Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Kevin Shirley Interview

Grammy nominated recording engineer Dave Rideau sat recently with Kevin “The Caveman” Shirley at Shirley's studio, The Cave in Malibu. In the interview for Solid State Logic, Los Angeles based Rideau talked with Shirley about his career, and his recording methods, including working with Led Zeppelin and Black Country Communion.

The resulting 39 minute interview was published in three parts on YouTube.

In part 1, he discusses working on the Led Zeppelin DVD and the live CD, How the West Was Won. Jimmy Page and Kevin Shirley did not always, it seems, get along perfectly:
I got to the studio and it was like, well there’s room full of old tapes, going back from 1968 to 1980. And we’re going to do something with them and it was like, what are we going to do with them. And Jimmy Page at that point was like, “well, I want to be in New Orleans in 8 weeks time to see my son. So we need to do something in 8 weeks.”

And I looked at them, and I opened up the first tape which was like, 1968 recording of The Royal Albert Hall and the tape was falling apart. I said, “We gotta’ bake these tapes.” and he was furious, he was like, “Why do you have to bake the tapes?” And I’m like well, there’s oxide and tape and glue and it’s coming off, and storing in mouldy old England, it’ll do that to you. And he was livid, and we finally had to bake the stuff, had to bake everything and transfer everything so that alone took us about 3 or 4 weeks to get done.

So we started off on the wrong foot

It’s a theme that would carry into the second video:
When we worked at Sound West, and Jimmy would be upstairs, and he’d come downstairs and say, “what you doing?” And I’d say, “well, I’m just working on this thing over here, I just repaired this one guitar thing.”

He’s like, “Don’t you dare, let me hear it.” And then I would play it to him, he goes, “let me hear how it was.” Then I’d play it back to him, he’d say, “let’s hear what you did to it.” and then he’d listen back, he’d go, “I’m going upstairs to smoke.” And then he goes, “I don’t wanna know, I don’t wanna know. If it sounds better, that’s good but I don’t wanna know.”

Repairs? On Jimmy Page’s guitar work? Surely not? Well, yes, and call me Shirley:
There’s one obvious one in the Zeppelin DVD where, that great fanfare that marks the end of the solo in Stairway to Heaven. He goes up high and he does that fanfare right at the end of the solo. If you watch that performance on the DVD, which I think is from Earls Court, the high string breaks, and so he has to go and play the fanfare down an octave… I have taken the liberty of pinching the fanfare from another performance and putting it on there. So if you look you can see that it’s played an octave down, but sounds an octave up.

Shirley explains, too, that there is, in fact, lots more Led Zeppelin material sitting in the vault. Not all of it, however, is useable:
I got to the studio and it was like, well there’s room full of old tapes, going back from 1968 to 1980... And by the time we started looking at it, it really wasn’t that much. There was some really shaky performances, and there was a lot of drug use going on in the band in the 70’s. So there were performances that really weren’t good at all.

The Caveman, as Shirley is known, didn’t just work with Led Zeppelin. He was instrumental in putting together, “these guys called Black Country Communion,” and shares the story of “crafting” their first album:
I booked the studio down the road, and we just booked two days, and I had everyone come into the studio…
Shangri-La, Just down the road here. And they came in for two days, and… Joe and Glenn had written nuggets of ideas, so we cut it all in bits and pieces… And then, they all went away, and in the evenings I cut it all up together when I was working on an Iron Maiden album in the Bahamas and I had time to spare. I put the headphones on and my laptop and I edited it all up, and that’s how this record came about…

It’s interesting… to see like 10,000 reviews that, “you can hear that these guys are all playing live,” well they are playing live, it’s just, they weren’t playing quite as you hear.

The third part is more technical, but still a fascinating watch.

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