THE MUSICIAN REPORT
The making of "Babylon" : Rolling
Stones chase the voodoo down
By HARVEY R. KUBERNIK
LOS ANGELES -- "My whole behavior with the Rolling Stones is governed by my first
encounter with Keith" recalled producer Don Was. "He sent me a fax before we did
"Voodoo Lounge" : "Be in Dublin in three weeks" I wrote back,
"What are the songs?" And by fax he says, "That's for me to know and you to
find out. Just remember, when you get to Dublin, improvise, adapt, and overcome. P.
(expletive) S.: Don't paint yourself into a corner".
Sound advice, recalls Was, interviewed between sessions with the Stones for their
latest disc, Bridges to Babylon. We were at Hollywood's Ocean Way, one of several
L.A. studios where the band has recorded regularly since the mid-'60s. "Each guy has
his own unique writing style", Was observed of the legendary Jagger/Richards tandem.
"So there are evolving demos. Mick can sit down with a pad of paper and a guitar and
deliver a song, but Keith needs to play with other musicians. He hammers out a song by
playing it over repeated sittings, with at least Charlie sitting behind the drums. Then he
improvises stream-of-consciousness lyrics over a period of time and culls from the best of
Hanging in Studio One, we were watching Mick and Keith discuss a new song, "Thief
in the Night", which features a roots-rock groove and a descriptive Jagger vocal.
"The rooms here hearken to an era when you wanted a room that sounded good because
people were making real music in that room" Was pointed out.
As with the making of many a Stones album, the process was a mix of the familiar and the
new. Besides the band (Mick, Keith, Charlie Watts, Ron Wood, Darryl Jones), there was a
musician mafia of friends and collaborators on hand, including singer Bernard Fowler,
drummer Jim Keltner, and guitarists Waddy Wachtel and Blondie Chaplin; Me'Shell
Ndegocello, Wayne Shorter, Lili Haydn, and producers Babyface and the Dust Brothers were
among the new ringers. Less well-known, but pivotal to the process, was Pierre De Beauport
-- cryptically credited on Voodoo Lounge for "pre-production co-ordination
& technical support".
"The first time Keith starts playing chords, Pierre is recording with a DAT"
Was explained. "The moment that the notes drop from Keith's fingers, there's a
certain feel that, over a period of time, might get passed over in favor of some new
direction. But many times we'll find, as Allen Ginsberg said, "First thought, best
thought". Keith will say, "Do you have the time I played this in Barbados?"
and Pierre will find it immediately. We often find ideas that occurred only in the first
moments that are pivotal to the song".
In fact, the Stones are a rock band that records a lot like a jazz band to the extent
that they rely on unscripted musical encounters -- which heightens the responsibility of
engineers Ed Cherney and Dan Bosworth. "It helps to have people who are alert and
flexible" Was pointed out. "The minute anyone goes near an instrument, you'd
better be running two-inch tape. There's a number of songs on the album that were recorded
on the spur of the moment, where someone was smoking a cigarette, picked up a guitar, and
the next thing you know, it's "Flip the switch!" Someone may pick up an
instrument they weren't even playing before, and that's your magical take. You can't EVER
stop paying attention".
(Posted by Fred Norris to the
Sticky fingers journal )