PAPA MALI USED ECHOES AND REVERBS
to otherworldly effect on his two swamp-blues
solo CDs. Now he’s fronting the jam supergroup
7 Walkers—featuring members of the Grateful
Dead and the Meters—and he produced the
band’s vibey eponymous debut. —Jimmy Leslie
How would you describe the sound and style
of your production?
Well, some have called my sound “voodoo
electronics.” I’m inspired by Lee “Scratch” Perry
as much as I am by people such as [jazz producer]
Norman Granz. My production style
runs the gamut from state-of-the-art circa
1958 to extremely low-fi , but I do try to go
for a modern approach to retro sounds.
What’s your M.O. regarding basic tracking in
general, and guitar tracking specifically?
I aim for good levels and flat sounds that I
can manipulate later in the mix. I cut basics with
all the musicians in the same room tracking to
2" tape—preferably a Studer machine. It sounds
awesome and forces everyone to commit to a
take. I prefer a room with wooden floors and
high ceilings. I place a couple of microphones
near the ceiling where I can always find a little
special magic. Oftentimes, when I’m tempted
to use a tight reverb effect, I’ll try panning the
ceiling mic hard to one side instead.
For 7 Walkers, I tracked a lot of my electric
parts with an early-’60s Strat through a ’60s
blackface Fender Deluxe. It’s the perfect blend
of clean and dirty at a reasonable volume. “Mr.
Okra” is a good example of that tone. I use a ’74
Marshall 50-watt head onstage, but in the studio
I have better luck with smaller amps, including a
Supro Thunderbolt. It has a lot of grit, but it’s not
as throaty sounding as a Marshall. You can hear
it on “Sue from Bogalusa.” Small speakers are key
to getting ’50s-style overdriven tones. If I wanted
distortion, I’d use a vintage Tube Screamer, or
my ProCo Rat pedal for heavier sounds.
How would you describe the vibe you went
for on “Someday You’ll See [Prelude]”?
I wanted it to sound like Neil Young starring
in a spaghetti western film. I used my Strat,
the Thunderbolt, and a Fulltone Tape Echo to
track my guitar. In fact, the Fulltone was almost
always in my signal chain because it has an
amazing tube preamp that makes everything
sound better. I remember blending in a lot of
the ceiling mic on that guitar track as well.
What’s an example of a “modern approach to
I do a lot of re-amping. I’ll send a flat signal
back out through a vintage Space Echo, or
to an amp in another room with the reverb
turned up, and re-record that. Then I’ll blend
the two. Sometimes I’ll even take a pristine
sound and subvert it by running it through
some ridiculous stompbox. That’s the kind
of procedure a lot of modern producers will
replace by using plug-ins in Pro Tools, but I
prefer the mad professor approach.