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Author Topic: I'll Take You There  (Read 8612 times)

David Kulka

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I'll Take You There
« on: February 02, 2005, 11:12:51 pm »

Terry, welcome to this forum!  Your career and credentials are remarkable, and I've enjoyed reading your comments.

After reading of your tenure at Stax, I wonder if you can tell me anything about the recording of I'll Take You There by the Staple Singers.  What an fantastic track!  As a teenager I worked at a record store when that one came out, and just loved it.  I still have the LP and got a CD version last year and man, that one sure stands the test of time.  The performance, recording, and mix are superb.

Was that one during your time?  Can you offer any details on the tracking session, the vocals, the mix, the general atmosphere, or the gear that was used?  Thanks in advance.
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compasspnt

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Re: I'll Take You There
« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2005, 01:31:42 am »

David Kulka wrote on Wed, 02 February 2005 23:12

...I wonder if you can tell me anything about the recording of I'll Take You There by the Staple Singers....any details on the tracking session, the vocals, the mix, the general atmosphere, or the gear that was used?


Ah, yes.  One of my favourites, too.  Yes, I indeed worked on this one, and all of the other Staple Singers Stax recordings.

First, let me say how lucky I was to have been able to work with the great singers, musicians, and writers who were responsible for music like this one.  People like that made my job easy.

The song was written by Al Bell, with Mavis Staples contributing, as they sat around in a living room one evening.  Al was the producer, and I was his co-producer and engineer.  He had been to Jamaica on holiday, and had fallen in love with the Caribbean style, early reggae influenced music he heard there.  He wanted to get that kind of rhythm into an American R&B song.  So we were basically copying what the guys in Kingston were doing, adding it to our standard Memphis Soul "MO."  (Years later I told this to my new-found friend Sly Dunbar, Jamaican drummer EXTRAORDINAIRE; Sly replied that they were at that time trying to emulate the Stax sound, injecting it into their music.  Go figure!)

The basic track for "I'll Take You There" was cut at Muscle Shoals Sound in Alabama.  Even though Stax had (obviously) their own studios, and their own tremendous group of musicians, Al wanted to get something a little different sounding.  Plus, they did so much recording at Stax, it was sometimes difficult to get time, even for Chief Executive Al Bell!  Anyway, we trekked down to Muscle Shoals, and the great players there, Roger Hawkins on drums, David Hood on bass, and Barry Beckett on keys, put down exactly what we needed.  I played several guitars on the track, and there was another rhythm guitar also, I think.  Mavis did a guide vocal so that the band had the right feel.  We cut more than a whole album's worth of tracks at that time.

We brought the basic back (I think it was on 16 tr 2"; MS had a Studer, I think, and at Ardent we had a 3M.  There is a tiny chance the track was initially done on 8 tr 1", but I don't remember for sure) to Memphis, and went into the old Ardent Studio on National Street.  The Staples came in first for vocals.  Mavis did her lead by herself.  I think I used a U87, but it might have been a 67.  I did 2 or 3 takes, then did a comp onto another track.  After that, the whole group sang the backing vocals.  Mavis sang again with them.  They were all grouped around the same lead vocal mic.  The console was an early SpectraSonics, and I had a UA 176 tube limiter on all the vocal overdubs.  (Still have that unit; one of my all time faves.)

After the vocals were done, we called in The Memphis Horns and did their parts.  At that time, there were several of them, usually 2 tenor saxes, a baritone, and one or 2 trumpets.  Often there was a trombone as well.  I would mic them with Neumann 84's on the trumpet, and 87's on the saxes, most of the time.  Usually like instruments would group on the said mic.  I've never liked to have many mics open when few will do the job.  I prefer direct, phase-problem-free sounds wherever possible.  The M-Horns contributed their arrangement ideas, as did Al and I, to come up with the final; there were never any charts on these Memphis sessions, except for strings.

After the horns (this was not all on the same day, of course, I'm just giving the sequence of events) Al, as he was wont to do, left me alone with the tracks to come up with ideas.  I played a harmonica part, and some percussion, and several guitar ideas.  (There may have been more I did at this stage, but I can barely remember what I did today in the studio, much less that long ago!)

Then came the mix, which I did on the SpectraSonics desk onto a Scully 1/4" stereo machine.  Reverb would have been all EMT plate; we had two of them at that time, with slightly different decay times dialed in.

Anyway, that's about it.  Just a little before this, we also did "Respect Yourself," as well as the other tracks on the same album, all done basically the same way.  We were consciously experimenting with different types of sounds and styles.  I would play my (then) new Moog IIIC synth, use distorted guitar, sample little bells and manually fly them in, etc., just to see what we could get away with.  I even made a "string sample" machine by taking a huge length of 1" tape, using mic stands as extra tape guides, and making a very long loop which stretched out around the control room.  When doing string sessions, I would ask them to please all play a "C" note (ostensibly to check their intonation, but really to get the note sampled!)  Then a bit later, I would ask for an "A," and so on.  When I got a few good notes, I would later choose the ones most needed in a particular song, and use vari-speed to get other needed, but not recorded, notes.  I would then take the 8 most useful notes, and record them onto the tape loop, which would thereafter play incessantly.  Then I would "play" the notes by moving up the faders as the notes were needed.  Not great attack, but it worked pretty well!

Lots of fun back then!

Thank you for your comments, and your questions.

All the best,

Terry
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natpub

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Re: I'll Take You There
« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2005, 02:36:59 am »

compasspnt wrote on Thu, 03 February 2005 00:31

 even made a "string sample" machine by taking a huge length of 1" tape, using mic stands as extra tape guides, and making a very long loop which stretched out around the control room.  When doing string sessions, I would ask them to please all play a "C" note (ostensibly to check their intonation, but really to get the note sampled!)  Then a bit later, I would ask for an "A," and so on.  When I got a few good notes, I would later choose the ones most needed in a particular song, and use vari-speed to get other needed, but not recorded, notes.  I would then take the 8 most useful notes, and record them onto the tape loop, which would thereafter play incessantly.  Then I would "play" the notes by moving up the faders as the notes were needed.  Not great attack, but it worked pretty well!




Sweet, a homemade "Mellotron!"

nice one  Surprised
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Re: I'll Take You There
« Reply #3 on: February 03, 2005, 08:32:05 am »

Quote:

I would then take the 8 most useful notes, and record them onto the tape loop, which would thereafter play incessantly. Then I would "play" the notes by moving up the faders as the notes were needed. Not great attack, but it worked pretty well!



Good Lord. It sure is great to know some the crazy stuff I did in the day was being "topped" but excersizes such as this!

Bravo. Creative control never displayed better!
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David Kulka

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Re: I'll Take You There
« Reply #4 on: February 03, 2005, 06:08:30 pm »

Terry, sincere thanks for your lengthy reply, which painted a wonderful picture of how that great song came to be.

I was a suburban kid working at a record store in downtown San Jose when "Respect Yourself" came out in 1971, I think "I'll Take You There" was released in '72.  The store happened to be along the "cruising" section of First Street.  On Friday and Saturday nights when the low riders paraded by, those two songs blasted out of car radios and 8-tracks.  Both of those were such great songs, I loved the jaunty bass line, scratchy guitar, and your harmonica on "I'll Take You There".  And the album cover, with the Staple Singers posing around the fan blade of a huge jet engine.

It was interesting to read of that song's Caribbean influence.  I know there was a lot of cross-pollination between the States and Jamaica, and that a lot of American R&B was heard there over the powerhouse AM stations.  I believe that Caribbean grooves subtly found their way into a lot of our R&B hits.  Some of the Mary Wells singles on Motown are examples of this,"Two Lovers" and "You Beat Me To The Punch" come to mind.  (Both of those are great recordings, too.)

I have done studio installation and maintenance for many years, and worked on Spectrosonics boards back in the day.  They sounded great, but were a bear to work on.  I recall spending a lot of time on my back beneath one of them.   The audio path was clean and the amplifier circuits were hot, but the ones I knew were prone to RF and oscillation.  On at least one that I saw, the factory had soldered disk capacitors to about a hundred patch points, presumably to supress this.

The Universal Audio 176 dates back to about 1965.  I was looking at a schematic the other day, and noticed that the address shown for UA is 6000 Sunset.  UA was relatively small at the time, and they probably just occupied a few offices at 6000.  This of course was the Western Recorders building, which closed just last week.  

A few more questions, if I may.  I gather from the above that Stax had their own studios, and you also used Ardent at times?  What were those rooms like?  Also, how did Hi Records fit in to all this?  Did you also record Al Green or Ann Peebles?

That music was so great -- thanks again for your time.  The Memphis R&B records were a huge part of American music but we don't often hear about what went on in the sessions down there.

(edited)
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WhyKooper

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Re: I'll Take You There
« Reply #5 on: February 04, 2005, 11:10:41 pm »

At the time "I'll Take You There" was on the charts, I was well into noticing more how songs were put together above whether I really liked them.  

I remember hearing that one all over the place..sometimes from across the way in malls, at the beach etc..and I'd always notice distinct places in the recording where the snare jumps out...I mean really up there in level for a hit or two.  I'd always hear the song and think,  "somebody was really riding those faders" to bring up those various snare hits for effect.  

Am I just hearing things, or was this a planned thing on that mix?
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compasspnt

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Re: I'll Take You There
« Reply #6 on: February 04, 2005, 11:19:34 pm »

WhyKooper wrote on Fri, 04 February 2005 23:10

..and I'd always notice distinct places in the recording where the snare jumps out...I mean really up there in level for a hit or two.  I'd always hear the song and think,  "somebody was really riding those faders" to bring up those various snare hits for effect.  

Am I just hearing things, or was this a planned thing on that mix?



Definitely a planned thing.  I would do a lot of fader moves.

Thanks.
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stevieeastend

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Re: I'll Take You There
« Reply #7 on: February 06, 2005, 09:49:00 am »

What I would be interested in with which console and tape machine has most of the Stax records been recorded an mixed? I always had the feelin that these records had a smoother and more direct sound then any other records. For me, as a kid, it was THE cool sound to go for and still is. It was always such a cool thing to discover all of the Stacks stuff and play it to the others. The would always go "whooo where got you this from? Who are these guys, this sounds awesome.."... especially the Bar-Keys, I am a big fan of.

I always felt that it has something to do with the warm sound that fits perfectly to that kind of music and made soul, R&B and funk to what it is.  I remember how disappointed I was when I heard "Living in America" by James Brown. All this tuby, smooth thing was gone. The newer equipment just doesn?t fit to this great music IMO. So knowing what equipment was involved back then would be really great!


thanks in advance
steveeastend

David Kulka

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Re: I'll Take You There
« Reply #8 on: February 14, 2005, 01:26:07 am »

Well, I was thrilled when towards the end of the tonight's Grammy telecast, Mavis Staples came out and launched into "I'll Take You There".  A deserved tribute, to say the least!

A little disappointing that it was just the first of a medley of gospel numbers, just a piece of the song, but I ran out to the shop in my bathrobe to find the Be Altitude CD, to play the whole song for myself and my wife.  The Genelecs were working awfully hard and I guess the neighbors were listening too, though perhaps not by choice.  But it sure sounded fine.

What a great song -- thanks again, Terry.
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compasspnt

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Re: I'll Take You There
« Reply #9 on: February 14, 2005, 01:51:01 am »

steveeastend wrote on Sun, 06 February 2005 09:49

What I would be interested in with which console and tape machine has most of the Stax records been recorded an mixed? I always had the feelin that these records had a smoother and more direct sound then any other records. For me, as a kid, it was THE cool sound to go for and still is. It was always such a cool thing to discover all of the Stacks stuff and play it to the others. The would always go "whooo where got you this from? Who are these guys, this sounds awesome.."... especially the Bar-Keys, I am a big fan of.

I always felt that it has something to do with the warm sound that fits perfectly to that kind of music and made soul, R&B and funk to what it is.  I remember how disappointed I was when I heard "Living in America" by James Brown. All this tuby, smooth thing was gone. The newer equipment just doesn?t fit to this great music IMO. So knowing what equipment was involved back then would be really great!


thanks in advance
steveeastend



Hi Steve,

There were several of different consoles in the two Stax studios, at different times.  I think in the very early days, before my time, there was an old radio console that Jim Stewart used, perhaps an Altec. I saw something like that around there once in storage, but I don't remember exactly.

Later ones (what most of the stuff was recorded on) were discrete transistor, either Auditronics manufactured by Welton Jetton (under license from SpectraSonics, using their parts and specs), or a Flickinger, built by Dan Flickinger, a rather strange man who built some pretty good stuff for a while.  The recording machines were originally only mono or 2 track Ampex tube machines, but later when more tracks became available, were Scully, at least the ones I remember were.  Equipment came and went in that place.  I think the main part of the "sound" was the room, the recording philosophy, and the players.

Some of the tracks were recorded at Ardent Studios, who had similar branded equipment, and some, such as The Staples, were tracked at Muscle Shoals Sound (Neve and Studer, I think) and overdubbed and mixed by me at Ardent.

Stax Studios mixing was first Ampex 350 types, then Scully 1/4".  They never got to 1/2" stereo.

Thanks for your interest!

Terry
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stevieeastend

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Re: I'll Take You There
« Reply #10 on: February 14, 2005, 02:29:25 pm »

Thank you very muchTerry for your detailed answer!

When going throuh all of these "recording notes", ZZ Top, Stacks, etc.
the name "Specatrasonic"  kind of jumps into my mind and let me wonder if this console had to be something very special.
Not to many posts say something good about MCI consoles as this seemed to be a common one in the older days.
But I also cannot think of anyone, neither in this forum or somewhere else, mention a Spectrasonic console of something REALLY special as older Neves or Abbey Road stuff f.e.., or did I miss something?

As somebody very experienced (to say the least) in using all kinds of gear over the years do you think that the Spectrasonic was special?
All of these great ZZ Top Albums and Stacks stuff...
I admire these sound from the very beginning of my listening experience and I  ALWAYS wondered how someone could achieve such a direct, large and warm sound?
Everybody knows almost everything about the Beatles, but this seems to be for me the lifiting of a lifelasting miracle! If you could give me your point of view, this would be really great!

In which terms and to which degree do you think the Spectrasonic was responsible for the sound of those records?
Were there any special components used or just accurate craftmanship?
Are there still some components out there?

Or was it just a standard console back then and not special at all and I am about to lose my mind....Wink

cheers and many thanks in advance
steveeastend

Toby M

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Re: I'll Take You There
« Reply #11 on: February 27, 2005, 04:46:45 am »

Thanks for all the wonderful info Terry, it´s such a great read.

Got any info about the recording rooms of the studios around Memphis at the time?
My guess is that they were pretty damped!?
Regards /Toby
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compasspnt

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Re: I'll Take You There
« Reply #12 on: April 02, 2005, 08:12:27 pm »

Toby M wrote on Sun, 27 February 2005 04:46

Thanks for all the wonderful info Terry, it?s such a great read.

Got any info about the recording rooms of the studios around Memphis at the time?
My guess is that they were pretty damped!?
Regards /Toby



Most of the rooms were pretty big, and were semi-live/semi-dead.  There was definite planning and thought given to acoustics, again by Welton Jetton, the Auditronics/Spectrasonics guy.  I think what gives the "pretty damped" impression is that drums were often done in a very small drum-booth room.  This was the case certainly at Stax  (At Hi they were surrounded by baffle-type walls, usually.)  These small rooms were pretty dead, and made the drums very tight and "immediate" sounding.
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Brian Kehew

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Re: I'll Take You There
« Reply #13 on: April 03, 2005, 12:14:02 am »

Auditronics board may be easier to find nowadays - but they are largely small format 6-18 channels. Good for a "sidecar" or you could chain them together. Some pretty useful EQs on those, definitely a "warm"-sounding thing.

SpectraSonics - I found one at auction - nobody wanted it for $400 and I couldn't keep it, so I sold it to a friend at cost. He loves it. 16 channel monster though. Clean clean sound. Punchy.

>>Stax Studios mixing was first Ampex 350 types, then Scully 1/4". They never got to 1/2" stereo.<<<

I notice how - back then - nearly everything WAS 1/4" tape, even when 1/2" was available. I suppose with 2" 16-tr. nobody needed that much more LOW bumpiness.

...and 1/4" tape is as "fat" as 2" 16-track, so it's odd that modern people shun 1/4" when mixing!!!
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J.J. Blair

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Re: I'll Take You There
« Reply #14 on: April 03, 2005, 01:19:49 am »

To bring up Falkner again, he's using a 16 trk Auditronics at his room.
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