The MAKING of BANDZILLA RISES!!!
Bandzilla was born at SARM Studios in London in 1985. I had just finished a session for Grace Jones’ album, Slave To the Rhythm. Producer Trevor Horn had asked me to arrange the album using an 85-piece orchestra, including a full jazz ‘big band’ – 4 trumpets, 4 trombones and 5 saxes. The musicians were kindly complementing my writing and trumpeter Guy Barker said, “You really should form your own big band!” He and others had been asking me to do this but I was a studio guy at that point in my life. But I admitted it would be fun and I loved writing for big band. I told him I’d do it if he booked the gigs. A couple of months later I had written the arrangements and Guy had booked some gigs. We had “the hippest young jazz and studio musicians in London.”
My intention was always to create a CONTEMPORARY big band. I saw no point in reinventing the wheel or redoing the music of the 1940s. Although my father, Tony Romano (www.tonyromano.net) was a singer, guitarist and arranger who had worked with Crosby and Sinatra, I grew up in London of the ‘60s. I loved jazz but also loved contemporary pop & rock. I wrote music encompassing James Brown and Nelson Riddle and Jimi Hendrix and Bill Evans and Duke Ellington and Frank Zappa. So for the album, I asked our drummer Ian Wilkinson to play a Yamaha electric drum kit triggering very ‘80s drum samples. I also utilized the sounds and sequences of keyboard genius Peter John Vetesse (ex-Jethro Tull and who went on to become a successful producer).
Bandzilla plays “Breakout” on the Ruby Wax show – Peter Vetesse kicks it off! Swing Out Sister defend me from Miss Wax at the end. (Yes, I was skinny in 1987!)
In 1987 I got a call to meet Ruby Wax, an American comedienne who was part of the new ‘alternative’ comedy scene. (Others included French & Saunders, Ade Edmonson and Rick Mayall.) She asked me to be the band on her first TV series for Channel 4, Don’t Miss Wax.
The only way the show could afford to contract a 19-piece band would be if I had a record company who would pay the musician’s fees. I contacted an indie company called Rainbow Records. Attracted by the promise of 10 weeks of national publicity (the band had it’s own featured segment and accompanied guest artists, as well as playing the theme song co-composed with Vetesse). Our contract stipulated a 10-second plug at the end of the show: “And the new Bandzilla album, Blue Movies, is available NOW!” Rainbow signed Bandzilla and agreed to the deal with
Audiences loved us. We wore dark glasses and fedoras and I conducted with a leek (above). We performed with guests such as Meat Loaf and Pee Wee Herman. Guy Barkerdiscussed his triple-tonguing technique. (below)
That all would have been great if Channel 4 had given us the plugs, but they didn’t think that part of the contract was important. After paying musician’s fees, Rainbow couldn’t afford any other publicity. The album sold about 1000 copies (the number of musicians on the London scene) and Rainbow, because of other ill-advised ventures, went bankrupt.
Bandzilla itself continued to do gigs with great guest singers such as Clive Griffin (who later had a hit duet with Celine Dion “When I Fall In Love” from the movie Sleepless In Seattle), Richard Darbyshire (from Living In A Box) and Pat Kane (lead singer of Hue & Cry).
Singer Pat Kane, jazz guitarist Jim Mullen and arranger/conductor Richard Niles at the Falkirk Jazz Festival. The backing vocalists are the late Tony Walthers, Kim Chandler and Iain Mackenzie.
I wrote a musical, Follow Your Dream with the sublime Deniece Williams and recorded my big band arrangements of some of the songs. One of those songs appears on the newBANDZILLA RISES!!!
The Pet Shop Boys asked me to produce BANDZILLA versions of “Can You Forgive Her” and “If Love Were All” as well as an 8-minute orchestral piece for their 1994 world tour, “Overture To Performance”.
I had co-written three songs for Ray Charles penultimate album Strong Love Affair. Ray asked me to conduct BANDZILLA on four gigs for his European tour in Liege, Glasgow, Paris and London. Working with ‘Brother Ray’, whose music influenced me along with the rest of the world, was certainly a high point in my career.
Hugging with Brother Ray
By the end of the 1990s, it was just too expensive for me to continue performing with the band. Breaking even would have been great but most gigs were costing me about £4000 ( in the late ‘90s!). As the music business changed, so did my ability to pay 19 musicians. I wrote big band charts for Kylie Minogue in 2003 & 2004 and for Westlife in 2006. But the music biz had changed and, after a long chat, BANDZILLA went into hibernation.
BANDZILLA Wakes From a Long Nap
My career has always been a balance between pop and jazz. Pop had always been able to finance my jazz activities. As the 90s drew to a close and the ‘00s’ grew up to be teens it became clear that the pop gravy train had run out of steam. Pop itself became more formulaic, a far cry from creative records I had made with Paul McCartney, The Pet Shop Boys, Tears For Fears and Grace Jones. I now lost interest in working on yet another auto-tuned boy band or questionably coiffed coquette.
Having lived in London from the 1960s, what had been the greatest of cities had become, for a variety of reasons, simply no fun any more (for me). In 2011, I moved with my wife Aylin and son Alex to Orange County, California. I built a studio and planned to spend the rest of my life writing and playing music I cared about.
It took awhile but I met some local musicians and started getting together regularly for jazz jams in my living room with bassist Garrett Wolfe and multi-instrumentalist Adam Kaplan. This was indeed fun. I also found fun in writing BANDZILLA tunes and charts – with very little hope of actually recording or performing them.
BANDZILLA videos began appearing on YouTube and my Facebook page had regular messages asking when I was going to resurrect BANDZILLA. The answer came when I spoke to my friend and colleague John Thirkell on Skype.
John had played trumpet in BANDZILLA from the beginning and played on almost all of my pop sessions. This hip Northener’s credits include everything from ‘jazz chair’ with Buddy Rich to playing on mega-hits from the 80s to the present day (including “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars).
Talk turned to BANDZILLA and I mentioned I had a lot of new charts, but no money to pay anyone. He immediately said, “Let’s do it! I’ll play the trumpets! I’m sure there are lots of masochists like me who’ll jump at the chance to play!” I answered that it was a major undertaking and that I’d only do it if he agreed to co-produce. Apart from being a brilliant trumpet player, John is a successful businessman – something I certainly am not!
I also think the best records are made by great teams. The Funk Brothers. Bacharach and David. Horn and Lipson. Laurel & Hardy. As much as I like to be a leader, I also need an intelligent brain with a sense of humor to bounce ideas around with. John is that bouncy brain, and has that sense of humor. He agreed to help.
Thus encouraged, I started recording!
BANDZILLA Wiggles Its Toes And Stretches
I began by revising over 50 BANDZILLA arrangements I had in my filing cabinet or in my computer. What tunes should we record – my original compositions or my quirky arrangements of jazz or pop standards?
My first idea was to do a combination of both. My own compositions are a weird mixture of Zappa with Steely Dan, Tower of Power and Gil Evans. Better to play it safe and have ‘something for everyone’. Tunes everyone knows and a few originals they will put up with. Don’t scare the horses.
Eventually, that was rejected. I realized, with the help of my friend Garrett, that I should ‘damn the torpedos’ and give them some ‘serious garlic’. How many more years would I have left to expose myself? I couldn’t make a positive by worrying about possible negatives. This would never be a simple commercial project anyway. I also realized that by concentrating on my own tunes I would be making a clearer artistic statement, establishing a more intense personality. And personality and intensity are actually commercial.
I started recording. Technically, the method is:
The acronym “MIDI” stands for “musical instrument digital interface”. This interface allows a musical part to be translated into digital information concerning the pitch, volume and duration. This in turn can be used to control a synthesizer or sampler containing a virtually unlimited number of sounds.
I write my scores using a notation software called Sibelius. I export the scores as “midi files” and import them to Logic Pro X, a digital audio recording software. This allows me to hear what I’ve written in a sort of low budget way. I want humanity, dynamics and sensitivity. To get this, I replace virtually all the midi instruments with real musicians.
I took the audio of the brass and woodwinds from Sibelius because it saved a lot of time fooling around with samples that would only be replaced. Also, the Sibelius samples sounded OK!
I would need to begin with drums. The choice of drummer was crucial to the project. The problem with working with any of the great drummers I had worked with in the past was that I needed someone to work with me in my studio. It would need to be a jazz player who could also groove and funk me sideways! Someone with taste, artistry and a sense of humor. And someone in Southern California! This seemed too tall of an order to fill. Until, by a fortuitous accident, I met Ian Palmer.
Ian Palmer Is a pilot for Virgin Airlines. He is also one of the world’s greatest drummers. From a musical family (his uncle is Carl Palmer of ELP), his credits include work with Michael Brecker, The City of Birmingham Symphony and a new ‘power trio’ with Ray Russell and Mo Foster. He has also created a yearly series of concerts, The World’s Greatest Drummer. 2015’s concert featured Ian performing with Steve Gadd.
I met Ian through Ray Russell because I needed someone to bring a guitar from London to my studio in Orange County. Pilot Ian popped it in the crew closet and met me at LAX. We got on immediately and jammed a bit. When I told him about the Bandzilla project he offered to do it, but said I’d have to wait a bit – until after he’d had his brain surgery.
Six months later, I was frankly apprehensive about whether he would be sufficiently recovered to play my (I admit it) challenging parts. I needn’t have worried. He nailed the entire album in three and a half days. Not only did he read the stuff, he played with taste and passion. Ian is the really real deal.
When he left, I had no choice but to pick up the guitar.
BANDZILLA Serves Uncle Richard Eggs Benedict
Although I had written guitar parts, now that a human drummer had replaced my midi drums and loops, I revised about 80% of what I had written. All the parts were played on my trusty Washburn J6 and the Lyndsay-Wilson “Samurai”. The Washburn is a jazz guitar, an L5 copy, named The Montgomery (for Wes). For guitar nerds, it has PRS pickups and a Fishman acoustic pickup, so it gives me a lot of options. I also have the excellent BOSS ME-80 guitar pedal. Having said that, for live work, I just plug the Washburn into my little AER amp and it sounds great.
On stage with the Washburn (and the fabulous Baskerville Jones!)
The Samurai is a Strat-like guitar made by Howard Wilson Robinson. It is more suited to rocky, funky sounds. I spent a couple of weeks having fun with grooves and constructing solos. I say “constructing” because, just as improvisation can be seen as instant composition, composition is also slow improvisation.
I come up with an interesting opening line, as if to say, ‘here I am, folks!’ I then play for a bit, but another idea comes up before I had time to figure out how to play it. So I stop and play that new idea… and so on! You may think that all jazz musicians just play their solos and have lunch, but even the very best players tend to record in this way. They understand that a gig is live, gone in the moment. But a record is played repeatedly and no musician likes spending the rest of their lives regretting their mistakes!
My recording software, Logic Pro X offers a wide choice of processing. I did not use my BOSS ME80 pedal (nerd alert!). It’s good fun, but then I would have been recording the effects. This means I would not have been able to change the sounds later. Instead, I recorded my guitars clean and added Logic effects. These effects could them be improved on or totally changed later by a real engineer.
This is probably a good point to mention that I am not suited to the job of engineering. I can do it, grudgingly, but I don’t enjoy it. I do know how to edit wave files and record. When things are working, it’s OK. But if the slightest thing goes wrong, if I don’t get instant gratification, I explode into a series of expletives.
I knew on this album I could not afford a ‘real engineer’. I had the occasional help of Daquet Reed, a local musician who is a very talented engineer. He set me up to record drums and overdub vocals and brass. But then I had to bite the bullet and learn how to do the basic stuff. For the most part, it has gone very well and I have become a relatively competent ‘tracking engineer’.
I was quite pleased with my guitar parts and now I had to think about bass. I thought for about 15 milliseconds and called my friend Garrett Wolfe (who has an excellent bottom).
Bandzilla Never Has A Second Cup Of Coffee At Home!
I met Adam Kaplan when I bought a piano for the studio because he’s a piano tuner. It turned out that he also played sax, flute, alto flute and percussion. I suggested we get together to play and he suggested his friend, bassist Garrett Wolfe. We began weekly jams and formed The Richard Niles Trio.
Garrett has a sense of time that never moves. He understands the role of the bass. He also has ears and uses them to listen for the right moment to make little comments on the proceedings. He understands that playing with others is a conversation, and like a good conversationalist, he lets the other guy speak, adding an occasional supportive ‘uh huh’ when appropriate… In short, he is a fine musician.
So I naturally asked him to accept the challenge of facing the beast that is Bandzilla. Most people say playing my arrangements is “demanding”, “torture”, “impossible”, “insane”. Garrett called it fun.
More importantly, he is a really sensitive human being and gives me a lot of encouragement during those moments when a composer thinks, “I’ve gone too far, we’re all doomed!” I think having seen ‘the dark side’ has made Garrett one of the most positive and fun-loving guys around with more enthusiasm than a box of puppies.
Apart from being a great player, a choir director and arranger, he has some really nice instruments. Bass nerds, listen up: His acoustic bass is, in his words, “a cheap student bass I bought for $100 and fixed up. Having said that, it’s full and warm and records great. Then he has a ‘Beatle’ type bass made by J. Tercer. This has both depth and a LOT of ‘note’ – like McCartney’s sound. This makes it perfect for melodic lines as well as, um… the bass! He has a Steinberger/Honer bass. This headless plank is perfect for spanking (funk).
With my bottom end taken care of, it became time to replace some more of my MIDI.
Bandzilla Bakes a Coffee Cake With a Scottish Chef
Steve Hamilton is a supremely talented pianist and synthesist. He had played on both of my albums Santa Rita and Club Deranged. He is very respected on the Scottish jazz scene, playing with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, Tommy Smith and touring with Billy Cobham.
Everything Steve plays is just right for the track and his solos are phenomenal. Even though he lives near Edinburgh, Facebook allows us to keep in touch. When he offered to play on the album, I said, “Yes, please” instantly.
The more tracks he sent me, the better the record sounded. Apart from pianos he sent some nice pads and synth solos. His piano solo on “This World is Mine” will always be a feature of this album!
Other solos were contributed by the phenomenon that is Nigel Hitchcock. I first heard about Nigel as an incredible kid who had ben lead alto in the acclaimed National Youth Jazz Orchestra at the age of 12. I hired him to play lead alto on the The Pet Shop Boys “Overture” I had written for an 85-piece orchestra. He became lead alto for Bandzilla and recorded and performed with me on many sessions for Ray Charles, Kylie Minogue, Take That and numerous others.
Recently he has been playing with Incognito and Mark Knopfler, so he was too busy to do all the saxes. But he kindly sent me some beautifully ‘Nigellic’ solos to set the bar very high for those who follow!
It’s actually impossible to praise Nigel Hitchcock’s playing too highly. He leaves the very finest musicians breathless. Those who are not smiling are just very jealous.
Bandzilla is known for its blistering brass sections and who better to kick off than the guy who was there from the beginning, Johnny Thirkell!
Bandzilla Serves Orange Juice in a Red Plastic Cup
John Thirkell arrived from London in the afternoon and ignored jetlag to begin recording bright and early the next day. He is able to do this because sailing and skiing have made him super-fit. He is also a seasoned professional and wanted to “crack on”!
His brilliant performance on this record shows his mastery of the trumpet, playing sparkling lead and jazz chair. It also shows his utter disregard for physical pain. (These Northerners are tough!) He records the 4 trumpet parts on different trumpets in order to make it sound a bit more as if it was played by 4 different players.
I asked him to take a sleazy ‘plunger mute’ jazz solo in “The Alligator From West 15th”. He didn’t have a plunger but he had just drunk some water out of a red plastic cup and suggested he use that instead. As you can hear, it sounded great!
It’s hard to believe, but John nailed all 13 tunes in just four days! His attention to detail and sense of humor made those days a real joy. Writing and recording have been my life for 40 years. When the music business changed, in the 90’s there was simply less money around for arrangers, arrangements and players to play them. By the 00s (A.K.A. “The Naughties”) recording sessions such as this were almost non-existent. John had also, amazingly taken years away from playing the trumpet professionally to run his very successful businesses. So for both of us, it was like going back home to a bygone era – a particular pleasure for both of us. (His pleasure was of course mixed with the blood flowing from his lips!)
John tore himself away from my wife’s cooking to return to England where he would enlist an engineer to record the trombones, and maybe even mix the project.
Meanwhile I had to deal with recording some saxophones with Ed Barker.
Bandzilla Slips Back Into Bed After Breakfast
I met Ed Barker when he was writing a book of transcriptions “The Solos Of Nigel Hitchcock”. He interviewed me for the book about some of the work I’d done with Nigel and somehow I started giving him arranging and composition lessons. A clever fellow, he absorbed everything like a sponge in the Gobi desert. I became aware that he had absorbed some Hitchcock too, because this guy could really play, with a big fat sound!
We worked together on sessions and I co-produced and wrote for his fab solo album “Simple Truth”. Then he came to LA where he had a radio hit with a tune we wrote called “When You Smile” sung by the utterly superb Lance Ellington.
Fast forward to 2016, Ed was leaving LA to return to the old country, but promised to return to play alto & tenor saxes and clarinets on the album. He picked up some expensive instruments in LA but wasn’t happy with the sound, so he only ended up doing the clarinet parts! Before he left for London he bought a new alto. Back in his flat, he began to record, but I thought it sounded a bit too ‘bedroomy’. So he propped his bed up against the wall to absorb the vibrations and it all sounded great.
I maintain that the sound is more emotional because of the number of females who have shared that bed – the world’s only mattress with an odometer.
Bandzilla Sings For His Supper
While all this instrumental stuff is going on between London and LA let us not forget that a lot of the tracks have vocals. And I love writing backing vocals like a hip horn section. And they need to have flawless time, tone and intonation. That left me with no choice but to say yes when I was offered the services of the Australian vocal epiphany that is Kim Chandler.
I have performed with Kim, worked on commercial studio projects, and even done teaching gigs with her. I’ve written stuff for her that would make many singers run to the hills begging for mercy. Not our Kimmy. She just dusts down her epiglottis and sings the hell out of whatever I throw at her.
Thanks to her hubby Russell for recording all her warbling at their bonzer home studio in Spain.
Bandzilla Slides Home
Back in the old country (England) after having shredded his lips in my studio, John Thirkell produced the trombone section, all four players of which are named Mark Nightingale. The first 6 tunes were recorded in Jakko Jakszyk’s studio. Here’s a pic of that session featuring the side of John’s face:
I think they were deliberately taunting Mark by placing him close to a number of non-brass instruments. Despite that, Mark’s playing on these tracks was described by John as “insanely good” and I think that’s accurate.
Here’s a pic from the next sessions at Gavin Harrison’s studio:
You will notice that Mark is wearing a different shirt and I believe he color-coordinates his clothing to the vibrations of the music.
For me the album only began to sound like a big band when Mark started recording. All the complex combinations of harmonics began to gel with the overtones created by Mark’s undertone. He completely whipped it out for his solo on This World Is Mine. I’d worked with Mark since the 80s in the London studios, but I was still amazed at the richness of his tone, the musicality of his phrasing and the groove of his time.
Bandzilla Wants Icing on his Donut
I still needed singers for a lot of the songs and there were a few solos still untaken. One was the Spanish tinged tale of a handsome and famous bullfighter who dreams of being a maître d in his own elegant restaurant. I had written this song years ago when I saw the amazingly talented Daisy Chute singing at The Pizza Express Jazz Club. I suddenly heard her singing this sad, silly and quite bloody tale of love. I called her from California by Skype and she recorded the vocal in her bedroom studio. (If you want to experience what it’s like to be in Daisy’s bedroom – an experience many have dreamed of – see the video page on this incredibly amusing site!) Here’s a screenshot of my 17″ MacBook Pro. You can just see me and bassist Garrett Wolf in the right corner of the screen.
I still needed a solo and thought of that Rennaisance woman, that world renowned Brazilian composer, pianist, singer Clarice Assad. Her compositions have been played by many orchestras and her performances as a singer and pianist include influences from jazz and Brazilian music.
I had interviewed her many years ago for a BBC Radio 2 documentary I wrote and hosted, “INSIDE IMPROVISATION”. Luckily, she remembered me and agreed to take the solo. I had originally asked her to do what she had done on the radio show, a solo where she played and sang simultaneously. She told me she couldn’t do that as she had no piano in her bedroom, but would it be OK if she did a vocal solo? “Tudo bem!” I said in my sexiest Rio accent! Needless to say, her solo perfectly expressed the angst of the Toreador, forced to fight bulls but dreaming of pouring champagne into long stemmed crystal glasses.
The RANDrOID and BANDZILLA Get Funky All Up In It
Composer and trumpet player Randy Brecker was a pioneer who created a polyharmonic fusion of funk and bebop that influenced the course of music from the mid-70s to today. He gave me so much musical inspiration through the years showing how it was possible not only to reconcile James Brown with Gershwin but, more importantly, that they don’t need reconciliation! Ellington and Prince and Hendrix and Paul Desmond and Jeff Beck Gary Burton and The Beach Boys and Chick Corea and Yes and Keith Jarrett are all communicating through the art form of music.
I had interviewed Randy and his brother Michael for the BBC and Randy had done a brilliant explanation of jazz for my radio series “Inside Improvisation”. I had also met Randy when he was gigging in London with my old ‘school buddy’ Mike Stern. Randy did the vocals on the Brecker Bros. pop hit “Sneaking Up Behind You” and I had written a track for the new Bandzilla album inspired by Randy’s vocal work on albums such as “34th N Lex”, singing as his alter-ego, RANDROID. The track is “You Can’t Get There From Here”, a song written to the military-industrial complex, One Percenters who are heartlessly destroying the planet in their quest for a New World Order. (It’s a very funny song!)
I sent Randy an email and a rough mix of the track with my guide vocal and imagine my surprise when he said YES!!! I had to wait for him to finish a tour and then he returned to find a pipe had burst in his studio and he had to deal with that.
Needless to say, his performance is superb and I put this experience right up there with listening to Ray Charles singing my lyrics. Thanks, Randy for being so generous and so hip for so many years.
Bandzilla Gets Vera-city
I met the young and talented Paola Vera in London. I knew her to be a jazz pianist and wonderfully expressive singer. Her genetic Latino/British mix gives her a particular sound that is sensual, yet groove-based. I had written some songs and recorded with her and it was always a pleasure because she is so extraordinarily HIP!
I wrote Welcome To My World in 2015 as part of an idea for a TV series set in the 1950s featuring a beautifully cynical jazz singer. I immediately asked Paola to do the demo and she got the story right away. My character is a person who, as Bob Dylan wrote, has been
“Bent out of shape from society’s pliers Cares not to come up any higher But rather get you down in the hole That he’s in” It’s Alright, Ma by Bob Dylan Copyright © 1965 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1993 by Special Rider Music
Paola recorded it in her husband’s studio in France and emailed it back to me. Apart from her lovely tone and superb intonation, wow! My song was really transformed into something deep and degenerate, and yet sweet and attractive, by Paola’s performance – which is so true because depression and cynicism can be so attractive. Thanks, Paola, for being such a great musician and an emotive storyteller.
Bandzilla meets Miss Jones
Actually I had met BASKERVILLE JONES when I heard her sing with Michael Parlett’s 94.7 radio band. I hen did a gig with Mike’s PSYCH BigBand where Baskerville sang a song I had written with the great Deniece Williams. I knew I would want her to do it for the new Bandzilla album. Jones is an explosive talent with an exceptional sense of what’s right in the pocket!
Bandzilla Wants Real Mallets
Modern record production gives composers an unlimited number of ‘virtual’ instruments.But in my studio I have always had real drums and a real piano and I prefer synthetic sounds to sound synthetic – like The Goat’s funky synth overdubs on You Can’t Get There From Here.
So I jumped at the chance when local percussionist James Beauton offered to lay down some real marimba on The 5th Elephant, Compassion’s In Fashion and Why Is This World So Strange. James teaches at a school called "MUSIC VAULT ACADEMY" run by a cool cat called Claudiu Ile. They have a very hi-tech studio there and the recording room is actually in a real bank vault. (The building used to be a bank and they kept the vault!) This was a dream come true for me. My parts are considered to be pretty challenging. I had never been able to use anything more than sarcasm to force musicians to play my deranged notes. But now I could get all Canterville Ghost on them, saying, “Any mistakes and we’ll never let you out!”
In fact, there was no need because James is a superb player and Claudiu did a great job of recording the marimba and vibraphone. Because the motor that makes the vibrato effect on the vibes was not working, I asked his 13 year-old student Kyle Graham to manually wiggle the little fan under the bars.
Bandzilla Gets Soul
I had the pleasure of working with singer Lamont Dozier Jr. when I was working as arranger for The Wrecking Crew All Stars led by Don Peake. We performed hits of the ’60s & ’70s and Lamont’s voice lent an authentic quality to those classic songs. Of course it did! Lamont grew up in the Snake Pit Studio in Detroit, hanging out with his father who, as Holland-Dozier-Holland, wrote and produced 300 hits for Motown. I had always hoped I could get Lamont to sing on the album and here was the perfect song. I wrote Love Don’t Mean A Thing as a kind of big-band, big-time Ray Charles type anti-love song. In order for the humor of the deeply cynical lyric to work, I explained to Lamont that the singer had to do it as if it were a serious soulful blues. Lamont understood this because he is a great artist.
His performance is entrancing and heartfelt – which brings out the comedy underlying the cynical lyric much more than if he had played it for laughs. Lamont is such a beautiful cat, it is impossible not to love him.
Being in the studio with him is any songwriter/producer’s dream. I can’t wait for you to hear him.
Bandzilla Gets Thunder In His Heart
One of my first major gigs was becoming Musical Director for The Leo Sayer Show on British television in 1978. Before the series, Leo invited me to New York City where a gig had been booked at a theater-in-the-round (with a revolving stage) about an hour north of the city. When we got there, the promoter had not publicized the gig and there were only about 100 people for a theater that held 1500.
The promoter offered to cancel the gig but Leo refused, saying that the 100 people had bought tickets and they deserved a show. He stopped the stage turning and asked the spread out audience to come right down to the seats in front of the band. Leo gave his usual impassioned performance, jumping off the stage to sing directly to members of the audience, clowning around with them and sometimes sitting in their laps!
We had a lot of fun together on the series and the music was great. In those days it was common to have performers singing live with a live band. Guests included Kate Bush and Ronnie Spector.
I had written a song for the Bandzilla album, This World Is Mine. It expressed a feeling of a person who feels apart from a world where might makes right, where corruption is rewarded and kindness is considered weakness. The person creates his own world, a mental utopia – and refuses to let the ‘real’ world in. I had followed Leo’s activities through the years and knew him to be committed to good causes fighting fracking and GMOs. So he ‘got’ the song and jumped in with both feet, recording it at his home studio in Australia.
Thanks, Leo – great to be working together again after all these years.
Bandzilla Gets Mixed Up
Talented Studios dog, DIGI
Everything recorded, Johnny Thirkell & I began mixing at Talented Studios in Culver City with it’s owner, engineer, saxophonist Michael Parlett. Mixing a record of this complexity would always be a challenge, but Michael rose to it, (playing some extra Baritone and percussion with the invaluable help of his dog, Digi) and after a few weeks of torture and elation, it was done!
MORE TO COME AS THE SAGA UNFOLDS – WATCH THIS SPACE…