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Another Gadd Aja Story

jakeo

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This is an excerpt from a Gary Katz interview I had seen on YT but can't find now - but I found an excerpt and pasted below. Pretty incredible and hilarious. You gotta love Steve!

"One day, you’re talking about the song called “Aja” that has some really interesting anecdotal material, that song. Especially with Steve. We’d never worked with Steve. I’m too embarrassed to go into the reasons why, but we’d never worked with him. When we got to “Aja,” my cadre of musicians as far as drummers, wasn’t up their alley. It wasn’t for Jeff Porcaro, it wasn’t for [Jim] Keltner. It was obvious who was going to play that track, just for the 32 bar drum solo. None of my guys were going to do that. We did this out in L.A. at Producer’s Workshop and it was just a fabulous band. Victor Feldman and Chuck Rainey and Joe Sample. You know, all of our guys who we loved. Steve knew them like they were corner buddies because, with all of these guys, it’s a clique. So when he walked in, it was his guys. These are guys he’s known for 30 years and played with. I went out and actually had to introduce myself because I had not known him. The chart was long. It was 16 pages. So they built a horseshoe of music stands for Steve, to put all of the pages around the drum kit.

After a little while, Steve said to Joe and Chuck, “Just play it so I can hear how the song goes and I’ll make some notations on the chart for myself.” Donald went out as he usually did and stood in some corner and would sing a scratch vocal low, so the guys could hear it while they are playing. Walter and I were in the control room with Bill Schnee, a very famous engineer and producer at Producer’s Workshop, which was really his studio and he was the only one who knew how to make it work. He said, “Okay, let’s do one.” The track you hear is the only time he played it.

Once. As it’s going on, both Walter and I [are looking at each other]. For whatever reasons each of us had, we had never hired Steve [before this session]. And as we got to the end, it was just so fantastic, Walter turned to me and he said, “Maybe we’ve made a mistake.” That’s the only time he played that track, was the first time. Months go by and we were mixing in New York because we’re not particularly fast about how we do things. We were just about finished with the mix of “Aja” at A&R with Elliot Scheiner. It’s as good as you can imagine something sounding on those speakers in the control room. It was magically great. Someone walked in and said, “Hey, you know Steve is down the hall, he’s playing with Michael Franks.” I said, “Oh, cool, Donald, I’ll go down and let him know we’re here.” I did that and he was finishing up. When he was done, he came in and said [his greetings].

He was feeling good. I said, “Sit down, I want to play you something.” We played him “Aja,” which was finished. He sat right between the Altec 604 Utility [speaker] cabinets. It was great sounding. The track ends and he said, “Wow, who is playing drums?” Donald, Walter and I, Roger Nichols and Elliot, are just looking at each other. Because he wasn’t kidding. I say, “You are, stupid!” He went, “Really? I’m a mother******!” It’s the best laugh we had in all of the years."
 

John DeChristopher

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That's a great story. I've heard that too, that they cut Aja in one take. But I asked Steve probably 20 years ago, and he said they did a couple of takes, but they probably used the first take. We talked about it on my show in April 2020 and again he said they played it a couple of times.

We talk about it at about 47 minutes in. I'm by no means disputing the legendary Gary Katz, just saying Steve remembers it differently.

 

drumflyer

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I saw Steve at a workshop he did for Bentleys in Fresno about 15 years ago. He told the story about 50 Ways to Leave your Lover. Paul Simon was very uncertain about how he wanted the pace and beat of the song to be. Apparently they’d been working on it for many hours and Paul was close to scrapping the song. Meanwhile, Steve was in the drum room just doing a beat he did in the military to warm up years before. Paul heard what he was doing and THAT beat is the one you hear on 50 ways. Sometimes it’s amazing how a song comes together. Pure genius on both Pauls part and Steves!
 

equipmentdork

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I wish I had a ready source, but I remember reading how Gadd said that it was the first time it was recorded, not the first time they ran it down, and that they did it a few times for the benefit of everyone. A engineer friend of mine worked with him and asked him about the stick click, to which Steve replied, "What stick click?" :)


Dan
 

drummingbulldog

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I heard that SD had Gadd run 2 takes. The stick click was him dropping a stick and finishing the passage with one stick. I don't remember where l heard or read that but l have to think that Katz & Gadd may have trouble remembering exactly how it went down. Gadd was heavy into blow back then. I had the privilege of hearing a copy of the Aja master at a studio in Athens, Ga called Elixir. The studio had old gear that had come from the Rolling Stones mobile truck. Peg had like 7 guitar solos. It was the master with all the takes. Otho, the engineer, & me talked studio geek stuff and l told him that l was going through another Steely Dan phase. That's when he said he had a surprise for me. Last day of my bands recording he pulled out a reel 2 reel and cued it up. You could hear Donald Fagan count off the tune. His quiet scratch vocal was present. The real track vocal was there. The album was recorded and mixed flat which is why even today it is still used by audiophiles to try out speakers/headphones/etc. What l heard was the beginning to the stick click is take one. After that to the end is take 2. It was a punch-in. Gadd would know.
 

John DeChristopher

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IIRC, Gadd said it was accidental. Might have been during a @John DeChristopher interview.
Right. It was accidental. He mentions it in the link above at about 50 minutes. I mentioned Dennis Chambers doing the stick click as a tip of the hat and Steve said it was not on purpose.
I saw Steve at a workshop he did for Bentleys in Fresno about 15 years ago. He told the story about 50 Ways to Leave your Lover. Paul Simon was very uncertain about how he wanted the pace and beat of the song to be. Apparently they’d been working on it for many hours and Paul was close to scrapping the song. Meanwhile, Steve was in the drum room just doing a beat he did in the military to warm up years before. Paul heard what he was doing and THAT beat is the one you hear on 50 ways. Sometimes it’s amazing how a song comes together. Pure genius on both Pauls part and Steves!
Mission From Gadd Part 2. October 2005! Great fun!
It was actually the late great producer Phil Ramone who heard Steve noodling on the military beat and had him incorporate it into the song. Paul had the chorus music written, but not the verse, so Steve’s military beat became the verse.
 

jakeo

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To me the two things that struck me were that the Steely Dan team did not use Steve until Aja because for some reason they didn't like his groove! - and that Steve didn't realize it was himself when they played him the track.
 

backtodrum

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It’s funny because it’s true. And the fall would be so in the pocket that Paul Simon could write a song around it.
Lol! I've met Steve, and he is a very personable, humble down to earth guy. I was surprised that he is a relatively small man in physical stature. He is the G.O.A.T. in the recording world as far as I'm concerned! He has absolutely brilliant touch and feel, of course I am preaching to the choir with that statement!
 
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A guy I was in a band with back in 1989, worked with Gary Katz in 1984 when Katz was brought in as producer for the band he was in then. He’s got some stories from that experience - but this Gadd story is great! There’s been so much mystery and folklore grown around the story of making this album so it was great to see the all too brief, ‘Classic Albums’ documentary made. Condensed to just 1 hour, the mystery continues as they didn’t discuss Gadd at all in the program; or at least if they did, it was omitted.
 


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