Many of my friends know that I’ve spent years in the recording studio as an engineer, producer, recording artist and backup musician. I was often called in to do some support work, such as background vocals, handclaps and so forth, on visiting artist’s recordings. This story is about one of those times….
At Crosstown Recording Studio in Boston, a prominent recording artist wanted to do some personal recording for the purpose of presenting songs to the publisher for a new album. These kinds of quick demo tapes were common in those days and I must have played on dozens of such sessions. Here is a list of the players in this particular story:
- Butch Tavares: The artist in question, and the man who sang “It Only Takes A Minute” which I understand, sold 5 million copies in the US. Everyone who know him calls him “Butchie.”
- Gary Dobbins: Recording engineer at Crosstown.
- Hank: Guitarist for the band Tavares.
- Steve: Keyboardist for the band Tavares.
Butchie has asked me to do some hand claps on one tune and he invited me to sit in on the sessions, so I sat down in the control room and watched the session.
Gary was setting up to record a melody line consisting of a guitar part and a keyboard part. Hank and Steve would play together on separate tracks which would be mixed together later. All was going according to plan.
Butchie was listening to the guys rehearsing their parts prior to recording the tracks (called a “take”). Butchie seemed unhappy with the results.
“Gary, can you let me hear just the guitar part by itself, while still letting Steve hear his keyboard part in his headphones?”
“Sure” Gary said.
Butchie was pleased with just the guitar part, so he asked Gary to record just Hank’s guitar part and omit the keyboard part from the take. But Butchie didn’t want Steve to know that he wasn’t being recorded. Gary made that happen.
When the 2 musicians were doing the take, they were both grooving to the tune, and obviously pleased with their performance. Now was the moment of truth: the playback. Steve got a funny look on his face when he didn’t hear his part on the recording, as he had definitely heard it while doing the take. Finally Steve said “I can’t hear my keyboard part – what happened?”
Butchie turned to Gary and said “What happened?”
Gary shrugged his shoulders, obviously the fall guy in this situation.
“Nevermind, Steve, now that I’ve heard it with just the guitar part, I think I like it better that way….”
And with those words, the matter was settled.
But I will never forget the look of bewilderment on Steve’s face….
This is a 1978 photo of Gary Dobbins (left) with Bill Irwin, his partner in the music store they owned on Beacon Street in Boston.