Thursday, May 29, 2008


The first thing you have to know about the location of Mandala Music’s recording studio, is that you have to KNOW about the location! Otherwise, you could drive aimlessly through the King William District for hours looking for a sign. There isn’t one. You have to drive around the back of a unpretentious block of professional offices and bang on a metal back door to be admitted. Luckily, we’d already scouted out the place and knew what to expect.

Our first session was from 6 until 10 that evening. Mary Lou was in California taking care of her mom who is recovering from surgery, so there were only three members of the group. Steve and I expected to do the actual performing, and Kathy came along to make sure we behaved and also to provide water and provisions – God bless Subway’s $5 footlongs! I wore my tee-shirt as a good luck talisman. I believe it worked its magic well.

We were greeted inside by the two people who make up Mandala Music, San Antonio jazz legends Jöel Dilley and Bett Butler. Jöel is a very in-demand bassist and Bett is a singer-songwriter as well as an outstanding jazz pianist. The studio is very funky looking. There’s not a lot of their budget that goes to decorations, that’s for sure, but the sound board looked sophisticated enough and the pair seemed to be as enthusiastic about recording us as we were about being recorded. After a bite of food and a sound check or 12, we began.

Now, usually you’d be happy with one “in-the-can” song for each two hours of studio time, but we did much better on this night. We led off with "Light in the Night" one of our earliest compositions. Like a lot of our material, Steve and I trade off on who takes the melody, and this can make life just a little complicated using the “one track at a time” recording method. But after two vocal tracks and four guitar tracks, we pronounced ourselves satisfied and moved on.

The next song up was our rocker "Take It Outside." Although this song was added only relatively recently to our repertoire, it is a rare gig indeed when we don’t play it. After laying down the guitar tracks – my rhythm, Steve’s rhythm, Steve’s scorching lead – I went alone into the recording area and laid down the lead vocal. There was obviously something very good going on in the universe at this point, because we didn’t need a second take, nor did we need any “touch-ups.” Once we got Steve’s backing vocal in, we put that one to bed also.

Two songs in the can after barely 3½ hours of actual recording. Not bad for two guys whose ages add up to 111! With about 45 minutes of time left, Steve and I laid down the guitar tracks for a third original, "Fast." The vocals could easily wait for our next date. This was a very productive session, and all five of us were satisfied and looking forward to round 2.

LESSONS LEARNED: Well, we learned to trust Jöel and Bett completely. Neither got even slightly frazzled and both were wonderful to work with. We need to minimize the time that only Steve and I are recording. Having Kathy along to keep us both honest was invaluable. It was her suggestion that turned an excellent guitar phrase at the end of Fast" to something absolutely exquisite. On the other hand, I learned not to come directly from the gym without showering first – especially since we have to turn off the a/c each time we record!

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