JB and B&J watching Albert Lee on YouTube
I had a long, interesting night. I played an outdoor show at noon in the blistering Tennessee heat, which makes hell not sound all that bad. I got home in a semi-catatonic state and wasted a few hours mindlessly YouTubing and eating ice cream. Around 5 p.m., Taillight, a Nashville film production company, called with a problem: CMT did a series of spots that featured a Kid Rock song, and although the tracks worked perfectly and they had licensing for the music, CMT did not have licensing for the actual Kid Rock recording. They needed the track re-recorded by yesterday. Suddenly I was wide awake, pumped up on adrenaline, high on stress.
They sent me a link to a site containing four video segments featuring the music tracks. Assuming they were all the same, I downloaded the first one and began studying the drums. I wrote a crude drum chart and searched my files of loops, luckily finding a good match on EZdrummer about 30 minutes into my search. I copped the guitar part—a very cool, drop-D heavy sludge—using my HomeBrew overdrive into my ValveTrain amp for a completely nasty, Detroit rock tone. I scooped out all the highs and most of the lows, dimed the mids and doubled the track, then added a bass part recording direct into my Digi 002 board.
There were a few drum variations that my loop didn’t have, so I took out some killer Sabian cymbals and smacked them on accents, recording with a Shure KSM44, and then manually pounded on the keypads of my old Boss DR-880 for some tom and snare fills. The timing was not perfect, but it didn’t need to be. Kid Rock’s track wasn’t about perfection—it was about attitude, and love him or hate him, you have to admit that K.R. drips attitude.
I mixed it and emailed my version of the song to the producer, Tom Forrest. Tom replied, “Great... you nailed it. The guitars are a bit too bright, but other than that, it’s perfect.” I wondered if I wasn’t hearing accurately, fearing that my loud afternoon gig had robbed my hearing of a few frequencies. I pumped up the bass track, shaved some highs off the main mix and sent it back. Tom replied, “Great… that’s the sound. Now we need the other three.”
I had hoped that they had used the same track for each video segment. Regrettably, that wasn’t the case. I downloaded the other three, opened a new Pro Tools file and began searching for the right drum groove. Once the drums were roughly in, I laid down the guitar part, but felt I kept missing the groove near the end of the track. I suspected that my meter was going south because I was beginning to feel tired. I re-tracked... same thing.
I remembered an article I read about a guy who had undergone a series of medical tests proving that he had no sense of rhythm. I began to wonder if I had spontaneously developed that anomaly. I tracked the guitar again, and it felt off, but I reasoned that I could fix the glitch once I added bass and a lead part. This is the sonic equivalent of a carpenter building a house on quicksand but thinking he can fix the shoddy foundation with a good coat of paint. I finished the track, eager to move on to the remaining two, but plagued with a sick feeling of guilt over a job done poorly. I tried to sweeten the mix, but the last seven seconds sounded like a bad high-school band had taken over. I went back to the session and began soloing every track where it began to go to hell. That’s when I discovered the classic Pro Tools voodoo. While recording in haste, in my sleep-deprived delirium, I had somehow bumped the tempo up 4 clicks near the end. Four clicks was not that obvious with drums alone, but a horribly herky jerky jump when I added guitar. Rather than fix this track I deleted the entire session so as not to invite the voodoo mojo back in. Because I knew my parts, the new recording went very quickly; it was finished within 30 minutes.
Of the other two songs, one was a slight variation from the first two, while the final song was a bigger departure featuring a big guitar solo. I followed the guitar solo note for note at the head and then just blew for the rest, which was really fun. I mixed the remaining three songs and emailed .aiff files to the producers. I awaited their reply for half an hour on sharp pins and needles, dreading that they hated the tracks and were already going through their phone book for my replacement. Then I realized it was 3 a.m.—by now they were deep into their third REM cycle.
The next morning I got the email thanking me for the tracks, which felt good, but the real reward came when I heard my guitar thundering on television two days later. I saw Kid Rock strutting to the groove with the cool, cockiness of a man digging his own music. I wondered if he any idea those were my tracks cut in my little home studio. Mr. Bob Ritchie, if you are reading this, call me if you want to go way low budget on your next recording. We’ll kick it Nash-ghetto style.
John Bohlinger is a Nashville guitar slinger who works primarily in television, and has recorded and toured with over 30 major label artists. His songs and playing can be heard in major motion pictures, major label releases and literally hundreds of television drops. For more info visit johnbohlinger.com