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Gordie Johnson Talks About Capturing Haynes' Tone
How did the physical studio space contribute to the sound of the album?
There’s a lot of room at Pedernales. We had several different size rooms for isolation. I put the Leslie for Ivan Neville’s Hammond B-3 out in the lobby, which has Mexican tiles on the floor, a wooden ceiling, and Willie Nelson’s platinum records on the wall. It’s really reflective in there, and it made Ivan’s Leslie sound like an organ in church.
What mic’ing techniques do you use to capture Warren’s tone?
We have a technique that we use from time to time, which is really mic-intensive. Say we have a 4x12 cab, a 4x10 cab, and a mini-amp with a single 10" speaker. I will mic all three of those rigs with about twelve microphones. I tell you what though, I have also recorded him on a number of occasions through a 15-watt amp, and I just put a mic in front of it. I have used dynamic mics, condenser mics, old fancy Neumanns, newer Shure mics, whatever.
So it mostly depends on the situation and feel you are going for on a particular song?
I just mic it in whatever way might excite him in the moment and create a nice vibe. Sometimes the vibe is, “Hey man, let’s just put one mic on this sketchy little amp I found in the closet.” If he thinks its cool, then we are going to get a good performance out of it. If the prospect of putting 12 mics on the rig excites Warren, then that’s what we will do. Ultimately, though, Warren sounds like Warren Haynes.
For this album, was it more of the 12-mic setup or a paired-down version?
We had a Fender Super Reverb, a Fender Pro Junior, and a custom Trainwreck. All of the amps were mic’d, but I didn’t always use all of them when mixing. I just wanted to be covered in terms of the tonal colors I might need. If Warren was listening primarily to a Super Reverb, then that’s one I would use during the mixing.
How did you keep the Pro Junior from getting lost among the other larger amps?
That little Fender Pro Junior is really handy. It was actually the biggest sounding amp because it’s so direct. You have to mic it in an isolated way that makes the guitar sound really big with a tight bottom end. It’s not a Princeton or some special old amp. You can buy one for a couple hundred bucks at Guitar Center. We have used it on Mule records, and it is just this little supplement that goes into the sound and is very effective.
With all the tones at your disposal, how did you handle the mixing?
I prefer to print the tones I want to hear on mix day. I’ll hear the guys warming up and rehearsing the song a little bit and go, “I’m not going to want to gate the toms, let me run out there and put a piece of tape on it.” Or I might move a mic a foot away from something because that’s how I’ll want to hear it in the mix. Instead of just putting reverb on it later, I’ll move that mic away. I am pretty hands-on that way.
What was the most challenging part of the session?
Getting George Porter, Jr. to change a note in a bass line. I felt bad even asking because it’s George Porter and I am just some dude in a cowboy hat sitting in the control room. He was playing a bass line that was like “In the Midnight Hour,” and I said, “Can we change it a little bit?” He just looked at me like I had a horn growing out of my head. I hated to even ask him. I wasn’t going to suggest what to play, but I just wanted it to be something different. About 10 minutes later it would just fall right back into that. It was getting uncomfortable. I was like, “Look, George, can you please play something different. I don’t really know what to tell you.”
George was like this statue, this bronze statue just staring at me. I was thinking, “What am I going to do? Warren doesn’t want to record ‘In the Midnight Hour.’” George holds out his hand and looks at it and nods his head. I had to reach in my pocket and pull out a $5 bill. I had to pay him five bucks to change a note! Anytime I had a suggestion for the bass, I had to hold up money.