Johnny Ferreira: Rock n' Roll Saxophonist
An Interview by Neil Sharpe
Part Three- In The Studio: Tips and Techniques
“When I was considering material for my new CD, I thought of two tracks, recorded earlier, that were special but hadn’t been finished. The basic tracks were done as far as drums, bass, and piano, but, at the time, we didn't have a guitar player in the studio. One was ‘Wine Women & Song’, the other was ‘The Same Song’ which I later changed to ‘Swing That Thing.’
I’m going to talk about ‘Swing That Thing.’ The best thing about this track was
that Robbie King
had played the Hammond organ during the original sessions; he was smoking!
Robbie started out when he was 17, being on tour with The
Motown Revue, playing with artists like Stevie
Wonder, The Supremes (remember the big intro organ swell in The
Supremes’ ‘Stop! In The Name Of Love’),
Martha and the Vandellas, and The Temptations.
He also played keyboard on a song called ‘Seasons in the Sun’ by Terry Jacks that had massive record sales around the world. Robbie was paid $150.00 for the session and never saw another cent. We had just lost Robbie to cancer, and I was feeling very emotional about rediscovering this track.”
”There were a couple of versions and takes with me singing on one, and my old vocalist Linda singing on another. Neither was complete, and I didn't like the way it sounded. Linda was no longer in Canada, and I decided that it was the wrong key for me to sing in. There is a software program called ‘Pitch and Time’ made by Serrato that will change pitch or tempo without affecting the sound of the original source. It's truly amazing, and a tool I find many uses for.
The original arrangement was all over the place without an ending, so I spent several days editing in my ProTools home studio. I also took a couple of the sax riffs I was playing in the original sessions and beefed them up a bit by overdubbing with a couple more tenor tracks. I called over my brass section, trumpet and trombone, to my house, added them to it, and the horns were done.
Since this session was done in my home studio, we put the trumpet player and trombone player in the big living room (away from the control room) with only one mic, the same mic I used for many of my tenor tracks- AKG 1000. I have compared this mic to several others under the $500 price range and I like it the best.
In getting a nice section sound, it helps a lot to double everything you do. After we lay down a horn part, we go back and do it again. Since I had only one mic set up, I had the instruments invert their distance from the mic. If the trumpet was closer to the mic during the first take, we’d put the trombone closer and move the trumpet back for the second take. This way we didn't need to worry too much about the balance while laying it down, we could balance it out in the mixing process. If a certain part was too heavy on the trumpet, we could add more of the track that had the ‘hotter’ trombone. This worked out great especially since my tenor tracks were already there to follow. Sometimes, I could stand behind the brass and blow along again to add yet another horn...maybe in a different octave than the other previously recorded tracks.
After the brass left, I was very busy editing it all together, picking the best takes, working out the balance etc. All fun stuff! Well, most of it...
When the horn section was all done, I got out my tenor once again and played a bunch of lead all over the place between the vocal parts until it was sitting in the right spots. This was done very quickly, since I only know so many licks!
We also overdubbed a guitar track at this point that really fit in nicely under the Hammond and piano; not getting in the way, just stroking on the 1/4 beat like the guys did in the big band swing era. Now, the track was really taking shape; the arrangement was tighter, the key changed to suit my voice better, and the horn section was in.
I called in Mellissa, one of my favorite singers to add some vocals. This was very easy since her part was only on the chorus, as a response to my verse, a kind of duet I guess.
I next chopped some more parts out. I'm a believer of the shorter ‘get to the point’ type arrangement as opposed to maybe making it too long and losing some of the attention. I got it down well under 3 1/2 minutes (a couple songs on the CD are under 2 1/2 minutes!).
I was finally ready to mix it. I went to another studio, and we spent a full day mixing each song. This took over 10 days, since we mixed more than were used.
The final process was mastering, which took a good part of a day. I then lived with it for a couple more days just to be sure and went back to re-EQ a couple tracks in the mastering room.
[Also see: the SOTW article: "Saxophone Recording Techniques": BY Johnny Ferreira (with sound clips)]
People in the music business are always looking for labels and trying to slot you into genres. It can get frustrating. I’ve looked at all the so-called genre choices, and out of the dozen or so they’ve created, the only one that comes close is the blues. But, I feel like I’m different, a continuation of the swing and jump traditions but more focused and defined.
They want a label for me. Now, I have one to give them. It’s the title of my latest CD- Johnny Ferreira- Rock & Roll Saxophonist (click here for additional sound clips).
Johnny Ferreira- Rock n’ Roll Saxophonist
Johnny Ferreira & The Swing Machine - Crazy 'Bout a Saxophone
Johnny Ferreira & The Swing Machine - King of the Mood Swings
Johnny Ferreira - Sax on the Beach
Colin James - Colin James
Colin James - Sudden Stop
Colin James - Colin James & the Little Big Band
Colin James - Bad Habits
Colin James - Then Again
Colin James - National Steel
Long John Baldry - The English blues legend whose bands included, early in their careers, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Mick Jagger, and Charlie Watts: Johnny's featured on the 1997, award winning CD:
Right to Sing the Blues
Barney Bentall & the Legendary Hearts - Ain't Life Strange
Headpins - Head Over Heels
DOA - Let's Wreck the Party
Pointed Sticks - Perfect Youth
Goddo - King of Broken Hearts
Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne - Blues Boss Boogie