass, guitar and sing, they taught themselves to presumably do everything. The only thing I didn't ask them to do was to write songs, so I wrote out a number of lyrics and I said, "Here, use these."
Excepting the fact that they couldn't come up with lyrics right away, however, I had assumed that they were going to, at some point, substitute their own songs before the end of the month. They didn't so that, as it turned out. So they had to use the songs that I wrote. So these are songs that I wrote.
I'll tell you the story briefly because it's worth telling. We showed up at 7 o'clock in the morning and everybody was supposed to be there. Of course, the engineers were there, they were being paid to be there and it's their job and they know to be there, so they were.
And Ron Matthies and I showed up and hung out in the studio for about 10 minutes, and finally realized that the group was not here yet. So we told Richie to go ahead and roll the tape and we'd just do something. So we sat at the piano and we started playing two-hand piano and, four-hand piano. Cut our fingers to bleeding hell and at the end of this tremendous piece, Richie said, "Ready to roll." It happens to every musician. It happened in this particular case.
Now, by the way, both of these RCA sessions, in fact, 3 RCA sessions occurred within a couple of days of each other. They al occurred in January of 1972. So, I'll get back to the story of what happened. Well, we went through the whole session, Ron and I, went through the whole session, and finally when we were just mixing down, the group arrived.
Now, the very first session that we'll go back to...here we are, back in the flashback alert. We're moving back now a few days to the very first session at RCA -- January 11, 1972, and Richie Schmidt is waiting. These guys come in and they set up. Now, I don't know if you can imagine this, but these are newbie musicians, they have never been in the studio before and they've barely played instruments before and they're setting up. So, there's an awful lot to do.
So 2 hours was taken with Richie explaining where to sit, how to use the cans -- that means the headphones -- where to put the amplifier, where to so-and-so, and not to crank everything up because it doesn't have to be cranked up. You've got a microphone right there. It's no big deal. You can write out what it's going to be, 2 inches out from...you don't have to get out to the audience 300 feet away or 3000 feet away.
So everybody had to kind of tone down, and the drummer, who was supposed to be coming in from the Hesby Street group never showed up, so we had no drums. The base player was going to have to provide all of the beat. So, I quickly ran around the corner to Wallich's Music City to rent a drum kit and that was where, I met a high school student named Bob Bachtold who was visiting Hollywood. He was a drummer so he joined us and that was the first time we played together.
So somehow, some way or another, we got through with our impromptu drummer, but then we couldn't find anybody to do lyrics, to do the vocals for Wizards, so I ended up doing the vocals for Wizards as well. It was supposed to have been Ange and Party Abel doing the lyrics, we hear them in other things.
Now, I'll tell you this wild story. At the very end of this thing, we started to sit down to just plain jam. We were going to do about a 10 minute jam, something like that. Just take up the rest of the record. These people, you can't imagine what it was like to jam with these people. I mean, they had no concept whatever of tempo, no idea where they were going to go, and no idea of how to build a bridge, and then go from verse to verse to bridge, and so forth. They had no idea how to build these things -- A-B-B-A. The name of that group, of course, the concept of how you construct musical compositions.
Anyway, they began to play, and as they started to set up for this jam, in walked X and Y, I will call them for their safety sake. These were part of the horn section from a very, very famous New Orleans group. Let's leave it at that. Then, in walked a piano player and he was from another very well-known group up in San Francisco, and then another guy walks in and he is a bass player, and he's a friend of mine from previous RCA sessions, and so forth. These guys, said, "Well, we'll just sit in for a little while."
Just as we're sitting there talking, a union guy walks in the door. And he says, "You guys are not playing on this session, are you?" "No, we're just sitting here. We're only friends." The union guy walked back out again and at this point, one of the guys was posted at the door to give us warning if he came back. "You know what the union guy looks like?" "Yes, I do." "Fine, stand at the door. If he comes back in, you give us at least one minute's warning, and we're dead." We're just sitting around and we're just talking. Cause they would have been in serious trouble, not only with the union, but also with their labels because these were very, very big guys and very, very major labels. So they're all sitting around playing and, of course, they're playing with the newbie musicians. And you can hear the newbie musicians kind of going twang, twang, twang with these horribly, horrendously out of tune instruments, horrendously out of time, and so forth. And through all of this, Richie is in the control room hysterical with laughter watching this whole thing go on. And we played in a circle without baffles totally live. So what you're hearing is a complete live performance. There's no second take, there's no overdubs and there's lots of mistakes. So enjoy it as an archive recording, RCA live 1972, January 1972. We'll turn the clock back now.