Steve Lukathers Session Stories July 2010

July 1, 2010

LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT CLICK tracks—they ruined my hearing. They are the reason why I have tinnitus so bad. Back in the heyday of the session musician, you’d get one mix in the phones. One. Today, everyone has their own headphone mixer they can control and get a mix that’s perfect for them. But in the ’70s and ’80s, you’d have six guys vying for what they wanted out of that one headphone mix, and the click track would be sent to everyone, and it was loud. Also, the click we’re talking about was not a nice, rhythmic shaker or something like that. It was that classic BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG that felt like someone was pounding a f**king nail right between your eyes. And, of course, you’d sometimes get that singer who had never been in the studio before who decides to take the headphones off, and put them around the microphone—which is the equivalent of sticking a mic right inside a speaker. So you’d get a 10kHz tone at 200dB ripping your eardrums apart. That was a drag.

We actually didn’t play too loud at sessions. In the beginning, your average amp was maybe a blackface Fender Deluxe. Then, when they started putting the stereo thing together with the Boss chorus, you’d try to get a couple of Fender Princetons. Pretty soon, though, I started playing louder. But, still, if it was a live tracking date—and your amps were in the same room as the other musicians— they didn’t want you slamming it. If you messed up, you’d ruin a take because the guitar sound would bleed through everything else in the room.

Now, back when guitar solos were considered to be hip, they’d hire you to do a solo on a record, but they’d also hire a couple of other guys to come in and try it. You never really knew what was going on. Things were a lot more covert back then. But you’d run into people, and say, “Hey, did you have a go at that Joni Mitchell tune? Yeah. Me too. I wonder which solo they’re going to keep?” So you’d kind of know which three or four guys you were up against, and it was like earning your stripes when they picked your solo. Of course, you didn’t know that until the record came out.

It’s kind of, well, interesting that most sessions are done piecemeal these days. Now, guys have home studios with all their stuff miked up, and you just come over and plug into their Pro Tools rig, or you send digital files back and forth from your home studio to their home studio. You give them a couple of takes, and they mess with it later. All the interaction between musicians is via computer screens. Nothing is in real time. But there’s something about sitting in a room with a bunch of guys and playing together. Interplay will happen. A cool fill will happen that the other guys will play off. And accidents will happen that are really cool. It was really improvisation, but within a strict song structure. We were constantly creating.

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