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Producer/guitarist Eric Krasno and jazz legend John Scofield let us in on The Secret.
Choosing the right producer for a project can be tough. You want someone who understands your musical vision but pushes you somewhere you can’t get to on your own. For The Secret, Vieux Farka Touré chose Soulive guitarist Eric Krasno. Though they hadn’t previously worked together, the connection was there from the outset. “I was a fan of his father, for sure,” says Krasno, “I heard about [Vieux] through his manager, Eric Herman, who is also a bass player and musician.”
Eric Krasno lays down the funk at a Soulive gig with his Gibson
ES-335 plugged into a Mesa/Boogie Lonestar combo.
Because Vieux is based in Mali, most of the preproduction was finished before the two met at a Brooklyn recording studio. Krasno and Touré traded digital files back and forth to get a better idea of the direction they wanted to take. “I would say that 70 percent of the demos were done in Mali. We would send them back and forth, and I would listen and give my feedback.”
The title track is a duet between Vieux and his father, Ali Farka Touré. Krasno was careful not to embellish the original track too much. “We were going to revamp it and add some different instrumentation. In the end, we decided to add a little percussion, but for the most part we left it how it was and just mixed it.” Although many of the demos were tracked before the sessions in Brooklyn, that didn’t prevent them from trying to capture some in-the-moment magic. “There were a few tracks that we just recorded fresh in the studio—including ‘Lakkal (Watch Out),’ which I played on. That was pretty much one take in the studio, and turned it into a song. We used a few different ways to get from A to Z on this record.”
Because Krasno and Vieux are no strangers to improvisation, getting the right performance was more a matter of getting the right vibe than a note-perfect take. “Vieux’s approach to recording was all about ‘catch the magic.’ He would rather spend the time cleaning it up and adding overdubs than recording more takes, if he feels like the magic is there,” says Krasno.
Bona fide jazz-guitar legend John Scofield—who joined Vieux on “Gido”—came to the project through Krasno. Sco wasn’t familiar with the younger Touré, but he was already interested in music from the region. “I have been aware of North African music and its similarity to blues. I read some treatises from academic guys saying that a lot of blues sounds come from Mali. When I heard his father, I just loved it,” says Scofield. When he arrived at the session, the track was mostly complete. “It was very natural for me. On my solo, I used a 1974 Gibson ES-335 with a Bigsby going into a DigiTech Whammy pedal and a Bad Cat amp. I did a faux-Eastern sort of thing that is very much related to my blues approach to guitar. It felt right just to play. In other words, I didn’t even have to know the tune. The music felt very much at home for me.”
Krasno says he wanted to push Vieux to go out of his comfort zone when it came to gear so that the tones would be different than on previous albums. “I had him use a Jerry Jones sitar on some stuff. You can hear that in there,” mentions Krasno. “It sounds like a guitar with a weird phaser pedal. We also used a cranked 1968 Fender Super Reverb for some of the more distorted sounds you hear. He really likes using a chorus pedal, too, so I was trying to pull him away from it. We recorded at this place called The Bunker Studios, and John Davis, the engineer, had a lot of tricked-out weird stuff. I would say the primary gear was a ’90s Fender Strat through the Super.”
Throughout the sessions, Krasno got an up-close view of Touré’s style and even picked up a few things. “Every time I work with a new person, I take a little piece of that with me,” he says. “His rhythm and how he hears it is just amazing. On some of the tracks, he would count them off and I would hear them in a totally different place. His innate feel is just in a different place from where I am at—but at the end of the sessions, I knew where that was.”