My Burt Bacharach - Elvis Costello Back Stories

dcrigger

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So for those in the Warwick drummer thread that requested some of my Bacharach - Costello back story - here goes…

So Burt first…

1978 - I’m 23 and about 4-5 years into my Los Angeles career since becoming the drummer of the Don Ellis Band following Ralph Humphrey’s departure to play with Zappa in ’73. I was doing a smattering of everything and anything I could get called for - casuals, jazz gigs, co-leading a fusion big band, some touring (Jay Gruska, The King Family) and all manner of sessions… bits of TV and Film, demos, the Drum Drop records, whatever… I was still living at my parents in Orange County (about an hour out of Hollywood), so basically I almost lived in my car - with my drums and sometimes two or three gigs worth of clothes in tow as I tooled all over LA playing between pit stops at home.

Back then, players for virtually all “real” or union sessions were booked by a “contractor” - a person who would hire anyone the composer or producer requested, but beyond that would call guys that were on their “list”. Getting on a busy contractor’s list was literally the path to success in LA - as they booked all of the big sessions and shows as well.

At that time, Burt Bacharach was using one LA’s more prominent contractors to book his road musicians. His name was Jules Chaiken. And as it so happened, early in ’78 I had a composer friend request me to play on a number of sessions for a film he was scoring (Wonderful score - horrible film - gone in a week). And Jules was the contractor hired to do that movie. Which was great - ‘cause Jules Chaiken was getting to see/hear me work and you know… woo hoo. And the sessions went well - Jules made a point of saying he was impressed and well… woo hoo.

Which of course doesn’t necessarily mean anything - these are like any sales leads - a good prospect… which often doesn’t actually turn into anything. In this case, it turned out better than that…

Shortly after the time of those sessions, Burt had called Jules and said the drummer who had been doing his road show was no longer available, so would need to get someone else… and according to Jules, he told Burt, “Well I just recently used this young kid on a movie and I think he’d be great. He used to play with Don Ellis and…” And then Jules said that Burt sort of cut him off and said “Played with Don Ellis?? Oh then I’m sure he’ll be fine… see if you can book him for the summer tours”.

So Jules calls and asks if I’d like to do 9 weeks that summer with Burt Bacharach and if so, how much money would I need? And I’m like (to myself) “How do I know???… I knew some guys that had toured with Helen Ready a few years before that were making I believed $800 a week - so I said that.

And Jules - God bless him - says “No, that’s not enough money - how about we start you at $1200 a week for this work. But then if it goes well and Burt wants to continue to use you, you call me and say you need more money”. Of course, everybody you encounter isn’t like this - but I must say I encountered quite a few older guys when I started out that were just like this - absolutely great.

So I think I had to go somewhere and pick up “the book” of all of the charts and a cassette tape of a recent show. And a couple of weeks later, an itinerary and an airplane ticket arrived. And in the meantime - I had to go buy a decent tuxedo - because the second hand ratty looking thing I had been wearing on gigs really wasn’t going to cut it.

And then I was off to some theater in the round outside of Chicago to meet and play for Burt Bacharach.

Back then pick-up orchestra were simply not the sight-readers that they are now - so standard procedure was to rehearse with the orchestra (this tour was 14 strings, 4 reeds, 8 brass and percussion plus Burt on piano, two guitar players, bass, drums and three background singers) for 4-5 hours the day before opening, then another 4 hours the day of the first show (this tour was all 6 days in one theater then off to the next one).

So basically meet Burt, sit down and do a rehearsal - with him both rehearsing the orchestra while giving me “notes” as to what he needs different from. Add to that, he was also introducing a new instrumental work “New York Lady” that had never been performed period - so we were trying to suss that out while getting everything else together.

And yes there was that moment, when we first played “The Look Of Love” that it really struck me - “I actually learned to play this beat while playing along with this song… OMG I’m playing with Burt Bacharach!!!”

Anyway the summer went fine - Burt wanted to book more dates - I called Jules and got more money. The last time dealing with Jules - times were changing - and using a contractor for this was no longer a thing.

But I continued to work with Burt semi-regularly for, I guess, 31 years - stopping IIRC in 2009.

(You know - I just can’t write a short concise story. Sorry :) )
 

dcrigger

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The Painted From Memory Tour

Fast forward 20 years - Burt and Elvis had written a song for the movie, “Grace of My Heart” - a pairing they seemed to enjoy, so they decided to write and produced an album together. That was “Painted From Memory” - Chris Parker played on the movie song from the film - that they did in NY. And the rest of the album was recorded by the ever marvelous Jim Keltner in LA.

So I had nothing to do with any of that.

That is - until they decided they wanted to do a short publicity tour and spending the money for Keltner and the rest was out of the question - particularly as each concert would require a good size string section - along with the bulk of Burt’s touring band to pull off.

So we piled into SIR in Hollywood to rehearse for about a week in order to put this album’s worth of material together. It was Burt’s band of piano, keys, bass, drums, two horns and three girl singers - joined by Elvis’ piano player Steve Nieve and LA guitarist Grant Geissman (which you might have heard playing that incredible guitar solo on Chuck Mangione’s “Feels So Good” years before).

Now Keltner is known for pretty much approaching each song on an album from scratch when it comes to drum sounds - meaning he has tons of drums with him. And so different drums on different tunes was sort of the order of the day.

Which obviously was not something I could carry over to a concert setting - so that was the first thing… figuring out what I really needed as far sounds went - while still making it workable live. And of course as this was a commercial air tour - I could only bring essential small stuff… everything else had to available from backline companies…

Oh and we were playing 6 concerts in 5 cities

10/13 Radio City Music Hall in NYC
10/15 Constitution Hall in DC
10/16 A theater in Chicago, IL
10/18 back to NYC to tape Sessions at West 54th
10/20 Universal Amphitheater in LA


10/31 Royal Festival Hall in London

So anyway, most of the music worked with my “normal” set-up -

22” bass drum with a ported reso
10” and 12” toms
16 x16 floor tom
my 5x14 Camco or 4x14 snare made for me by John Nyman from a GonBop timbale shell (or something like that)
a couple of crashes - A Custom 16” and probably a 15” A custom or some such
my 20” A Zildjian 1968 ride
and either a pair of 14” New Beats or 13” K/Z combination hats (I can’t remember - probably the latter)

But there was a couple of tunes that really used a smaller bass drum with a clearly intact reso - almost a bop drum… pretty open. So figuring I could never reliably get 18’s from backline - I spec’d a separate 20” bass drum with unmuffled intact heads. And as I needed to play this with my right foot - I used a double pedal placed to the right of my main pedal - and placed the smaller drum also to the right of the main bass drum. It really worked great.

Then snare drums - one song called for a deep fat back drum - that was easy. I just placed a 7x14 Valley Drum Shop snare tuned way down and muffled appropriately to the left of my hat. Normal stuff.

But I also need a higher pitched more open snare for a couple of tunes - which ended up just having to be swapped out for my main snare. This was a great idea - until the set list came together. And the switch to that alternate snare came at the end of a tune with a very long whisper quiet section - followed by a very short pause. A hair raising quick change - that really couldn’t start too early - as banging a snare against a mic during this soft delicate section would’ve been a bad idea.

Then finally - one or two songs really needed a ride cymbal with more wash - so I squeezed a second ride in there - a 20” Constantinople IIRC.

Some of this - over time - could’ve probably been skipped. But so soon after recording the album - the sonics were so fresh in their minds - it was worth the effort. In order to minimize the “not being happy with the part” because the sound is so different syndrome.

As far as prep went - there was an expectation to know what was there and be able to play that. And lots of that stayed true - but tons of things changed pretty quickly. As much as Burt is aware of what was originally there - he’s also always in the moment - also working to have the music being played that day, by this band, in this room to be the best it can - or to best be how he hears it now… today. So things change - dynamics change - tempos change - all the time - at any time. I’ve found on any gig like this - but certainly with him - I’m just always keeping an eye on him… all the time.

So these were a bunch of very long days - to fit everything with a new orchestra each time into one day. There would be a 2-3 hour rehearsal with the orchestra usually in the lobby in the morning - with separate drum set-up out there. I would usually miss lots of this - as getting the new backline gear each day dialed in and set-up usually ate up all of that time. Then lunch - then a proper 2-3 rehearsal sound check with Burt and Elvis on the stage . Then dinner. Then the show. Then travel the next day - and repeat.

Except that horrible back to back Washington DC to Chicago nonsense - finish the show in DC, back to the hotel, up at way before dawn, catching a very early flight to Chicago, to then do the whole thing again with a different string section and different drums. Ah life on the road…

Even at the time, I think everyone was feeling that this tour was very special - the music really was just so wonderful - Elvis was such an interesting cat to get to talk with - and so clearly simply loved getting a chance to work with Burt, who he talked so vividly about being such an early inspiration to him as a songwriter. It was really cool to be around. There was certainly a bigger wow factor to the back stage drop-in’s after the show. Not that there was much time to hang.

The tour was kind of decided upon at the last minute - and that was kind of a big problem. As concurrent with it going on Burt was prepping an expanded version of his band’s regular show to be played with symphony orchestras. This meant arrangements for the orchestra had to be created for about two hours worth of music. So our keyboard was doing the orchestrations with Burt’s oversight and approvals and I was doing the copying. (Taking the parts from the big scores and getting them written onto separate parts for each player.)

And the problem was Burt was committed to having all of this ready to play just 2-3 days after the Los Angeles concert. The Seattle Symphony was celebrating the opening of their brand new symphonic hall and we were one of the big events. I mean, this stuff HAD to get done. So after having squeezing in all the work we could during the tour, Rob and I came straight back to my place after the LA concert and basically pulled a near 2 day “all-nighter”, finishing with the last parts coming off the printer just as I had to leave for the airport.

So then we did the 3 or 4 days with the Seattle Symphony - then flew home and then flew to London the next day to finish the Painted From Memory tour. (Oh and that was the flight that after getting all the music and gear loaded up to go to the airport - I left my cymbal case leaning up against the house in the driveway - with no one home!! I finally discovered this while checking in - frantic calls were made and a friend was able to go save my cymbals - rush them to FedEx to ship them to London. I ended up playing the rehearsal on utter crap backline cymbals, while a production runner was off fetching my cymbals from customs at the airport - and whew…they made it to the theater just in time for the show).

Anyway I think that’s it. Again the length - sorry. Of course, if there’s any questions or whatever… fire away…

Elvisband.jpeg


First day in NYC - David Coy, Bass; John Pagano, Vocals; Rob Schrock, Keys; myself; Grant Geissman, Guitar.

 

scaramanga

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At first I wondered if you might have overthought your gear choices for the Painted tour; but then I remembered seeing video of Burt stopping a rehearsal because the tambourine sound wasn't quite right. Great stories. Thanks for sharing.
 

JDA

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What was that Show that was Televised---you were playing- with a Skating rink.
Guess some Ice Follies or something..I remember you telling us about it on one of the Forums and switching on the TV ... and watching. What year was that

here it is: 2003:


man, you and the band sound great there!
Loved that day.
entire 1:16:43 there..

Highly recommend everyone watch the above
 
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dcrigger

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My, you guys are gluttons for punishment - :) But I don't mind sharing to whatever degree I can. So....

Burt Bacharach Tribute on Ice - 2003

This was one of a series of shows that Brian Boitano put together for NBC - the idea being to have a musical performer play at the top of the rink, while famous skaters perform routines to their music in front of a live audience.

So here’s the thing with modern TV productions - they cost a fortune. And though the producers want them to be “magical” - they are very leery of taking the risks required to actually “capture magic”. Capturing magic is elusive - and almost always entails risk. There’s a spice in a performance that is rarely there without some risk of failing. Take away that “gun to the head” and the performance will just always be a little… less. And magic rarely happens in that (safer) space.

But again TV shows are hugely expensive to make - so mitigating risk is a huge part of a producer’s list of tasks. How much risk can be eliminated without just sucking the life out of something is always the question. From a musical standpoint - this discussion always starts and ends with the desire from the producers to simply pre-record everything. Which does takes a lot of risky things off the table - not just with the performers, but with the rest of the audio production as well - but it risks feeling canned and boring.

Burt of course always pushes for the opposite - coming from the place that the rewards outweigh the risks, because the risks are incredibly minimal. As he knows that he and his performers can indeed perform something over and over, on cue, and have it sound more than acceptable… every time. But of course that doesn’t speak to all of the other variables - and like any big production, no one gets their way with everything. So compromises are always struck.

And of course here, we also had the skating contingency - that can really prefer pre-records - because tempo fluctuations can really throw them for a loop.

(None of this is the case with the “talk shows” - they prefer or even insist on things being live - because being on daily, they don’t have big stake in everything being perfect all the time - preferring to allow space for some occasional “magic” amongst the day by day competence.

For me - I was more than interested in how this would shake out - because from the drummer’s perspective this decision would make be the difference between this being a literal pressure-cooker, gun-to-your-head all day long situation (as I know from other live tapings) or a sort of a easy-peasy walk in the park, enjoy the scenery situation.

This ended up being more like the latter…

What you see/hear in the video is a combination of the band being pre-recorded, all of the singing being performed live, and the sections of Burt playing piano rubato by himself being live as well.

So for me, the hot seat day wasn’t the day of the filming - that took place about three months before in Houston, TX of all places. As that is where we did the pre-records.

Why? Well Burt’s band doesn’t all live in LA - so to do anything together always requires for some people to have to travel and need hotels rooms and ground trans and all that. It kinda gets expensive quick. So to eliminate that - it was decided that we would fit this in while we were already on the road - with everyone already together. In this case, while performing 3 or 4 nights with the Houston Symphony.

So one night after the Symphony show - I packed up all of my personal stuff - cymbals, snare, drum machine, etc. - so it could be delivered - along with yet another set of backline drums to some studio in Houston. The rhythm section and the horns went over in the morning, and got our stuff all set-up and sounds dialed in - with Burt and the singers joining us a bit later.

The singers were there to both perform with us and more importantly provide the vocal track for the rehearsal tapes that the skaters would work with up until the day of the filming.

So with everyone recording together (with the singers in an ISO booth) we set about recording all of this music in about three hours. Basically it was all stuff we knew - though Burt had worked out a bunch of changes to the arrangements - transitions and stuff - creating different medleys - things like that. So these changes were all just verbally talked down, new transitions maybe played a couple of times. Then it was hit record and go. Everything was pretty much one or two takes - and we were done.

Then back to the hotel - dinner - then get over to the symphony hall to reset my stuff and do the regular show. Long day - but some decent extra money - instead of just sitting in the hotel room all day.

As for the filming, the backline company sent in a “film ready” set - normal drums with the heads completely deadened and most interestingly a set of completely dead cymbals - each “cymbal” being a pair of cymbals glued together with a thin layer of black silicone sealant between them. They were dead dead dead.

The only problem I foresaw was that I was going to have live singer mics just feet away from the drums - and even hitting dead drums and cymbals make noise - particularly the tick tick tick of the stick striking the plastic and metal. So I took the extra precaution of creating a bunch of rubber tipped sticks - got some of that white rubber goo you can dip wrenches in - and created some faux “nylon tip” sticks - that made hardly any noise when tapped on the metal cymbals - no tick, tick, tick.

It worked great.

Now I really tried during the pre-record to just stick to the same sort of “stuck-in-a-rut” fills that I used too often - over and over. This allowed me to not do any big prep for lip-syncing - just pretty much play the “same old stuff” I often played. So the filming was pretty much get dressed and sort of play along with no responsibilities beyond that.

It was wonderful - and, of course, paid some money too.
 

equipmentdork

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I dig all the "real world" stories--anything behind the scenes. These are great!



Dan
 

backtodrum

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This all leads me to a question I've been wondering about for some time. Every time I hear a band on television the cymbals are all buried in the mix or not heard at all. Do cymbals not carry well to television audiences? Do they clip ordinary television speakers? Why does this seem to be the standard with music played live on television? The dead cymbals in your article reminded me of this that you rarely can hear anything when a drummer hits a crash cymbal when a band is recorded live on television?

Great stories and insight by the way about how this stuff is produced for TV audiences.
 

Matched Gripper

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So for those in the Warwick drummer thread that requested some of my Bacharach - Costello back story - here goes…

So Burt first…

1978 - I’m 23 and about 4-5 years into my Los Angeles career since becoming the drummer of the Don Ellis Band following Ralph Humphrey’s departure to play with Zappa in ’73. I was doing a smattering of everything and anything I could get called for - casuals, jazz gigs, co-leading a fusion big band, some touring (Jay Gruska, The King Family) and all manner of sessions… bits of TV and Film, demos, the Drum Drop records, whatever… I was still living at my parents in Orange County (about an hour out of Hollywood), so basically I almost lived in my car - with my drums and sometimes two or three gigs worth of clothes in tow as I tooled all over LA playing between pit stops at home.

Back then, players for virtually all “real” or union sessions were booked by a “contractor” - a person who would hire anyone the composer or producer requested, but beyond that would call guys that were on their “list”. Getting on a busy contractor’s list was literally the path to success in LA - as they booked all of the big sessions and shows as well.

At that time, Burt Bacharach was using one LA’s more prominent contractors to book his road musicians. His name was Jules Chaiken. And as it so happened, early in ’78 I had a composer friend request me to play on a number of sessions for a film he was scoring (Wonderful score - horrible film - gone in a week). And Jules was the contractor hired to do that movie. Which was great - ‘cause Jules Chaiken was getting to see/hear me work and you know… woo hoo. And the sessions went well - Jules made a point of saying he was impressed and well… woo hoo.

Which of course doesn’t necessarily mean anything - these are like any sales leads - a good prospect… which often doesn’t actually turn into anything. In this case, it turned out better than that…

Shortly after the time of those sessions, Burt had called Jules and said the drummer who had been doing his road show was no longer available, so would need to get someone else… and according to Jules, he told Burt, “Well I just recently used this young kid on a movie and I think he’d be great. He used to play with Don Ellis and…” And then Jules said that Burt sort of cut him off and said “Played with Don Ellis?? Oh then I’m sure he’ll be fine… see if you can book him for the summer tours”.

So Jules calls and asks if I’d like to do 9 weeks that summer with Burt Bacharach and if so, how much money would I need? And I’m like (to myself) “How do I know???… I knew some guys that had toured with Helen Ready a few years before that were making I believed $800 a week - so I said that.

And Jules - God bless him - says “No, that’s not enough money - how about we start you at $1200 a week for this work. But then if it goes well and Burt wants to continue to use you, you call me and say you need more money”. Of course, everybody you encounter isn’t like this - but I must say I encountered quite a few older guys when I started out that were just like this - absolutely great.

So I think I had to go somewhere and pick up “the book” of all of the charts and a cassette tape of a recent show. And a couple of weeks later, an itinerary and an airplane ticket arrived. And in the meantime - I had to go buy a decent tuxedo - because the second hand ratty looking thing I had been wearing on gigs really wasn’t going to cut it.

And then I was off to some theater in the round outside of Chicago to meet and play for Burt Bacharach.

Back then pick-up orchestra were simply not the sight-readers that they are now - so standard procedure was to rehearse with the orchestra (this tour was 14 strings, 4 reeds, 8 brass and percussion plus Burt on piano, two guitar players, bass, drums and three background singers) for 4-5 hours the day before opening, then another 4 hours the day of the first show (this tour was all 6 days in one theater then off to the next one).

So basically meet Burt, sit down and do a rehearsal - with him both rehearsing the orchestra while giving me “notes” as to what he needs different from. Add to that, he was also introducing a new instrumental work “New York Lady” that had never been performed period - so we were trying to suss that out while getting everything else together.

And yes there was that moment, when we first played “The Look Of Love” that it really struck me - “I actually learned to play this beat while playing along with this song… OMG I’m playing with Burt Bacharach!!!”

Anyway the summer went fine - Burt wanted to book more dates - I called Jules and got more money. The last time dealing with Jules - times were changing - and using a contractor for this was no longer a thing.

But I continued to work with Burt semi-regularly for, I guess, 31 years - stopping IIRC in 2009.

(You know - I just can’t write a short concise story. Sorry :) )
Amazing recount! Even more amazing how you remember some of these details from over 4 decades ago. So, did you go bar hopping with Burt after shows or what? ;)
 
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dcrigger

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This all leads me to a question I've been wondering about for some time. Every time I hear a band on television the cymbals are all buried in the mix or not heard at all. Do cymbals not carry well to television audiences? Do they clip ordinary television speakers? Why does this seem to be the standard with music played live on television? The dead cymbals in your article reminded me of this that you rarely can hear anything when a drummer hits a crash cymbal when a band is recorded live on television?

Great stories and insight by the way about how this stuff is produced for TV audiences.
I wouldn't begin to think I have a definitive answer for this - but I have a couple of thoughts...

Lots of live TV show directors really don't like the look of overhead mics and booms looming over the top of the shot. So there is a real tendency to mike the drums way down low or even from below. This os of course no recipe for a great overhead sound. So there's that...

The other thought is - the tendency in modern recordings is to downplay cymbals in mixes as a general rule. If we couple that with most TV mixes being very vocal heavy, it would eave us with a backing track with barely any cymbals then being covered up by a very prominent vocal.

That's all I can think of.
 

dcrigger

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Amazing recount! Even more amazing how you remember some of these details from over 4 decades ago. So, did you go bar hopping with Burt after shows or what? ;)
Well the really far back stuff are kind of "firsts" - and I think we tend to remember the "firsts" of our youth better than the rest of things. My sister will often be talking about some old artist or someone - and my blank expression prompts her to ask "Well you remember you played with/for them, right?" "I did??" being all I can come up with. Lots of years and lots of gigs - and so many not... firsts.

Bar hopping with Burt? Funny - because that's not really him and really not me. But in the latter years there was a lot more hang time. Earlier on though, the gig was pretty formal. All the playing back then was entirely in this large ensemble settings. It just maintained a more formal sideman form for many years. Except for dealing with the music, the playing - everything else was communicated through the road manager. If Burt wanted to talk with me about something - the road manager would let me know and I'd go to his dressing room, knock, go in, conduct our business then leave.

It was that way for about 10 years - then the staff structure changed, Burt's personal life changed, some us had just been there longer - the whole just got looser. But it was still always we're sidemen and he's Burt Bacharach. Not in some snobbish way - just in a that's just the way it is. As the artist, he always had tons going on that didn't involve us at all - press stuff, phone interviews, other projects. Over the years, I feel like I got to know him pretty well, but we never and were never going to be buds or anything like that. But there were some really nice, cool moments - some great conversations about the old days (of course), but also about the art, the process - a few time pretty on point, more often sort of obliquely - but those were all very cool, particularly when you'd remind yourself that who you've been talking to is held by many to right up there with the great songwriters of the 20th century - Gershwin, Porter, Lennon/McCartney, etc.

And that thought would always help when it was getting to feel just to much like a job... a grind. Though it didn't always help. :)
 

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This is all great to read - thank you!

And it reminds me that I was listening to you on the Don Ellis "Live at Montreux" album when it came out while I was in college. I used to play "Niner Two" as a way to start the day - no need for coffee after that!
 

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DC, on that sessions at west 54th taping, you were right up in there, what sticks were you using? Love all this stuff and you're playing and vibe speaks for itself!

Cheers and blessings, Trey
 


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