Recording at Unit 2 Studio, Acton, West London (UK)
The original band - back together to celebrate 10 years! After deciding to record a follow up to the 2014 debut "Fighting Demons", the original band consisting of Helge (guitar/vocals), Jerry Bessent (bass) and Ian Robinson (drums) - met up to kick-start the recording for the new album. The session took place at Unit 2 Studio in Acton London on the 31st of October - 1st of November 2015
Picture taken by James Cumsty (2015). All images copyright owned by The Fluffy Jackets.
The music selection Since this was the first time that the original band played together since 2009, we thought we'd ease gently into the studio environment by recording a song that we used to feature prominently in our live set, namely Johnny Cash's "Hey Porter".
We have always been fans of this tune, and the song has evolved over many years to become what you can hear on this album. Our version is considerably different to the original recording by Johnny Cash, and also noticeably rockier than Ry Cooder's version from 1972. Since we have done it many times, we decided to record it Live in the Studio - with all musicians playing together.
The studio We settled on using Unit 2 Studios in London, first because it was local and easy for everyone to get to. Secondly, this studio had some really cool vintage equipment and a very experienced engineer in Adie - who is known for engineering several records for The Fun Loving Criminals. The recording was made before Manny Charlton got involved, so the production of this track was a collective band effort.
A famous Gibson Flying V guitar from 1975 For this recording, I used a 40-year-old Gibson Flying V guitar which I acquired from Manny Charlton earlier in 2015.
Manny Charlton originally used this guitar to record the excellent Nazareth albums "Play'n' the Game" (1976) and Expect No Mercy (1977). The guitar was modified by UK luthier John Birch, who used to customise guitars for several guitarists in the 1970s, including Toni Iommi (Black Sabbath), Roy Orbison and Brian May (Queen). You can read the full story about Manny Charlton's Gibson Flying V guitar here.
Flying with the Flying V used to record "Flying" (a vintage guitar / airline travel story). This Gibson Flying V guitar was used to record a song "Flying" on Nazareth's 1976 album Play'N' the Game, among several other songs. As this is a valuable instrument, it was nerve-wracking to bring it on a budget-airplane flight from Norway to the UK... But, I was very excited to record with this particular Gibson, because this would be the first time this guitar would have appeared on a record since those classic Nazareth albums in the 1970s. The only way that could happen, was to bring the guitar with me on the flight to the UK. You can read about that adventure (along with my advice for flying with vintage guitars) below.
Guitar tone and set up in the studio Once I was safely installed at the recording studio in Acton, I opted to play it straight through a vintage Marshall JCM 800 amplifier through a really old speaker cabinet from the 60s - with no effects or pedals at all.
About the studio session Two tracks were recorded during the first 8-hour day, and the guitar and vocal overdubs were completed the following day.
The instruments and the equipment: Flying V:
So, what you hear on the "Hey Porter" rhythm parts being played using the Gibson Flying V's humbucking pick-ups together, switched to the out-of-phase sound (by the custom switch) which creates that distinctive scooped sound.
The slide solo is played via the bridge pick-up turned up to the max with the tone rolled down to about half. There was no post production done on this guitar sound- so what you hear on the record is how it sounded as it was played live in the studio, IE: the guitar volume cranked to the max through that Marshall JCM 800 amplifier with a vintage 60's speaker cabinet. Sounding sweet! The start of the song is the Gibson / Marshall feedback..
There is a special story about the recording of the slide guitar solo. I remember I once saw an interview with Ry Cooder talking about how he learns something new from each time he enters a studio, and also his belief that the feeling through the skin and body that the sound creates makes a differnce. I really identified with this when I played the solo on this track, because I got the tone just exactly the way I like it on this solo. The guitar just sounded so sweet. There is the last section of the solo, that I felt that I wanted to do again, because I felt that I could get a better tone on that part - but Adie and Ian convinced me that the solo sounded shit-hot, so I let it be. And listening back now, it sounds cool, so I am happy about it overall. But, more importantly, I always remember playing that solo when the track comes on now And it taught me that it is worthwhile spending time to dial in the sound to get it exactly right before you record, and that it is important to FEEL ok with the instrument /sound.
Ian Robinson recorded with his Pearl Vision Series drum kit with Sabian Cymbals. This is a kit that he has recently acquired, and it sounded just great - in the right hands, of course!
Jerry Bessent played his Musicman StingRay bass through this vintage 1970's Ampeg bass amplifier and cabinet, which is sought after among bassists - for that classic 70s crunchy but clean sound:
Recording at Unit 2, London UK (31 Oct. - 1 Nov. 2015)
The Fluffy Jackets
(L-R) Jerry Bessent (bass), Helge Rognstad (vocals, guitars), Ian Robinson (drums).
POST NOTE: Strategy for Flying with the Flying V (or any vintage guitar for that matter):
I'd thought I'd share some tips and tricks when it comes to travelling with guitars, for those who find such things interesting:
1. First of all, loosen the strings on the guitar before you leave, as sometimes the change in air-pressure will put extra tension on the neck, which you want to avoid.
2. Secondly, make sure the guitar is packed securely, to avoid it knocking about inside the case. (Obviously, always use a good quality hard case). Use clothes or bubble-wrap inside the case to keep the neck secure. And always tape the guitar case shut.
3. Bring extra tape to re-fit this after security control, so you have this handy (if required).
4. The key objective of flying with vintage guitars, is to never, ever check it in. No matter what. Therefore, make sure your guitar is kept out of sight from airline staff at the check-in counter. If you have to check in luggage or speak with airline check-in staff for any reason, then leave your guitar with friends, band-mates, travel companions, etc. This is to avoid getting told to check in the guitar (god forbid). Whatever you do: do NOT ask staff if you have to check in your guitar.. because you will always be told "yes, you have to check it in"..
5. Once you have your boarding pass, it is time to go through security control - with the guitar. This usually is quite hassle-free. I have never got stopped here, because security staff is mainly concerned with... you got it: Security. But, usually, the security staff will ask you to open the guitar case so that they can look inside. This is where that extra tape will come in handy, to re-seal the guitar case after security inspection.
6. The final step - and usually the hardest - is to get your precious vintage instrument through the boarding gate onto the actual plane. You will typically have to show your boarding pass to a flight attendant, who inevitably will say the dreaded words: "I am sorry, you have to check that in". This is where you have to explain that it is a vintage guitar and ask nicely if you can be allowed to bring it onboard. If you are still told to check it in: this is the time to start beg and and plead. If the attendant will not budge, avoid getting worked up about it, but instead politely ask to talk to a supervisor. Your final hope is that another person might have more common sense. I have boarded planes where the staff have offered to keep the guitar in the coat wardrobe at the front of the plane, which is very good.
This strategy have always worked for me, and I have always been able get on the plane with the guitar in hand.
BUT, unfortunately sometimes you just can't get through that final hurdle. The last option then, is to already have a strategy worked out for what to do next. First, if this is an expensive guitar, you might consider buying a separate seat for the guitar. Yes, guitarists actually do that.. (ask Joe Bonamassa what he does with his old Gibson Bursts). Or alternatively, decide not to board that plane. Both are expensive options - but they are your only options to keep the guitar secure. Alternatively, you have to ponder the most dreaded option to actually check in the guitar, and leave it for luggage handlers to "go crazy" with it. This is always your last option. But, if you have to do it, this is where you hope that you have packed it securely, and that the tape will hold...
After all this - I should tell you that my strategy worked. So, importantly, this time I arrived in the UK with the Flying V still in one piece.