From the Desk…Hello, Goodbye Part 1

The Long Goodbye by JOtwell
The Long Goodbye by JOtwell


Winding up 2013 with the final project at my home studio before re-locating to the new facility, I’ve been thinking about the 27 years I’ve spent in this room, and the people who’ve left their own impressions on this homely humble space.

In time-honored fashion it was a garage when we moved out here to the ‘burbs from the thick of midtown Elliston Place- the Rock Block, where I had my publishing operation My partner at the time, Bill Martin, and I also had studio space in Berry Hill, courtesy of our silent partner and booster Bob Todrank, at his Valley Audio headquarters, so we were well equipped with state of the art analog equipment and cutting-edge digital innovations. The only snag was that we had to record “ off-hours”, which made for long nights, especially when our jingle operation started having some success.

The suburban house had a huge , unfinished lower story which opened out to a pretty glen, complete with a babbling creek, so it didn’t feel underground, and there were garages at both ends. But previous owners had made both inaccessible to cars, for reasons best known to themselves, so the space immediately suggested a studio, with one garage as the control room. Bob and Bill were amenable to utilizing the space, so we set up shop in 1986.

After a couple of years the jingle business was wearing us both out, so Bill asked me to buy him out of the studio portion. It was scary for me to take it on, particularly as Bill had always been “the engineer ” and I’d been “ the music guy”, and despite having years of studio experience on both sides of the pond, the mixing board and outboard equipment were largely a mystery to me.
I managed to secure a loan from dear Brian Williams at 3rd. National Bank, with the equipment as collateral, and bingo…..I was on my own.

To Be Continued Next Thursday January 9th 2014


From the Desk … How Deep Is Your Love

Al Green - How Can you Mend a Broken HeartThe Bee Gees - How Can you Mend a Broken HeartGeorge Fame and Alan Price - Rosetta

Sometimes it can be a shock when you get a coveted cut, and then when you hear the record, the artist has taken it to a place you didn’t envision your beloved composition residing. I experienced this phenomenon many years ago, when my song “ Rosetta” became a huge hit as done by Georgie Fame and Alan Price, but I was resentful at the time about how it was interpreted….well, I was a young lad at the time, and didn’t know any better, but after forty-odd years of royalties I’ve got over that .

During that same period, while I was working in the publishing division of R.S.O. ( The Robert Stigwood Organization), whose flagship act was The Bee Gees, I came to realize that the parental concern one can feel for one’s song can kick in, no matter the elevated level of the composers.

One day we received a 45 acetate in the mail from Hi! Records in Memphis.  In those days it was a courtesy to send singles to the publisher before a single was issued, so when we spun it, and heard Al Green’s monumental version of what was already a monumental song “ How Can You Mend A Broken Heart”, my boss John Davies and I were over the moon.

John wanted the guys to hear it ASAP, and after a few phone calls established that the three of them were at Maurice’s house, so I was dispatched by taxi to Hampstead with the acetate. Being only an errand boy in this situation, I kept the cab ticking over in the driveway, and delivered the vinyl. I was reasonably friendly with Maurice, and he being a warm and hospitable fellow, offered me a drink and asked me to listen with them. I’d already heard it twice, so number three, on Maurice’s state of the art sound system was sublime to me, but when it finished the reaction of the brothers was pretty muted.

At that time Al Green wasn’t a huge artist in the U.K., mainly known to soul music fans, and his sparse, intense reading was quite a departure from the Bee Gees orchestrated version…I finished my drink and took the taxi back into the city, where I reported to John that the fellows had seemed underwhelmed by what they’d heard. “ Oh. They’ll come around to it “ he replied, which of course they did, but it can phase a composer when other hands and minds get hold of one of your babies.

Let it be, get over it, and count the pennies!

Spotify: How Deep is Your Love

From the Desk… Visualize It

12-01 Doris

A discipline I learned many years ago from my mentor, Doris Troy, was the technique of composing away from my instrument of choice. She was a pianist, and over the years, when there was no keyboard available, she’d trained herself to visualize a piano part, rehearsing it in her head, so that when she got to a piano, she could play the new piece unerringly at once. It might seem obvious, but at the time it was a new concept for me;  at that early point of my career I always wrote with either a guitar or a piano, but Doris believed that one’s instrumental technique could stifle the flow of compositional imagination.  She didn’t put it in so many words, but that was the gist of it.

There’s a temptation for the hands to follow tried and true patterns, and many writers do, indeed, have rudimentary instrumental skills. That doesn’t mean you can’t  write great songs, but it can mean that sameness may creep into the melodic and chordal end of things. Bobby Russell was a fantastic writer, especially as a wordsmith, but was a limited guitarist. “Little Green Apples” and “Honey”, Grammy winners both, pretty much encompassed his entire repertoire of chords, so in later years every new song sounded like a retread. I was working for him at that time, and tried to convince him to ‘visualize it’, but he considered that rather an uptown concept (which I guess it is if your uptown is Harlem, as it was in Ms. Troy’s case).

The advent of transposing electronic keyboards upgraded the Irving Berlin model (the great composer could only play in F#, and had a rigged piano which effectively transposed), and the capo fulfills the same function for guitarists, but freedom from an instrument can lead to a greater melodic freedom, overall.

Composing a melody chord-free can lead one to wonderful places, and then the chords can be shaped around the melody, rather than vice versa.

Composers and arrangers who use formal notation do this all the time, as they have the written chart as their equivalent of an instrument, but  less experienced writers might find themselves trapped, either by instrumental limitations or by too much in the way of chops. It’s a fine balance, but the private space between the ears is a perfect and peaceful place to get all the ideas in order, before you go to the instrument.

Try writing something away from your instrument of choice; i.e. write it totally in your head. It may take a while to feel totally comfortable, but work on it, until you can create a whole piece without tape,  cell phone or any other aide mémoire. And the bottom line is- if you can’t remember it afterwards, it wasn’t worth remembering.

Having a piece organized mentally can make the realization of said piece much easier when the instrument is introduced, because then one can choose the chords that will best serve the melody, rather than the chords dictating where the melody can go.


More on Doris Troy in Mersey Me! A Liverpool Lad on the Loose in the Swingin’ 60s