Back when The Hypnotics were recording their album Modern Art Rntertainment in late 2014, I got a message from Dave Konstantino. He told me they had one song that needed a piano part, and they were having a tough time finding any local studio that had a good-sounding piano. They tried a digital keyboard, but that wasn’t cutting it.
I happen to have a piano that sounds better than good. I think you know where this is going.
Dave and Mike came here with Josh Kaiser in January of last year to record the part. I didn’t play it myself — Colin Wysman did — but I grabbed a bit of video footage. Thought it might be fun to include it in the aforementioned mega video that should end up covering about two years of musical adventures, to say, “Hey, here’s another thing that happened in-between all those other things.”
It only took me a year and change to get around to doing something with the raw footage.
It was kind of neat watching someone else record my piano for a change. It would have been nice to get credit in the liner notes for the free use of my studio space and equipment (or even a brief mention in the thank-you section), but I guess you can’t have it all.
I always had mixed feelings about Prince. The talent and creativity were impossible to deny. “Little Red Corvette”, “The Beautiful Ones”, “When Doves Cry” — those are flat-out great songs. His songs for Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film combined with Danny Elfman’s score to create the perfect backdrop for that dark cinematic vision. I lost count of how many times I watched that flick as a kid. And he had a kind of magnetism few artists are ever able to tap into. When you saw him in a music video or a movie, your eyes were locked on him. He was some sort of alien cross between Sly Stone and Little Richard, and he seemed dangerous. It was the kind of danger you wanted to follow, just to see what he might do.
There was always something that kept me at arm’s length. I don’t know what it was. Maybe the feeling that there was more beneath the surface of what he was doing that didn’t always get brought up to where I could hear it. Now I’m thinking maybe I didn’t dig deep enough. He was much, much more than just the songs we heard on the radio. And I thought he went a little overboard with the policing of his music being streamed or shared in any way on the internet (I’m not sure how your music videos being accessible on YouTube hurts you when you’re filthy stinking rich).
But he was defiantly himself. He always said what was on his mind in his music. He didn’t care if people didn’t like it.
“All people care about nowadays is getting paid,” he said. “So they try to do just what the audience wants them to do. I’d rather give people what they need rather than just what they want.”
When he sang about sex, he really sang about sex. He didn’t mess around or half-ass it. “We can fuck until the dawn, making love ’til cherry’s gone,” makes something like Katy Perry’s, “I kissed a girl and I liked it…hope my boyfriend don’t mind it,” sound as lame and bloodless as it really is.
There’s one little story I’ve always really liked. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 1983, Prince said he played the album Dirty Mind for his father.
“You’re swearing on the record,” his father said. “Why do you have to do that?”
“Because I swear,” Prince said.
Two songs did a lot to unmix my feelings.
The first was “Erotic City”. A DJ used to play that one at The Loop on Friday nights, back when that was my regular weekend hangout. Once or twice I danced with a pretty girl while it was playing. The groove on that thing was unreal. It was hypnotic. I wanted it to go on forever.
It was a B-side. Figures.
The second song that changed my mind was this one. I’m going to stream it and not make it available for download, in case the ghost of Prince decides to try and sue me. You never can be too careful. This is shared only as a demonstration of the man’s talent, or maybe I’m reviewing it, fair use, blah blah, etcetera bagel monster.
It’s called “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” and it’s another B-side. Which is insane, because it’s one of the best songs I’ve ever heard, from anyone, in any genre. The Alicia Keys cover is nice and all, but it doesn’t even get close.
This is Prince alone, in 1982, playing piano, tapping his foot, and layering his voice into a virtual gospel choir. I wish with every wish I’ve got he decided at some point to make a whole album of stripped-down songs like this. If he’d done that, it would probably be one of my favourite albums of all time.
No such album exists. One Nite Alone… gets close, but it’s impossible to find. At least we’ve got this tune.
Oddly enough, both of those songs show up on the soundtrack to the spike lee film Girl 6. So if you see that CD hanging out in a bargain bin somewhere, I suggest you snap it up.
A little shout-out to 2016: you can stop killing musical icons now. I think you’ve done enough in that department already. Take the rest of the year off, okay?
Al’s made some really great albums over the years, but if there’s a perfect one in there, it has to be Call Me. Soul music, gospel music…whatever you want to call it, it doesn’t get much better. His version of “Ain’t It Funny How Time Slips Away?” is one of the best cover songs of all time. Just the sound of the album (and the others he was making in the early 1970s) is something special. The drums have this unique, soft, thick saturation to them. The words always sound like they’re being sung right into your ear. Nothing else sounds like that.
I’m not really a religious dude. But if there’s a heaven, and you go there, and you end up in a little white church, and Al Green isn’t the Reverend, something is very wrong.
Ron Leary and Dean Drouillard came over yesterday to record a piano part for one of the songs on Ron’s forthcoming album Tobacco Fields. The last time I played on someone else’s tune without recording the album myself was seven years ago.
Man. It’s been a while.
This is one of the few pretending-to-be-a-session-musician-for-a-minute things where I know I won’t end up kind of regretting I got involved. Because it’s Ron. With him, you know you’re not going to get stiffed when it comes to getting credit for the work you did, you know whatever song you’re playing on is going to be really good, and you know whoever’s handling the recording (Andy Magoffin in this case) is going to know what they’re doing and how to mix your parts.
Instead of making the trek to Cambridge like I thought I would, Ron and Dean came here and I got to play my own piano. We used the Neumann KM184s I always use, where I already had them positioned, into the great river MP-2NV I’ve always got those mics plugged into, into whatever interface Dean was using to capture the tracks in a form Andy will be able to work with when they’re back in his hands. Easy as cupcakes.
So that was fun. I kept my playing pretty sparse for the most part, since the song I was playing on already has Kelly Hoppe and Rich Burnett and Dean in there doing tasteful lead-ish things. There was a lot of floating around the piano’s higher register. For the last few takes I played some things that were a little meatier. Hopefully between the floating and the meat there’s enough good stuff there to work with.
Managed to get some video footage, too, so I can incorporate a bit of it into my eventual GIANT VIDEO OF STUFF to make up for failing at keeping the video progress reports going. Someday I’ll be semi-regular with those things again, I think, once I get this big one out of my system.