The act of choosing your material for a recording you’re about to make is a critical, as well as truly fun project. I have many times gone for material that I’ve never played before going into the studio, and also recorded material that I have long played “live” and then took into the studio after the fact. In both cases, the material is really bound to change once you enter the recording studio with it, and that is certainly a healthy thing. After all, when we are recording we are definitely looking at the music through new eyes and ears, and committing it to something as “final” as the act of recording certainly merits a closer look, for sure.
One really good barometer to use is how the other musicians are reacting to the changes in the songs, or even their own contributions when it comes to the arrangements and compositions themselves. I always keep an open mind to everyone’s suggestions while recording, and have worked with many other artists who also kept an open mind, in fact, many who literally needed to get a consensus of opinion from the musicians, as well as the engineer and also the Producer. Working with Paul Simon was certainly like this, and his “organic” way of working in the studio was terrific, because we all felt like we were also doing the writing, as well as the arranging. Once everything felt in order, and we were all satisfied and fired up and ready, only then would we start to do some “takes.” Of course, the final word was Paul Simon’s, but really everyone’s opinion was important, and we all were very important sounding boards for him during the process.
There were also artists I’ve been in the studio with who completely depended on either my input, or the input of me as well as the other players. These are the kinds of musicians who really do need a “Producer”, because they literally do need to be told what’s right and what’s wrong. The first time I really encountered this was in 1975 with John Prine in the studio in L.A. I couldn’t believe the lack of input he, as the artist, had! The Eagles were there, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and a whole slew of other “stars”, and John seemed so completely removed from the process, I could scarcely believe it. As someone who’s used to having a very strong opinion about what I like or don’t like, it was almost comical to see how much of his music was handed over to the Producer, Steve Cropper, and all the other folks. The part that ended up being really upsetting was the fact that there I was, sitting outside the studio with my guitar, totally ready to do the overdub they were going for, and even Prine, who could tell I was ready, had no power to make that decision. I mean, this was HIS music, not anyone else’s! So, instead, Glenn Frey of The Eagles tried and tried for several hours to get this short little solo right, which it never was, and then he and Cropper bet the session pay on the Superbowl!
No question, this situation was one where Prine was strictly a bystander to the creation of his own record, while being mainly just the man who was contributing the songs and the vocals. I, as both an instrumentalist as well as a vocalist, love to pick from a wide variety of music, not all original, but some written by me, and I like to have a wider selection and come up with some fairly obscure choices sometime, which is also an art in and of itself! So, you should also stay tuned for that new album, and all of its eclecticism….they were choices that were all made for some very interesting reasons!