Sink or Swim!

Elton John was one of mine and my wife’s favorite artists in the 70’s. In fact, we had even gotten married to his music. Also, for the last few years, the Denver musicians and engineers I was working with, considered him to be one of the best song writers in the world, and his producer, Gus Dudgeon, one of the top producers in the world!

I had only been working at the studio a little while as a technician, when Jimmy (the owner) asked if I’d sit in for his brother Mark as assistant engineer.They were recording the Rock of the Westies album at the time, and Mark had been working in the control room as assistant engineer. I don’t remember why Mark had to leave, but there I was, in the control room with “the big boys”. Whew! I think they could see me shaking as I walked up to the 24 track tape recorder. It was truly a “sink or swim” moment. They were patient, and all went well. Soon I was just part of the scene, and I had a ball!

Most singers record their vocals alone by listening to the music tracks that are recorded first. But Elton always sang while the “basic tracks” (drums, bass, guitar, piano) were being recorded, and we recorded his vocals. More often than not, the final vocal would be one of these tracks. He didn’t even have to record it later.

Another thing I learned was the secret to the famous BIG “English” drum sound.  They would put microphones far away from the drums to pick up the “room” sound. This would be mixed in with the close up mics to produce that “roomy” sound.  They called  them “ambience” mics. I remember Jeff Guercio, the recording engineer, referred to them as “ambulance” mics because they “saved” the drum sound.

Anecdote 1: Every night, Elton would leave his rings on the piano. And every morning when everyone returned to the studio, they would still be sitting right where he left them. The cleaning crew had even dusted underneath them! Have you seen the rings? Here’s a picture of ‘em:

Rock of the Westies

Anecdote 2: One night I was asked if I’d stay late to help with some extra recording. Of course I said yes.  Kiki Dee , who was a good friend of Elton’s, had come to the ranch to do some backing vocals, and I think we must have also worked on “Sugar On The Floor”. As you probably know, Kiki and Elton later had a huge hit together called “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart”.

Anecdote 3: I also had the job of riding all over the ranch in a small 4-wheel drive truck to get meter readings at each of about 17 streams running through the property. They all ran into the Boulder water supply, so the city had to pay Jimmy for the water. The job also entailed putting new papers and ink on the meters I just loved doing this because there were no roads. I had to be shown how to get to each meter through the forest. So I got to spend all afternoon once a month out in the back woods. Well, we were talking about it, and Davey Johnstone asked if he could ride along. I said, “Sure”. I showed him the ranch and we had a great time just gabbing.

Anecdote 4: Since Elton was on the Universal Records label at the time, he had a lot of “pull” with Universal Studios. Well, there was a brand new Steven Spielberg movie about to be released called “Jaws”. Elton had the movie delivered to the ranch a couple days before it was due to open in Denver. Since Jimmy was a huge movie buff, he’d had a full blown projection room with 35 mm projectors built just above the control room, and installed a large movie screen that could be lowered at the far end of the studio. Me and Al (Believe me, we didn’t have much experience at running theater projectors!) ran the movie for Elton, the musicians, and guests. The next day it was driven down to Denver for the opening night. Whew!

Download Elton’s Music Here:
Elton John Music

Comments

  1. Sorry Cheryl. I don’t have a pic of them on the piano, but he’s wearing them in the picture on the album cover right there.
    Thanks for your comment, and I hope you enjoy the website.

  2. After a little research, I found that you are correct. “Don’t Go…” was recorded in 1976. I stand corrected. Thanks for pointing it out. I guess I just remembered wrong. Maybe I’m getting “old timer’s” disease?

  3. Sorry, but your anecdote 2 is bull! Kiki and Elton didn’t record that until March, 1976 at Eastern Sound Studios in Toronto CANADA….

Leave a Reply