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Something to Remember: How Alex Chilton (and Jeff Vargon) Generated “Electricity by Candlelight”

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Electricity by Candlelight_ NYC 2_13_97The recent release of Alex Chilton’s Electricity by Candlelight on Bar/None Records turns a “you had to be there” moment into a “you are there moment.” The late, great singer/songwriter and Big Star frontman took a major setback – a sudden power outage between two sets at New York City’s Knitting Factory in 1997 – and spun it into a most magical listening experience: Chilton picked up an acoustic guitar and regaled a small audience with a clutch of covers, from standards (“My Baby Just Cares for Me,” “Someone to Watch Over Me”) to country classics (“D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” “I Walk the Line”) to the kind of brilliant pop songs he was more than capable of creating (a sublime three song run through the ends of Brian Wilson’s Beach Boys songbook, from “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” to “Surfer Girl” to the obscure “Solar System” off 1977’s Love You).

What brings this performance out of the realm of mystical recollection and into tangible experience is one lucky fan, Jeff Vargon, who attended Chilton’s show with his trusty recorder and captured an enchanting moment (“something I never would’ve expected”) from a career chock full of them. Not long after the release and enthusiastic reception to Electricity by Candlelight last month (“It’s good to see people getting what this show is about,” Vargon enthused), I had the pleasure of speaking to Jeff about his history with Chilton and what it was like in the presence of pure musical magic.

Where does your own history with Alex Chilton’s work begin? What was it about him that drew you to him?

I’ve been a Chilton fan since the early ’90s, and I’d liked power pop even before that – The Raspberries, Badfinger – but a friend of mine turned me on to Big Star in ’93, and I’d seen Alex live in 1994 or early ’95. This project in particular – at the time I was there, I knew something exceptional was happening. But the reaction out there surprised me – you might not expect something like this to get such positive feedback. But Alex Chilton had a fan base that was very unique.

When he was alive, his performances were very eclectic and unpredictable. There were certain songs he’d play if he was putting on his “lounge act,” so to speak. That photo that’s circulating with this release, that was from his first set that night, and he’s got on this shiny jacket and a nice shirt. By the second set, the one that’s on here, he had just a t-shirt on, strumming in front of a crowd by candlelight.

Alex was a musician – not to be cliched, but he did it his way. He had a No. 1 hit at 16, and could’ve kept going that route. Look at Michael Jackson – how he’d faded, spiraled and became a disaster. Alex, on the other hand, was someone who basically did his own thing, went out there and played gigs. He was a human being when you met him or talked to him, and he had bad days and good days. One night, I saw him at a Box Tops gig, and he was out on the street, and I’d said it was a great show. He replied, “No interviews, no interviews.” Now, I’d met him a few times before that, though I’m not certain he recognized me. It was one of those nights for him. But when he played, he always do what he wanted to do, not what corporate America was pushing down anyone’s throat.

Set the scene of what it was like to be at this show for us.

It was Valentine’s Eve, and I’d bought tickets for both sets. If he was playing over a few nights, I’d try to catch him once, but since it was one night, I just bought them both. So he played his electric set without a hitch, and I’d stood up front, took pictures and recorded him – I’ve been recording since my first Chilton gig. There was this break between sets, and people were milling about while Alex had gone upstairs to talk to a few friends. Just as they were setting up for the second set, the lights went out. Most people started booing, and the bulk of the group started to walk out. But Alex being Alex, he walked downstairs to see what was happening, and I decided to sit there and wait. All of a sudden, I hear this guitar strumming and he’s singing “Volare.” As soon as I heard it, I hit “record” and got as close as possible. People were still leaving at this point, but there were others starting to drift in and circle around him. And he just started playing. Eventually, people bought up a few candles, because it was dark where he was standing. As he continued to play, he warmed up even more to the crowd – you can hear on the recording that everyone there wanted to be there.

He played a long set, over an hour. There were songs we actually cut from the performance – the idea was we’d get out there songs he’d never recorded or performed regularly.

AlexWhat did you use to record the show?

Basically, I had a Sony stereo Walkman recorder with an external microphone I’d clipped to my shirt. It was funny, the entire recording I was paranoid that he’d spot the mic. I was close enough to him that he could’ve seen it had he looked – there was actually one point where he’s strumming and singing, and he stops, kind of smiles wryly and looks at me. And I figured, “Oh, I’m busted – he saw the mic and it’s over.” But it wasn’t.

It was a very basic setup. I was behind a lady directly in front of him – I didn’t want to be right in front.

When or how did this become an official Alex Chilton project?

I’d gone to the City Winery tribute in New York. Bill Cunningham, Gary Talley, Jody Stephens, Alex’s widow Laura – they were all there. And I’d put together packages ahead of time based on who played with him. One of the discs I’d put together was the acoustic CD, which I’d actually given to Alex back in 1998. It’s still my favorite personal recording – and Laura really enjoyed it. That’s what gave me the impetus to get this out there.

What are the most memorable moments of this show for you?

From what I recall, everything was very spur of the moment. He was kind of shooting from the hip – there was nothing he wouldn’t play, other than his own music. And a few of these songs were just called out, like “D-I-V-O-R-C-E.” So Alex’s musical knowledge was phenomenal – almost limitless, if you think about it. Nothing was set in stone for any of this. Even those three Beach Boys tunes – I wasn’t aware that “Universe” even was a Beach Boys tune at the time. It was one of those things that just kept getting better as it went on, and nobody wanted it to end.

[But] “Surfer Girl,” for me, would be the song. He did a demo of that which ended up on a bootleg album, Beale Street Green, and it had such a 1970s feel, although it’s a ’60s tune. The ’70s were a point in history where, at the time you might not have appreciated what was going on, but looking back – especially in today’s world – it was a paradise.

I’m not going to live forever, but as long as I live, this is something to remember. It’s an example of beauty – it captures a moment where there is good in the universe, and everyone comes together, regardless of our differences, in one place and time to experience something great.

You can order Electricity by Candlelight on Amazon U.S. and Amazon U.K.!

Written by Mike Duquette

November 6, 2013 at 11:56

Interview: Going Full Circle with Richard Barone of The Bongos

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Phantom TrainRichard Barone, frontman for New Jersey-based power-pop act The Bongos, describes his career as centered around the theme of “full circle.” This year, Barone has revisited a lot of captivating and familiar territory from his lengthy career.

The Bongos were the closing act at legendary Hoboken club Maxwell’s in July, having (as members of the band “a”) been the venue’s first act. Onstage, they announced the release of a “lost” Bongos album, Phantom Train, recorded primarily at Compass Point Studios with producer Eric “E.T.” Thorngren in 1986 but unreleased until this week. The album was released by the reactivated Jem Recordings, whose founder, Marty Scott, first distributed the band in the United States through the original Jem’s PVC label. (Jem also released this week physical CD reissues of Barone’s acclaimed 1987 solo debut Cool Blue Halo and a 2CD/1DVD concert/documentary celebrating the 25th anniversary of that album in 2012 – all of which was a real treat for Barone, whose birthday was the same day as the October 1 release date.)

Recently, I had the pleasure of talking to Richard about Phantom Train as well as his storied past, present and future in the business. I hope you enjoy it, and heartily recommend giving Phantom Train a spin. It’s a killer pop record from the past that doesn’t require a time machine to enjoy.

Before Phantom Train, The Bongos spent time on both an independent label (U.K. based Fetish Records, distributed in the U.S. by Jem’s PVC label), and later signed to RCA.

It seemed like a long time at the time. We signed with RCA in 1982 and stayed with them for about three years. During that time we recorded two albums and toured constantly – 300 shows a year. It seemed like a decade!

What was the major label experience like, compared to being independent?

Oh, it was all good. I’m an indie person, and if you look at my catalogue, you’ll see I bounce back and forth between majors and indies. There’s a best of both somewhere in there – I like working with labels that have a huge team, so you can really reach all over the country. There’s benefits to both, and I’m thrilled that I’ve been able to experience both kinds of labels. My students [Barone teaches at New York University] are just breaking into the industry, and I’m able to share a lot of experiences on both sides of that coin.

The indie scene is fantastic, I love it and support it in every way, but it’s also a vortex. You start thinking in small terms, but music can be very widespread. You can really reach a lot of people with your music. So it’s kind of good to apply what the majors do and play their game, but on a scale that puts you in control.

Phantom Train was recorded at Compass Point Studios, owned by Chris Blackwell. Were you near a deal with Island instead?

We were never signed to Island. It came out of friendships and associations that you build along the way. The Bongos are very spontaneous guys, still. Someone said, “Oh, you should go to Compass Point and record.” We’d just come off a tour, and it sounded like a great idea. But there was nothing on paper. There was no formal arrangement.

Tell us a little bit about the album.

Phantom Train is my favorite of our albums, in a few ways. We were just experimenting and were able to do whatever we wanted without any kind of restraints. We wanted to just play music in great studios.

It’s the only album where we recorded songs many different ways. We give fans a taste of that with “My Wildest Dreams” beginning and ending the album two different ways. We labeled the last one “demo” for indexing purposes, but it really was a different take on the song. The hardest thing about putting this together now was to choose which versions are on the album. It was very diverse.

We were experimenting with different tape formats. We of course did 24 and 48-track, but we really also liked the sound of eight-track tape. Songs like “Run to the Wild” and “I Belong to Me,” those were done on eight-track.

We spent the summer at Shelter Island going through all these tapes. They all had to be baked, and there were hundred of takes on these tapes. Maybe about 30 or 40 reels of tape. But it all came together – I think it might be our most consistent record.

There’s more from Richard after the jump!

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Written by Mike Duquette

October 3, 2013 at 15:24

INTERVIEW: Excavating Jem with Marty Scott

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JEM Recordings469BrnThe list of American cities tied to record labels is small, but certainly notable. Memphis has Stax and Sun, Detroit is defined by Motown, Sub Pop defined the Seattle sound…and then there’s Jem Records, which made its home in the middle-class borough of South Plainfield, New Jersey.

Jem, as well as its sub-labels like Passport (a joint venture with Seymour Stein of Sire Records) and PVC, became something of a cratedigger’s dream in the 1970s and 1980s, licensing content from all over the world and getting it into stores across America, effectively breaking bands that may have never been heard otherwise. Boys Don’t Cry, the American debut album by The Cure, was a Jem product. So were albums by The Good Rats, The Bongos, several spinoffs of Genesis (co-founder/guitarist Anthony Phillips; jazz-fusion combo Brand X, for which Phil Collins played drums), Judas Priest, King Crimson, Siouxsie & The Banshees – even, for a time, huge sellers like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and – when Epic first passed on a domestic release – Cheap Trick’s At Budokan.

The original incarnation of Jem folded in 1988, after nearly 20 years in business, but co-founder Marty Scott is about to resurrect the label – and the timing couldn’t be better. Tonight, as Hoboken rockers The Bongos take the stage as the final act at the venerable rock venue Maxwell’s (as members of local band “a,” they were the first act on the stage in 1978), they will announce the new Jem’s first release – a new Bongos album, Phantom Train, recorded in 1986 for Island Records but unreleased until this year.

As a catalogue enthusiast who grew up mere miles away from Jem’s original headquarters, I am very pleased to present – as we remember a monumental place for rock music in New Jersey – this brand-new, exclusive interview with Marty Scott on the past, present and future of Jem Recordings.

What made you decide to get back into the music business after so much time away?

Over the years, people always said, “Well, why don’t you get back in [the business]?” And I always say, “Well, the business has changed.” I believe there’s very little artist development and it’s all very song-driven, or producers are making the music and the singers are overlaying tracks. A little more than a year ago, Richard Barone contacted me about getting involved in a documentary being filmed for the 25th anniversary of Cool Blue Halo, which we had put out in 1987. That was a seminal record – the beginning of what later became the unplugged era.

So I did the documentary around May of 2012, and I got to talking to Richard again. I’d found out there was an unreleased Bongos record – a record I never even knew existed. It was recorded for Chris Blackwell at Compass Point after they’d left RCA, but Blackwell had left to form Palm Pictures, and the record sort of languished. I’d said, “Well, let’s do something with this.” Richard had the tapes, we listened to them, and they sounded pretty damn good. He and Steve Addabbo at Shelter Island Sound started to rework the tapes – they had to bake them! Steve’s the best baker in the business – he just worked on the next Bob Dylan Bootleg Series that’s coming out. I should give him a chef’s hat next time I see him! [laughs]

Bongos My Wildest DreamsThe record, Phantom Train, is going to come out October 1. The band is going to announce from the stage of Maxwell’s, that they’ll be releasing a track the next morning, called “My Wildest Dreams.” And the band will be touring to back it up.

What was it that drew you to importing?

I was really big into The Who, and I had found out that there was a Who record available only in England, called Direct Hits. I still have that record, which I went to England to buy, in my office at home!

In college, we were selling American records near our colleges – I went to Franklin & Marshall College, and my two childhood friends and partners went to Cornell and Wesleyan. As soon as we’d get them from the post office, we were outselling the record stores nearby. After we graduated, we went to Europe to sell records to other college kids. And I got Direct Hits and thought, well, if I want this record, there’s got to be other people that want this!

There’s more Marty Scott after the jump!

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Written by Mike Duquette

July 31, 2013 at 13:00

Put Your Hands to Heaven: An Interview with Reissue Producer Vinny Vero

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Vinny_Vero_Press_2012Vinny Vero is everywhere. I don’t mean this in just a literal sense – as of this posting, he’s currently in Australia playing several DJ sets – but he’s also had a multifaceted career in the music business, be it as a marketer, producer, remixer or writer. “This year is my 25th anniversary in the music business,” he told The Second Disc with a laugh. “All of a sudden I feel very experienced!”

Vero parlayed his passion for music into a plum gig as a research manager for prominent New York radio station WHTZ-FM. From there, he spent five fruitful years doing marketing and catalogue work for EMI, working with such artists as Roxette, Blondie, and the Pet Shop Boys. After leaving the company, he continued to hone his marketing skills, but never strayed too far from records, independently producing compilations and “reswizzling” tunes for dance clubs. Last year, Vero began producing reissues for the U.K.’s Cherry Red Group; their first collaboration, a two-disc expansion of Breathe’s hit LP All That Jazz, was released in Europe this week.

Last year, as he was putting the finishing touches on All That Jazz, Vero took time out of his busy schedule to talk to The Second Disc about his work and career. I think you’ll find it a fascinating and informative read about what it’s like to work in an ever-changing industry, all the while working hard and loving what you do – easily the best way to survive in the catalogue music game.

After the jump, we talk to Vinny about all his work, great and small!

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Written by Mike Duquette

February 27, 2013 at 12:15

The Second Disc Interview: Keeping the Beat with Gerry Galipault of Pause & Play!

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He’s humbly suggested he’s doing his part to save the music business, but Gerry Galipault is doing something even more important: keeping it fun.

On this date 15 years ago, Galipault started Pauseandplay, a simple-but-effective online resource for just about any music release – physical or digital; brand-new or catalogue; vinyl or DVD – that you could dream of. Coupling a tireless work ethic (the result of years of work in the journalism field) with a unique, positive voice, Pauseandplay – named one of the 100 greatest websites by Entertainment Weekly – remains both an institution as well as a valuable voice to have as part of the conversation.

It’s no secret that Galipault’s unwavering enthusiasm for music and information (not to mention his embrace of new challenges – Pauseandplay is a constant presence on Facebook and Twitter) was a major influence on our own work here at Second Disc HQ. (The weekly Release Round-Ups would be nigh impossible without his guidance!) To commemorate 15 great years of Pause & Play, Gerry was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to share some of his secrets – and, of course, chat about music catalogue business, too.

Read on after the jump, and make sure to bookmark Pauseandplay if you haven’t already!

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

October 1, 2012 at 11:03

A Second Disc Interview: Talking Matt Monro, Mastering and Mixing with RICHARD MOORE

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A remarkable treasure trove of Matt Monro rarities has just been released by EMI Gold, a timely reminder of the artist’s life and career. He was sometimes known as the “Cockney Como” or the “English Sinatra,” but both descriptions fail to adequately capture the essence of the beloved singer’s unique and enduring style. Fortunately, Matt Uncovered: The Rarer Monro offers that singular sound in abundance as it traces the arc of his entire career, via almost entirely unheard material. We welcomed MICHELE MONRO to The Second Disc yesterday for this interview, and today we’re happy to speak to Michele’s collaborator, sound engineer RICHARD MOORE!  Richard is co-compiler of the new compilation, and the man responsible for restoring, remixing and remastering its tracks.  Click here if you missed our introduction to The Rarer Monro, or read on, to join our conversation with Richard!

Thanks for talking with us, Richard.  How did your association with Michele Monro and EMI begin?

I initially offered my help to the Monro estate in about 2005.  At this point Michele didn’t know much about what I could do, but in early 2006 I contacted her again – and as fate would have it, just as a cassette containing the only copy of a rare interview broke in her cassette machine.  [See yesterday’s interview for the full story!] She asked if I could repair it and transfer it to CD for her. Evidently she was happy with what I did, as I have worked on every official Monro CD release since. It was Michele who brought me in contact with EMI.

I’d like to pose one question to you that I also asked Michele: what was the biggest challenge in assembling The Rarer Monro

The biggest challenge is finding the material in the first place. I’ve lost count of the TV and radio stations and archives we’ve contacted around the globe, the hundreds of home recordings we’ve ploughed through to find one gem. It can be very frustrating too; some people are unwilling even to answer a simple enquiry, but persistence is the key!

Another big challenge is pulling all of the different sources together and making the sound fairly consistent. This album has material from 78 rpm shellac disc, vinyl disc, acetates, cassettes, ¼-inch home-recorded tapes and even an 8-track cartridge! On top of this there was material from the BBC – some of which was dubbed by them.  In other cases I was sent the tapes; recordings from Mood Media [took] almost a year to be found and dubbed, as well as material from the EMI archives in every conceivable track format.

And what was the most satisfying aspect of assembling this new set?

The most satisfying aspect is being able to bring so many lost gems to the public after so long. Finding a lost tape, or a previously undocumented session is a great feeling. Being the first person to hear recordings that haven’t been heard in years is a great honour. For instance, some early stereo tapes were found hidden in a cupboard in the BBC Research and Development Department and probably hadn’t been played since the day they were recorded in 1958. In cases like this you’ve no idea what you’re going to get. Does the tape actually contain what’s written on the box? Has the tape been wiped, demagnetised or recorded over? When you finally play the tapes and what you hear is good, it’s beyond satisfying!  Michele is always jealous as I always get to hear things before she does!

You and Michele should also be credited as detectives, Richard!  Out of all of the songs you discovered for this project, which presented the biggest obstacles for restoration?

Thankfully, very few of the tracks required major restoration.  “I Suddenly” came from a publishers’ demo on an acetate disc. In fact I had two copies; one was 78rpm, the other 45rpm. I had to restore both versions in order to find out which would be the best. The 78 was in best condition, but the frequency response was better on the 45. It became a bit of a trade off; eventually the 45 rpm disc won, but the amount of restoration required was more extensive. I pride myself on not being too heavy handed with restoration, but there are occasions where you have to scrub that little bit harder, which is what I had to do with this recording. The very last chord of this song as heard on the CD actually comes from the 78 as there was irreparable damage to the end of the song on the 45.

Another track in that required a lot of help was a recording taken from a promotional 8-track cartridge, the jingle for “Newport Cigarettes.” 8-tracks were never the greatest sounding format invented and this one that was nearly 45 years old, so [that] didn’t make matters any easier. The sound was lifeless and covered in major amounts of tape hiss. It’s still probably the worst-sounding of all the tracks, but Michele really wanted to include it.

The tracks from Matt’s Kind of Music, a long-lost radio series, also required some careful handling.  I am not a great fan of digital noise reduction where tape hiss is concerned. It’s overused and unnecessary most of the time. However there are times when used carefully, it is a godsend. The tapes of this series were wiped many years ago, Thankfully Matt kept a few incomplete shows himself taped off air on to 3¾ ips half track Mono ¼ inch tape. These tapes were transferred to cassette by EMI in the mid-1980s, but for reasons unknown, the original reels were not returned and have since been lost. The amount of hiss from the FM radio interference, low speed reel tape and now cassette was excessive, so I had no choice but to use it. I find that more damage can be caused if you try and remove the hiss in one go, so I removed it using four or five gentle passes. I didn’t try to remove it completely, just [to] take it down to an acceptable level. I originally restored the recordings back in 2006, but technology has moved on so for this issue I went back to the original cassettes and retransferred them in 96k 24bit.

After the jump: Richard talks mastering, reflects on Matt’s collaborators, and reveals what’s next for him! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

September 6, 2012 at 16:47

Posted in Interviews, Matt Monro, News, Reissues

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A Second Disc Interview: Talking “Matt Uncovered: The Rarer Monro” with MICHELE MONRO

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A remarkable treasure trove of Matt Monro rarities has just been released by EMI Gold, a timely reminder of the artist’s life and career. He was sometimes known as the “Cockney Como” or the “English Sinatra,” but both descriptions fail to adequately capture the essence of the beloved singer’s unique and enduring style. Fortunately, Matt Uncovered: The Rarer Monro offers that singular sound in abundance as it traces the arc of his entire career, via almost entirely unheard material. Click here if you missed our introduction to The Rarer Monro, or read on to join us in welcoming Matt’s daughter, MICHELE MONRO, to The Second Disc.  With engineer Richard Moore, Michele has curated this new collection as well as an ongoing series of Matt Monro reissues, and she has also written the definitive biography of her father, The Singer’s Singer.

Michele, thanks for your kindness in taking the time to speak with The Second Disc!  We’re thrilled to have you here, and especially in conjunction with a project as special as Matt Uncovered: The Rarer Monro.  This is a remarkable, singular collection, and indeed, those words also describe your dad’s voice.  In the past, I categorized Matt’s vocal style as “romantic but assured, capable of sensitively caressing the ballads and raucously swinging the up-tempo songs.  His style was a deceptively simple one: a dash of legit pipes, a touch of Bing Crosby-esque intimacy, a brash swinger’s confidence.” Who were his influences and who were his most favored singers among his contemporaries?

There were several artists dad admired greatly and Sarah Vaughan was one of them, and it was a regret that he never came to work with her. An early ambition when he first started in the business was to sing with the Ted Heath Band; nothing could be better. He couldn’t know that years later they would be his backing band on broadcast. He also loved Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis, Jr. and of course Sinatra. He actually coined the phrase ‘The Governor.’

That’s fantastic!

I think one of his favourite couplings was when he worked The Tony Bennett Show. Tony had arranged to come to England to record a series of shows and Dad was not only asked to appear, but asked to appear on three of the shows. They were made at London’s Talk of the Town and I know they had a ball together. On each show they performed a duet together and the performances were absolutely awesome.

Ah, to have been a fly on that wall!

[Michele kindly provided us with this quote from Matt: “There is no denying that Sinatra has influenced me, but so have Perry Como, Tony Bennett and Dick Haymes. A singer simply has to listen to the masters, you learn so much in this way. I don’t try to copy these people; that would be pointless. I have simply learned things from them and have tried to incorporate these things into my singing.” — Matt Monro]

What Matt shared with all of those artists was an unerring ear for quality material.  He especially recorded so much wonderful contemporary material at a time when musical styles were in tremendous flux, especially for an interpretive singer.  What did he look for in a song?

The one thing that can be said was that Dad only recorded tracks he felt had a quality about them. With any artist it is not just the songs you sing, but the reaction that is wrought from the audience. If it was good and they enjoyed his rendition of a song, then there was no better high. Having been established for some time and with quite a few hits to his credit, Dad was booked in America, presenting several shows each night. The management wanted a different repertoire for each show. Opening night came and when the second house audience didn’t hear all the hits they had come for, there was an uproar and they refused to let Dad leave the stage. The following night Dad sang all the hits in both shows.

He found it very difficult to change his repertoire because the fans that came to see him all expected to hear their favourite and were left disappointed if that were not the case. When Dad could slip different songs in, he preferred the rarer tune, one that might not have as much focus as the ones aired on the radio. One of his favourites was a track called “Ethel Baby” [from Jerry Bock, George Holofcener and George David Weiss’ Broadway musical Mr. Wonderful, which starred Sammy Davis, Jr.!].

There wasn’t one performance he didn’t glow in the aftermath but then analyze how it could be improved or bettered.  He was a perfectionist in his art and he never rested on his laurels; he felt every audience deserved his best performance. What makes Matt Monro special is that he sang a song how it was written; he made people feel special and sang with true feeling. He made people feel good about themselves.  He chose good lyrics, great musicians and the best producers in order to give the song the best possible treatment. He didn’t try and fool an audience with a lacklustre performance.  When he went on that stage he meant it and it came across.

Johnnie Spence with Matt

It was usually a joint collaboration between the three musketeers – George Martin, Johnnie Spence and Dad. In the early years, Dad and the record company were inundated with material and the threesome would spend days listening to all the candidates and see what might work. The most important tool for any songster is the song itself, and Matt had been lucky with many of his choices, although he was the first to admit that he didn’t have an immediate eye for a hit. He hadn’t thought “Portrait [of My Love]” a possible commercial success, and then made a monumental mistake in turning down an exclusive on “The Shadow of Your Smile” [written by Johnny Mandel and Paul Francis Webster] long before Tony Bennett cut the 1965 Academy Award winner.  The song’s author had sent the composition to Matt, but the singer didn’t think it would appeal to the mass market. When it appeared in the film The Sandpiper, Tony Bennett sent Dad a thank you note!

After the jump, there’s much more from Michele! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

September 5, 2012 at 14:18

Posted in Interviews, Matt Monro, News, Reissues

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Hey, Mr. Producer: A Second Disc Interview! Talking Remastered, Remixed Edition of Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies” with Bruce Kimmel

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Hats off, here it comes: the Kritzerland label is unveiling a new edition of the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s Follies, but the Broadway babies and girls upstairs will likely have never sounded better.  Following similar releases for Promises, Promises and Sugar, Kritzerland has completely remixed and remastered Capitol Records’ 1971 Follies, affording listeners the opportunity to hear a Sondheim masterwork anew.  The label began accepting pre-orders last evening at midnight for the limited edition of 1,500, so those interested shouldn’t delay.  It’s priced at $19.98 and scheduled to ship the last week in August, but those familiar with the label know that they can expect it even earlier.

Though The New York Times’ Clive Barnes initially dismissed Sondheim’s score as “the kind of the musical that should have its original cast album out on 78s,” it’s since been appreciated as one of the great composer/lyricist’s triumphs.  Barnes failed to see that it was a musical unlike any other.  In this phantasmagorical mélange, past met present, reality met illusion, and audiences were asked to confront their own follies via mirrors metaphorical and literal.  Even the title was weighted with multiple meanings, never better reflected than in David Edward Byrd’s poster art, with the visage of a beautiful Follies girl, irrevocably shattered.  Follies revolves around the reunion of the Weismann Girls (think the Ziegfeld Girls) at a theatre set for demolition.  Almost immediately, secrets are revealed and relationships forever altered.

The production, co-directed by Harold Prince and choreographer Michael Bennett, both coming off Sondheim’s Company (1970), is still spoken of as one of the grandest spectacles in Broadway history, not just for Boris Aronson’s luscious set and Florence Klotz’s period-perfect costumes, but for the haunting performances of its four leads: Alexis Smith (Phyllis), Gene Nelson (Buddy), Dorothy Collins (Sally) and John McMartin (Ben) and a stellar supporting cast including Yvonne DeCarlo (Carlotta), Ethel Shutta (Hattie) and Mary McCarty (Stella).  When producer Prince took Follies to Capitol Records, it was a shocking move, especially considering the remarkable recording of Company produced by Columbia’s Thomas Z. Shepard just one season earlier, and the longtime patronage of Sondheim by Columbia President Goddard Lieberson.  Capitol sealed Follies’ fate when the label elected to record Sondheim’s sprawling and ambitious score (fusing classic Broadway pastiche with a contemporary sensibility) on one LP rather than the double-album it would have taken to preserve the entire score.  Internal cuts were made to some songs, and cut others entirely, for the album produced by Dick Jones.  One song, “One More Kiss,” was later reinstated on CD, but the other missing material simply wasn’t recorded in the first place.

As a result, the original cast recording of Follies has caused, in reissue producer Bruce Kimmel’s words, “a love/hate relationship for fans of the show…but what it did have made it something that, despite the frustrations, meant it would never be bettered – the original cast.”  Thanks to Kritzerland’s new reissue, those new to Follies can hear that unassailable cast of veterans, while those who have savored the album in the past might be able to gain some new perspective on it.  We were lucky enough to speak with Kimmel just hours before he made the announcement about his new Follies, and he was generous with insights and fascinating behind-the-scenes tidbits.  Hit the jump for the full interview! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 12, 2012 at 10:00

A Star Beyond Time: Talking “Trek” with Mike Matessino, Part 2

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Captain’s log, Stardate 2012.614. When last we left the crew of the starship Second Disc, they were interviewing renowned soundtrack producer Mike Matessino, whose work on La-La Land’s triple-disc expansion of Jerry Goldsmith’s score to Star Trek: The Motion Picture may be the most vivacious and definitive single soundtrack presentation in a career brimming with many projects.

Our interview with Matessino was lengthy, and the two-hour interview was bound to take up more than one post. Why the delay between the installments, though? Some crew members are whispering that a chance encounter with the mysterious V’Ger itself was to blame – while others are simply citing the captain’s desire for all who ordered this magnificent reissue to enjoy some time alone with it before reading the rest of the insights gleaned from Matessino. In any case, part two of our interview has now come out of warp speed and is on its way to you now!

We’ve talked a lot about Jerry’s approach to the score to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the recording process and the embrace of technology on the soundtrack. Now let’s talk about putting this new package together. I imagine the restoration process was nothing short of painstaking, from allocating the best possible elements and selecting all the right cues to determining what bonus material would be used. Can you take us through that process?

The first question was what [elements] were we going to use. Our first choice was the original two-track live stereo mixes on 1/4” tape, which we’ve been living with since 1979. There were various dubs – other 1/4”s, DAT tapes, and I think there was also a 1/2” reel with the two-track mixes on it. Those were all the same existing mixes.

Then we had the 2” 16-track multitrack reelss, which were run as a backup. In 2000 I had them entirely transferred for work on the Director’s Edition, because we needed to do a five-track mix. Amazingly, technology has changed so fast that those transfers were useless, as they were done at a resolution that’s not considered archival now. I knew [re-transferring them] was going to be a big job; in fact, I was not entirely sure we should go there. I was concerned the live mixes were kind of lightning in a bottle, and if we tried to recreate, reproduce or improve those mixes, it’d be put under a microscope too much. At the same time, I thought the material should be preserved, and this gave us the opportunity to really save it digitally. So Bruce Botnick and Lukas Kendall analyzed a couple of reels and convinced me that we should use the 2” reels, then La-La Land agreed to undertake it.

[Of the] 37 reels, encompassing the entire sessions, one of them was missing, at least since 1992. But it ended up being found among Sony’s mixes in New York. No one knows why. So we reunited it with its 36 siblings, and Bruce and John Davis at Precision Audiosonics undertook this effort to transfer all the reels in the best possible way. That meant doing it at 192K resolution, very high resolution, beyond anything a CD can handle. It’s a lot of data. They made sure to have the exact machines optimized for these particular tapes cutting edge analog-to-digital converter, as well as a great old resolver that assured the tapes would play at exact concert pitch and sync perfectly with the film.

It took awhile to get all of that in place, and get this hard drive with its massive amount of data to Bruce Botnick’s studio, where I then figured out all the correct performances and assembled a program. I carefully listened to those original mixes and took copious notes. We were lucky to have a lot of good ears on the project – myself and Jeff Bond and Lukas and Neil Bulk, people who’ve lived with this forever – to make sure, as we heard the mixes, to cover everything.

Bruce approached the project anew. He was not the original mixer, or even a scoring engineer at the time. He came in as a producer for Columbia, to manage the sessions and run the digital recorder. [The original Columbia LP program was assembled digitally. -ed.] John Neal was the scoring engineer at 20th Century-Fox – he had recorded a lot of Jerry’s scores as well as [doing the remix for] John Williams’ Star Wars. So we dealt with Neal’s arrangement of microphones and how the multitrack was laid out. We needed to figure all that out – a lot of times the documentation on these things is not retained. So you have to audibly figure it out.  We put all those efforts together and Bruce started mixing, with the benefit of 25 years of mixing nearly all of Jerry’s scores. Through January, we worked all day (and I worked evenings) on restoring this thing. He would mix, and I would go ahead to the next round of cues and listen for any bumps, dropouts, ticks or pops that needed to be taken out. It was a lot of effort that basically took over the universe for both of us, but we kept going until we got through it all and laid out a program.

The great thing is the material’s saved now. It was starting to go – we saw signs of wear, and those analog tapes can get sticky.

There’s some fascinating bonus material on the package, from the aforementioned rejected cues to a great deal of alternate takes and even the quirky extra tunes in Bob James’ disco rendition of the main theme and Shaun Cassidy’s “A Star Beyond Time,” which set the beautiful “Ilia’s Theme” to lyrics and recast it as a pop-themed love song. How did you plan everything out, as the extras go?

We wanted to put a package together that’s an embarrassment of riches, that represents the biggest financial as well as technical undertaking that we’ve all put into these kind of releases.

We decided as long as we’re doing this, we may as well put out everything we can. We discovered interesting things about the performances that had been chosen for the movie versus the original album – sometimes they were different – and many of the new cues on Legacy’s expanded edition from 1999 did not use the same performances from the film. So we decided to redo those again while retaining everything the old releases had. With the benefit of the multitrack sessions, we were able to isolate some of the instruments and demonstrate the beam and synthesizer for some of the tracks. We have some of the studio chit-chat and Jerry talking to the orchestra as he runs through the main theme for the first time. All these bits and bobs of great material.

I had it proposed in my original outline to find and license those extra tracks. Lukas Kendall really wanted to include them, as well, so I had some support on that. We figured as long as were going to really try to make this the be-all, end-all, we should use them. There was a core of aficionados who knew they existed, and I had come across Bob James’ recording at Paramount some years ago. When I had found out it had been released on the Columbia label, I figured it couldn’t be that hard to use for our package as a legitimate tie-in to the release of the movie. It really puts the score in context – you have this timeless score, but let’s not forget when it came about. It also speaks to the quality of movie themes of that era, that they could have disco versions or lyrics set to them. You don’t really get that now.

What were the origins of those pop tracks?

I don’t know quite how they came about. Bob James had written the Taxi theme (“Angela”) for Paramount, which was one of their biggest shows at the time. Then there was the wanting to hop on the bandwagon of success that Star Wars had with Meco’s disco version. Interestingly, when we looked for the master at Sony, we found there was a longer version – the original single was three minutes and change, but we found a master that was over five minutes, which is what we included.

I happen to like “A Star Beyond Time,” again because of the nature of the melody, there’s a romanticism to it. We actually played the song for Shirley Jones, and she wept. She had never heard him sing like that! “A Star Beyond Time” was done specifically as a promo in Japan – the idea being if it were to take off over there, Warner would have released it here. But by the time the movie was out in Japan, it was pretty much done in the United States, so it was just buried in the background and sent back to the vaults.

Did Jerry Goldsmith ever go on record about Bob James’ or Shaun Cassidy’s adaptations of his work?

Not that I’m aware of. It’s not the kind of thing I think he would have been concerned with, in the same way that John Williams really got blindsided with Meco’s “Star Wars,” to the point that when he did Close Encounters of the Third Kind, he was told to do his own disco version, which came with the LP. But Meco did his own version, which became the hit.

But there was also another factor in this, which Jerry did talk about. When he came up with the love theme, which was already in place from early cues, Bob Wise thought it would make a good overture, which is a very ‘60s kind of idea. But it had worked on The Sand Pebbles: Jerry’s original overture was something called “The Chinese Love Theme,” but when he wrote the other melody, someone at Fox – it may have been Lionel Newman – said it had the quality that could make it a popular song. Then they contracted Leslie Bricusse to write lyrics to the song, which would become “And We Were Lovers.” It wasn’t on the album or in the movie, but it was recorded by a lot of different artists and became a big hit. So possibly, the idea was [Goldsmith and Wise] had another love theme when working together again, that had the potential to be a good song.

This new edition of the TMP score more than lives up to the hype as a definitive package. It’s interesting to note, then, that when Columbia/Legacy expanded the score for its 20th anniversary in 1999, that Goldsmith famously held back what extra material would be included on the expanded disc. He was, in fact, a firm believer that not all of his music on one set was as worthy a listening experience as a well-curated album – a school of thought which is considerably different from today’s soundtrack superfan, who wants as much music as a disc can hold. Were Jerry still alive today, how do you think he would feel about this lavish presentation of his work?

I like to think Jerry would have mellowed, because he always stayed cutting edge, he always kept moving with the times. Always. So as it became apparent about how the whole specialized soundtrack market was evolving, I think he would have embraced it. Especially going back to Bruce with the project, I like to think he would have supported it. These sets are not going out to 10 million people, unfortunately, and there is the idea of producing a self-contained album, but I think he’d acknowledge that a score as important as this deserves to be out there for the following and the specialized market we’re going after. He may have had to struggle with his own curmudgeonliness at the idea, but I think ultimately, since we involved people like Bruce and Ken Hall on all these projects, I think he would’ve been convinced.

But in 1999, it was a very different era. The idea that we got Rhino to do a two-disc Superman would never fly now. Star Wars, those reissues I worked on in 1997, was sort of the peak of the CD era. In the first two days, I think those sold 28,000 copies. I don’t even think we could still do those numbers with Star Wars – that’s how drastically the market has changed. At that time, Jerry would say, “this is not a representation of what I wanted,” but he would still have been thinking in terms of it going out to millions of people, to Tower Records and Virgin Megastore. Who would have thought there’d be such a short amount of time where people wouldn’t know what a record store is?

The whole thing has evolved lightning-fast. These are collectibles more than record albums, really, and people want to know that the stuff has been saved and they have it when they want to hear it. And if it’s a movie score as powerful as Star Trek, there’s nothing more frustrating than that one piece of music you want not being there. One of the things that drove me to want to do this [kind of work] was the original Superman [double] album – how do you do two records and not have the helicopter scene? These things do have value.

We’ve probably done a lot of albums with a lot of droning or music that people skip over, but we live in the iTunes era now. People make their own playlists. The best thing we can do is put everything out and let people pick and choose and create the listening experience that they want. That’s kind of taken over our lives – we schedule our own TV…everything is in the hands of the end user. The idea of this existing fixed program is almost an antiquated. Even the idea of being in front of the television on a specific night because some show is coming on – that’s a completely outdated idea. Our entertainment is molded to how we want it, where it used to be the other way around. So there’s a whole big paradigm shift there, and I think if Jerry were around he would have gone along with it.

You work in an industry that’s still going through a maelstrom of flux, and yet the soundtrack labels seem to have their fingers on the pulse of what their core fan base wants – and knows how to get it to them. All the Star Trek expansions of the past few years are phenomenal undertakings that nobody would have ever thought possible many years ago. Put simply, how does it feel to do what you do?

I’m very, very grateful. It means I get to spend my day listening to classic film scores. But I’m also amazed by it. One thing I wish is that we had as much talk about the scores after they came out as we have before. We get a lot of talk about “I want, I want,” then a lot of talk about whether we get our shipping notices. And that’s it! I want to hear the conversation. I want to hear what you think. If you’re saying this music brings people together, let’s have some conversation! We’re all online, we can chat and have good conversation and share new ideas. I’d love to see that keep going more.

But when something arrives and you see people posting pictures of open boxes or what their collection looks like, I love that. I love that you can actually do something to make someone’s life better. We read so much about people who are cruel and doing terrible things to each other. And in your own little way, to know you have some small part in making someone’s life better that you might never meet, who’s thousands of miles away – it’s just a good feeling. And sometimes, with a big, hard project like Star Trek? That makes it all worthwhile.

Again, a special thanks to Mike Matessino for fulfilling a longtime dream in talking soundtracks with him – and continued kudos to Matessino, Bruce Botnick, Lukas Kendall, MV Gerhard, and everyone involved with La-La Land’s superb Star Trek: The Motion Picture set. The bar has been raised – and as it stands right now, “there is no comparison.”

Written by Mike Duquette

June 14, 2012 at 11:38

There is No Comparison: Talking “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” with Mike Matessino, Part 1

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If you’re a catalogue soundtrack fan, you doubtlessly know the name and work of Mike Matessino. For decades, Matessino has been among film score elite, serving ably as a producer, editor, mixer and writer for some of the best soundtrack catalogue titles. The New York University graduate first rose to prominence restoring the music of The Sound of Music and The King and I for 20th Century-Fox, then assembled with Nick Redman the most definitive CD releases of John Williams’ scores to the Star Wars trilogy. Since then, his discography has come to include holy grails like Intrada’s expansion of Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien score, Alan Silvestri’s Back to the FutureFilm Score Monthly’s astounding Superman box set, and expansions of the first six Star Trek motion picture scores.

Matessino, who also oversaw the reassembly of Star Trek: The Motion Picture for its 2001 “Director’s Edition” DVD, comes full circle this year, co-producing a tremendous triple-disc presentation of Goldsmith’s TMP score for La-La Land Records. It’s arguably the soundtrack title to beat for 2012, with even trade publication Variety taking notice.  Matessino will attend a screening of the film and panel discussion with soundtrack producer Bruce Botnick tonight at Hollywood’s Arclight Cinema – but recently, I had the incredible pleasure of talking to the producer about Trek and his illustrious career.

Matessino is, as this interview will doubtless show, one of the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic in his field. The first portion of what was a two-hour conversation is published today, and touches on the creation of one of the greatest science fiction scores of all time. The next part of the interview will focus on putting that score on CD in a most definitive manner.

We hope you enjoy this look at Star Trek: The Motion Picture with Mike Matessino, who truly has boldly gone where no one has gone before.

This week, after what I’m sure is a great amount of effort from many, this definitive edition of the Star Trek: The Motion Picture score will be available to the public. What does that feel like?

It’s a great relief because was a lot of hard work, it took a very long time, it was a very difficult project. so, in fact, it’s a big relief. Very gratifying to finally be able to share it with listeners. The whole point is to get it out there and know that people are enjoying it, that great film music is preserved, to know that there are people who this means so much to and makes them feel happier about their lives. That’s what I really enjoy.

But this was not the sort of usual, quick and easy project. It’s been almost a year that I’ve been working on it, and La La Land Records started the licensing process maybe two or three years ago. So it’s a big relief and very gratifying to have it out there.

Goldsmith’s main theme for the film is, next to Alexander Courage’s original television theme, the single most enduring piece of Trek music, utilized for Star Trek: The Next Generation and Goldsmith’s other Trek scores. What makes it so memorable?

The theme for Star Trek that Jerry came up with evokes a march, but it’s not militaristic. It evokes the romance and adventure of space, but it’s more heroic – but not the kind of thing he’d do for, say, First Knight. He really just nailed the whole idea of Star Trek and what kind of music was needed. He came up with a melody that is a rare commodity these days, that’s memorable and hummable. When you hear it it immediately brings to mind not just the movie he wrote it for, but all of Star Trek, in the same way that, if you think of Superman, you think of John Williams’ theme, even though that theme has only existed for half the life of the character. You retroactively apply it.

Also, a bit of insider information – the scoring sessions were paid for by Columbia Records in exchange for the album rights. The order of the day was to make a great soundtrack album, and that was not going to work unless you had a memorable theme. The mandate was to come up with a theme that was new to Star Trek but recognizable and would be popular with people and get them to buy albums. And Jerry really struggled to come up with something that was just right. At the end of the day, he did, and it’s endured for more than three decades. You could set a montage of the whole series to that theme, and it would work.

The same year that he recorded TMP, Goldsmith recorded another sci-fi score with decidedly different outcomes: Alien. The score was famously re-edited, with unrelated Goldsmith cues tracked into the film. Did that affect the TMP score in any way?

What you hear in Alien, in the music he originally wrote…He wanted to give it a romantic feeling; he obviously saw romance in space. But the movie’s called Alien. The package has to be clearly marked. It’s arguable as to who’s right, but Ridley Scott’s vision prevailed, and the package became clearly marked. When you see Alien, you hear music that’s alien. Fortunately, he had right on the heels of that another chance to do another space movie.

For such an iconic score, this package features a fantastic amount of early, ultimately rejected score material. Can you walk us through that?

You have to put it in context. It was the late 1970s; we were not to the point where we are now, where a composer will mock up the whole score and a director gets to hear it with a synthesized full orchestra before you go to a scoring stage with a real orchestra. The most you could get at the time was the director going to a composer’s home or studio and hearing a theme on the piano. You really wouldn’t know what it was going to sound like until you got to the scoring session. The most you could get is a sense of where you want music to stop and start, or how much music to include.

In the particular case of TMP, you had a movie with a notoriously large amount of production problems, particularly with the visual effects – and those were so important to piecing the film together. In order to meet the release date, Jerry had to start writing before a lot of those shots were completed. He wasn’t really getting a sense of what the final impact of the film was going to be, because he didn’t see it. He wrote a lot of these early cues to cards that said “scene missing,” or he’d look at storyboards. He did what he could to get a sense of it, but he had no choice but to do it early.

It’s interesting that it didn’t occur to him at that point to come up with some really solid, recognizable, hummable themes. Instead, he’s almost trying to make another try for what he’d attempted on Alien, which was ultimately rejected. A romantic, almost seafaring nautical approach. A lot of the early cues have that kind of feel to them.

He did have in place the love theme for the film. That was pretty rock solid from the beginning. The other component that was there was the blaster beam. But there weren’t too many electronics – those came later.

Then, by coincidence, there was a planned one-month break in the sessions while other scores were recorded. And during that interval, he’d come up with the main theme and rethought some of those early cues. The romantic approach is still there, to a degree, but he bought in other themes like the Vulcan motif and Starfleet theme. Also in that month, Craig Huxley started introducing Jerry to his synthesizer equipment. Robert Wise liked that stranger, otherworldly sound, so more and more electronics started creeping into the score.

For whatever reason, there was this false start that produced its own fantastic music that we now get to release for the first time. But it makes you appreciate the final score all these elements synergistically combining to this perfect score.

Keep reading after the jump to learn about the bond between Goldsmith and his director, and how Trek saved the composer from abandoning electronic music forever.

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Written by Mike Duquette

June 4, 2012 at 12:00