Thursday, 17 July 2014

Elliot Scheiner: Van Morrison and Dominos

The following is an interview with Elliot Scheiner who worked with Van as an engineer in the early 70s.  The article was originally published in Sound On Sound Magazine in February 1996 and has been edited for the sake of brevity.  It contains some technical information which readers might find a little daunting but it does give insight into those early days of recording. 

Elliot Scheiner started out in the music business in 1967 as an assistant to legendary producer Phil Ramone at the latter's studio, A&R Recording, located on 48th Street in New York City. There he remained until 1973, during which time he learned how to cut discs, and even how to work with film on his way to becoming a fully-fledged engineer.

"They believed in well-rounded engineers in those days," he recalls. "A&R was a full-service facility, and back then people didn't make tape copies, they had reference discs cut -- so you had to know how to cut a disc. On top of that there was a lot of film work being done, so you also had to know how to deal with things such as magnetic stripe, not to mention learning how to mike practically everything that came into the studio."

Morrison was nominally the producer of Moondance when it was recorded in 1969, but when the time came for mixing, he wanted to return home to Woodstock in upstate New York for Christmas. Thus he asked Elliot Scheiner and drummer Gary Malabar to take care of the mix, and then send him copies of their work.

This they duly did, prompting Scheiner to ponder his role in the process. Back in 1970 he was to have co-produced the Street Choir album with Morrison, but during the sessions the two men fell out, and so the task fell to Morrison and his new drummer, Daud Shaw. Scheiner ended up with only a 'Production Co-ordinator' credit. Yet it was Domino, one of only two cuts on the album mixed by Scheiner, which became the major hit of the album.

In 1970, A&R Recording was equipped with a relatively new 32-input, 16-output Neumann console. "By that time we had on board EQ, but there was nothing beyond that," recalls Elliot Scheiner. "There were no in-line compressors, and no gates or anything like that. There had already been a console with all of that in-line, but this one just didn't have it."

While the control room measured about 18 x 15 feet, the recording area was wrapped around it in an L-shape and measured about 40 x 20 feet, with an additional 20 x 20 feet at the tail of the 'L'. Fabric covered all of the walls, there was carpeting on the risers and in the vocal booths. A composite was utilised for the floor in the basic part of the studio, and the ceilings were decorated with acoustic tiles.

"Back in those days they built rooms as much for appearance -- and maybe sometimes more for appearance -- as for sound," Scheiner explains. "In the case of this particular room, however, I think they lucked out, because the sound was good."

In the fall of 1969 much of Moondance had been recorded in this room with a Scully 8-track machine, whereas the Band And Street Choir sessions upgraded to 16-track. The monitors were Altec 604Es, with Mastering Lab crossovers, and in terms of the effects... well, there weren't any.

"In that room we had three EMT 140s," Scheiner recalls, "We used an analogue tape machine to delay the send to the echo chambers, and that's about all we had. I mean, there might have been a Cooper Time Cube and there might have been an old Eventide digital delay, but that was it. Whatever processing you did, if you were going to flange something you used machines for it. That's what I ended up doing on His Band and Street Choir, and I remember using a couple of different machines to do it. But the primary outboard gear consisted of echo chambers and delays, and that was all we used."

Morrison and his band had already rehearsed much of the album's material in Woodstock, prior to arriving in New York City for the recording sessions. Then he and Scheiner worked on the songs' arrangements in the studio.

"The drums were placed on a riser against the back wall of the recording area, front-centre of the control room," he recalls. "For the foot drum I used an EV 666, and then there was a 57 on the snare, 251s for the overheads, Sony C37s for the toms, a KM84 for the floor tom and a salt shaker on the hi-hat. The bass player was positioned to the left of the drums as we were looking at them, and he was playing a Fender -- probably a Precision -- which was DI'd. The guitarist was standing on the other side of the drums, and his guitars would have probably been going through Fender amps, and all miked with 57s. Then, further to the right, there was a 12 x 6 feet vocal booth, in which Van was playing an acoustic guitar and singing live, and for the acoustic I used an 87 mic.

"For many of the tracks on that album we retained his original live vocals," Scheiner points out. "I mean, this guy was a great singer, a really phenomenal singer. He'd just get out there and sing, and he was always in tune. He was just wonderful to work with. In terms of him singing and playing acoustic at the same time in the booth, we always had that problem where we'd get vocal in the guitar mic. It never seemed to be a problem with the acoustic going into the vocal, but it was always a problem the other way around. Yet I still don't ever remember replacing the guitar part because of that."

For Moondance, a week had been put aside at the end of the project in order to take care of the mix. In line with this modus operandi, an afternoon was all that was required when Scheiner mixed Domino. Having been absent from most of the mixing sessions, Van Morrison returned for this track, and was inspired to make some late changes.

"I remember him wanting to add a little bit of a rap at the end," says Elliot Scheiner. "'On the radio, on the radio...'. It was a very last-minute thing. On the other hand, I don't remember too much editing going on with any of that stuff. There may have been one or two cuts where we tagged on endings, but primarily the songs consisted of entire takes.

"You have to remember that back then, even the cuts didn't make the sound great. You know, we went for a vibe, and we cut only when something was really bad. So, if we liked the body of a take, and there was one section which we weren't at all happy with, we'd try to cut it in. We'd look for a take that had the right part, and just try to edit it. You definitely could punch in back then -- you couldn't punch in in the middle of a piano part, but we were pretty good at vocals. We wouldn't even attempt punching in single syllables, but we'd punch in a word or two... and pray. Those machines were slow getting out. You could get in with no problem, but getting out was a problem."

And listening to those recordings today, does Scheiner think, 'Ouch!' every time he hears one of those edits?

"No, because I don't listen to them anymore! I can't go back that far. It depresses me. It's just too long ago. I have to say, however, that I had a great time making records back then. Generally, it was more fun than now, because everybody was live. There were so few overdubs; we made records very quickly. The primary thing was the music and not the sound of it. We went for as good a sound as we could get, but nobody worried about that. Everybody was just concerned with the music: 'Did we get the take? Did we get the performance?' and that was an approach that I could really relate to."

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Van Songs in Movies and TV Shows

It's amazing how many Van songs are used in movies. Below is a brief list compiled from a few sources including IMDB. Feel free to write in with other additions or corrections.    

The '60s (TV Movie) (1995) Here Comes the Night

20 to 1 (TV Series documentary) (2 episodes, 2006 - 2008)

Karaoke Classics (2008) "Brown Eyed Girl"

World's Best Love Songs (2006) "Have I Told You Lately"

A Simple Plan (1998) Mystic Eyes

Aleph, lectures contades (TV Series documentary) (2001) (Enrique Vila-Matas episode) "Philosopher's Stone"

Always (1989) “Crazy Love”

American Wedding (2003) "Into the Mystic"

An American Werewolf In London (1981) “Moondance”

An Officer And A Gentleman (1982) “Hungry For Your Love”

As Good As It Gets (1997) “Days Like This”

August Rush (2007) "Magic Time" and "Moondance"

Austin City Limits (TV Series documentary) (2006) (Van Morrison episode) “Wild Night", "Choppin' Wood", "There Stands the Glass", "Playhouse", "Not Feelin' It", "Cleaning Windows", "St. James Infirmary", "I Can't Stop Loving You", "Don't Start Crying Now / Custard Pie", "Brown-Eyed Girl" and "Gloria"

B. Monkey (1998) Tupelo Honey 

Ballykissangel (TV Series) (1996) (Fallen Angel episode) "Bright Side Of The Road"

Banda sonora (TV Series) (2 episodes, 2009 - 2012)

Episode #8.1 (2012)  "Shenandoah"

Episode #5.20 (2009) You Make Me Feel So Free

Bandstand (TV Series) (1966) (Episode #9.35) "Gloria"

Basquiat (1996) "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"

Because I Said So (2007) “Days Like This”

Betsy's Wedding (1990) "Moondance"

Blue Chips (1994) “Baby, Please Don’t Go”

Blue Money (TV Movie) (1985) "Blue Money"

Blume in Love (1973) I've Been Workin

The Boat That Rocked (2009) "Here Comes the Night"

Born On The Fourth Of July (1989) “Brown Eyed Girl”

Breakfast on Pluto (2005) "Madame George", "Cypress Avenue"

Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) “Someone Like You”

Bringing Out the Dead (1999) T.B. Sheets

Brit Awards 1996 (TV Special) "Days Like This"

Clean And Sober (1988) “Domino”

Conspiracy of Silence (2002) "Bright Side Of The Road"

Cracker (TV Series) (1995) (Best Boys: Part 1 episode) Real, Real Gone

Dancing with the Stars (TV Series) (2007) (Round 1: Part 2) "Moondance"

Defiance (TV Series) (2013) (Goodbye Blue Sky episode) "Into the Mystic"

The Departed (2006)  Comfortably Numb

Dogfight (1991) T.B. Sheets

DR-Derude (TV Series documentary) (2003) (Havets fuldblod - Part 1 episode) "Shenandoah"

Dream a Little Dream (1989) “Into the Mystic”

Dusty and Sweets McGee (1971) "Into the Mystic"

Evelyn (2002) Sitting on Top of the World

Evil Woman (2001) "Brown Eyed Girl"

Eye See Me (2007)  "Days Like This"

Familjen Babajou (TV Series) (2009) (Del 1 episode) "Into The Mystic"

Fatal Instinct (1993) "Brown Eyed Girl"

Fever Pitch (1997) “Bright Side Of The Road”

The Five-Year Engagement (2012) "Sweet Thing", "Call Me Up In Dreamland", "Bright Side Of The Road", "Give Me A Kiss (One Sweet Kiss)", "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm In Heaven When You Smile)", “When That Evenin' Sun Goes Down", "Into The Mystic" and "Crazy Love"

French Kiss (1995) “Someone Like You”

Georgia (1995) Take Me Back

Ghost of Canterville (TV Movie) (2005) "Bright Side of the Road"

Girl, Interrupted (1999) “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”

Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) “Baby, Please Don’t Go”

The Great Outdoors (TV Series) (2007) (Michael Bublé's Vancouver) "Moondance

Great Performances (TV Series) (2005) (Michael Bublé: Caught in the Act episode) "Moondance"

High Chaparall (TV Series documentary) (2004) (Vince Neil episode) "Brown Eyed Girl"

Homeland (TV Series) (2013) (Gerontion episode) Bye Bye Blackbird

Hope Springs (2012) "Bright Side of the Road"

Hotel de Love (1996) "Have I Told You Lately"

House of D (2004) Don't Look Back

The Hunt (2012) "Moondance"

I Flight (2012) "Never Get Out of These Blues Alive"

Ice Wars 10: North America vs. the World (TV Movie) (2003) “Moondance"

Immediate Family (1989) “Into the Mystic”

It Takes Two (TV Series) (2007) (Episode #2.1) "Moondance"

Jeff Buckley: Everybody Here Wants You (TV Movie documentary) (2002) "The Way Young Lovers Do" (from Sin-é)

Jeff Buckley: Fall in Light (TV Movie documentary) (1998) “The Way Young Lovers Do"

Jeff Buckley: Goodbye and Hello (TV Movie documentary) (2000) The Way Young Lovers Do (live at Sin-é)

Jeff Buckley: Live at Sin-é (Video documentary short) (2003) "The Way Young Lovers Do"

Kate's Addiction (1999) "Into The Mystic"

The King of Comedy (1982) Wonderful Remark

Kurt Browning's Gotta Skate III (TV Movie) (2003) "Moondance"

La bande du drugstore (2002) "Gloria"

La petite amie d'Antonio (1992) "Gloria"

La tele de tu vida (TV Series) (2007) (Episode #1.8) "Moondance"

Lady on Top (Short) (1975) "Crazy Love"

The Last Waltz (Documentary) (1978) Caravan

Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (TV Series) (2009) (Episode #1.1) "Sweet Thing"

Late Show with David Letterman (TV Series) (2011)

Episode #19.36 (2011) "Domino"

Episode #19.31 (2011) "Wild Night"

Episode #18.159 (2011) "Moondance"

Leaving Normal (1992) "Crazy Love"

Linnunradan pianobaari (TV Series) (1998) (Episode 4/5/1998) “Brown Eyed Girl"

The Lovely Bones (2009) Celtic Swing

Man Up (TV Series) (2011) (Pilot) "Brown Eyed Girl"

The MatchMaker (1997) Irish Heartbeat

Meat Loaf: In Search of Paradise (Documentary) (2007) "Gloria"

Michael (1996) “Bright Side Of The Road”

Midnight Caller (TV Series) (1989) (Someone to Love episode) "Someone Like You"

Moondance (1995) "Moondance", "Have I Told You Lately", "Queen of the Slipstream" and "Madam George"

Moonlight Mile (2002) I'll Be Your Lover Too and "Sweet Thing"

The Newsroom (TV Series) (2013)  (First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All the Lawyers episode) "Into The Mystic"

Nine Months (1995) These Are The Days

No me la puc treure del cap (TV Series) (2012)

Amor episode (2012)  "Have I Told You Lately"

Mort i espiritualitat episode (2012) "Brown Eyed Girl”

Not Fade Away (2012) T.B. Sheets

The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2012) "Crazy Love"

Once (2006) And the Healing Has Begun

One Fine Day (1996) “Have I Told You Lately” and “Someone Like You”

Only the Lonely (1991) “Someone Like You” and Marie’s Wedding

The Outsiders (1983) “Gloria”

Patch Adams (1998) “Into The Mystic”

Patti Smith: Dream of Life (Documentary) (2008) "Gloria: In Excelsis Deo"

Phenomenon (1996) “Crazy Love”

Prelude To A Kiss (1992) “Someone Like You”

Proof of Life (2000) “I’ll Be Your Lover, Too”

Queens Logic (1991) "Jackie Wilson Said"

The Return of Post Apocalyptic Cowgirls (2010) "TB Sheets"

Right to Die (TV Movie) (1987) "Tupelo Honey"

Roswell (TV Series) (2000 – 2001)

Busted (2001) The Last Laugh

Into the Woods (2000) Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) Everyone

Saturday Night Live (TV Series) (1978)

Steve Martin/Van Morrison (1978)  "Wavelength", Kingdom Hall

Saving Silverman (2001) “Brown Eyed Girl”

Screen Two (TV Series) (1986) (Shergar episode) Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart, Part 1

Scrooged (1988) "Brown Eyed Girl"

She’s Having A Baby (1988) “Crazy Love”

Shindig! (TV Series) (1965) (Episode #1.25) "Don't Start Crying Now"

Sixteen Candles (1984) "Gloria"

Sleeping With The Enemy (1991) “Brown Eyed Girl”

Someone Like You (2001) “Someone Like You”

Someone Like You (Short) (2011) "Someone Like You"

The Sopranos (TV Series) (4 episodes, 1999 - 2007)

Kennedy and Heidi (2007) Comfortably Numb

All Due Respect (2004) Glad Tidings

Pine Barrens (2001) "Gloria"

Down Neck (1999) Mystic Eyes

State of Grace (1990)  "Moondance"

Stuttgart Homicide (TV Series) (2010) (Die Detektivin episode)  "Someone Like You"

Thelma & Louise (1991) Wild Night

The Theory of Flight (1998)  "Bright Side of the Road"

thirtysomething (TV Series) (1987) (Weaning episode) "Tupelo Honey"

'Til There Was You (1997) You Don't Know Me

Today (TV Series) (2003) (Episode 12/12/03) "Moondance"

Tohuwabohu (TV Series) (1997) (Parte 41 episode) "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"

Tomcats (2001) "Moondance"

Too Late Tomorrow (2002) Chic-a-Boom

Touched by an Angel (TV Series) (2001) (Netherlands episode) "Gloria"

Truth or Consequences, N.M. (1997) "Crazy Love"

True Dreams (2002)  "Brand New Day", "Into The Mystic"

Twenty Four Seven (1997) Wild Night

Ulee’s Gold (1997) “Tupelo Honey”

Voice - Danmarks største stemme (TV Series) (2012) (Første blindtest episode) "Crazy Love"

Welcome to Sarajevo (1997) The Way Young Lovers Do

The West Wing (TV Series) (2002) (We Killed Yamamoto episode) "Caravan" and "Moondance"

What a Girl Wants (2003) “Have I Told You Lately”

When A Man Loves A Woman (1994) “Crazy Love”

A Witch's Kiss (TV Movie) (2005) You Make Me Feel So Free

The Wire (TV Series) (2004) (Mission Accomplished episode) Fast Train
Wonder Boys (2000) Philosophers Stone

Wonderland (2003) "Gloria"

You Can’t Hurry Love (1988) “Wild Night”

The Young Ones (TV Series) (1982) (Bomb episode) "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile)"

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Anyone Got a Good Van Story?

On one page of the massive Steve Hoffman Music Forums site Siegmund asked: Anyone got a 'good' Van story/experience to relate?   Here are some of those answers.  

let him run   -  Many years ago Van and I struck up this bit of a bargain, if he would put out great music, I would buy it. So far we have both lived up to our ends.  I made similar arrangements over the years with others, many of those promises remain unkept. 

Marke   -   As the late Farrah Fawcett, a big Van Morrison fan, was battling the cancer that would eventually take her life, Morrison heard that she would be unable to attend his concerts in Los Angeles because of her condition. So he had the shows filmed and sent her copies for at-home viewing. It was a mutual love affair – Farrah had been a fan of Van's music since the '70s, and Van himself was a fan of her film work, especially in The Apostle.

Culabula   -   Well, I saw him eating scrambled eggs once in the 90s. Finished the plate, thanked the waitress, didn't make any outlandish requests and left without having caused a fuss. 

Marke   -   Morrison apparently said of himself, "Hello darlin' I never said I was a nice guy''.

Mdekoning   -   When he played North Sea Jazz in 2012 the sound went down during most of Enlightenment. My dad and I feared that he would stop the show, since it took the engineers several minutes to fix it and some of the audience started booing. But he kept on playing and apologised to the audience when the song was over.

Onlyconnect   -   He's given me a great deal more than I have given him. Keep on keeping on Van!

Bill   -   He created the Moondance album, including all of the outtakes on the remarkable new 5 disc set that I can't get out of my player because it's so great. Plus, he records with Georgie Fame, who must like him. 

spice9   -   He gave the world a never-ending laugh with his outfit in The Last Waltz. How can you not love a guy who'd wear that?  

JayB   -   It would be nice if he was a bit more well liked but honestly I only care about his music. There are alot of music artists who are not the nicest people.

Jumpinjulian   -   A local radio DJ got the guts up to approach him at an after party once- Van was sitting in a chair and the DJ went up to him "Excuse me Mr Morrison, I just want to say how much I enjoy your music" his response? "#%^* off"

Same DJ said a friend of his was at a dinner party with Van and didn't know who he was "So what do you do?"
Van "I'm a singer"
Lady; "oh. Have you got a record out?"
Van; "yeah, a few"

Platterpus   -   I like Them, but don't care for any of Van Morrison's output after that.

Remurmur   -   In all seriousness, I've loved this guys music ever since I first heard the song Blue Money on an AM radio as a teenager. To say his music has "stoned me to my soul" on many occasions would not be an understatement. Van has near spiritual soul in him and at it's best, his music can be as close to transcendental as we non trained humans can get.

Hey Vinyl Man   -   About his outfit in The Last Waltz... What's really astounding is that he was reportedly supposed to perform much earlier in the show, but postponed his performance because he didn't like what he was wearing. In light of the outfit he did opt for, one has to wonder just how ugly the original one must have been!

Maggie   -   Besides all the pleasure and comfort his music has given people over the years, he seems to go out of his way to support his daughter's career (lately, anyway). That's a positive. He's had an excellent working relationship with David Hayes (his bass player) for decades. 

serge   - Years ago I bought a copy of hard nose the highway on LP from a dollar bin... about a year or two ago I realised he had autographed it.

mando_dan   -   When he made it big, he was living in California. He brought his parents over and set his Father up with a little record store. The man had been a great music lover and introduced Van to much of the Blues and other Great music. His Dad has worked as a labourer his whole life and made very little money. That must have made his last years very pleasant. 

Trixie Jones   -  I once saw him in a book store and said hi to him very nervously. He said hi back and was genuinely nice about it.

mkolesa   - I actually had a close encounter of the Van kind myself some years ago... It was in the late 90's and I got invited to a movie premiere in Dublin. Afterwards there was a reception in a big historic building with many large rooms and people walking back and forth. I didn't really know anyone and I remember just wandering around... At one point I was standing, looking into the next room, and someone passed me from behind wearing a bolero hat. They took about ten steps past me, stopped, and then turned and looked right at me. It was Van! We looked at each other for several seconds, and then he turned and walked off. 

nosticker   - I have never met Van, but I have worked with someone in his band on a song of my own. After recording the song with me, he showed a rough mix of it to Van. What he said amounted to something positive but curt. I had zero idea that showing my song to Van was something even possible, much less that it occurred. This was told to me right before a terrible NYC gig I played in the 90's. Of course, I was over the moon about the news and called it The Day Van Morrison Listened To Me. That is my positive Van story!

BurgerKing   -   Many, many years ago we saw Van at the Circle Star Theater, which was one of those in-the-round setups. During the last part of the show he invited a section of the audience up onstage to sit at his feet as he finished the show. Sounds odd in the telling, I know, but it was very cool. I've never heard of another performer doing it before or since.

BKarloff   -  Here's an extract from the diary of John "Rabbit" Bundrick (ex-Free, Back Street Crawler, Who etc) and his one and only encounter with Van the Man. This entry was posted on his website, along with his other diary musings, but then mysteriously "disappeared" a few years ago.

I suppose the only really odd thing that happened this month was when me, Terry, and Tony got asked by Van Morrison to join him for an audition to play in his band.

The rehearsal-audition took place at a dump called the Cabin, in London. I was reluctant to do it in the first place because I'd always heard what a dick Van was, and how hard he was to work for, and he wasn't my favourite artist of all time anyway, but decided to do it for Terry and Tony's sake. I'd thought, "I'll go with the flow, for their sakes, and see what happens".

Well, just as I expected, nothing much did happen. There the three of us were in this horrible dank room, perched behind our instruments, and in walks Van the Man. He was just an arrogant fellow. Pushy, stark, to the point, rough and rude. We played for awhile, and decided to have a break. We'd join up in 30 minutes after some lunch.

Well, Van should have never taken that break, cause that was my way out! He left the room and I said to the guys, "He's a complete jerk! If ya'll want to work with him go ahead, but I'm not. He's too arrogant for me. I'm going to the pub across the street. Ya'll decide for yourselves what you want to do, but if I ain't back in 30 minutes, then I ain't coming back at all".

30 minutes later, when Van returned to the rehearsal room, he got his answer as to whether we wanted to be in his band or not. He returned to an empty room. We were nowhere to be found. I just stayed in the pub, got drunk, and said "F*ck it!, I'm off home". The guys said, "Aren't you gonna even go back and tell him your not interested"? I said, "Nope!, I'm so 'not' interested, I can't even be bothered to tell him so".

Whether they went back out of politeness or not, I don't know, but I went home and forgot about it all.

3rd Uncle Bob   -   For all of Van's supposed spiritual enlightenment then why is he such a bitter mean-spirited man?

Sneaky Pete   -   Maybe mean-spirited bitterness is an "enlightened" state. Seriously, he never says he is enlightened. His lyrics are "Enlightenment don't what it is." He is sings about being a seeker of of truth and enlightenment. I don't think he has claimed to be any kind of wise man. I think the songs are usually about questions and struggles, not about knowing all the answers.

jeffmo789   -   I actually heard the song Hungry For Your Love recently for the first time and it is indeed a great, great song. I also discovered one of his more recent tunes called When The Leaves Come Falling Down and it hit me the same way many of his more spiritual/mystical songs do. Check it out if you haven't heard it.

rrbbkk   - I've long heard he's a right bastard but Van's performance at the Austin City Limits festival a few years ago left me practically in tears. 

Picca   - There was this guy, Red Ronnie, a popular Italian TV host who had a program called Roxy Bar where he interviewed stars and rock people. Once he aired a Van Morrison interview. The Belfast Cowboy looked like he was going to have a colonoscopy or something. Ronnie began his interview with 'I love your work, you are one of my favourite songwriters. This is your new album, No Guru No Method No Teacher. What do you mean with No Guru, No Method, No Teacher? Do you mean that we shouldn't follow masters? And Van replied 'That's a sentence from one of the songs. It's a title, my record company people pay me for giving titles to my records'. So Ronnie continues 'Yes but I was intrigued...' and Van goes away. That's it. End of the chat. Ronnie looks a little uncomfortable. In the background we see some of the entourage people trying to convince Van to carry on. So, after some minutes of embarrassment (live on TV) Van sits down again and tries to put on a friendly face. Ronnie begins again: 'Van this new album of yours' ...and Van goes away.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Here Comes the Nght by Joel Selvin

Joel Selvin is a bit of a rock journalism legend.  You gotta check out his website with his excellent writing and podcasts.  A real treat is his four-part podcast called Van Comes to America.   

Selvin's recently released biography Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm and Blues has a much broader focus than Bert Berns.  The Bert Berns story touches on early rhythm and blues of the early ’60s, Neal Diamond, Van Morrison, the Brill Building, Atlantic Records, Bang Records, etc.   

The Bern's story was ultimately a tragic one.  His heart was damaged by rheumatic fever as a youth and he was not expected to live to see 21. Although his name is little remembered today, Berns worked alongside all the greats of the era—Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler, Burt Bacharach, Phil Spector, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, anyone who was anyone in New York rhythm and blues. In seven quick years, he went from obscurity to producer of numerous top songs like Twist and Shout, My Girl Sloopy, Piece of My Heart, and others.

Berns’ drive to succeed led him to use his Mafia associations to muscle Atlantic Records out of their partnership and intimidate new talents like Neil Diamond and Van Morrison, whom he had signed to his record label. Berns died at age 38 in 1967 from a long-expected heart attack.  Berns’ widow asked Van to provide his promised amount of music which led to his famous 30-odd tracks of monotonous strumming and nonsensical lyrics, some of which were  thinly-veiled attack on Berns. 

Here are some edited comments by various readers and reviewers:   

Mike Callahan   -   A look into the way a nobody with real talent works his way into the corrupt business of R&B records. Lots of inside stories. Especially liked the story of the recording of the Isley Brothers' Twist and Shout… An ugly business at times as people - some talented, some not - are scratching their way to their lifelong dreams. Some sell their souls along the way.

James H. Lynch   -   I feel that Selvin spends too much time telling the tales of Berns' contemporaries, until the last few chapters, which focus squarely on him.

A. G. Krakow   -   The book weaves the story of Berns, and the reason why this genius has been overlooked, with the backstory- which is essentially a history of R&B once rock and roll entered the lexicon and the culture. Selvin doesn't mince words when describing the players: I was a bit taken aback by his description of Jerry Wexler because it is so blatantly honest. The entire book is that honest. 

Mystery Fan   -   Because he had a rheumatic heart condition, Berns was destined to have short career, basically from when he produced and wrote the Jarmels’ A Little Piece of Soap in 1961 to Erma Franklin’s Piece of My Heart in 1967. Selvin brings out a lot of the “dirty business”—mob connected operations, the conflicts, the slimy business, the marital affairs. 

ALAN WARNER   -   One of the best rock books this year. An absolutely essential read for anyone who's interested in rhythm 'n' blues and the legendary record labels of years gone by. 

Gwendolyn a. bell   -   There are some nice tidbits about the Brill Building and its writers as well as Neil Diamond, Van Morrison, Red Bird label acts including the Shangri-Las and more. Some of these early acts influenced and were covered by the likes of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. 

Waxwing Slayne   -   Most histories of the Brill Building era treat Bert Berns with hissing contempt, but Joel Selvin's fast-paced overview of Berns and his milieu shows you the complex man beneath the bad toupee. Selvin doesn't whitewash Berns' tendency to screw-over his artists, or his mob connections and willingness to use them, but he gives due to the man's joie de vivre, his rapport with musicians, and what nobody can deny: his ability to create more than a few unforgettable hit songs. Berns was vulgar and obnoxious, and hurt some people who didn't deserve it (and some who did), but songs he wrote, produced or brought to market have contributed much to the "gaiety of nations" and "increased the stock of harmless pleasure in the world". The book is so rich with offhand characters and tantalising byways, it makes you realise that there are many more great tales yet to be told of this wonderful period in American music.

Luigi Facotti   -   Mr. Berns has been a featured character in a variety of books on Atlantic Records, Leiber and Stoller and the Brill Building/1650 Broadway songwriting teams. Some of these (most of them autobiographical) place Mr. Berns as a peripheral/ephemeral figure to Ahmet Ertegun, Jerry Wexler, Mike Lieber and Jerry Stoller while other, more balanced and more recent histories treat him as a seminal architect of the era and as the salvation of Atlantic Records.

The story of Bert Berns is fascinating - from his early days incorporating ritmo diablo into pop music and for all the inside scoop on the Atlantic, Red Bird and BANG/Shout labels and their interactions with the New York Cosa Nostra and their associates, Morris Levy, Hy Weiss and Tommy Vastola who have variously been cited as the inspiration for the Soprano's Hesh Rabkin. Slevin's coverage of the influence of the Cosa Nostra on the "dirty business of rhythm and blues" is long overdue and should be read slog side Knoedelseder's 1993 book on the Mafia and MCA Records Stiffed: A True Story of MCA, the Music Business, and the Mafia. His account of the Red Bird "dollar" deal is a welcome expansion on previous allusions to this momentous event that probably led to the sale of Atlantic to Warner 7 Arts in 1967 while he is to be credited in noting that the Phil Spector's legendary "Wall of Sound" owed much to Frank Guida's "Norfolk Sound" with U.S. Bonds. Dance 'Til Quarter to Three / Twist up Calypso.

Berns' impact on the evolution of soul/R & B music was major with many of the individuals highlighted in the book owing their legendary status to his song selections and productions, e.g. the soul legends, Solomon Burke, Erma Franklin, Lorraine Ellison and Freddie Scott. Berns' producer colleagues, Tom Dowd, Jerry Ragavoy and Arif Mardin receive good marks while Jerry Wexler, despite being the legendary catalyst for Aretha Franklin becoming the Queen of Soul and playing a major role in the evolution of southern soul with Stax, the various Muscle Shoals studios and Criteria with the Dixie Flyers, comes across as a less than lovable curmudgeon sequentially alienating Jim Stewart, Rick Hall Muscle Shoals, Lieber and Stoller, Bert Berns and Ahmet Ertegun. Others who garner less than sympathetic coverage in the telling of the Bert Berns story are Van Morrison and Neil Diamond.

Jeffrey Crawford   -   Joel Selvin writes brilliantly about both the music and the business. If it was only about the crooked world of pop music it would have lacked soul, but Selvin clearly loves the music. However, it's also about the corruption, payola and links to the Mafia, dubious songwriting credits handed out to mobsters, and how much bands and artists were ripped off by the guys in suits. Among others, Dick Clark is revealed as a bit of a crook.

This is not just about Berns, but also about the formation of Atlantic Records, the great Brill Building and Aldon songwriters, the arrival of Phil Spector, the careers of Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Bobby Darin and many others. Some anecdotes are hilarious, some of them are sad. And at the centre of it is Berns, a driven man with a shonky ticker who was living on borrowed time.

D. Cavanaugh   -   I never knew who Bert Berns was, but I knew his songs on my AM radio (it had 4 transistors!) in 1962. Those songs have now taken on a whole new life for me. I bought his anthology albums. It takes two CDs to cover the highlights of his short career. These songs sung by talented and hungry artists, and created with his production genius, are still gems to listen to. Those were the days. Now the twenty year old musicians buy copies of ProTools for their laptops and record themselves in a vacuum, then try to sell their stuff on iTunes. I listen to the piped-in popular music they play in the gym or the hardware store and shake my head. The quality in popular music is gone man, gone.

Elisa Brooks   -   This is an amazing, torrid tale. Interesting insight in the record business. There are so many vignette's of history, music, songs we all know, musicians we all loved and stories we never knew.