Welcome to the follow up article to the Ins And Outs Of Playing Recording Sessions. That article gave you an extensive list of tips and ideas to begin or enhance your entre into playing sessions (and getting booked to play them again). Through the past 25 years, one of the great privileges that I’ve had is sharing a cue with some amazing players. Creating an original track from scratch with world-class players is truly a magical experience. It’s a creative conception formed from the musical DNA that each player brings to the collaborative effort. As indicated by the header photo, this article was originally intended to spotlight the rigs of several session professionals. When I started developing the content, it became clear that to really understand the ins and out of being a recording session player, rather than focus on their rigs you really have to dig down to that DNA level of the player and examine a composite of the lives and musical experiences they bring to the creative table.
I made some big promises in the first article to give you a glimpse into the inner sanctum of recording in this follow up. The three interviews that resulted from this quest have been some of my favorite to date. All three of these friends are titans in the recording industry as well as in live touring. Together they represent over 100 years of world-class contribution to this industry. You’ve heard their playing on countless recordings as they have recorded and performed with icons in popular music. Now sit back and be inspired as we visit these fellow musicians and look at the industry from their expert perspectives.
Our first perspective comes from a guy whose resume covers over a half century of excellence and he’s still going strong. Leland Sklar paints a distinctive visual with his signature flowing white beard but it’s his iconic bass groove that has carved his place in pop music history. He has played and recorded with superstars from James Taylor to Phil Collins to Toto. He might be pushing septuagenaria at the age of 67 but he brings a young man’s wonder and enthusiasm to the musical experience. He is a wonderful conversationalist and I could fill 10 articles with the wealth of insight and anecdote he brings to an interview.
CM - Lee, your contribution to recording is legendary. As a kid growing up in Milwaukee, was professional music something you dreamed of?
LS - “I had no aspirations at all in the music business. I was an art and science co-major and had never really thought that music would turn into a career. I had always been in bands but it was one of those things where I couldn’t imagine that it would ever happen. I met James through one the bands that I was in. He had just cut his first record on Apple (the Beatles British label). He got offered a gig at the Troubador and he remembered me from a rehearsal that he came to. He asked me to play the gig and the next thing you know he’s on the cover of Time Magazine and he’s the new wave. I was in the right place at the right time.”
Shortly after the Troubador gig, James Taylor invited Sklar to do a month long tour. Lee dropped out of school and never went back. It turned into something that no one had really expected and he says he’s been on the road ever since. Lee was classically trained as a pianist starting at the ripe old age of 5.
CM - The obvious question is how did you go from being a classical pianist to one of the most revered bass players of popular music?
LS - “I arrived at middle school believing that I would be the piano player for the school. The music teacher said 'Look, we have 50 kids here that play piano but I can really use a string bass player'. I didn’t even know what he was talking about but he pulled out an old Kay upright and gave me some pointers on it. As soon as I pulled that thing up against me and struck a note I fell in love with the bass and piano just kind of dwindled to the side. All these things are accidents. You just kind of wander through life and sometimes you come to forks in the road. Even though I don’t think any of them are wrong, they just lead to different places.”
CM - But you obviously paid attention to the opportunities that those varied forks offered. It seems like you made deliberate choices rather than just wander.
LS - “I am cognizant of things going on around me; I’ve paid attention. I try to stay up on styles and what’s going on in the music community, players and what not because I want to be relevant. I don’t want to be one these players that sits around talking about the cool records they worked on 30 years ago – I want to talk about what I’m working on right now and tomorrow."
When I mentioned one of the other players to be interviewed in this article - David Hungate of Toto - and his standing contest with Lee to be the longest active bass player in pop music, Sklar had nothing but compliments.
LS - “I love Dave and he has played on some amazing music through the years. I’m thrilled that he’s finally back on the road with Toto. Jeff (Porcaro) was one of my dearest friends and I worked with him though the 80’s almost more than any other drummer.”
I asked Lee if he could name a favorite drummer to work with and he had a predictable answer based on the breadth of this experience.
LS – “It would be absolutely impossible for me to name one with the host of great players I’ve worked with. When you’re looking at Jim Keltner and Vinnie Colaiuta, how do you make a statement about anything except they’re all amazing? From Simon Phillips to Sean Pelton – these guys are all incredible. That’s one of the best blessings of my career as far as I’m concerned. It’s not as much the artists I’ve worked with but the players I’ve worked with. I’ve been blessed to work with some of the best in the world. I mean from Ian Paice to Charley Watts, how could you go wrong?”
CM - Do you find yourself responding to each drummer differently?
LS – “Absolutely, each guy brings a different feel. But it’s ultimately more predicated on the song or the style you’re working on. I get internally into the drummer and where he’s playing. For example, Russ Kunkell sits so sweetly on the back side of the beat where John Robinson, he’s dead center and almost pushing toward the top of it. But, the thing is that all these guys are so musical and have big ears.”
CM - Lee, as you’ve worked in a variety of genres from rock to jazz to even working country records in Nashville; does your style and interpretation change dramatically from genre to genre? Would you say that this requires versatility?
LS – “I really don’t think it is versatility as much because I really don’t dramatically change the way I play. I seem to have settled into a style of playing that accommodates a lot of genres. There wasn’t a lot of difference for me from working on Steven Curtis Chapman to Reba McEntire. Obviously if you’re working on a complicated fusion project it requires a completely different headspace but I don’t feel like I have to change my style too drastically as I move from genre to genre.”
CM - How have you seen the recording industry change from the early days of 2 inch tape and a group of great players getting together in the same room collaborating to the current days of digital home studios?
LS – “The pendulum is swinging in another direction. I don’t think it (studio recording) will ever be what it once was because the business model has changed. I still do some collaborative studio stuff; as a matter of fact I am working on a record with Judith Owens in the studio with Russ Kunkel and Waddy Wachtel. But then I also frequently get booked to go to a home studio to overdub bass on a project that’s already recorded. I don’t enjoy that aspect of the business these days as much as the excitement and exhilaration of being in a room with amazing artists and players with all the creative juices. When you go to play on something already recorded you start with handcuffs and restrictions on what you can play. You can’t really make the track breath like you would like to because chances are it’s already been clicked out. I’ve even heard something I played on after it’s been mixed and thought that if I’d had any idea that’s where it was headed, I would have played a different part. But, I like to work and if that’s how the work comes in, that’s what I do.”
CM - You’ve been in the business a long time and you’ve seen lots of changes. How do you deal with that “elder statesmen” categorization when you are working with younger artists?
LS – “Well, my mantra has always been ‘don’t be an old fart’. If I’m working on a project with a younger artist, the last thing I’m going to say is something about the 'good ole days' or 'man, this sure would sound better on 2 inch analog tape'. A lot of these kids have no idea what you’re talking about. Now if someone brings up how we used to do it with analog, I am happy to talk about it and discuss editing and splicing, etc. But I never want to be the grumpy old guy. I am as excited when I walk into a studio today as I was when I did my first session in 1969. Recording has changed because the world has changed. I don’t want to be the guy who basks in his old glory. I want to be relevant.”
CM - I hear from a lot of guys in Nashville that with the industry contracting, the amount of recording has really diminished. Guys that used to be able to stay off the road and focus exclusively on studio work are having to take road gigs as well. At one time, working both sides of the fence was frowned upon by producers. You seem like you’ve relished both the live work and recording.
LS – “Honestly, if I was told I would have to make a choice, I would choose live. I love the immediacy of live performing. In the studio, you can play a note and scrutinize it for a week. Live, you play the note and it’s over. I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to balance the two very well – almost 50/50. Some years it fluctuates to more live or more studio recording but typically it’s pretty balanced. I’ve done tours with Phil Collins where we were gone almost a solid year so obviously, my availability was limited for studio work. But it usually balances out.”
CM - If you had to give some sage advice to the aspiring session player, what would you say?
LS – “It’s hard to give anyone specific advice these days. I would say that whatever you are doing, make sure that you market it well. For instance, if you have a home studio recording situation, make sure that people know you can do this. Post stuff you are doing on the web or on Facebook so you can promote yourself."
"It’s important to hone as many skills as you can. Good reading chops are very important for a studio guy. That’s not to say that you are going to be required to read Beethoven or Chopin, but you have to be as prepared as you can. It was an education for me to come to Nashville and have to wrap my head around the Nashville Number system. But it’s a brilliant system that makes it easy to be flexible with keys. As a studio player, you show up at the studio to a blank canvas and you have to leave having created a masterpiece. You can’t afford to say I’m not feeling it today. You have to have your stuff together in order to be able to pull this off."
"If you are trying to be a pro, then treat this professionally. If you get a call to do a 10 AM session, at 10 AM you need to be sitting in your chair, tuned and ready to play. You are not pulling into the parking lot with an excuse for being late. Be prepared for what’s going on. Before you start imposing yourself on the song, listen to it. If the song only needs whole notes, there’s no embarrassment in playing just whole notes. When there’s a playback, you go into the studio and listen. You don’t just sit there in the lobby and tweet or post on Facebook. Be engaged, be interested – this is your career."
"Producers really respond to engagement. It’s interesting that most of the time, when I am working sessions, I see faces that I’ve been seeing for years. It’s guys who have figured it out and show maturity and consistency in their professionalism that continue to do the bulk of the work. It’s not that it’s a good ole boys club. I think it’s just that time and money are tight. Producers want someone who is tried and true who can come in and nail it fast.”
CM - Do you need to have thick skin to handle occasional disappointment?
LS – “I would say that’s extremely important in how you handle rejection or disappointment. If you get an audition that doesn’t end up with a gig, you can’t just sit there and think you suck. There are always variables that are out of your control whether you think you might be the best guy for the gig. Brush it off and move on. Invest in yourself. It’s important to meet as many people as you can and really promote what you do but even more than that, believe in yourself and what you have to offer.”
CM - Let’s talk about your rig. You have an old Fender Jazz that you nicknamed Frankenstein. Do you still have that bass?
LS – “Sure do and it still sounds amazing. The main bass that I’ve had for many years was built in the 70’s. John Carruthers, who used to be the main repair guy at Westwood Music (in West Los Angeles), and I put a bass together from spare parts. I had a ’62 Precision neck but I didn’t have a body. I really don’t like Precision, I’ve always preferred Jazz basses. So I had John reconfigure a Precision body from a template of my old ’62 Jazz. I went to Charvel and bought a blank alder Precision body. I hung a dozen of them on a wire and tapped them finding the one with the sweetest resonance. I got a set of the very first EMG pickups that are really Precision pick ups but we put them where the Jazz pick ups would have gone on the bass. We reversed the position of them so that the half of the Precision pickup that would be on the E and the A string is actually closer to the bridge than the neck. We flipped both pickups into that position. The cavity that was routed for the actual Precision pickup is where we placed the two 9 volt batteries because the bass runs on 18 volts. We put a BadAss bridge on it but when we reshaped the neck, we had to strip the neck down. I was walking around the shop looking at wire hanging on the wall and noticed some mandolin wire that we ended up using for the frets. I absolutely love the feel of it and I’ve had it on all of my basses since. I also have the first hip shot drop D tuner prototype on that bass. That’s why I always refer to that bass in interviews as Frankenstein."
"Other than that, I’ve got a signature model I’ve done with Dingwall and that’s my go-to five string. It has the Novax fan fretting on it that I also love. I’ve used that bass with Phil Collins, James Taylor/Carole King, Lyle Lovett and Toto. A few years ago, I came across Warwick. I have a Hofner bass but it’s a delicate, tiny bass. I wanted something I could get those sounds with that had a little more meat and potatoes. I found the Warwick Star Bass II that’s semi acoustic. It looks kind of like the Epiphone that Jack Cassidy has and all those semi hollow body basses. Fell in love with it the first time I played it. In the studio, if I don’t need a 5 string, that’s my go to bass – even more so than the Frankenstein."
"For amplifiers I’ve been with Euphonic Audio for many years now. I use the 800 iAMP combo in the studio. On tour I’ve used the iAmp 800 head with a 4x10 bottom or a single 12 plus two 10's. For the Judith Owen tour, they came up with a MICRO amp - 500 watts, two channels, universal voltage and it weighs 2.2 pounds. For a cabinet I use a single 10 or a single 12. I take that to gigs and guys ask 'what the heck is that rig'. But it’s just beautiful and so light."
"As far as pedals, I have a few but rarely plug them in. On a session yesterday I used an Aguilar Octave Divider but normally I use effects only if the song is just screaming out for it. Other pedals I use include a Boss OC2, a TC Electronics Chorus/Flanger and a Pigtronix Envelope Filter. I’ve been through massive racks but now everything is in mothballs in the warehouse.”
CM - Do you prefer to use an amp when you’re recording in the studio?
LS – “I definitely prefer to mic an amp if the session allows. Sometimes an engineer will want to blend the direct input with the mic or use some type of effects pedal. But the tonality from an amp is a great option on a session."
It was a great pleasure to interview Leland - 45 years of an active career and he’s still going strong. For more biographical information and a sobering look at an abridged collection of recordings Lee has graced over the years, visit his wikipedia page here.
Let’s switch to the a 6 string guitar hero by the name of Rob McNelley. You might not recognize his name outside of Nashville circles but you would recognize a lot of his recordings with Rob having played on hundreds of country singles. He was named the 2014 ACM Musician of the Year, a very distinctive honor in a town full of amazing players. You would also recognize the artist that he is currently doing a world tour with – none other than Bob Seger. I caught up with Rob on a day off in Tampa.
CM - How’s the tour going with Bob Seger?
RM – “It’s going well, it’s a pretty easy tour to be on with private planes and 5 star hotels. It’s way over my head – I don’t even touch a bag. I hadn’t been on the road in a few years and this kind of came out of nowhere. But I thought, 'yeah, I have to do this' – how many tours are out there like this? I have to pinch myself when I’m playing Madison Square Garden with Bob Seger. The music is great."
CM - How has your extensive touring with Bob effected your session work in Nashville?
RM – “Obviously it all depends on how long you’re gone. I know I did two and a half months with Seger last year and I was kind of worried that people would stop calling. I was actually flying home on off days and playing on records. But so far - knock on wood – I’ve been able to make it work with only a couple of issues where I had to pass on the session. I think we’re seeing a day and age where it’s generally accepted that it’s OK to go out on the road whereas 20 years ago it was frowned upon. Back then there was a hard line between whether you were a session guy or a live player. Very few people were able to walk that line successfully. But there was enough work to support you; there was so much work in town playing on records that you didn’t need to go out on the road. With the industry contracting and the changes in budgets, the money is just not the same. So when a great tour pops up, it’s very easy to see the potential to offset what you can’t make doing sessions exclusively."
CM - Has the home studio thing effected your work patterns?
RM – “I’ve had to buy my family ear plugs… I have a rig where I can do guitar overdubs at the house. It’s very much a part of the modern musician deal. Having another avenue to record is a great opportunity. I get contacts from people in other countries who have seen my name on records. They wouldn’t have access because of proximity and can send me files over the internet to get guitar on the records because of my home rig."
CM - How have you promoted yourself?
RM – “It’s very much a word of mouth thing. I honestly haven’t gone out there and actively pursued it. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some great artists and I guess people have liked my playing enough as I’ve done recording to remember me and seek me out. I do have a website but it’s down at the moment as I retool it for my own record that I am working on. After I won ACM Guitarist of the Year, I definitely noticed an increase in awareness of me outside the circle of people that I regularly work with. When you play on a lot of records in a short period of time, people still pay attention to that."
CM - How did you make a transition into recording?
RM – “I never really thought I’d be a session player and never really pursued it, to be honest. I was on the road with Delbert McClinton and his schedule wasn’t that crazy so there was a lot of down time. I would play gigs around town with anybody that would call me and sort of fell into session work. I had a couple of publishers who started to hire me for demo sessions and I treated it just like another gig. People started hiring me for their recordings and it just fell into place. I loved it immediately – the chance to be on the creative side of coming up with parts. I just keep showing up ready to play."
CM - Obviously, when you show up you bring a dangerous arsenal of ability and talent. Were you self taught as a guitarist or did you study and take lessons?
RM –" I did not take lessons. I grew up around a bunch of musicians in and out of the house all the time. Somebody would show me this or that or I just watched people play to learn how they were doing it. I did take music theory in high school but that was the only formal training."
CM - Did the theory help you in your career?
RM – "Theory and the ability to read are definitely helpful because they help you not only work at a faster pace but in intercommunication. You can speak the language in musical terms in the studio and understand each other when you are trying to work through a chart instead of having to say ‘hey, you know at that one soft part of the song’…"
DAVE MCNELLEY'S RIGS
CM - Talk a bit about your live rig versus your studio rig.
RM – “I always use two small amps, a 64 Fender Delux Reverb, my mainstay amp for almost everything and also an old Matchless DC30 combo. It’s not stereo – I just run a blend of both amps with mics. In some halls I use an amp by Analog outfitters called the Sarge, a little 18 watt EL84 amp. Whatever sounds the best in that venue for the night. I like amps that get into the breakup a little early so I don’t have to play loud. It’s kind of a loud rig naturally. For Seger’s music it’s pretty straight ahead. I have a couple of overdrive pedals, volume, echo and tremelo pedal."
"Guitar wise, I have several guitars out here – a Gibson custom shop Les Paul, a ’58 reissue, a Telecaster Custom, a Paul Reed Smith baritone guitar, and a ’53 gold top (Les Paul) that is my standard go-to guitar."
CM - Obviously you prefer to have an amp rig when you are playing live. Are there ever situations where you go direct in a live situation?
RM – “I do have a Kemper at my home studio and I’ve modeled some of my amps. When we started this tour, Moose (Jim Brown, auxiliary guitarist and keyboardist for Bob Seger, also an accomplished session player himself) discussed bringing out our Kempers just to give the sound man the option of blending that into the guitar signal. Some of these arenas do not sound great even with great gear. We actually ran out of time in production rehearsals to implement that. But, I’ve been really impressed with the Kemper and I think we’re finally at a point where that stuff sounds good and feels good to play."
CM -When you are playing live, do you use in ear monitors or wedges?
RM – “I’m actually on wedges. Bob uses a combination of both – he likes to pull out his ears at times to respond to the crowd. But I love the freedom of working on wedges. I’m going about this completely old school. I’m not even using a wireless; I am using a cord."
CM - Describe your studio rig.
"I always have a Fender Deluxe and an old Fender Tweed Tremolux. It’s all pretty much vintage gear. I’ve got an old Matchless DC 30 head and a 64 Bassman head that still has the presence knob. I’ve got a ’72 50 watt Marshall head. I pretty much run everything through a 2x12 cabinet and if I need it I use a Marshall 4x12 cabinet. I have a big pedal board but I find myself playing directly through the amps. There’s an interesting difference between doing demos and doing masters as far as amps vs. effects pedals. On master sessions I typically have time to work with amps and mic placement where on the average demo session, we need to add layers in a hurry so I use more pedals and outboard effects. I carry all my own guitars to sessions. My amps and pedals are in storage but I go into the guitar closet and grab whatever I need for the day guitar wise. I have three guitars that I always have with me on a session – a ’65 Strat that I’ve had since I was a teen, a sunburst Fender Tele with a P90 in the neck that I have played pretty much every day since I got it, and a 1969 Gibson 335 mono version."
CM - If you had to give an aspiring guitarist career advice, what would that be?
RM – “One key thing to try and learn to do - always work from the assumption that the artist and the players you are working with are great. Always read the room and realize that you are there to make the client happy. If you can accomplish that, you’ve accomplished the real key aspect of recording or performance period. Anybody that gets a call to do a gig or a recording deserves to be there based on the invitation. If you treat a client or another player like they’re a star, you walk out of there with much better results and a better reputation. Treat everybody like you would want to be treated."
"As well, it’s so important to keep your ego small. If someone doesn’t like the part you’re playing, you can’t have any emotional investment in the part. Just give your best version of what they want. That’s what gets you called back."
Getting called back has not been a problem for Rob McNelley these days. He is certainly a rising star in the recording industry. Our next interview involves a musician who has over 40 years of experience in the recording industry. As a young gun in LA, David Hungate played on some of the biggest records of the day. He then formed a band (Toto) with some other veterans of recording that garnered its own critical praise along with selling multiplatinum numbers of units.
CM - Dave, I know that you’ve been in the music business for a long time. Were your early formative years also filled with music?
DH – “I grew up in a little town in Missouri of about 1700 people. I was a trombone player and started taking lessons from the principal in the St. Louis symphony at the age of 7. I went to college at North Texas State. They had a terrific jazz department with big band music. It was my time there that really facilitated a career hanging out with guys like Dean Parks (hugely successful guitarist) and Tom Malone (trombonist that was musical director of Saturday Night Live band). Dean Parks was really my main influence. He was playing alto sax in the first band and I didn’t even know he played guitar. He was the first guy I ever knew whose goal was to be a session player. He would sit around with a metronome set at the slowest tempo and practice keeping subdivided time in his head between clicks. We were all going to school to be jazzers and then the Beatles and Hendrix hit and we realized the big bands weren’t coming back."
CM -Were you already doing some recording at this point?
DH – “Dean and I put a little band together to play some hippie clubs around Dallas. He had already been doing some jingles but as a band we went to a little four track recording studio and cut four sides. My first professional session was on a jingle for a studio in Ft. Worth. I started getting quite a bit more work around ’69 or ’70 in the Dallas area doing jingles."
CM - How did you end up in LA from Texas?
DH – “This band with Dean ended up getting hired to be Sonny And Cher’s backing band but I had another year of college and decided to stay. I continued to do sessions and gig some around Dallas. Shortly after I graduated, Dean and the guys put in their notice and Dean recommended me to replace him on guitar. I had played some guitar in high school so it wasn’t a huge stretch. Within a month of taking the Sonny and Cher gig, they landed the TV show. Sonny came to us and assured us that he would get us an audition for the TV band, really unheard of for that time. But, I got the gig playing guitar for the TV show and moved to LA. Dave McDaniel was playing bass at the time and was a great bass player. He just had a hard time getting to tapings and I ended grabbing my bass out of the car and playing the charts down after he missed a couple of sessions. I then moved over to bass because I really considered myself more of a bass player and became the bass player for the TV show."
CM - How did you end up hooking up with the guys who together would play on so many records then end up starting Toto?
DH – “About two months after I moved to LA, I got booked to do a session at Leon Russell’s house. It started at midnight and didn’t pay anything but Jim Keltner was going to being playing drums. He was THE guy and I really wanted to work with him. When I got there, they were already running the song down so I plugged in and put the phones on. The drummer was just killing me so when we finished the take, I walked into the booth expecting to meet Keltner but instead found this short, shrimpy guy that looked like he was twelve - Jeff Porcaro. I ended up getting him on the Sonny and Cher gig but he had connections as well. He and (David) Paich were really tight and I ended up getting more work from those associations. I did the Ironside TV show with David’s dad, Marty for a couple of years. After that it just kind of happened – I was in the right place at the right time.”
CM - How did the whole Toto thing come about?
DH – “The Toto thing got a real boost from the success of Boz Scagg’s Silk Degrees record. We all played on that and Paich had a hand in arranging and writing for that record. We had this hot band and we were on this hot record so people started approaching us. We didn’t really have to chase it. It was an exciting time. But, I was still struggling with the whole session guy versus live thing. There used to be a real thing with session guys as a point of pride that they didn’t have to go on the road. I had a kid and that’s really why I left Toto in ’82. They were going to do a big tour and I had a new baby and a three year old. We had moved to Nashville already."
CM - How has that changed through the years now that your kids are probably grown and touring has changed?
DH – “Oh it’s a helluva lot more comfortable than the 70’s now that the bunks don’t smell like Kerosene and you have internet and satellite. I hadn’t been on the road in 30 years when Vince Gill called me in ’08 to do a Christmas tour with him and Amy (Grant). I had a ball and continued to tour with Vince for 3 or 4 more years. He wasn’t out that much – maybe 50 dates a year. So, I kind of like being on the road now. Toto is about to do 2 months in Europe followed by a month in the US and even Japan. I’m hoping that I can keep my stuff together physically to do that."
CM - What’s it like to be back with Toto after all these years?
DH – “It’s fantastic. I was completely surprised to get the call after 34 years of being away. Paich said he was afraid to call because he thought I’d hang up on him. Everybody’s really mellowed. I had not had a lot of contact with them through the years. But after all these years, there’s a lot of love. All the words and bad feelings are behind now. We just want to have fun and there’s no drama."
CM - In regards to your transition in moving to Nashville, was it a challenge to move from being in a hot pop band to playing country? At the time you moved to Nashville, the vibe was very traditional.
DH – "I had played on some of the Eddie Rabbitt stuff back in the ‘70’s and I’d had worked with Kyle Lehning. But, there was still a transition coming from pop playing to country playing on 1 and 3; it’s very precise – no where to hide. There is a real art to playing that reserved and making the note lengths just right. And, the first time I got a look at the Nashville Number system, I thought what the hell is this stuff when all of a sudden a flat 3 appears with no reference to reality. I mean, I understood the theory of it and it definitely made changing keys on the fly much simpler. I can remember in LA you’d being reading a chart that was completely black with ink and then the singer would say that’s not the right key. I would be retuning the bass to be able to play the chart. In Nashville, it took a good couple of years to get in the groove and meet some people. One of the first records I worked on in Nashville was a Chet Atkins record with David Briggs. Atkins had been an idol of mine and it was the beginning of a great friendship. In 1984 he asked me to co-produce a record with him."
CM - With the advent of home studios and digital recording, have you added that to your arsenal?
DH – “Back in the 90’s I had a full blown 24 track recording rig but once I got out of the production side of things we unloaded that. Looking at what happening in the industry today, it’s really helpful for a young player to have a rig at home and be able to do that. As far as advice for a young aspiring player, I’d say you need to be able to play a bunch of styles fairly convincingly. You need to be versatile with the instruments – for a bass player it’s good to be able to play some upright. I didn’t play until I moved to Nashville and even then I would cheat and put fret marks on the side of my bass. It was funny to do a gig with some symphony players who actually played upright bass and have them all see my dots on the neck of the bass – what a poser. But the lesson here is doing what you have to do to get the job done. It’s also imperative for a bass player to be able to use a pick. It’s not that common in Nashville on country records but for a pop player, it’s a must."
DAVE HUNGATE'S RIGS
CM - Talk a little bit about your live and studio rigs.
DH – "Live, I use a minimal pedal board with a few stomp boxes. I use a MXR bass DI, TC Electronics Chorus, MXR 10 band EQ, MXR bass compressor and a Boss octave divider. With Toto, I am using two half stacks of the SVT amps. My studio rig includes a V76 Telefunken Preamp, a Tubetech midrange EQ, a Tubetech broadband EQ and an Teletronix LA-2A."
CM - Ever use an amp in combination with your direct rig?
DH - "I used to use an amp with a mic frequently in LA on sessions but when I unloaded the amp for my first Nashville session they asked what I was going to do with that. I’m not a stickler for that but if you want to get a real rock and roll sound, an amp is essential."
In conclusion, these are three great examples of musicians who are out there making a great living and creating great music. They’ve found unique ways to blend live performance opportunities with being on the cutting edge of creating the popular music of the day. Just the two bass players represent almost a century of world class contribution. The encouraging thing I find in common with each of the gentlemen is a sense of humility and gratitude. It’s a great privilege to be able to contribute and participate in the creation of the popular music that we listen to today. As well, it’s a great legacy to have worked with so many great artists and thusly having created a portfolio that will shine. I hope you enjoyed this series of articles. It was a great pleasure to interview these guys and get a glimpse of what recording looks like out of a textbook and class room. All the best my friends and as always, hone your skill and be prepared. Until the next article, record wisely my friends.
Chris Marion is an American musician best known as a member of Little River Band and for his contribution to the gospel and country music industries. Although graduating college with a B.A. in Psychology, he is a classically trained pianist and has worked in the music industry professionally for over 35 years. As a resident of Nashville, he is involved in the recording industry working in the genres of Gospel, Country and Rock. Since 2004, he has toured globally with the classic rock act Little River Band as a keyboardist and vocalist. For more useless trivia and minutiae concerning Chris or to contact him directly, feel free to visit his personal website www.chrismarionmusic.com.