Eternity's Song CD coverMost good things take time.  They usually also take a lot of help.  My sound has evolved over 50 years of playing but the process of making this CD seemed to bring everything into a sharper focus.    I had quit performing years ago.  My schedule didn’t leave time to be in a band and I had injured my left hand pretty bad in the ‘90s.  The in 2006 I started working on a CD for my family.  With advances in home recording I could do parts as I had time at a pace my hand would allow.  I finished in 2007 and ended up releasing it to the public.  By the time I had finished my hand had improved to the point I could play through a 30 - 45 minute set.   I started performing solo and then began to write songs more prolifically than ever before.  

Although I continued to record the new songs I didn’t want to do another release trying to play all of the instruments and do the production myself.  By 2009 I had enough positive feedback on the new songs  that I was ready to start getting serious about performing more and working towards making a really good recording.   I did some research on producers but decided to look for someone to be more of a music director than a producer; someone who could help me fine-tune the songs and line up some great players who could lay down tracks that didn’t need to be tweaked.    I wanted to stay near home so we could take the time needed to do the best possible job.

After a lot of thinking and praying my first choice to direct the project was Jay “Bird” Koder .  Jay is a phenomenal guitar player who has played with all of the best local musicians as well as a lot of blues and rock legends.  He is also a person who is loved by everyone who knows him and a committed believer.    What I didn’t know initially is that Jay is also an amazing producer; he did everything I had envisioned and a lot I had not expected.    He first brought on Gene Houck and the three of us started sorting through songs and ideas.   I wanted to create a recording that reflected my life’s journey both musically and spiritually.  The hardest part for me was letting go of some songs I really wanted to do so we could get down to the ten we ended up with.   

It took us over a year to get our schedules together for long enough to record.  Patience has never been one of my strengths but all of that time helped us get a clear picture of how we wanted this CD to sound.  Several of the songs changed substantially with their input.  Some of those changes were difficult for me to adapt to; the songs were firmly implanted in my mind, but the input they gave made the project much more rich and dynamic.  Jay and Gene are both amazing musicians with world-class experience.  They picked the other players, all of whom gave performances beyond what I could have imagined.   Our production model was not a perfect, sanitized recording; there are plenty of those to go around.  Our goal was to have a recording of really good players in a great room; the feeling of a live performance but with the nuances of every part captured in high fidelity.  I wanted a recording that reflected all of my musical influences without sounding dated.  I also wanted to let the music speak, without any studio gimmicks.  Although these songs should sound good in MP3 format, we went to great lengths to capture the full spectrum of sound when played as a CD on a good audio system.  At the same time were doing songs that had something to say.   We wanted the music to be as good as we could make it but not let it get in the way of the message. 

We spent around 6 hours setting up in Crossroads Studio A, which was designed by Russ Berger.  It is as close to a perfect room acoustically as you can get.  Ben Wood set up the drums with close mics, overhead mics and ambient room mics as well as some exotic equipment to pick up sub lows. We kept rearranging microphones until the sound coming through the speakers was the same as the sound in the room, which was phenomenal.   Jay and Gene’s Amps were in separate isolation booths and I was in the last booth by myself.  Jay Koder, Gene Houck and Reinhardt Melz recording tracks for Etenity's Song Jay, Gene and Rienhardt laid down some of the most amazing band tracks I have ever heard to my scratch vocals.  After that I put down the lead vocals, a couple of acoustic guitar rhythm tracks and guitar solos.  Jean Pierre and Mike came in for keyboards and B3, Jay laid down a couple of acoustic guitar tracks and a mandolin part to Made by You.  Finally, Gene and Ellen did their inspired background vocals.  Ellen has always been one of my favorite singers and I was so happy to have her help on this project.  She especially made It is Jesus Who Called Me come to life, which is a song I would have left off without Gene’s last minute re-imagining.

 The whole process seemed magic and we felt God’s blessing throughout the sessions.  We lost Ben after the 1st day to a collapsed lung.  Fortunately, Vitaly Belonozhko dropped what he was doing and came to our rescue as we laid down band tracks, which were all done in three evening sessions.  Vitaly BelonozhkoVitaly stayed with us while I did the vocals and then Ben was able to come back to see us through completion.  We continued to let the songs evolve through the sessions and everyone added their own unique flavors as we played.   Jay and Gene are amazing together and they always make who they are playing with sound better, which is why they are in such demand as players.  And Reinhardt; what can I say?  Most of his playing is jazz and fusion but he was able to find the perfect vibe for every song.  He played though the rock tracks like he was channeling Bonham, Baker and Mitchell.  He laid back on the songs that called for it and left Earth’s orbit on Made by You and The Word is Out.  On all of the tracks he brings a ton of vibe and personality without ever getting out of the pocket.  He was, without question, the perfect drummer for this project.  

Although I play most of the solos, Jay is the better player and he plays some amazing fills on the band tracks.  Those were all done as scratch tracks but we kept nearly everything he played, which added to the live feel.   I chose to just label both of us as guitars in the credits instead of the usual lead and rhythm notation; the lines were blurred.  It’s all Jay on electric guitar on Made by You with me just adding one acoustic guitar.  I wanted to modernize the song but he took it back to the ‘60s instead.  He added a mandolin part afterwards.  Most songs were done in one or two takes, I don’t think we ever did more than four.   I will put those basic tracks against anything I’ve ever heard, especially by a trio.  They were inspiring tracks to sing to and I just tried to not mess them up with my solos.

Jay got pneumonia as we were preparing to mix and by the time he had recovered he had to head out on a European tour, which set us back another month.  He got back in late June but had a relapse; by the time he got better the studio was booked through early August.  Finally, we got in August 7th – 10th and mixed in the Studio A control room, which is as an amazingly accurate environment with a  72 channel Neve board.  Jay Koder and Ben Wood mixing Eternity's SongAll the tracks were brought back through the board and the effects that were used are all analog, which gives it an “old school” sound. 

Although we added the vocals and a few parts after the band tracks Jay stayed true to our original idea, keeping the sound very live and real.  More than anything, he stripped the parts down to a bare minimum to let the songs speak for themselves.  I’m amazed at the effort he put into this recording and the performances everyone gave.  They all gave more than I expected, I can only attribute that to all of them believing in what the songs say and wanted to give their very best to The Lord.   

We took the final mix to Kevin Nettleingham, , for mastering.  I’ve never understood the mastering process and was looking forward to watching Kevin work.  Now I can say I’ve seen it done and I enjoyed watching but I still don’t understand it.  After playing the final mix on several different systems I thought the mix was a little too bass heavy but I didn’t want to lose any of Gene’s amazing bass parts or the kick drum.  That was a fairly easy fix that I can understand but much of the rest appears to be more magic than science.  Obviously, the magic is aided by a lot of expensive, specialized equipment.  Kevin made the mix more articulate without losing any of the live feel.  It still has a lot of punch on a system that can deliver low frequencies with power but stays in balance from a bad car stereo or an audiophile home system.  He did a truly amazing job and also handled the printing and pressing of the CDs. 

I hope you enjoy the tracks and find a blessing in them.

My Friend Ben

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