STRING ALONG WITH MITCH – CLASS IS NOW IN SESSION BY ED HUERTA
The “Prince of Primitive”, Jackaboutguitars.com’s Ed Huerta, has done a remarkably cool interview with Mitch Holder, Session Man Extraordinaire, that’s full of all kinds of information about how studios once operated, a look into session work concerning movies, T.V., and records, and a glimpse into the unfolding of the future at the very beginning stages of digital…way before any of us had a clue about what any series of zeroes and ones and their arrangement meant and the huge impact it would have not just in the music business, but concerning every facet of our daily lives.
Many thanks to Mitch Holder. Enjoy STRING ALONG WITH MITCH – CLASS IS NOW IN SESSION BY ED HUERTA. – Jack
THIS ARTICLE IS DEDICATED TO MISTY MARIE HUERTA 1974-2014 REST IN PEACE
Misty Marie Huerta with Boris and Edie
STRING ALONG WITH MITCH (CLASS IS NOW IN SESSION) BY ED HUERTA
What can you say about Mitch Holder that hasn’t already been said? Sure, the man can rest on his hardy laurels. Sure, he can just be sitting back on some farm tinkering around in his garden just whilin’ away the time. Dig, you think you know Mitch Holder?? Think again!
This man has played on sessions with Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Stevie Nicks, Seals and Crofts, Woody Herman, Brian Wilson, Dean Martin, Cher, just to name a few…
His soundtracks include Space Cowboys, City Slickers 2, On Golden Pond, E.T., Grease, Tootsie, Pretty in Pink, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom…
Tons of TV shows including The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Family Guy, Moonlighting, Sledge Hammer, Chips, Quincy, General Hospital, Cheers…
Is this enough? But wait, there’s more…Commercials include Pepsi Cola, Coke, Toyota, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Coors, Honda, Disneyland, Disney World, Pabst, Sea World…Can your heart stand any more???
Dig, this is THE guy, people! If it’s out there, Mitch has probably played on it. Okay, a couple notes before we get started. I just want to add that Mitch Holder is truly a genuinely great person. We did this interview in the beginning of October.
Unfortunately, my wife Misty took ill towards the end of that month and battled illness past the middle of November. I usually do a portrait of the person that I interview and Mitch’s portrait was about halfway sketched out when life took an unexpected turn for me. Needless to say, I took care of the home front before continuing on with the interview and portrait (thanks to my brother Jack for transcribing this for me and the readers).
I wanted to apologize to Mitch for the delay and I kept receiving word from my brother Jack that Mitch was sending thoughts and prayers to me and Misty all during this time. Mitch Holder, a guitar legend, whom I have never met in person, constantly sent well wishes to my family.
I just want to send a heartfelt “THANK YOU” to Mitch for his patience and the love he sent out our way. It was a very kind and gracious gesture…all my respects to Mitch and his family..and for helping me have the courage to finish his portrait.
Peace to all of you…I hope you enjoy the article and I hope Mitch enjoys his painting…This article is dedicated to Misty Marie Huerta 1974-2014…RIP my lovely wife. – Ed Huerta
MITCH HOLDER: ONE OF THE GREAT L.A. SESSION MEN
MITCH ON DOING THIS COOL JINGLE FOR HONDA
MITCH: Here’s a bit of the scenario on the Honda spot:
“This Honda Motorcycle TV ad was done by Matthews-Griffith Music, who I worked with for many years. Mark Matthews, himself a very good guitarist, did the arrangement and it was engineered by his partner, Jim Griffith. For these kind of jingles, the calls were for one hour as opposed to three hours, which was the minimal call for records, TV and movie calls.
The first hour call was for rhythm tracking and the players were Peter Erskine/drums, Nathan East/bass, Randy Waldman/B3 and myself. I played a rhythm guitar track for that and we got that basic track done in a couple of takes.
Next, the three of them were released and I had the solo to overdub. The singer, Bill Champlin (From The Sons Of Champlin and Chicago) wouldn’t arrive until the next hour’s session, so I wouldn’t have any vocal reference to play from. Well aware of this, Mark indicated on the guitar part where specifically He wanted me to play. Mark was always very specific with what he wanted, even with something like this spot that sounded more like a record.
Having worked with Bill Champlin before and knowing his style and sound, I dialed up a sound with the neck pickup on a Strat with what I called a 1/2 Crunch sound on my rig for the solo overdub. It was basically the Strat through an Egnater ie4 preamp and a VHT 250 power amp (which was one of the first ones Steve Freyette had built and I had to have him tame down, it was so LOUD!!). So, I played the solo part making sure to play everything exactly indicated and, as I recall, did it in a couple of passes and I don’t remember which take was the one they picked. Bottom line is that the whole track with solo was done in that first hour. When I was getting ready to leave, Bill walked in for his hour to do the vocal and the rest is history.
Jingles were done pretty quick. Sometimes a radio spot could be on the air later the same day. TV took a few days. Needless to say, this one was a very fun session and a nice opportunity for me to open it up a bit.” – Mitch Holder
MITCH HOLDER…THE INTERVIEW
EH: What’s your first known recollection or memory of music from your childhood?
MH: Oh Boy, my first recollection. I’d have to say nursery rhymes. My mother used to sing nursery rhymes to me and I distinctly remember that. So whether or not I had probably heard some music before that but that’s what I recollect.
EH: Your mother singing…It must have been sort of a calming type of influence the first times you really heard music.
MH: Yeah, absolutely.
EH: As a youngster growing up, who were some of your favorite recording artists?
MH: Well, going back what got me into the guitar was actually two artists, Duane Eddy was one when he recorded “Rebel Rouser” and several other hit tunes he had, “Because They’re Young” was one and Link Wray – Rumble. Those two artists, when I heard the electric guitar, it just picked my ears up. And I just liked the sound.
EH: Yeah, those are two great guitarists. Link Wray definitely. He was great and he had the menacing look too.
MH: That’s right…the menace came from the speakers listening to that record.
EH: At what age did you decide that maybe music might be a career option for you?
MH: Well, probably by the time I was 12 I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
EH: Wow. Very early on.
MH: Very early. I had been playing 4 years at that point.
EH: Who are some of your major influences in music?
MH: Initially it was the two that I mentioned. But going forward and actually when I started to play, I was between 8 & 9 when I started, and the first teacher that my parents got for me, turns out that he was a jazz player.
At the time I was listening to Link Wray and Duane Eddy like I said, and pop music. Can you imagine my teacher leaving an 8 year old two of his own 10″ records that he wanted me to listen to? One was Barney Kessel and the other was Johnny Smith. I don’t know if you’re familiar with those two.
EH: Yeah. I know of Barney Kessel.
MH: And Johnny Smith was great, actually almost a melodist. He really put guitar chord melody on the map and was the smoothest technician probably of anybody before, since or thereafter. But it was Barney, when I listened to Barney, he had a more bluesy sound that attracted me & just a cutting edge kind of sound that I really liked.
Johnny Smith’s sound was so smooth that as a child that young it didn’t hit me as hard. It hit me more later when I got to be a bit older. But Barney Kessel hit me right away and I started at 8, 9, 10 years old, listening to Barney Kessel records and that perked my interest in jazz.
I continued listening to pop music. I always liked all kinds of music. As a child I liked country music, rock and pop, and some of the r&b that was going on back then. It was really more blues than r&b but r&b evolved out of that, and classical music. I listened to that too. I more or less liked all of those different types of music as how they affected my moods, whatever mood I was in.
Sometimes I’d be in a mood to listen to classical and I didn’t want to hear rock and roll. Kind of like that. It was kind of a benefit I think ‘cause I kind of went with how I was feeling.
EH: So being that well rounded in music really helped you a lot to be a studio musician with all the variety of people that you’ve played with. It sure didn’t hurt you being versed in all that type of music.
MH: No, it didn’t back then, but when I was going forward, I really focused on jazz. I wanted to be a jazz player and I focused on jazz and I really didn’t know. I didn’t have any inkling as to what studio work really was until I was probably 16. At that point I started taking lessons with Howard Roberts who was not only one of the most in demand session players at that time, but he was also one of the foremost west coast jazz guitarists.
So I knew him primarily as a jazz guitarist but here I was 16 and my father set it up. Howard, he told my father to have me meet him, I think it was on a Tuesday, he said just be waiting outside Universal Studios at 1:30, just be by the gate, and I said okay (laughing) I don’t know what this is all about, but, okay.
And so I had seen Howard’s picture so I knew what he looked like and a little car drives up and the door flies open, and I recognize it’s Howard and he says,”hop in”. So I get in the car, this is my first meeting with him, and we drive on the lot at Universal and I’m kind of looking out the window and going, “Wow, how did I get here?”
So, that was my introduction to what studio work was. He was doing a T.V. show. We went on what was Stage 10. It doesn’t exist anymore… well it exists but it’s a post production. They closed the music studio down quite a number of years ago. We went to Stage 10 and I watched a session that Howard was on and it fascinated me. I said,”Wow this is something.” This is before I even had taken any lessons from him.
So from there he took me, and he would say, “I think you should come to this.” He would call me up, “I think you should come see this session.” So that was a T.V. session. I went on some record dates with him, some jingles, commercials that he did, a couple of movie soundtracks, and subsequently we were talking about it at the lessons and the thing that attracted me was the fact that you could actually stay in one place and make a living without having to go on the road.
I had never been on a plane even at that point. I didn’t get on a plane until I was 20 or 21. So I didn’t do any traveling. My father was a doctor and he had to stay put and we didn’t travel.
So when I started traveling, I left college. I got a call to go with a group called Sergio Mendes. He was a Brazillian artist. So I left college and went on the road with Sergio. I worked with Sergio for about three quarters of a year and then after that I got recommended to Peggy Lee and I was in her rhythm section for a year doing that. That was the opposite.
With Sergio I learned about Brazillian music and that was fascinating…cause I liked the whole Bossanova movement and all of that. And then with Peggy it was the opposite, it wasn’t what you played, it was what you left out. There was so much space in her music that you really wanted to make sure that you had something that was worthwhile to fill in empty space. You know what I mean? So through that I started to really learn what was needed in the area of recording.
Then after that I left Peggy, and almost immediately I got called by Ed Shaughnessey the drummer with the Tonight Show and they were looking for a guitar player to go on the road with the leader Doc Severinsen. So I did that and the deal was Bob Bain was the regular guitar player and he did 3 days a week and I did 2 days a week, and then I went on the road with Doc on the weekends. So now I was in the T.V. business. I was seeing how live T.V. is done. I was the youngest guy in the band, so that was an education.
Sergio’s Band had been an education. In fact I said somewhere in an interview in some magazine or something that I learned more in those months that I was with Sergio than I probably learned in all of my grade school, you know just traveling with those guys. When we started to do the Tonight Show that was the first strides towards the studios which I had learned about from Howard. Howard had introduced me to that world and I was attracted to it and I also liked the fact that you were doing something different all the time.
I liked playing jazz but I’d get tired of it after awhile. When The Beatles came out I got into that and The Stones and all that, and I loved all that music. So in one way I was a typical teenage kid growing up and in another way I was learning jazz which I feel had a lot to do with being able to handle the different styles of music that you need to do. Cause really what you’re doing if you’re not just flat out reading, you’re going to come up with something to improvise, and you have to improvise within the style of whatever it is that’s called for. But, it’s improvising and I loved it and I loved playing live with rhythm sections and all that…Maybe I over answered the question?
EH: No. You know what, the funny thing is you answered my next question also because I was going to ask you how did you get your big break because studio musicians to me seem like a tightly knit community and you answered that with “Howard Roberts got your foot in the door” and you just took it from there.
MH: You’re absolutely right and the other thing about it is…yes it is a tight knit community, but the other thing is if you ask 5 players how they get in the studios, you get 5 totally different answers to the question. It’s never one thing..you do this and you do…and it’s not that…you have to be at the right place at the right time and be able to do what’s called for. It’s kind of a series of fortunate events. Put it like that… and then there’s some luck involved too…
EH: I bet. Yeah. I bet there is.
MH: There’s always luck involved.
EH: I’ve read your bio and the legends you’ve worked with, Sinatra, Dean Martin, Barbra Streisand, Tom Jones, Smokey Robinson. The list goes on…You’ve worked with one of my all time heroes – Brian Wilson. I just love the man and his work. To me he’s amazing. If I can ask you a personal question…How was it working with Brian Wilson? Is he totally in charge or does he let you guys do…?
MH: Well, I’ll clarify that whole thing by saying that I literally worked with him on probably 3 sessions…the first 2 were in the period when he was involved with that psychiatrist (Dr. Landy). It was not a good period for him. Those 2 sessions were extremely difficult with him and it wasn’t totally his fault, it wasn’t his doing, it was just a result of what was going on at that time. We had a hard time getting through those.
However later, 1997 I think or six, six or seven, I got a call to work with the Wilson Sisters. And Brian was there. Brian was working with them. We were recording a tune that Brian wrote. And it was like the difference between those two epochs was night and day.
Brian in that nineties session, it was Brian. Brian was back. Okay! And yes he did take charge! And he knew what he wanted, and he knew what he wanted to get out of the musicians. It was back to the kind of Phil Spector kind of scenario in which I think there were four guitar players on that session, but he had the big rhythm section. There were strings and horns. Everything was live. He was very explicit in what everybody should play. It was Brian.
So in that light, I guess I got to see two different sides of his life. I didn’t get to see when he was primarily in The Beach Boys. Howard worked with him back then. But I worked with Brian first in that not good period and then actually I felt fortunate I got to see him how he wound up being. Fortunately he got his life back. That was a pretty positive thing and I was happy to see that boy he’s back and full of life and it was a good experience for me in that light.
EH: That’s cool. Just reading the names of the people you worked with is just a virtual Who”s Who of Hall of Fame Recording Artists basically.
You’ve worked on many T.V. shows and many movie soundtracks. I saw you worked on one of my favorite T.V. shows and I’m not joking – named Sledge Hammer. That was one of my favorite shows. That was a great comedy.
With soundtracks and such, is there a certain vibe that you as musicians come up with or does the producer have notes written down, or the composer have notes written down? Do you guys have a vibe?
MH: Most of the movies, not all of them, but primarily the bulk of them were orchestral sessions. I’ve worked with composers Hans Zimmer, John Williams and Alan Silvestri, Dave Grusin, and Lalo Schifrin – a lot of different orchestral composers. Mostly on those kind of sessions they’re reading dates. There’s no coming up with anything.
It could be a multitude of instruments. It could be electric guitar, acoustic guitar and acoustic could be 6 string steel, 12 string, nylon string, high strung, you name it, Dobro…and then you get to mandolins and bouzoukis, balalaikas, and all these what we call miscellaneous instruments that are called for…maybe the story’s taking place in Russia or there’s some inflection of that and they need a balalaika or bouzouki or some sound like that. Well you have to be able to have those instruments and play them.
But mostly those sessions were reading, just reading…following a conductor. It’s all written out.
EH: Not too many people have a guitar named after them, Les Paul of course comes to mind…But you have a Gibson ES-357 that’s known as an “ES-Mitch“?
(Editor’s note: For more info on the ES-357, check out Vintage Guitar’s article right here.)
MH: Well, yeah, to the intimates that know that instrument…that’s from one of the owners of one of them – he came up with that subtitle. That was kind of an interesting scenario because that model was only made in a very small number.
That came about during the late 70’s going into the early 80’s. The electronic keyboard instruments…the sounds were changing. They started to change quite a bit.
Just to kind of put it in perspective, every instrument is in a certain frequency range and the 335’s we were playing were very low mid-rangy kind of instruments and some of the synths that were coming out were falling right in that range and what was happening was we’d go into the booth to listen to playbacks and the guitars were getting obliterated. They just weren’t there anymore cause the keyboards were wiping out those frequencies.
So there was a run to find out what we were going to do. We’ve got to get some other kind of electric guitar to get another sound. It turned out that what worked was a Strat with the 3 pickups.
The middle pickup put the guitar in a higher midrange that would pop out in the track. It would appear in the track again and that solved our problem. And that’s where you get that kind of out of phase sound say when you have the back pickup and the middle pickup on or the front pickup and the middle pickup on.
You get that out of phase kind of sound, ya know somebody hears it and they say, “Oh that’s a Strat, that Strat sound,” and that cut through. We would play with all those synths and it would cut through.
So I always liked the feel and sound of the 335 type and I thought well if they could put a middle pickup on it that would more or less help out. It probably wouldn’t sound exactly like the Strat but it would probably cut through that frequency that we needed to do.
So I called them up at the time when I was an endorser (Gibson) and I asked them, I flat out told them, you need a middle pickup on the 335…and they said, “What?” And I told them the scenario I just told you. They said,”Well we’ve got enough and we’re trying to fill the orders we have.”
“We can’t take on another model of it,” and I said, “Would you build me one?” and they said, “Sure.” So they built me the prototype. I got it in 1983 and I started using it in the studios and it didn’t sound exactly like the Strat but the middle pickup in combination with the others, I got a Fat Strat kind of sound. It wasn’t as bright as a Strat but it was in the same frequency. It was just a little bit fatter sounding. So I used that.
There were certain sounds that I couldn’t get with a Strat, and I used it and some of the other players, (at that time there were 2,3,4 guitar players on every session and they’d here the sound of this 357) and I’d see these heads come up over the dividing sound baffles between us to cut down leakage. They’d say, “What is that sound?”….”What is that you’re playing?” So they got inquisitive and they said, “Gee, are they gonna make any more?” I said, “I don’t know. They said no.” But then eventually I thought I better get another one because if I break the prototype, or if it gets stolen, it’ll be gone…I’d better get another one.
So the other guys got wind that I was going to order another one and they said, “Oh, if you’re gonna get one, can they make two?”, and another guy would say, “Oh, can they make three?”…so it wound up they made six more.
They were a little different cosmetically and the pickups, originally it had three humbucking looking cases that had the screws down the center. They were actually single coil P-90’s that they put in humbucking cases. So that’s what my prototype has.
The production model that came out, the six production models had soap bars. Everyone decided oh those P-90’s sound fine. Let’s just put stock ones in. They don’t have to make special pickups. So they put in black soap bars. They were really beautiful guitars and that was the run of 357’s.
Guitar Player did an article and there was a picture and several people ordered them through Gibson Dealers and Gibson, I guess at the point they made the six, they figured we better call it something, so that’s where the 357…they had been making a 347 and this one was kind of like the upscale model of the 347 so they called it the 357. Kind of like a 345 and a 355, it was the same kind of denomination. So that’s how that came to be.
EH: I think that by the picture that I saw there’s no F- holes.
MH: Correct. I had my semi hollows…I had a couple of 355’s and I had a 347, and when I had to play high volumes, especially the 347 seemed to feed back more than the other ones. And when I ordered the 357, I asked them – Lucille had just come out I think in 1980 and it didn’t have F- holes and B.B. specified no F – holes because of the feedback and I thought that was a good idea so we incorporated that. I wanted to incorporate things that they could actually do in the production line.
One of the things about ordering custom instruments from a big maker is that you have to remember that if they’re going to change something, it messes up their tooling, and if they’re going to make a one off or a two off, you know whatever, it’s difficult for them to do that. So I wanted them to be able to build this thing without changing too much in their production and we were able to do that. That’s one of the reasons I think they were able to do it all. Since then there’s been talk about bringing it out again, but boy I sure haven’t heard anything lately. The last I heard about that was probably 3 years ago. I haven’t heard anymore so I don’t know what their plan is.
EH: They sound like a pricey guitar, are they? There’s not too many made.
MH: You mean pricey as far as collectible? Well interestingly, Gibson put up a ten rarest Gibsons page on their website. In fact if you Google the 10 rarest Gibsons, that post will come up and the 357 is #10. So I have the prototype. The prototype is a one off. The other ones aren’t like it. I play it a lot. I just used it. I did some sessions on Neil Young’s new project. It’s coming out next month (November) and I played the ES-Mitch on one tune. So I got it on there!
EH: That’s cool! That’s way cool!!! So this leads us to the question, are you a guitar collector?
MITCH ABOUT PLAYING ON NEIL YOUNG’S LATEST ALBUM STORYTONE
EH: Okay. That’s fair enough. You’ve most recently worked with Neil Young, and I’ve seen Neil play live, and he loves playing guitar. It seems like he keeps pushing the creative envelope where a lot of the older musicians are sort of content just to play the hits all the time. What was it like to work with Neil Young?
MH: Well I have to say, and I’ve talked to the players on there. He had done a session actually the day before one of the sessions I did. They had done a session at Sony which is one of the big, it’s the original MGM Sound Stage. Huge sound stage with a 92 piece orchestra and I think if I’m not mistaken a 60 voice chorus, vocal chorus. So that was orchestral. And that’s posted. I think If you go on You Tube you can see that. I forget the name of it. It’s more or less talking about saving the planet from global warming and so forth and all of that. The sessions we did, now I did one tune that was a big band session. So we were all live and Neil was in singing with us. He did not want to play on these sessions. He just wanted to focus on his vocals. They were original tunes – he wrote all the tunes.
MITCH ON RECORDING NEIL’S “LIKE YOU USED TO DO”
MH: For “Like You Used To Do,” I played a real simple part that I heard on the first run-through. It’s a Charleston rhythm starting on the second beat rather than the normal first beat. Note: The Charleston rhythm is from the first dotted quarter and eighth note of the melody of the ’20’s song, ‘The Charleston’. Musicians have called it ‘Charleston Rhythm’ ever since. It falls on beat 1 and the & of beat 2. It can be used in swing, jazz and also for a rock shuffle.
On “Like You Used To Do”, it feels right to put it on beat 2 and the & of 3. When the horn parts come in at the bridge of the tune, their rhythm is on the usual 1st beat and & of 2 so I played on those beats to be in sync with their rhythm. After the horn section, I go right back to the original rhythm on beat 2 and the & of 3 again. It’s simple, but it works.
Watching the video, you’ll notice that even from behind me, you can see that I play all of those rhythms with an upstroke in the right hand. It gets a crisper sound hitting the higher strings first and I also do that for back beats on 2 & 4 when that’s called for. That way you only hit maybe two or three strings and it keeps the sound real tight. Tricks from the players who used to do that all day long back in the ’50’s when some of those beats were originally invented. They still work and probably always will.
When you’re talking about good players, the spaces are just as important to them as the notes they play, so if two notes does the job, that’s all they play. I always think of that when I’m in a guitar store and I hear someone playing 30,000 notes a minute. Find the right two, you’ll be much better off! Hope this description makes some sense.
“Like You Used To Do”
MH: On these rhythm dates, there were two guitars on there: there was myself and Waddy Wachtel was the other guitar player…I don’t know if you are aware of Waddy? Waddy is one of the most famous studio rock and roll guys! From Waddy’s perspective, we never said a word to each other about who was going to play what part. I just started playing that rhythm pattern and I’m not sure he played much at all as there wasn’t much room to spare in the track. That’s always the sign of a good player, knowing what to leave out.”
EH: He used to have the long kinky blonde hair.
MH: He still does and he’s older than me. His hair looks like it did when he was 25. I was ready to, “C’mon Waddy, I gotta pull out some of your hair,” (ha,ha, laughing.)
EH: (Ha,ha, laughing.) That’s pretty funny. He looked like the ultimate rocker back then. I guess he still does. Wild.
MH: He is. Yes. He was telling me about this movie…this Jimi Hendrix Movie that just came out…Waddy did the score on that. He did all the music for it. He played all the Jimi parts, and he played the Clapton parts, all of it. Waddy did all of it. In that genre, boy, he’s really something, something else.
So it’s Waddy and I, and there were 2 keyboards, bass, drums, and one date there was a full horn section, so it was Neil singing with a 17 piece big band. And that was fun and when I walked into that date, and I saw the chart was sitting on the stand, and it said “Chicago” and I said,” Oh no, Neil’s gonna do a Rod Stewart thing.” He’s gonna sing ”Chicago, Chicago”. I said oh no, I can’t imagine. I’m ready to get out of here. But then I looked at the part and I looked at the chords and I said,”Naw, this is not Chicago.” It turned out to be it was really a blues based big band tune and it was a Neil original.
“Say Hello To Chicago”
He was singing about Chicago you know and I was going to go ‘whew’, and it was a great tune. All the tunes were great. The other tunes they broke it down. It was just the one tune with a full horn section and then we did two other tunes on another date and it was a smaller horn section that was live.
THE SESSION “SAY HELLO TO CHICAGO”
MH: You will note that I’m playing a different guitar on this than on “I Want To Drive My Car” (which follows next). On this track, Waddy Wachtal was using his Les Paul, so I wanted to get a contrasting rhythm sound from my guitar. I picked up my ES-357 proto and I used the middle P-90 pickup by itself with some overdrive, something I use a lot because the sound is more mid-rangey and blends well with other guitar sounds. In working with other guitarists on sessions, which used to be the norm (up to 3 or 4 guitars on every session up until the early ’80’s) but isn’t anymore. You have to be aware of what sounds the other players are getting and find some contrast. I use just the middle pickup on this guitar and Strats quite a lot for rhythm. It’s something to bear in mind when you’re doing your own recordings and is why guitarists have different instruments available. Most pro players aren’t collectors, instruments are considered tools to help bail them out of many situations that arise.
NEIL LOVES OLD CARS…
MH: Neil loves old cars. He’s got quite a collection of old cars. In fact he drove his Lincvolt to L.A.to do these sessions and his Lincvolt is a ’59 Lincoln Continental convertible, which if you look up those cars, they’re huge, actually huge gas guzzlers back in the day. He had this one made so that it would run on electricity and ethanol. And so he called it the Lincvolt and it was just spectacular. It was beautiful and spectacular and quiet. It was amazing.
Another tune we did was called “I Want To Drive My Car.” And it was just a pushing, driving, shuffle rock and I was sitting there playing this thing,Waddy’s there, the rhythm section, we’re all playing, horns are playing, Neil’s singing, and I’m thinking to myself, is this GREAT or what? And you know what it was? It was like going in a time machine because this is the way records were done going back. It was my favorite tune we did.
“I Want To Drive My Car”
But up until going through the 70’s, into the 80’s, and now not so much. Records are made a different way now. I did a lot of teaching and a lot of the younger players, some of them can’t imagine playing together. It’s crazy.
EH: Oh yeah. Even with myself. I play in a band and there’s just like the three of us go into the studio now and the other guy, the keyboard player will just play at home and send the file and the bass. It’s weird. There’s no tape involved. Before there used to be tape you had to buy. It’s just amazing that there’s kids that have grown up today that have no idea that you had to retake everything. It’s just amazing.
MH: Right. By the way, I didn’t mention that Al Schmitt was the engineer on Neil’s project. Al Schmitt’s one of the primary, one of the most historically renowned engineers on the planet. His office is Capitol A in the Capitol Records Tower and we were at a studio called East-West which used to be Western Recorders which is where goin’ back that’s where The Beach Boys and Phil Spector worked. Yeah, that was a very busy room. Neil was originally talking about recording this album using only one mic like they did in the early days of recording. Al Schmitt talked him out of it (and I know from talking to Al that when he started in NYC at his uncle’s studio, they were using one mic so he knows how to do that!)
Even in the 70’s I would be there three four times a week working there. It shut down for awhile…it was kind of vacant and it’s been resurrected and Studio A is as it was. They did not change it. It’s the same. That’s where we were with Neil and Al Schmitt was the engineer. When I walked into the booth there was a 24 track 2 inch analog machine sitting there running. And I joked to Al, I said, “Oh you went to the museum this morning and you got that thing out of there.”
Some of the producers still do this: they run their basic tracking on 2 inch analog tape and then when they’re done with it, they dump it into Pro Tools. They take it from analog format and put it into a digital format and go from there. There’s definitely a difference in sound.
When I started in session work they were using half inch eight tracks. Sometimes it was four track but at the time, this is like ’68, ’69, it ended up being eight track and then all of a sudden it went to sixteen track and that was half inch and then the two inch twenty four track and that’s the way it was. And I can attest that the analog tape just has a warmer…there’s definitely a warmer sound to it.
EH: That’s really interesting. I never knew that they still used the tape, that they still did that.
MH: Yes they still do. There’s a company…I think it’s called Apogee and I believe they bought Ampex that was making the 456 and all that tape that was being used back in the day. You can buy it. A reel of two inch tape is extremely expensive because there’s such a limited demand. But there’s enough producers still using them that they can still get tape.
EH: That’s pretty interesting. Yeah that’s wild. I never thought about that. I didn’t think it existed even. Wow.
MH: Yeah. Well, fortunately. I don’t know for how long. But in the meantime, yeah it’s still around. Yeah, the other ninety nine per cent is digital.
EH: Yeah, it’s just a whole different recording process compared to what you were involved in. It’s just mind blowing that people don’t even have to be in the same room or in the same location to record these days.
MH: Right and actually, I can’t exactly remember the year, but it was either sometime around either late ’79 or 1980, is when I first saw a digital recorder and It was at A&M. I was doing a record date at A&M and Herb Alpert, who, he was one of the owners, he was the A in A&M. He was walking around the halls.
We were taking a break and he was walking down the hall and the rhythm section was hanging out and he says,” Guys, come with me. I want to show you something,” and we went around…A&M was set up like kind of in a big U, the hall was a big U shape. and we went all the way to the other side of the hall.
We were in Studio A and we got all the way to the other side and that was the newest studio which was Studio D. So he took us into D and we walk into the booth and there’s these two guys in there with white lab coats on with Sony logos on their lab coats and there’s a reel to reel machine, two reel to reel machines sitting there, half inch with thirty two meters, and we’re looking at these things going,”What is this?”
So anyway, Herb introduced us, “These are the two engineers from Sony and these are the two world’s first digital recorders and we’re going digital. What is digital?” and they just said,”Well, listen to this.” And all that was in the studio was a concert piano sitting there. Anyway they turned this machine on and we were looking for who was playing the piano in the studio. And of course there was no one. Then we’re thinking this must be a player piano.
And then we’re thinking, wait a minute, you can hear them breathing, you can hear the pedals. All that stuff going on. What is going on here? Right? So anyway we finished listening to this. We’re going, what’s digital? What’s going on here? And they said, Basically, you can look at it as being on or off or as a series of zero and ones, a different combination of ones will give you what you need.”
My next question was “What are the ramifications of this?” He proceeds to tell me that at that time everybody was copying their vinyl albums onto tape cassettes if you remember those. So everybody was copying their albums, for in the car and their friends would say, “Oh I love that album, make me a copy.” Well, it’s not gonna sound so good. “I don’t care,” but by the third copy it’s all garbled.
So the engineer says to me,”Well you know when you make these tape cassette copies, by the third, fourth copy they’re all degenerated.” I said, “Right.” He said,”Well you can make a copy of this one we’re listening to and another copy, and another thousand copies, and another two thousand copies of that, and the fifth thousandth copy will sound just like that.” And my jaw dropped. I went, “Woe my God, this is gonna change the world.”
EH: It sure did.
MH: Guess what, yeah more than we certainly saw that night, I’ll tell you that.
EH: Yeah, it sure did.
MH: But we knew. I know from looking at it. I said,”My God This is gonna impact photography, print, everything, T.V.”
EH: Yeah. Everything is right.
MH: Just about everything you could think of. Digital. This is going to change the world.
EH: Everything is correct. Yes.
MH: And everything changed. We had no idea.I did have an idea but I didn’t know it was going to be so fast.
EH: Right. Yeah. It sure seems like it. Yeah. Who knows what’s it’s going to be like in ten years.
MH: Well it’s going to change, we know that for sure. Part of it’s planned and part of it’s just the way that technology has accelerated…the rate of technology.
EH: Definitely. Now I’m winding down…You have a book out on jazz guitarist Howard Roberts, and you still do session work, and correct me if I’m wrong, but are you the Spokesperson for Wildwood Guitars?
EH: No. Okay.
MH: I did some videos for them. Actually it was sponsored by Gibson.
EH: Okay, I see.
MH: That was a couple years ago. I went to their store in Louisville, Colorado and we taped some videos. I did some videos featuring the 357. Did you see those?
EH: Yeah, I saw those.
MH: Yeah, and then I did some on some of their inventory. But Greg Koch (Coke or Kotch) however you pronounce his name, he’s their main guy now. He’s great. You’ve probably seen his videos. I think he lives pretty close to there too so he does the videos for them.
EH: Okay. What other projects are you working on now or you have lined up in the future?
MH: Actually I’m teaching a lot and actually I’m working on, not on the music for a movie, but I’m working on developing a movie on Dusty Springfield who’s the most famous pop singer that came out of Britain, out of the U.K. and we’re developing a project on that. That’s been ongoing. I haven’t talked too much about it but it’s been ongoing for close to four years. It’s been a difficult story to put in a screenplay type of scenario.
It’s been attempted several times and there’s a couple other people trying to do it and we dug so deep into it that it literally took us almost three years to get that story line to where we felt okay now we’ve got the cinematic treatment of this thing. So we’re in a phase where we’re looking for seed money to get this thing into production. It’s an arduous task. I have a partner in this and he’s well ensconced in the film industry. He said in the time since we’ve started he can’t believe how the film business has changed.
EH: Really. Wow.
MH: To this day she’s the biggest pop singer, the most popular, biggest selling pop singer in British history. Her story here. it’s an interesting story and there’s a lot of pain and all of that but it really was a positive story even though a lot of her fans and a lot of people that knew about her think that her life was such a downer and all of this. Yeah there were episodes of that but she really was on a positive slant but it was just the things being how life goes. She missed out on most of her childhood…that was what was missing. She had to go back and find it and the story’s pretty interesting.
EH: Yeah, that sounds really good.
MH: I’ll leave it at that. It’s been a very hard story because the movies are based on mostly if it’s not an action thing, relationships, and she didn’t have a lot. So we really had to dig to get enough to put it together.
EH: Right. Yeah that sounds interesting. I wish you the best of luck cause I would really love to see that. I know a lot of people would see it too. That’s for sure.
MH: Well I appreciate it and yeah, we’ve had a lot of interest from people out of the industry. It’s the people in the film business. We’ve got to convince them. They’re a hard bunch. I’ll say that.
EH: They don’t always make the best decisions I take it.
MH: Well….yeah. It’s just getting them interested. Getting them to see…they have to see the reward on the other end of the tunnel. That’s what gets them going. You have to make sure that they get that. And it’s hard to do. Especially non-fiction. We can’t change the story… the story is what it is. We can change parts of it cause we don’t know every single thing that went on, what people said.
You have to get a screenwriter to come up with a screenplay and dialogue and all that, but the story, boy it was tough cause she kept it out of the public record for the most part. It was difficult. It’s been difficult. We’re going straight ahead. So that’s been a focal part.
And then I teach at Musician’s Institute and I’m an Adjunct at California Lutheran University which is out here near where I live. I’m at M.I. one day a week and then I’m at C.L.U. a few times a week and then I’m out planning and doing sessions and working on this movie.
EH: Yeah, you keep pretty busy.
MH: Yeah, it’s pretty busy. Sometimes I feel like I’m spread out a little too thin. But you know you do what you’ve got to do.
EH: Yeah, I understand that. Last question for you. Do you have any words of wisdom or hot tips for the young guitarists that think they might want to do film and session work?
MH: Well you know being a realist, first thing I would say, is don’t expect to be able to make a living just doing sessions. That era has more or less come to an end. However, the thing about it is, you know I love what Larry Carlton says about practice and playing. He says,”Practice what you must, play what you love.” Okay, and in looking back on everything, he’s right. There’s always going to be something. You practice what you must and you play what you must because you’ve got to put food on the table, but try to strive to play what you love and that’s when you’ll get your rewards.
EH: Yeah, that’s a great line alright.
MH: Yeah, it really is. And you have to wear a lot of hats now. You can’t just play. You’ve got to know the computer, you have to be able to market yourself, write, produce, etc., etc.
EH: Yeah, It’s a tough business alright.
MH: It’s tough out there. Yeah. It’s always been tough you know, but I’m coming from a place where say a movie company or record company would do the marketing and the distribution of a product, and when you went in the studio, there were first engineers, second engineers, apprentice engineers, copyists, librarians, music contractors that hired the musicians, they were all in the studio. If a machine went down, another machine would be in it’s place cause the studio would have techs, they would have a whole department that did nothing but repair equipment and when something went down, boy, in two minutes they’d have another machine ready to go.
EH: Wow. That’s amazing.
MH: That’s what I came from. Now it’s a different scenario. I remember when home studios started to get more popular. Boy when it started, most of the time we’re sitting there waiting for them to try and figure out how to get the stuff to work. And that whole period…and it went on for quite a while, when MIDI was getting going and all of that, oh man, I was going ,”What’s going on? We’re in retrograde here.”
Before you’d walk in the studio, you’d sit down, when the hour struck, you’d start to play, and in three hours you’d have everything done and you were out of there. Now were sitting around, waiting for them to get the stuff to work and I thought it was in retrograde. But you know, eventually it caught up. Of course it caught up. That transition could be difficult at times, but everybody survives.
EH: Well this has been a really great & interesting interview Mitch. I appreciate the time that you set aside for us. I It’s been a pleasure and I have nothing but respect for you. Thank you very much!
MH: I appreciate it and thanks for the opportunity.
EH: You’re gonna have a lot of interested readers, that’s for sure. You really gave us a lot of information that was very, very interesting . It’s nice to have it from the source. The guy that was involved, that did it.
MH: It’s nice to get it out there, some of what’s going on anyway.
MH: Tommy was our Godfather. There was really a hole when he passed. In fact,Tim May, who’s another studio player, he called me up and he said,”Who we gonna call now?” Cause he used to keep everybody straight.
He was something.
EH: That’s wild. Yeah, I can’t wait until Denny releases the home DVD so I can sit and watch it here at home. I went to see the movie on “The Wrecking Crew”. That was really interesting.
MH: Yeah he did a great job on that.
EH: Thank you very much again Mitch!
MH: It’s my pleasure.
AN INSTRUMENTAL BIG BAND COVER
Here’s a pretty cool big band cover of Steeley Dan’s “Aja” by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker from a 1978 album entitled “Chick, Donald, Walter, and Woodrow”.
MH: This is a track from a Woody Herman album I played on. His band was in town and they went into RCA Studio A and recorded an album of Chick Corea material on one side and Steely Dan on the other (this was in the vinyl days, hence…one side and the other!). The guitar isn’t featured but it’s an example of being on a live session with everyone present and having to deal with a number of situations in the music and interjecting some of my own elements. The summation could be something like:
The intro has a little guitar lick that was written in by Joe Roccisano, the arranger. It’s totally different than what Larry Carlton played on the original Steely Dan track but I tried to treat the written part I had ala Larry, using volume pedal swells. As the tune goes into the verse, listen for a couple of passages where the guitar is in unison with the horns. That is a written part and whatever else I wound up interjecting, mainly the volume slides, fills, double bends (ala Amos Garrett who inspired all of us with his solo on Midnight At The Oasis) and so forth, those written parts need to get played as well so the volume levels have to be maintained so as not to get so hot as to surprise the engineer with sharp spikes in volume. The fills I play were made up during the take, I’ve always been a reactive player and those little fills and volume swells are reflective of that. It’s listening to what everyone is doing, looking for openings in the music and filling them with, hopefully, appropriate sounding fills that are reflective of the music. That goes on quite a bit in this track. During the tenor sax solo, I laid out as there was enough support from the pianist and the rest of the rhythm section that I felt it didn’t need anything. This is common and I just sat and enjoyed the sax solo but at the same time was following the chart to make sure I knew where they were at all times. At the end of the solo I sneak in with a volume swell right before the last outro of the song.
Playing live is great fun and very challenging. In recording today, it is common to lay tracks down one at a time, which gives the producer more control but also can make things more sterile and not many, interesting ‘accidents’ happen. Sometimes, in years gone by, I would be in the control room listening to a take and the producer would want another take for some reason and specifically ask me to play say a little slide I had played on the take we were listening to. The thing was, that little slide might have been caused by me trying to scramble to get up the neck for something and, accidentally, playing the slide in the process. I would then have to get with the engineer, listen to the track and write in what beat and what note I played at the start and what beat and note it landed on at the end of the slide. Guess what? Trying to duplicate it never came out the way it did on the original track because you’re trying to duplicate an accident. It’s really hard to get it to sound exactly the same. It just doesn’t work, most of the time. Of course, now with the digital format, they can just fly the original slide to the final track and that’s that. A much easier solution, for sure!
MITCH PLAYING “PRELUDE FOR A KISS” – Solo Guitar
Wildwood Guitars Lesson with Mitch Holder on Pulling Triads from Chords
GUITAR LESSONS WITH MITCH HOLDER
Here’s something that is way cool! Mitch is considering giving Guitar Lessons via Skype, which of course, would be based on response and desire.
You can contact him through his Facebook page. Many thanks to Mitch Holder! – Jack