Saturday, August 20, 2011

2200 Sunnybrook

In 1983, I was sixteen years of age. Legal to drive which meant freedom from the watchful eyes of parents. Or at least, that was the fantasy we all held in our heads never thinking that our parents were once young and any road we had been down, chances are they had already been down it on several occasions.

The truth is I had been driving since I was thirteen so it wasn't that big of a deal. The pressure just went away when I would get pulled over and I didn't have to tell the cop I forgot my wallet.

One could make the argument that I really grew up in Gregg county and not Rusk county. I lived in New London but Rusk county was the kiss of death for young adult fun so I spent most of my youth in Kilgore where the beer flowed freely in the streets and we chased girls up and down 259 until two in the morning. Our summers were spent in pastures with kegs of beer or in someone's lake house playing quarters until all hours of the night. A good fight with a couple of guys in the yard or a good kiss with a pretty girl in the dark...truth was you never knew how it was going to play out.

There was a group of us that congregated like a loyal fraternity of boys and one of the centers for such congregating was in the kitchen of  Evelyn and Lloyd Bolding. Of course they weren't leading the meetings as our chairman of the board was their son, Jeff.

One evening, we were to meet at Jeff's and I was in the kitchen along with Julian Potter, another one our faithful members. We were sitting around waiting on Jeff and Shelby Pace burst into the door in an almost panic stricken fit. He looked like he had won the lottery. Pulling a cassette tape out of his pocket, (yes folks, we listened to music on tapes), he exclaimed, "You guys are not going to believe this. This album might be the best album I've ever heard in my life." Jeff had a jam-box in the kitchen and he inserted the tape and turned it all the way up. As I examined the hot rod on the tape cover, a fat blues rock came from the speakers and it was nothing like we had ever heard before. A real true Texas rock sound made by the new band ZZ Top had been born and little did we know that the baby was delivered in Tyler, Texas.

This new and platinum sound was created in a little house on Sunnybrook in a small neighborhood by a modest but very talented engineer named Robin Hood Brians. A musician himself, Robin convinced his parents to build a studio within their house where he began recording different artists. Investing most of his money in the equipment, Robin was making a name for himself within the music world as he had some of the very best audio and recording equipment this side of California.

This interview with Brians was taken from Rick Campbell who writes his own blog on pop culture. It tells the story of how this album came to be and how the Country Tavern played an intricate roll in the success of the sound.

“The first time they came up they were called the Moving Sidewalks,” Robin said. “They came up and we recorded and they went home and threw everything away.

“The next time they came up they were called ZZ Top. And they went home and threw everything away. The third time they came up, Billy Gibbons told me, ‘Well this may be the end.’ ” They weren’t the sound that manager Bill Hamm wanted.

After producing a concert in San Antonio where the band sounded nothing like their records, Ham made a hard and fast rule: No overdubs, Robin said. “He made a promise to himself that he would never let any group that he had anything to do with do any overdubbing. What you hear is what we’ve got.”

“Well, they came in here with a set of drums, a guitar and a bass. I kept telling Billy, I said, ‘Billy, I’ve got to overdub.’ He said, `Bill won’t allow it. No way.’

“I said, ‘When you play loud enough, nobody will know the difference.’ I said, ‘Dusty (Hill) can play 5th on the bass and the overtones will fill in. So he can basically play chords.’ He said, ‘Bill won’t let me do it.’

“About 1 o’clock that afternoon, it was getting sort of rough,” Robin said. “I looked at Billy and winked, and I said, ‘Bill, You promised Billy and the boys you were going to bring us some barbecue from the Country Tavern. Now’s the time for you to go get the barbecue.’ He said, ‘OK, where is this place?’ ” Robin gave him directions to go out Highway 31 on the east side of Tyler and Ham took off.

“The minute the door slammed, I said, ‘Fellows, we’ve got about an hour and 20 minutes ’cause that is in the next county,’ ” Robin said, laughing.

“I said, ‘Let’s do it this way.’ I said, ‘Billy, you play a rhythm that is so smooth that you can double it.’ They played this track right quick. I went out and just took his strings and just pulled on them and de-tuned them a little. I said. ‘Now just repeat that rhythm.’ He did and everybody just went, ‘Oh, my God.’ I tilted one side to the left and one side to the right. I said, ‘Now put me some lead on there.’ And he put some lead on top of it.

“Of course, when Bill Ham got back, he said, ‘Damn, that damn Country Tavern is in the next county.’ I said, ‘We go there so much it just seems like it’s a couple of miles.’ ‘It’s 22 miles over there,’ Ham said. I said, ‘I’ll be damned, is it really?’

“Billy said, ‘We’ve stumbled onto a sound that we love . . . see what you think about it.’

“We hit play on the recorder. Bill just stood there and his jaw dropped open. He said, ‘That is what I’ve been wanting to hear.’ And they said, ‘You want us to record all of them that way?’ ‘Yeah.’ They were all smiling and everything.

“He stopped and listened. He said, ‘Did you guys overdub?’ And I said, ‘Bill, you have one set of drums, one bass player and one guitar player. Of course we overdubbed. But don’t worry about it in person because as long as they play well and loud enough nobody will miss the other overdubs.’

“I said, ‘When you’re just a little speaker this big around on a transistor radio, you’ve got to add some character to the sound that the room will do when you’re playing live.’ We argued for about an hour. Ham said, ‘OK, you promise me you can pull it off in person?’ ‘I promise you they can.’ ”

“We had to roll the bass amp out of the vocal booth, where it had been put to isolate it. I said, ‘All right you guys, turn it up loud.’ We pulled the drums out of the drum booth, right out into the middle of the studio. I said, `Do this the way you just did it.’ We sat Bill down and just burned his ears off. I said, ‘See, we can do it.’ He said, ‘OK, OK.’ That’s the way we did all of them. We sold him on the overdub.”

I'm not sure we would have believed that this album playing in the kitchen that night had been recorded just 30 miles away. But as I've always said, the flavor that drips out of these woods never ceases to amaze me.

Here's to you Robin. Now go get yourself dressed. Sharp.

1 comment:

  1. Edwin, I absolutely LOVE this! You have such a way with words. Thanks for sharing.