I got lucky the other day, when I got a last minute call for a pretty cool recording session. But, I believe you create your own luck. Here is what I mean.
Last Thursday I had two gigs that required a lot of driving, two complete PA system set-ups and breakdowns, and kept me going from 6am until well past midnight. I was physically spent, and I knew I had a gig coming up Friday night in New York. So, my plan was to take it very easy on Friday, relax and regenerate and get ready for my Friday night gig. But, as I was frying up some eggs and sipping my first cup of coffee, my phone rang. It was an unfamiliar NYC number. I gave out a cautious “Hello?” and found myself on the line with a producer who was looking for a harmonica player to play on the soundtrack to a new TV series for a major cable network. I had been recommended by a mutual friend, who was doing the horn arrangements for the three songs we were to cut. The session was at Electric Lady Studios, which Jimi Hendrix had built for himself in 1970, just before his untimely departure from the planet, probably the most hallowed studio on Earth. OK, maybe it’s tied with Abbey Road. It was 11 am, and the session started at 1:30. I live about 90 minutes away. Would I like to play the session, he wanted to know? Did Lot’s wife look back at Sodom? No way I was going to miss this. I bolted my breakfast and set about getting myself ready.
Here is where my luck started to show itself. I am in the middle of making my own record, and have been re-recording a couple of the harmonica solos on there. So, I just happen to have a pretty complete set of brand new, in-tune harmonicas. Anyone who plays harmonica knows that they don’t stay in tune forever, and sometimes are not even perfectly in tune when you take them out of the box. I am not one of those people who likes to take harmonicas apart and file the reeds to tune them. Just not my cup of tea. Luckily, I had those virgin recording harps on hand, and was ready to play in almost any key they could throw at me, in tune. My gig bag with my harp mics, cables and delay pedal is pretty much always packed up and ready to go. Since I had a gig later that night, I chose to bring my trusty Fender Pro Jr, the amp I usually use on gigs, since it is very portable and is able to cut through the sound of a band nicely. I had other choices. And if I had had more time to think about it, or known what to expect from this session, I might have made a different choice. But I grabbed the Pro Jr and was out the door.
I also have an app on my phone called Best Parking that tells me where I can park, and for how much in any location in New York City. You just enter the address and the times you will be there, and it gives you a map of parking garages, available street parking, along with their prices. This has saved my butt numerous times. I’m sure there are other apps that do similar things, but that’s the one I have. I got a great spot at a muni-meter, and the kind folks at the studio took care of feeding the meter for me. What a bunch of pros they are! Hats off.
The session went well. I walked into the underground temple of sound, and was shown to my spot in the big room at Electric Lady, where there was a chair, some baffles, and a cue system connected to a pair of headphones. I set up my amp, my Lone Wolf Harp Delay pedal, my custom Shure bullet mic with the controlled reluctance element, and laid out my new harps. The engineer asked me to play a little to get a level, and I gave them the sound I wanted them to hear–the sound I have been honing for years. I did not ask if they wanted this, or wanted that. I figured I would give them my best sound–to my ears–and then see if they wanted me to adjust it in any way. Turned out, they loved it. The day went so well that they invited me back for a second day. But first, I had a gig that night in Harlem.
When I set up my amp for the gig and turned it on, it started making a terrible hum. Shit! I had to go back and do a second day at Electric Lady and my amp was making strange noises. I “exercised” the tubes, made sure they were all the way in, and the noise subsided. But, I wasn’t taking any chances. The next day I took two amps to the session. The Pro Jr, for a consistent sound (just in case it worked), and my 1960 Silvertone 1432 as a backup.This is one filthy, dirty sounding harp amp. I ended up using the Pro Jr the whole time. But, having a backup sure did take the pressure off. Of course, there are plenty of great amps to choose from at Electric Lady. But as many harp players know, we like to use different tubes in our amps, and have them specially set up for amplified harmonica. A great guitar amp is not necessarily even a good harp amp, especially if it is loaded with high gain pre-amp tubes. So, it was crucial to have my own equipment there, including my beloved Lone Wolf Harp Delay. More on that in a different post.
Anyway, the moral of this rambling story is: Be Prepared. I’ll admit I kind of lucked out with the brand new set of harmonicas. But, I have also invested lots of time and money getting my sound together as far as the right amps, the right mics, the right effects, cables that work, etc. When the time came, I was able to answer the bell, get there quickly, figure out the parking, listen to what the band was doing and how I was going to fit in with it, and play the right stuff at the right time. Answer that phone call. You never know when it could be a Grammy-winning producer calling to hire you for the new series being executive produced by Mick Jagger, Terence Winter, and Martin Scorsese. That’s what happened to me last week.