Raphael Saadiq Tour Profile

Feb 1, 2010 12:00 PM, By Gaby Alter

KEEPING A MOTOWN SOUND WITH HOUSE-PROVIDED GEAR

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Raphael Saadiq's vocal warmth is heard through a Shure SM58.

Raphael Saadiq's vocal warmth is heard through a Shure SM58.

Raphael Saadiq has covered a lot of ground in the music business. Following his days as the lead vocalist for the multi-Platinum R&B group Tony! Toni! Tone! in the late '80s and '90s, he went on to form Lucy Pearl with members of En Vogue and A Tribe Called Quest, and to write and produce for major artists including D'Angelo, Mary J. Blige and Earth, Wind & Fire. In the past decade, Saadiq has also gone solo, releasing two albums that garnered critical acclaim and eight Grammy nominations between them. While he has often fused the many genres he heard growing up in Oakland, Calif. — from hip-hop and rock to funk and soul — his latest release, The Way I See It (profiled in Mix's Jan. '09 issue), is a focused homage to the classic sounds of early Motown.

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“I'm not saying the Motown sound is me, but I was raised on a Fender Stratocaster and a Les Paul,” Saadiq says at his recent touring stop in New York City's Terminal 5. “They've been in my house consistently since I was born. I grew up playing Fender guitar and bass — they've been like a piece of furniture in the house, all the time, and I knew exactly what they were used for.”

Today, Saadiq takes this love for vintage gear and priceless instruments to create a mesmerizing live performance, complete with a six-piece band dressed in matching suits and ties — except for vocalist Erika Jerry, who is resplendent in a classy period dress. His act evokes Motown's heyday visually and musically, right down to the horn hits and synchronized dance moves. However, his eclectic side also comes through when he plays his more hip-hop- and rock-influenced songs from earlier albums.

To help translate Saadiq's sound to a live setting, his engineers do everything they can to warm things up. Front-of-house engineer Kenyatta Kelo Saunders (a Grammy-winning engineer/producer) uses a Native Instruments Guitar Rig to help get a vintage sound, as well as Apogee's Symphony Mobile. And while the tour doesn't carry any other gear, their tech rider requests all-tube amps for the band's backline: Ampeg Classic SVT for the bass with an 810 tube amp and Fender Twins for guitars.

Monitor engineer Jon Lammi and FOH engineer Kenyatta Kelo Saunders at Terminal 5's Yamaha PM5D desk

Monitor engineer Jon Lammi and FOH engineer Kenyatta Kelo Saunders at Terminal 5's Yamaha PM5D desk

“We've been adjusting the stage setup a little bit,” says monitor engineer Jon Lammi, formerly with Aerosmith and Blue Man Group. “Rob Bacon, our lead guitar player, has been sometimes using a single Fender Twin, sometimes two Twins in stereo. And Raphael has been using a single Twin. For some reason tonight, we couldn't get Twins so we have four Fender Deluxes, re-issues. They're circuit-board-printed, not point-to-point, and they're not vintage at all, but they're modeled after [the old Fender Deluxes].”

Sorting Through a Club's Racks

For their show in New York, the engineers are mixing on the venue's Yamaha PM5D desks. Saunders — who has mixed live for Jay-Z, The Roots and Joss Stone — generally doesn't prefer digital consoles. “I'm a Midas dude,” he says. “Give me some analog warmth, especially for this band — it deserves to have vintage gear. A couple of tours ago, I carried a rack that had a whole bunch of stuff in it. But with us flying and doing all this different stuff, the rack was just too expensive to carry. I think we'd rather have horns versus the rack, you know?”

Although they carry no outboard gear, Saunders does like to throw some effects into the mix. “I play with delays a lot,” he says. “I lucked out and got a TC Electronic D2 delay today from Marciano [Saadiq's manager], so at least I can tap the delay out. I put them on the vocals to carry whatever [Saadiq] is saying, to add more drama. I put them on the guitar at points too, sometimes even the toms.

“I'm a really aggressive mixer,” he continues. “The drums are going to be in your face, the bass is definitely going to move you. Everything jumps out of the speakers — especially with this band because they're just so awesome! When they hit, you want to feel it — bap bap!”






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