We went back into our recording studio on January 3 to track more music that will be used on a forthcoming, yet untitled, release. Our friend and fan, Ken Kleinendorst, drove up from Central Pennsylvania with his new video camcorder and camera to chronicle the session. If you have been following our recent newsletters, you are familiar with this evolving story, if not, please read our past issues.
Engineer Calvin May started setting up the session at around 11 AM. As planned, musicians JP Pitchard, Matt Doi, Paul Kanack and I warmed up, and then laid down the accompaniment to the song “I Almost Forgive Him.” We did most of the pre-production work for this song at an earlier practice in December, so things went smoothly.
The instrumental tracks consisted of JP on the Fender Jaguar guitar, Matt Doi on the 12-string Rickenbacker electric guitar, Paul Kanack on the Fender P-bass, and me on the vintage 1962 Slingerland drum set.
Michelle sang a guide vocal as the ensemble performed five takes. A guide vocal helps the musicians in two ways. First, it helps to keep their place in the arrangement, and secondly, the guide vocal elevates the performance emotionally.
Once we were satisfied with the keeper take, we began the process of recording the vocals. Calvin brought his Sure SM7 microphone to the session to record the lead vocals. This is the same microphone used to record Michael Jackson on the Thriller album. Michelle recorded two separate lead vocal tracks as she listened to the instrumentation through headphones. We will blend these two tracks together in the mix to create the vocal doubling effect, used on many of the ’60s girl group records. Lesley Gore is famous for her vocal doubling. The Beatles cited Lesley’s double-tracked vocals as a example of how they wanted their lead vocals to sound when recorded. Doubling the vocal, when done correctly, can produce a nice fat sound.
At the end of the session, Sarah and Sierra joined Michelle to record the back up vocals to “I Almost Forgive Him.” We used the Lawson L47 microphone to capture the vocal ensemble. Back up vocals are best recorded using one microphone for all of the singers. It is up to the vocalists to create the correct blend and balance by moving closer to, or farther away from, the microphone and listening to each other. Some vocalists prefer to have one headphone off the ear, so they can hear each other in the room, rather than in the headphones. After the backup vocal session, we laid down a hand clap track, which included Ken as part of the hand-clap gang. Upon reviewing the instrumental tracks, it seemed as though something was missing in the percussion session, so we will add a tambourine at a later date.
In addition to recording “I Almost Forgive Him,” we turned out attention to another unfinished song. Back in the summer we laid down the instrumentation for what would have been our first recording featuring a male on lead vocal. James Schrag, our multi-talented musician, seen mostly on violin during the performance season, has a great singing voice. I wanted to give him a lead, with the girls singing the backup vocals. This format was very popular in the early to mid 1960s with artists like Bobby Vee, Del Shannon and Lou Christie, all of whom used The Angels for the backing vocals.
We chose the Del Shannon song “Little Town Flirt” for James to sing, which had also been covered by Jeff Lynne and the Electric Light Orchestra, a band favorite. Our version is a bit of a hybrid of the original and the ELO version. We chose the key of C, like the ELO rendition, because of James’ limited range in the high register. The feel of our take is more early rock n’ roll, like the Del Shannon version, as opposed to the more rockin’ version of the Electric Light Orchestra.
As the session proceeded, with James singing a guide vocal for the musicians to follow, it became apparent that even the key of C, a half-step lower than Del Shannon’s original, was too taxing for James to sing clearly without straining his voice. It seemed like the whole idea was going to be placed on the scrap heap.
Not willing to give up totally on the idea, I turned to Michelle and asked her to give the lead vocal a few tries. After all, it couldn’t hurt, so we “rolled the tapes” as she sang. The results were interesting. Although the lead vocal starts out very low for Michelle, it brings out a kind of sultry delivery, and when the vocal soars into what would be the falsetto for a guy singer, Michelle was able to belt out the passage. The song now becomes a girl warning a guy about the flirt, so no changes were needed to the vocal line — wow this had some real possibilities!
So, here is an exclusive video, shot by Ken, of Michelle singing the lead vocal, see what you think. We also quickly recorded the backing vocals, but since the girls had not practiced those parts since August, we would like to record them again at a future session, perhaps in March.
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