Sunday, September 15, 2013

Filming in LA in 2013

One of my dreams has been that Steve would be filmed playing his own material. And that dream has come true.  

As much as I love the DVD with Lou Reed's 'Berlin Live' or Alice's live shows. For me, to hear Steve at his best would be with a smaller line up and less volume so we could hear live, his subtle bends, his fingers on the strings and most all his TONE!

After the Kickstarter campaign was finished we were contacted by Brian Brinkerhoff who had made a pledge on the album, he asked us if Steve might be interested in being filmed for a DVD. Brian's original idea was to have Steve on his own playing a selection of his own material from four solo albums with solo guitar, but as the discussions progressed it was clear that Steve was not comfortable with the restrictions of no chords, no drums for a groove and no fellow players.

After a few months in the planning and some considerable shuffling of dates to accommodate the players we wanted, we found ourselves with a date in August to rehearse and film.

What a thrill it was when Tony Levin and Phil Aaberg were up for joining Steve and then awesome drummer Alvino Bennet was added to the line up.
The last time Phil, Steve and Tony had worked together was with Peter Gabriel on his first solo album.

Phil Aaberg, Steve and Tony Levin.
Photo by Marcus Cuff 2013

Brian found a studio in N. Hollywood and Steve and I found ourselves on a plane again. It brought back memories of the seven months on the road in 2011 but this time the flight was only an hour, just enough time for me to look through the SkyMall magazine and gaze at the desert mountains below.

I was looking through the pages in the magazine and there in front of me was a small leather wallet design exactly the same as a design I had for a pouch to hold guitar picks, I call it the Pick Pocket. What! They had stolen my design! Wait! I had a Design Patent didn't I? Doh! Lesson number three thousand and ten, turns out there is NO POINT in paying for a Design Patent on a small item like that. There are so many loopholes in the rights of usage it is like water thru a rice drainer. Oh well, you live and learn.

So, on to LA. We got picked up at the airport by Karo, our trusty Arminian car driver who had also doubled as our witness to our wedding back in 2007. He was so happy to see us again as we were him and he got his very own copy of Steve's new CD 'The Manhattan Blues Project', he was smiling like a cheshire cat!
We got to stay in a hotel we were familiar with, we had stayed there when Steve had done the Jay Leno Show with Alice back in 2011. Back then, in a pet shop across the road there had been a gorgeous white Cockatiel who seemed to wait for Steve to pass by so he or she could have a short but interactive and silent conversation. Truth is Steve fell in love with that bird and had we not been on the road we may well have gone home with it.
The bird had long gone to a new home of course, we were glad about that, but there were still many cages of kittens, cats and dogs, mostly small yappy things.
In one of the cages was a beautiful pale ginger tabby cat with brown eyes, on the way to the breakfast cafe next door each morning, it responded to Steve through the window, putting up it's paw to try to touch him. Eventually we went inside to say a proper hello......oh blimy, we could not have possibly been thinking we could take it home to Phoenix! But, in we went anyway.

The woman got the cat out of the cage for us, she said it was sleepy cos it had just been fed. I held it first then Steve took over, the cat lay limply in his arms, eyes open but all kind of floppy....Steve was stroking her but she made not a sound. He said to the woman, "she is not purring"? The woman walked off, mmmmm, we thought, and then mmmmm again. Sadly we left that sweet cat there, not convinced all was well and we had a very tight schedule to keep, no time to investigate and decide whether we could fly her back home with us.

The first day of rehearsals, the reunions with old friends from so long ago were over, the work began. Going over the carefully selected tunes. The main idea was to not over rehearse them so they stayed fresh but of course Steve was having to remember melodies he had recorded as far back as 1977!  He kept saying that he was not used to having to learn his own tunes, usually someone else's which he thought was easier. Also, there were new arrangements to try, there were none of the many layers of guitars available which is what Steve had done on most of the original recordings. Instead there were just three other awesome players; bass, drums and piano, a small but highly experienced team.

I will tell you that the first day was just a tad fraught, not because of the players but the studio left a little to be desired. There seemed to be endless snags with monitoring, wires, connections that did not work. How patient everybody was; the chief engineer we had with us must have been counting to ten the entire time and to his credit he only quietly exploded a few times, I would have gone ballistic, so well done to Paul Lani and Brian.

At the same time as rehearsals on the first day, Brian had the excellent photographer Marcus Cuff there to capture the event from start to finish plus a set design team.
I cannot tell you too much about that cos it will spoil things but it was cool, as with all things Steve does it will have a vibe that will be understated and

Brian gets it, he gets what Steve Hunter is about, I will be forever grateful to him, that he pulled this project together and made it happen.

On the second day we were joined by the camera crew, one camera for each player, they had a pretty tight space to work in but somehow managed to not get in each others way. Most of the studio tech snags were sorted out by the second day and on the third day the tunes were filmed, usually twice right through unless there were problems with a take.

Steve's poor vision is a problem, it cannot be denied. He has some trouble seeing the frets at times and occasionally as on the Cooper tour in 2011 you could hear he was fighting to hit the spots he wanted to hit. But as I watched from the control room, pulled in by the extraordinary chemistry that was going on in that studio, I was so mesmerized by his tone and the soul and the raw talent from the whole band, it just did not matter. How could it, this is what Steve lives for, to have the space, the time and the opportunity to be play at a whisper and still be heard or give it some attitude with his fantastic sounding Gretsch Custom Guitars. To be who he really is and say on guitar what he really wants to say. That is all that matters.

My job was to make sure there was a good cup of coffee and lunch supplied during the day and I also became an off camera interviewer of each of the band and Steve. Those bits will be an interesting and touching addition.

I have seen a couple of very short clips of the footage and I think this will be a wonderful legacy of Steve with a great team around him and an inspiring audio and visual experience.

DVD and CD due for release in the Spring of 2014.

PS: I have picked up where I left off with my book about the 2011 AC tour, maybe I will get it finished after all!

Alvino Bennett

Photo by Tony Levin 2013