|neve1073 wrote on Sat, 12 February 2005 20:08|
I listened to "Christopher Idylls" all night last night. What a beautiful, eccentric and unusual record! Were you involved in the making of that?
I'd love to find out about how that record was recorded and Gimmer's compositional and recording approaches. Lot's of precision overdubbing?
(I downloaded it off itunes so I have no notes or credits.)
Thank you. Yes, I produced and engineered this somewhat eclectic recording, "Christopher Idylls" by Gimmer Nicholson..
Larry (Gimmer) Nicholson had been a staple around the Memphis folk/blues scene in the very early 60's. He had a partner whose last name was Wimmer, so they played as (........drum roll...........), you guessed it, Wimmer and Gimmer. Much better sounding name than Simon and Garfunkle, don't you think?
Gimmer was a true free spirit, gentle and kind, but a bit odd sometimes. The lure of San Francisco in those heady days was too much for him, so he migrated out there to join the scene. He wrote the compositions on this album there, looking out across a peaceful nearby Pacific bay. He recorded demos onto a low-rent quarter track reel-to-reel machine, but didn't know what to do with them. There was very little, if any, music like this being released. But he sent the tape to his brother Gary, who still lived in Memphis. Gary brought the tape to me in 1968, asking for any help or advice I could give. When he brought it in, the pitiful little 5" reel of 1/4" tape was not in any box, but instead was dropped down into a small, crumpled, brown paper bag. I was not expecting much, given this presentation, but when it played, I was captivated by the melodies. They were beautiful, rolling, majestic, almost then-modern-pre-new-age-Bach. I told his brother to get Gimmer in there with me, as soon as possible.
Gimmer Nicholson came back from SF, and we went into the studio at Ardent on National Street. I recorded on an 8 track 1" Scully at 30 ips. Although most of the guitar is acoustic, there is actually some electric also. Gimmer had a Gibson Howard Roberts, a beautiful jazz guitar that is almost an acoustic (I liked it so much that I bought one a few years later, but I stupidly sold it when I moved here to Nassau in '92). He played that through a Fender Bassman blackface amp, through some kind of guitar delay/repeat box I had, which had just come out. Gimmer was euphoric about the delay, and loved to set it very long, then play a phrase, and when it repeated, he would play live a copasetic second phrase, then do the same for the next bar, playing with the second phrase, and so on (sort of like a "round"). When we did the acoustics, I got the longest tape delay that I could to accomplish this. It had to be carefully timed to the tempo of the composition. EMT 140 plate reverb was also used.
There was indeed much precision overdubbing. There was an idea floating around that this was unacceptable, as this was really folk music, and they didn't overdub. So it was thought that music lovers wouldn't accept this 'bastardisation.' Of course, that's ridiculous today!
Everyone around our little "house" at that time was in love with this album, including Chris Bell. As mentioned before in another thread, this was at least a good part of the inspiration for such Big Star acoustic sounds as "Thirteen." In fact this album was to have been the very first release on our new Ardent label, before Big Star, and before our actual first release by Cargoe, a group from Tulsa. But a "thing" happened, from which I learned a big lesson, a thing I have seen repeated over the years. I made a very quick rough 'board' mix of the tunes right after we tracked, and Gimmer took a copy home to listen to it. Of course, he "got used" to this rough mix. When I later did an actual, careful, final mix, I just took it in to the Stax Neumann mastering lathe, and did a mastering job on it, preparing for release. Photographs were taken of a Danish crystal prism, with light coming through it, coloured by the refraction (a bit like the later Pink Floyd concept, but a real photograph). A record number was assigned. But when Gimmer heard this real mix, he was surprised, and he really didn't like the album cover idea. He got pretty upset, saying things about the corporations ruining the artist's ideas, and stormed out. Of course, we weren't a corporation, and we were always trying to be totally sensitive to the artist, but he had left in a huff, and everyone was upset. So we shelved the release, and went on with our pop/rock stuff. Gimmer later apologised, and agreed that the real mix was much better, but we never got back to releasing it. I didn't put it out until about 1992, when it was released on my small Lucky Seven label, distributed through Rounder. This time, I used two beautiful photographs by my and Gimmer's friend, the famous photographer William Eggleston, on the cover. It never sold very much, but I don't care; I love it so, I'm just glad it is there for posterity.
Gimmer left again, and worked for many years for the Red Cross, going into the places around the world where huge disasters had hit, helping people out, rebuilding homes, feeding the hungry, actually doing something for his fellow man. He never made any money at all. We kept in touch sporadically, but he did call me here about four years ago, saying that he had finally had found time to write a couple of new compositions...would I still be interested in recording with him? I said "Of course, just let me know when you're ready." But he became ill, and sadly died last year, so we never got to do the "follow up" album.
May he rest in peace.