Track-by-Track: “Don’t Let It Go”

So far, “Don’t Let It Go” is the track from Thank You for Holding that has gotten the most compliments. Not sure if that’s because there’s no singing on it or because people like the guitar playing… Hmm…

In any case, this instrumental started as a fairly long jam that I recorded with — I think — a loop pedal and a Tascam Digital Portastudio that I was using before I started using my laptop and Reason to record. I’m not sure how long the original track was, but at some point I edited the best parts of my guitar solo together and replaced the bass and drum tracks with a combination of live and sequenced instruments.

Actually, if you listen carefully to the bass line, you can probably hear that the first part of the song is a synth, the middle is live, and the last part is basically a single note that I lifted from an earlier recording of the song and repeated until the end.

The title is somewhat of a play on the title of the Disney song “Let It Go,” which was popular a few years ago. It was the kind of song that I was hearing everywhere and just getting sick of, so I gave this song the opposite name despite the fact that there’s no similarity between the two tunes whatsoever.

I made a couple of earlier versions of this song available on BandCamp a while back — maybe a year or so ago — and I almost included it on Garden Variety, but as with “My Head,” I couldn’t get the sound quite right until now.

In fact, of all the tracks on Thank You for Holding, this one gave me the most headaches and took me the longest to mix because I wanted it to sound “live” as opposed to the exquisite corpse of patched-together performances and sequenced tracks that it actually is. One way I did that was to start the song at one tempo and gradually speed it up as the track progresses.

The main reason I included this track on Thank You for Holding is that I think it has a kind of 1970s jazz-rock sound to it that would definitely be right at home on an elevator or on a telephone hold message. And, of course, I also added the robot’s voice to the end of this one by splicing together a few of his phrases from “Thank You for Holding” to make him sound even sadder and lonelier than he does on that track: “Thank you for holding. Your call is the only life I know.”

Rudy Van Gelder: One of My Musical Heroes

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Rudy Van Gelder is one of my musical heroes — and not just because he wore a bow tie and glasses. He was an optometrist by trade, but he also built a recording studio in his parents’ living room. The jazz recordings he made there in the 1940s were so good that eventually he started getting a lot of work the legendary Blue Note label. And not long after that, other labels started seeking him out as well. What set him apart from many other producers at the time — aside from the fact that he worked by day as an optometrist — was the care he took with microphone selection and placement. To get the best tone, he’d take a musician’s playing style into account and figure out exactly where to put the mic and how to angle it. He was also extremely fastidious. Perhaps because of his medical training, he never allowed smoking in his studio — a then unheard of restriction in the world of jazz. By the end of 1950s, he was so busy with recording that he retired from optometry and opened a studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, not far from the original studio he built in his parents’ living room.

I think the main reason I’m attracted to Van Gelder’s story is that even though he never set out to be a record producer, he was open-minded enough that when that path appeared before him, he took it. But he was also cautious enough to stick with his day job until he knew he could pay the bills with his musical career. And, of course, I find his attention to detail admirable as well.