Steve Hunter's Classic Sessions: Going Pro, Part II

As I said last month, the mysterious man who walked into the room while we were jamming on Cream tunes was the producer Bob Ezrin.
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As I said last month, the mysterious man who walked into the room while we were jamming on Cream tunes was the producer Bob Ezrin. Being quite naive about the ins and outs of the music business, I had no idea exactly what a producer did. I mean, I had some idea based on things I had read—remember, there was no Google back then— but Detroit drummer Johnny Bee and Mitch Ryder filled me in later.

On the first day of rehearsal with Bob present, I began to understand his role in making records. And then it suddenly hit me: “Wait a minute. We’re going into a studio to make an actual record—a Detroit featuring Mitch Ryder album?” I was really excited. I had dreamed of recording every time I listened to an album. I couldn’t imagine what it must be like, and now I was going to find out. How cool was that?

When I walked into the RCA recording studios in Chicago, I was completely blown away. Seeing the massive console and that giant 2" tape machine had an amazing affect on me. And this particular studio had recorded B.B. King. I was now in heaven—well, that is until I heard the first playback of one of my solos.

Everything seemed gigantic in a studio in those days— including the playback monitors. The monitors were Altecs—also known as “Big Reds”—with a 15" woofer, a 15" midrange speaker, and a tweeter. They were known for their accuracy, and they could be trusted to deliver to your ears exactly what was being recorded. When I recorded my first solo, I thought I was playing great, but I wasn’t getting that reaction from Bob in the control room. So we did several more passes. Still no good. Finally, Bob told me to come in and have a listen. That was the single most humbling experience of my life. I sounded terrible! It really scared the hell out of me.

Bob kind of reassured me by simply saying, “Okay, now you know what we’re hearing in here, so go back out there and give us a solo.” And that’s when I learned a valuable lesson. I had my guitar turned up pretty loud in my headphones, which was messing with my timing. I asked Bob to turn me down in the phones, and to put some reverb on my guitar. So in the phones, I was now hearing mostly reverb, and my “dry” guitar sound was coming from the amp itself. It was loud enough that I could hear it pretty well, even with the headphones on. As soon as I did that, I started playing better, and sitting into the groove and pocket. From that moment on, that’s how I would set up my headphone balance until years later, when everyone began overdubbing while sitting in the control room.

Sometimes called “The Deacon,” Steve Hunter is an American guitarist best known for his collaborations with Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, and Alice Cooper. Hunter has played some of the greatest riffs in rock history, including the opening solos on Aerosmith’s version of “Train Kept A-Rollin’” and Alice Cooper’s “Cold Ethyl,” and the acoustic intro to Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill.” He also wrote the legendary “Intro” for Lou Reed’s 1973 live version of “Sweet Jane.”