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General Interest

BUILDING A SONG WITH DAVE

Enough with the problems of the world and the contemplation of mysteries and wonders. Let’s talk Rock & Roll, people! Lately good old me has had a new partner in crime in the recording studio (his studio, by the way), The Great Dave Forman. The last 5 of my compositions posted on bobcrespo.com have been recorded with Dave at the dials. Also on the drums, bass, keyboards and backup vocals. Song number 6 will have Dave on lead vocal, number one, because he’s a great singer, and number two, I get tired of my own voice sometimes and like any other songwriter would like to hear what another singer can do with my material. My other partner in crime, Tony Burdo of The Tash Brothers Band, has sung a lot of my songs really well, and I’ve actually written a bunch with his voice in mind.

Tony and I have played together for around 30 years with The Tash Brothers Band, who are still going strong without me as a regular. These days I’m concentrating on my new multimedia empire, bobcrespo.com, featuring my music, short stories and other writings and soon to be including an art gallery featuring the work of my artist pals. It is, after all, The Second Best Web Site Ever. I still do occasional gigs with The Brothers and other live acts with guys like Gary Kroman and Dave and Larry V when the gig or the money is right or both. Got to keep the old hand in on live performing, but mostly it’s recording that’s got me excited these days. And for that I have Dave Forman to thank.

Dave is a guy I met when we were both teenagers in Brooklyn, where we both still live. Someone’s got to keep order around here. We had the best young bands in the neighborhood in those days, not really rivals since we ran and played in different circles. The years went by and I ran into the guy from time to time, always wishing we could hook up and play some gigs or something since the guy has serious talent and you can’t play with enough talented cats. Outside of one recording session twenty-odd years ago, we never did get the opportunity to work much together until earlier this year when through our mutual friend, the superb guitarist Gary Kroman, we did a series of gigs together. We got reacquainted, played some real cool music and had a good time, and also found we had a lot in common.

The love of the recording process was one of them and before long I was in Dave’s little man cave of a recording studio, called Footprint Studios, laying down tracks and discussing strategy with Dave as if we had been working together for years. The place is a no-frills basement filled with nothing but audio equipment, computers, musical instruments, a few chairs and a mattress for his son Sean, who uses the joint a bedroom and a rehearsal and recording studio for his own band. The mattress doubles as a gobo for absorbing stray sounds (if you have to ask what a gobo is, you haven’t spent much time in recording studios). The place is messy, cluttered and smoke-filled, right up my alley.

More important, Dave has proven to be an unbelievably astute recording musician, with a fine ear and just the right combination of paying attention to details and letting it happen. Like me, he believes that the song will speak to you, tell you what it needs, and just as importantly what it doesn’t need. No sense putting pearls on an ugly bulldog of a tune, and no sense not putting them on a beautiful lady of a song. What you’re capable of doing has no bearing on what the song needs. Sooner or later a song will come along for your bag of tricks, but maybe this isn’t the one. Similarly, getting married to an idea that doesn’t work after a couple of listens can be disastrous. The best laid plans of mice and musicians often needs a serious rethinking. It’s not the song’s fault if you dress it up in plaid, polka dots and stripes, it’s yours.

I didn’t have to explain any of that to Dave, and learned some of his tricks too. He likes a singer to live inside the beat, and his coaching brought better vocal performances out of me, and he was also right with a lot of phrasing suggestions that improved the song. And when I insist on sticking with something I feel strongly about, he’ll work with it and make it even better. Recording with a two man band is sort of interesting, and we build songs track by track, usually starting with me on a rhythm guitar and singing a reference vocal along with a click track. We might tweak the arrangement a bit and re-record it, and then I leave Dave to add the drums and bass, the foundation upon which every song is built. Then I’ll add some more guitars, maybe do a keeper vocal and we’ll digest the results so far.

Next session we’re both looking at the song as taking shape, but nowhere near complete. It is at this point that the song starts speaking again, and telling us what it needs. It might insist on vocal harmonies but demand we lose the distracting guitar part in the chorus. It might tell Dave that the organ part is lame and you can do better, or tell me my vocal sucks and needs to be redone. Maybe it tells us that it needs a piano and it might just insist on going bare bones with just a 12 string guitar and a single lead vocal. Every song is different, and 2 of the tunes I recorded at Footprint are bare bones numbers with only me and the guitar. Another one had like 4 or 5 guitar tracks, drums, bass, piano, strings, percussion and organ as well a several harmony vocal tracks.

That one took a lot longer to finish than we thought it would, but only because we wouldn’t stop until we got it right, adding, subtracting, tweaking and polishing. That one’s called “Everything Changes” and I think it came out pretty well. Click on the MUSIC box on the top of this page and judge for yourself. He just MP3’d me some new keyboard work and guitar mixes for the new song, “Here’s To Love” and this one’s starting to take shape too. I can’t wait to hear his vocal for this one, I think it’s made for his voice. That will come this week and then we’ll add some harmonies, maybe some percussion or any other finishing touches the song tells us it wants.

When all the bells and whistles are in place and we’re both satisfied we’ve done right by the song, not too much and not too little, like Goldilocks says about the porridge (anybody know just what the hell is porridge?),”just right!” Then I leave Dave to do the final mix, and he e-mails me the mix, and if I’m happy with it, that’s a wrap and he hands me a CD of the final mix and the song goes up on the website for the cheapskate rice of only 99¢. Keep an eye out for “Here’s To Love,” a great song about lost love and the hopes of finding it again. I know it’s a great song because I wrote it, and who would know better? All in all, working with The Great Dave Forman has been the most rewarding recording experience I’ve ever had and I look forward to recording in his smoky little joint as long as he’ll have me. It’s a hell of a lot of fun building songs brick by brick with a partner who understands the process and brings so much to the table.

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