Month: November 2014

Scare tactics.


I think my mixer has decided to start doing this thing where it tries to give me a heart attack once every five or six years.

Way back when I was working on CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN and starting to get really excited about the way things were shaping up, something went wrong with the mixer and I thought some of the songs I’d recorded were toast. Thankfully it was just some corrupted data. I ran a drive check that smoothed it over in about ten minutes, and all I lost was a bass part that was easy to replicate.

It seemed to be an anomaly. I’ve had a few issues with the mixer freezing up or acting strange over the years, but they’ve been very infrequent, and that was the only time anything so distressing happened. Until last night.

I was about to back up a song that’s going on this ambitious solo album I’m putting together after working on the mix a bit, when the mixer started acting like it was overloading even though no sound was passing through it. The meter for the master fader section was maxed out on the display screen for no apparent reason. I put on some headphones and heard nothing out of the ordinary, until I switched to another song, hit play, and things sounded distorted when they weren’t supposed to be.

I shut the mixer down, just to be safe and to give it a rest. It froze up halfway through the shut-down process. I had to turn the power off manually, and when I powered it back up, I couldn’t do anything.

When things went wrong six years ago, I could at least navigate the system parameters and look at things, even if I couldn’t play or record sound. This time I couldn’t even do that much. Everything would boot up fine, the mixer would load the last song I had open, and then it would freeze up. I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything. No button or dial or fader caused anything to happen. I couldn’t run a drive check to see what the problem was. The cooling fan was working, the clock was functioning, the input peak indicators separate from the hard drive responded to being hit with the signal from a mic preamp or compressor being turned on, but that was it. I was stuck in limbo.

Right about then I was thinking, “I should have bought Pro Tools back when I had the extra money. Shit. Mega shit. Triple backwards underwater peanut-encrusted cow shit.” I was up late last night digging around online, leafing through owner’s manuals and troubleshooting guides, all to no avail. I couldn’t ask anyone for advice because no one I know does any serious recording with one of these outdated things.

Today I found a way to bypass the booting process and skip straight to the drive reformat screen, where I saw the mixer no longer recognized the two separate partitions of the drive. That told me I was in trouble, and all my data was either gone or fried past the point of being saved.

I’m pretty good about backing things up these days. I even back up songs and mixes in-progress, long before they’re finished, just in case. But there were a few things I didn’t have the chance to back up before everything stopped working, and I wasn’t too happy about the prospect of losing those things forever.

While I was waffling over whether or not to go through with wiping the drive clean, I noticed the little green light above the play button was flashing, inviting me to restart the mixer without powering down all the way. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I hit shift and play. After restarting, the mixer recognized both partitions again. I still couldn’t play anything, and I could see the master volume had gone right back to being overloaded (though again, nothing was happening to create any sound), but I was at least able to access the menu and run a drive check.

I’ve never been so happy to see a screen telling me I’m going to lose some data in my life. Just like the last time, something somewhere got corrupted somehow. Unlike last time, I don’t seem to have lost a bass part. I don’t know if I lost anything at all. Nothing seems to be missing.

Needless to say, relief is the feeling I threw up on the ceiling. A dead mixer would have been a bit of a problem with all the musical activity going on around here right now. Yeah, I’ve got a backup mixer, but getting it up to speed with the old veteran would have been a bit of a pain in the ass, and the things I would have lost…it wouldn’t have been good.

Happy dancing all around, then.

There’s a lot to say about the new music that’s being made, but there’s a thing or two I can’t quite talk about yet. There should be an industrial-strength update in a few weeks. Until then, behave, little mixer…

All Night Long Blues.

For his third recording session in 1930, bluesman Charley Patton brought some talented friends into the studio with him at the urging of Paramount Records. He got Son House, Willie Brown, and Louise Johnson to tag along, convinced gospel singer Wheeler Ford to be their designated driver, and they all got drunk on corn liquor en route to Wisconsin. At the beginning of the long drive, as they were leaving the Mississippi Delta, Louise was Charley’s girl, or one of several girls he called his. By the time they got to Grafton, she decided she found Son House more appealing. In later years he would brag that he “stole” her from Charley.

This was to be the only recorded work by Willie Brown under his own name, the only known recorded work by Louise Johnson in any capacity, and the second-last recording session of Charley Patton’s life. Son House’s “rediscovery” in the 1960s grew directly out of the powerful songs he recorded at this single-day session. Bernard Klatzko, owner of the Origin Jazz Library record label, once called it “the greatest country blues recording session” of all time. Maybe that’s a hyperbolic statement, but it’s hard to argue against it.

Enough information exists to form some picture of who the other musicians were and the lives they led. The question of Louise Johnson remains all but insoluble. She sang and played piano in a saloon. She was introduced to Patton by Willie Brown. He liked the way she sang and played. He liked the way she looked. In 1930 she was somewhere between nineteen and twenty-four years old. As Son House told it, “She didn’t do nothin’ but drink and play music. She didn’t work for nobody.”

Back in Mississippi after the recording session, the group (minus Wheeler Ford) performed in a saloon near Lula. Then they split up. Supposedly Louise was seen playing on a plantation near Clarksdale later in the 1930s before moving to Memphis in the early ’40s. Nothing else is known about her.

A decade or two after the fact, Clarence Lofton claimed he was the one who’d played the piano on this session, accompanying Louise while she sang. No disrespect to Clarence’s estimable talent and influence, but he was full of shit, just trying to build up his own legend some more, and probably threatened on some level by a woman who could have blown him off a stage. The four lusty songs Louise recorded with the men clapping and shouting in the background are the highlight of a session packed with great music (“On the Wall” is ferocious — some of the best barrelhouse piano I’ve heard anyone play), and there’s no doubt she played that piano herself.

It’s a shame her recorded legacy is so slim and there’s so little known about her life, because man, could she play.