I recently returned from a business trip to Texas where I was hired to produce and engineer the long-awaited new record of blues singer-songwriter Michael Hardie.
The recording took place in the outskirts of Houston, in a beautiful studio on a gorgeous ranch called Lucky Run. Lucky Run Studio was thoughtfully designed and built by LA-native engineer/producer Michael Mikulka and is equipped with a great collection of pre-amps and microphones. The Digidesign Icon-centered room has two large booths on the sides and a window in the front that provides natural light, beautiful sunsets and views of the green plains of Richmond/Fullshear with horses and cattle roaming around. Quite a change from the studios I have been to until now.
Michael Hardie‘s band was comprised of himself on vocals and guitar, his NY-based talented daughter and singer/songwriter Myla Hardie on piano, her Brazilian percussionist husband and published book author Eduardo “Duda” Guedes on drums, the revered Texas bluesman Milton Hopkins on guitar (previously with B.B. King and related to the late and legendary Lighting Hopkins) and the accomplished hired gun Chuck Rainey on bass. In the picture from left to right you see Milton, myself, Michael, Myla, Duda and Chuck.
The sessions went smooth and in three days we recorded 12 songs at 24bit/88.2k with everyone playing at the same time (old school, baby!) and, except for the drums, pretty much in the same room too. We’ll be doing more production, overdubs and mixing in my studio EastSide Sound in NYC.
After this great experience Myla, Duda and I drove to Austin for a few days to research and soak in some of the blues/country/western/folk roots of the town and the surrounding areas. I stayed at the pretty and mexican-styled Austin Motel on South Congress, right across the street from the Continental Club, a staple of the local music scene since 1957, which pretty much became the last stop for me every single night before hitting the sack. During my time there I lived by the Austin Chronicle music listings (which coincidentally that week happened to feature my friend Steve Bilich on the front cover, who directed the award winning documentary “Native New Yorker”) so we hit as many concerts as we could (up to 4 per night! the way I dig it!), including but not limited to Warren Hood (talented and young country/blues fiddle player and singer) @ Momo’s, Dale Watson (oh shit, wait, did I just see Elvis walk by?) @ Continental, Lou Ann Barton (blues singer) @ Antone’s (which is the other legendary joint in town), Chicken Strut (fusion/rock band) @ Antone’s, Alan Haynes (great blues guitar soloist) @ Momo’s, James McMurtry (awesome singer/songwriter with a powerhouse-band behind him) @ Continental, Michael Hardie himself @ Gene’s (just a few blocks east of the Texas Music Museum)… and the list goes on…
I had a great time in Austin, a beautiful little city and an oasis of individualism, weirdness and liberal thinking in an otherwise conservative cowboy-land neighboring territory. You can feel the love, people seem to know how to have fun and love to dance (there are a lot of great dancers there, somewhat of a lost art in NYC)… However after 4 nights there I realized that it seems to be a closed community and a closed circle of musicians… I kept seeing the same faces on the dance-floor and I saw some of the same musicians sitting in as guests in multiple places. Yes there is an unusually high concentration of venues for live music (which is awesome!) but what good does that do to the local musicians if it is an excuse for them never to venture outside of Austin? And if there are no great studios, not too many labels, no producers/publishers/music supervisors and industry personnel in general, how are all these great bands going to be discovered? Austin is great for live music and for people who love it and play, but that same greatness can become a self-restraining limitation for those musicians who get too comfortable and fail to realize that there are bigger ponds to swim (and hustle) in…
Xmas week might not have been the best time of the year to be there: not too many shows that weekend and a lot of places were closed, so I didn’t get to see some other clubs I wanted to check out (Emo’s, the Alamo Drafthouse, the Waterloo Ice House etc). However, with Xmas around the corner, all the cool stores were open for customers, so I got to check out the coolest record store in town (Waterloo Records) and the coolest music souvenir shop in town (Wild About Music), both on historic 6th Street. Also we missed some cool shows (Pinetop Perkin, to mention one) because everything starts so early and ends so early, at least when I compare it to my night-owl-ish life in NYC. But that’s Texas for you… people are relaxed, always late and go to bed early… drives me crazy but what can I do?
Either way, with all the music I ingurgitated and all the Mexican food I savored, I feel like I’ve had a pretty good Texas experience after all… I think the only things I wanted to do and didn’t get to were riding a horse, riding a bull (even a fake one at a Rodeo bar!) and shooting some beer bottles on a white fence with a rifle!