Jim Byrnes – My Walking Stick (2009)

“My Walking Stick” is the 3rd record I’ve made with Jim Byrnes. The last one was called “House of Refuge” and was sort of a gospel-style blues record. We got the Sojourners together to record vocals and that has turned into a great ongoing partnership. We’ve done lots of shows and tours with those guys now, and we also went on to make a record for them last year, and I’ll do another one in a few months.

Anyway, we wanted to incorporate the Sojourners again, but I really wanted to avoid rehashing the last record, so we picked a couple of gospel tunes, but mostly had them sing on other kinds of tunes, and some greasy 60’s soul kind of stuff.

We made this record in my usual haunt, The Factory, over about 5 or 6 days of tracking. The band included me on guitars, Keith Lowe on bass, Chris Gestrin on keyboards, and then we brought in Stephen Hodges to play drums. Stephen is a great player who I knew from his work with John Hammond, Mavis Staples, and Tom Waits. I thought he’d be the perfect guy to lend an organic, but aggressive and unique sound to the record.

So we did all the live tracks with the band in The Factory, with all of us in the main room. My amps were set up in a side booth, as was Keith’s bass amp for the electric tunes. Chris’ keyboard amps were put out in the hall for isolation. I decided to put Jim in the control room, so that we could have him totally isolated and could redo his vocals if we needed to.

Setup was all fairly easy. My guitar amps were miked up with 57’s and Coles 4038’s, a C12 on the bass amp, Jim sang into a vintage U47, and then there were the drums. See photos below for some pix of the setups. The drums were wild because Stephen doesn’t use toms, but he has 3 snares. He kind of plays them like toms sometimes. The craziest part was the kick he brought up which was 38”. Massive. So we tried a bunch of things to get the sound right. We ended up using a lot of the room sound in the mix, and I really had to spend some time making that massive kick drum work with the bass guitar.

After The Factory, we moved back to my place, The Henhouse, and worked some more on Jim’s vocals, I did some keyboard and guitar overdubs, and we had 3 or 4 days of sessions with the sojourners singing their parts. All of that stuff was overdubbed. That worked well because the sojourners guys had a couple of weeks with the tracks we recorded to learn all their parts.

Most of Jim’s vocals were done at my place, although there were 4 or 5 that we kept from the Factory sessions. Most noteably though, I think, is “Drown In My Own Tears” which was the original first take, and a great performance by Jim. For his vocals,  I tracked him with a Peluso LE47 microphone, and also an SM57 which I fed to a Fender Blues Junior amp that was really distorted. On a bunch of tunes, I used a combination of the 2 sounds. On “Ol’ Rattler”, it’s just the 57 through the amp. Very crunchy.

I mixed the record at my place as well, all on Protools, using an analog summing box, and some outboard gear. The fairly common chain of outboard was an LA-2A compressor on the vocal, and a Neve 1066 EQ. On the bass I used a Purple MC-77 compressor and a Helios 69 EQ. Most everything else was processed within Protools with various plugins.

Some brief track notes for some of the songs song:


–       I wanted to try this song as a ballad, so I changed the feel to a waltz for the verses, and had the choruses a bit more faithful to the original Band feel. The middle section was orchestrated using some strings by Jesse Zubot, I played the pump organ, and then used a mellotron Vibrophone sound along with a glockenspiel to tie it all together. The time changes were counted out loud by me on the live take, which I was able to delete later. The banjo part that runs throughout the song was what I originally played on guitar on the live take, but I though banjo would be cooler, so I erased the guitar and added banjo. It’s miked from about 10 feet away. There was some debate about the lyric “the ghost is clear”. I thought it was supposed to be “coast”, so I pulled a “c” from a different word and changed it to “coast”. But then we found out it really is “ghost” and I put it back the way it was.

My Walking Stick

–       this was done live and first take, I believe. I overdubbed a twangy electric guitar and the sojourners and fiddle were added in later. Everything else is done live. There’s a major edit in there near the end though, as the a capella section was an afterthought that was created and inserted.

I Want My Crown

–       this one was tracked with a full band take, but in the end, I found it too slow, so I decided to redo it at my place. There’s a sampled kick drum on there from another song, and the random cymbal hits were done live on the slower take by Stephen Hodges, and I just flew them in. I loved it because it gave the track a random feel, even though we’re playing over what is essentially a drum loop. The bass, vocals and everything else were done after I tracked the weissenborn. The organ was from the slower take, and I manually chopped it up and placed it in the faster take. There’s about 300 edits on it! The slide solo is done on my Asher Electro-Hawaiian.

Drown In My Own Tears

–       done completely live. Sojourners were overdubbed, and I added a rhythm guitar part using Jim’s L5 arhtop guitar. A great vocal take by Jim – first take, I didn’t touch it. The organ is killer throughout, and Chris Gestrin told me it’s his favourite track he’s ever done on organ.

What Are The Doing In Heaven Today

–       This was probably a second take from the band. It was really simple and I didn’t see any point in redoing it a bunch of times. The drums were really nice and the organ solo is great. We overdubbed the sojourners, but when we did that, I realized Jim’s live vocal just didn’t match the timing of what they were doing. So I pulled his vocal out, and we did the sojourners stuff to just the music, and then Jim sang at my place on top of everything else. John Reischman came to my place for a mandolin overdub, which added a great flavour.

Walk On Boy

– I knew this would be a great song for Jim to do. I wanted to get a really clangy sound out of the drums, and I remember trying to get something similar on a track from the Zubot and Dawson album “chicken scratch”. For that, we brought in a big anvil and hammer and bashed the hell out of it, but it always sounded like a tiny metallic click , no matter how hard we hit it! We just never got it right. Having Stephen Hodges there was great, because he knew how to get those sounds. When we had a take (I think it was take 4), we overdubbed percussion and went for some really trashy sounds. He pulled out a tiny little anvil, about 2 inches across, and with a drumstick, tapped it so lightly, it hardly made a sound. It looked hilarious, but when you mic that up and record it, it’s the exact sound I could never get before! It sounds like someone wailing on a massive anvil with a hammer! We added some other percussion that was recorded through a Fender Blues Junior amp.

I’m really happy with how this project came out. We spent a lot of time on it, but I think the results were really natural and unique.

More info and order the CD here…

~ by stevedawson on July 5, 2009.

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