This section covers everything I could think of about the Sons' first album, Loosen Up Naturally.
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"Loosen Up Naturally" is my favorite Sons album, because it managed to be the purest music they really performed in the studio. They had recorded an album in 1967 for Trident Records. It was never released, and it is mostly mushily produced. One record, the single "Sing Me a Rainbow" B/W "Fat City" was released, but had only the most modest success, probably climbing as high as eighth on the Mill Valley record charts. The next projected single was a tune called "Shades of Gray," written by professional songwriters. Shortly before the Sons album was to be released, the Monkees released their version of "Shades of Gray."
The first opportunity the Sons had in an eight track studio was at Leo De Gar Kulka's Golden State Recorders in San Francisco. Leo had handled the recording for Quicksilver Messenger Service's first album, and they had reportedly done as many as 140 takes for one song, spending huge amounts of studio time on one tune, "The Fool."
Before the Capitol contract was even signed, the band wanted a concession from Capitol. How about letting us make a free record, that we would send to whoever asked? Oh, yeah, the tune is called "Jesus is Coming."
Despite the almost fundamentalist tone of the song, no one who saw the band would mistake them for Bible belt churchgoers. "Jesus is Coming" was written by Tim Cain, who added a very spiritual philosophy to the band. It sings like a gospel hymn, with a touch of baroque organ.
One of the amazing things about the Sons was that the band's approach was so honest, open, and almost "gee-whiz," that during the first incarnation of the band, we could and would ask anyone for anything, and sometimes even get it. No one could doubt that these guys existed only for the music they played. They spent as much time practicing as they could, because it was also the most fun they could have, working out their tunes. Manager Fred Roth was not much of a businessman, although he gave it the best he had. What he did was look people directly in the eye and tell it the way he saw it. His style of management was actually a perfect complement to the Sons' music, because his personal philosophy was then driving the band.
We could almost count the money. It was finally going to happen. Steve Miller had just signed with Capitol, and they gave him a $150,000 bonus just for the ink. Quicksilver was on Capitol and they were hot. Jim Beem had even done a horn part on their album on the song "Pride of Man." The Sons knew they were as good as any of those guys. Money. Soon. Studio. Yes. Money.
So Capitol said they would do it, and we went in the studio in the fall of 1968 to do the tracks. It was the first time most of us had seen an eight track, and after their experience in the four track Trident studio, the band was drooling over the possibilities.
The song was done in a couple of studio days, one for basic tracks and one for overdubbed vocals and solos, with Tim singing the lead. At about eight minutes it was too long for one side of the 7-inch 33 rpm disc Capitol pressed it on, and when it was released, it was split in the middle and put on both sides. This was an artistic disaster, since the song faded on one side just before it started to build to a climax. The listener had to flip it over and kind of imagine that the song hadn't stopped while that was being done. The offer of the free record resulted in about 8000 copies being mailed out at Capitol's expense.
The big recording session was in a few weeks, and Jim Beem went around the bend. At a gig he went catatonic, just standing and staring, and he pissed in his pants. Most accounts of this call it some kind of acid burnout, and while that's possible, I think there was more to it than that. Jim had certainly taken acid, and this was a culture that often considered LSD the best cure for whatever ails you.
Jim was very depressed, and tried to keep it together, but he was losing ground. He showed up at my little two-room flat in Larkspur at about six one morning. This was a long way from his house in Fairfax, and he wanted to talk. Actually, he wanted to walk and talk. And he wanted to hold my hand while we walked a couple of miles through town and up Madrone Canyon. I let him do it, because he was a brother, and he was troubled, but I don't know if I helped him. It was uncomfortable to be strolling the streets of my town holding hands with another man.
After a couple of embarrassing gigs, it was obvious that Jim couldn't play on the recording session. This was a problem because all the horn arrangements assumed that a trumpet was included. Bill learned to fill some of the trumpet parts on the organ, and that would have to do.
The contract was signed after "Jesus is Coming" and that winter the band went in the studio. It took a day or so to arrange the band, work out balances, and get comfortable with the entirely different feel of studio recording from practicing or performing. Bill Bowen didn't like the fact that the bass speaker wasn't two feet behind him, and he didn't like the isolation of playing in the baffled "drum cage." A headset is hardly a replacement for a Fender Dual Showman.
Finally things were as good as they were going to get, and it was time to do some basic tracks. The first song was so new that it didn't have a title. They had just worked it out in the practice hall, and they hadn't yet performed it. When they were about to begin, Leo asked over the talkback what the name of the song was. No one had an answer, so in order to give him something to call it, Leo noted the index number of the tape box. Over the talkback he slated the song, "1982-A, take one." He had named the first song on the album.
The recording session took place in several segments, overseen by Bruce Walford and Dave Schallock as well as Bill and Tim. First was a week or so of laying down basic tracks, then a few days of overdubs, then mixing.
Once everything was set up, basics went down quickly. One song, "Don't Fight It, Do It," was the first take. The band pulled it off perfectly on the first try, and came in to listen to a playback. Dave and Bruce loved it right away. After the playback, Leo asked the band if they were ready to lay down another one. Some of the guys looked hurt. "What was wrong with that one?" they asked.
Leo didn't know a good take from a bad one of a song he had never heard, but he assumed that no one used the first take . They went out and put down a couple more, then called it off and moved to another song. Fifteen minutes, one take, what's next?
The absence of the trumpet is most obvious in the openings of "Freedom," and "Get High," both of which were originally arranged as a three-part interplay between alto and tenor saxes, and the trumpet. Bill played the trumpet part on the B-3, which lost the balance of the section.
Basic tracks went down for the first week, and then it was time for overdubs. Once the rhythm section equipment was put away and the studio set up for dubs, some of the problems with basic tracks showed up. There is a tempo change in "Everywhere," and Terry's rhythm guitar part drags in the first part of "Freedom." By this time though, you have to live with what you have.
For the guitar overdubs a Twin Reverb with a high frequency horn as an extension speaker was turned up to ten and put in the small sound-insulated room usually used for vocal overdubs. Nothing in that room with warm blood would live after that amp cut loose, so the guitar cord was strung under the mostly soundproofed door and the player did his thing out in the main studio. With the guitar isolated from the amp, there was no feedback, and the player could listen to it as loud or as little as he wanted over the monitors or headphones as he soloed along with the basic track. Customarily it's done while listening on headphones, but Terry liked the ambience of loud music, so he sat between a pair of big studio monitors listening to the playback REAL LOUD while he did his dubs.
Terry's solo on "Things are Getting Better" is one of the best he ever recorded, although the song is somewhat forgotten, last on the third side.
Bill's guitar solo on "Don't fight It, Do It" is a great one, but it almost didn't happen. He did a good one, and came in for a listen. "Pretty good," everyone agreed. "No, one more." "Okay." With only eight tracks to work with, you didn't have the option of saving one to see if the next one would be better, you had to record over the previous take.
Then Bill went out and did the one that was used on the record, and it was obvious that this was the take, and it couldn't get much better.
Bill added baritone sax to "Everywhere," and "Freedom." Tim doubled his sax solo on "Rooftop" and did his "Freedom" and "Get High" solos. Geoffrey added a keyboard solo to "Black and Blue Rainbow," and played two tracks of vibes and tabla on "Get High." (Years later I heard a keyboard player in a bar band at Squaw Valley do Geoff's solo note for note.) Bill did his keyboard solos.
Then on to the vocals. The most entertaining was "Don't Fight It, Do It." Jim Beem had helped write the song, and had originally sung it with Tim, but for the record the duet was Bill and Tim. Things didn't go quite right, and the vocal went to several takes. Finally, Tim's voice cracked, and he could only hit his notes with a screechy squawk. The tape was still rolling, so when the second verse came around, he switched to a lower octave. This took Bill by surprise, and he started laughing, with a live mike. Now they started hamming it up, because they figured the take was blown, and they'd be rolling back for another take in just a few seconds. At the end of the vocals, Tim squawked into the mike, and even though it wasn't a very loud sound, it was close to the mike, and it could be mixed as loud as necessary to sound like a loud scream. In the final mix it was as necessary and panned from side to side, a luxury of eight-track recording. Laughing, Bill said, "Oooh, terrible." Leo kept the tape rolling, because Bill sang the last part of the song alone, and he might as well do it now as some other time. The two vocal sections were separated by a long guitar solo, and it would be easy to "drop in" to do the first part again. Bill finished the song, and the singers came in for a playback.
"We're going to have to do that again."
"Let's listen to what we have."
On the playback, it was still funny, and the segue, even with the "Terrible," into the guitar solo was perfect. Tim wasn't going to do any better that night, so they kept it.
For the scat section of "Freedom," Bill used a live mike during the recording of the basic track, so he could interplay with the sax, and cue the rest of the band when to come in at the end of the scat. The section had started life with words, but they weren't Bill's, they were Rob Moitoza's chant:
"Show me the way to get to Soulville,
Show me the way to get home.
Show me the way to get to Soulville,
Because that's where we belong."
Bill didn't want to steal Rob's lyric for the record, so he dropped all the words and switched to a straight scat solo based on the same phrasing. This section turned out to be a problem because he didn't like the track he did live and he wanted to do it again in an overdub.
The drum track and the sax tracks had to continue through that section, and there was enough leakage into those mikes that the original scat couldn't be erased completely. Behind the overdubbed scat a tinny, tiny voice mimics it, but not exactly right, like a little bee. In the live version, Bill could "call and answer" with Tim on sax, Tim playing the scat phrase after Bill made it up. With no reference points, Bill didn't know when he should do the call, and as a result, he echoed the lick after Tim's lick on the basic track, a sort of reverse answer and call. The other thing was, he gave the vocal cue when the scat was over, and he couldn't listen to the original track to hear himself give the cue for the rest of the band to jump in. It almost took him by surprise at the end of his scat solo.
There is a tape splice at the end of the scat, and it was a little tight. Splices are usually done on the beat, because by rocking the tape over the playback head the engineer can precisely identify where the cut is made by the drumbeat. In this case the time is close enough, but one drum beat got shortchanged and has no pop. It just happens to be the "one" in the measure between the vocal and the entrance of the band, which became strangely limp compared to the live version.
The vocal for "Get High" was the last one recorded that evening. It was 2:00 a.m., and Bill was whipped. His singing is a little flat through the song, but it was a case of there not being enough gas left in the tank for another go at such a long song. For the choral bit at the end of the vibes solo, everyone who was in the studio, except Leo, came out of the control room to sing. Bill, Tim, Terry, Geoff, Dave Schallock and Bruce Walford and me. Someone passed a joint around the microphone, and Dave took a hit close enough to get it on the record.
Bill sang the first line alone, and as the rest of the choir chipped in, I tried to find an appropriate part and not embarrass myself. I had some bells hung on my beltloop for no other reason than it was 1968 and people did things like that. Someone jingled them, and they're on the record. The singing got louder and louder and it was harder not to do it right with everyone shouting around the mike and Geoff shaking a tambourine and then the crescendo was over, and Bill sang the rest of the song and we were out of there for the night.
There were more problems with Loosen Up Naturally after it was recorded than there were during the session. Mixing was an adventure: Bill, Tim, Bruce Walford and Dave Schallock were the hands on people, with Leo attempting to retain control of the board. "Just tell me what you want adjusted, okay?" Everyone else who was there offered encouragement and advice constantly. In other words, it was just like any other band activity.
The amount of music on the album turned out to be a problem. It had been so easy to lay down all these long tunes, because they had practiced most of them for a long time. All the music came from the two sets they had been in the habit of playing at the Avalon, or any other two-set venue. It was the best stuff they had, and it music crafted for performance, not recording. The object was to get people on their feet early, and keep them there as long as possible. The first set opened with "Thing To Do," and closed with "Get High." The second set opened with a tune like "Everywhere." and ended with "Freedom." No prisoners, and no ballads. Mostly four/four. The album, like the sets the Sons played then, grabbed you by the neck and shook you until they were done.
Every song was too long, the shortest at well over three minutes and the longest, at fifteen minutes, a whole side of an album. How many of these tunes could you pack on an album? They wanted them all. Eventually Capitol made the unusual concession of releasing a double album as the band's debut. In the trades the ad read, "So much to say, it took a double album to say it!"
And then there were a few other problems like cover art, songwriting credit, and so on.
Capitol was not prepared for a band that said, oh yeah, we'll do the cover ourselves. What are art departments for? By this time, after the "Jesus is Coming" episode, they must have realized that they were not dealing with anything they had seen before.