As I started to enter the studio work scene, both in Woodstock and in New York City, it really started to become apparent that the old adage of “less is more” is so true. I used to joke that “no, you mean Les is Paul”, but that’s just one of my typical puns I simply could never resist!
I was basically a guitar player who came “roaring out of the gates”, and was so live performance oriented that it was really hard for me to reign in my pure energy, and make it something that would fit more into the world of recording. Keep in mind that also of this recording I was doing was not even what I liked to play, which had a huge impact on me as well. It’s a very strange situation indeed, when someone falls in love with your playing because of the uniqueness they saw you do in a live venue, but then they put you in a studio, and give you so much terrible misdirection that they literally sap all your creativity and energy. I never understood this..I mean, don’t you hire the musicians you want to TRUST?! I always play with players who bring something unique to the table, and only if I need something different from them do I ever need to give a slight “nudge” in the right direction. A true professional should always react to that kind of suggestion with total respect and deference, and if they’re there because of your respect for THEM, then the whole picture should balance out nicely.
But it’s tough when you’re the rookie, the new kid on the block, the one who needs to “break in” to the scene. I can remember back around 1974, I was fast becoming the “house” guitarist on lots of sessions at a hot recording studio called “914”, in Rockland County, NY. I was playing on Dusty Springfield records, Janis Ian, Don McLean and on and on…literally all in the same place. Well, one day, the call was for me to play pedal steel guitar on Janis Ian’s “Between the Lines” lp….the one where “Seventeen” became a big hit. She and I were also frinds in Music and Art High School in Manhattan. Now, Nobody knew about pedal steel guitar in NY at that time, and the only players were me and my buddy, Eric Weissberg, of “Dueling Banjos” fame. So, the session begins, and I’m playing my single-neck E9 Emmons, and I’m noticing that they’re only recording me direct through the board, no amp, no reverb, just a totally dry, lifeless sound, that was also almost impossible to hear in the headphones!
So, I, in a very professional manner by the way, make a suggestion to the Producer/engineer, who will go nameless here, that it would be a heck of a lot better if I was going through an amp, with reverb, and then mic’ed. They said, “sure, no problem Arlen, sounds like a great idea!” Then I figured everyone was happy, and then we went on with making actually quite a nice recording.
Well, weeks and then months passed without ever hearing from them or those sessions again. No calls, no work. I was totally baffled. Well literally YEARS later, I found out that that producer/engineer, who was so full of himself anyway, told everyone, “ how DARE that young upstart Arlen Roth tell ME how to record. I’ll never hire him again!” Can you imagine what that sounded like to me……I mean here I was, making a perfectly logical and humble suggestion, bringing my STEEL GUITAR expertise to the table, and it didn’t matter! It all became about his ego, who should dominate who, who’s in charge, all that nonsense….and all it really did in the end was stand in the way, albeit momentarily, of my career.
You know, it all makes me want to say to you to “be careful”, but at the same time, the thing that really sticks out in my mind more, is “stick to your guns!” It was the producer/engineer who was childish, and who should have really taken into account that I was new to this whole process, and definitely given me the benefit of the doubt. He needed to check his OWN emotions and ego at the door! More next time…keep on hangin’ in there!