Classic Tracks: Classics IV's "Traces"

Apr 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Gary Eskow

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The writers had all been influenced by the music of Jobim and Burt Bacharach, and were particularly impressed by the way Bacharach was able to assimilate a samba influence into his pop songs. Recording Cobb's lightly inflected nylon-string guitar part, a key element of “Traces,” was not easy. “That gut-string guitar I used was so cheap!” Cobb says with a laugh, “and it played and sounded that way! It was impossible to keep in tune; the nearest I could come to having it stay properly pitched was to use the same voicing for the chords and move that shape up and down the neck. I think the slightly out-of-tune sound of the guitar actually added something to the track.”

And Bradley pulled out a roll of masking tape during the guitar overdub session. “J.R. liked to double-track his parts. He augmented the natural out-of-tune quality of the guitar he was playing by detuning it slightly before we tracked the overdub,” Bradley says. “This was way before Harmonizers were used to get a similar effect, so to highlight what he was trying to accomplish I wrapped masking tape around the capstan of the recorder to change its speed. Then I'd immediately bounce the two guitar tracks together, again coming off of the playback head.”

The recording process that Buie and the Classics IV employed — which started with a basic track laid down with drums, bass and guitar alone, and continued on with multiple overdubs — would later become the norm. Not everyone was working this way at the time. “We spent a lot of time on these productions,” says Buie, “and the arrangements Emory came up with were a huge part of what made ‘Traces’ such a good record.

“The intro, my favorite of all the records I've been involved with, took a while to come together,” Buie continues. “Emory brought an English horn player to the session, and that great opening line just kind of evolved. Then there's that string line that leads into the bridge — I hated it at the time! It sounded so schmaltzy. Now it sounds cool to me. Mixing all of the elements together was difficult, and Lou Bradley did a great job.”

“These days it's common for an engineer to mix tracks that were recorded at various times,” says Bradley. “The principle is simple: The mixer has to make things sound like they all happened at the same time. Back then I used tape machine delay before the chamber to glue things together. We were still making mono records back then and we had to constantly check both our stereo and mono mixes.

“We had a pair of UREI Time Align monitors, and Altec A7s with a 700 cross-over. These two made a good combination. Once we were all satisfied with the mixes, we shipped them to Liberty Records in L.A. to be mastered.”

They came along at a time when Jimi Hendrix was burning down the universe, The Who were injecting large dramatic structures into the rock vocabulary, and rejecting the forms of the past was the norm for electric bands. The Classics IV offered a kinder, gentler, session-based sound, and their success came as a surprise to its creators. “Me and Buddy would sit around and try to write a standard,” says Cobb, “We were overtly trying to write a ‘legitimate’ song. We had no idea it was going to be a Number 2 hit record — we were astounded! It was a cocktail kind of music; we knew that.”

“That's right,” Buie adds. “‘Traces’ was the kind of record that today is called ‘easy listening.’ The mid-tempo was a problem, we thought, and we never believed that kids would care about it. But we were wrong!”

The Classics IV enjoyed success with one more single, “Every Day With You Girl,” before disbanding. Never a super-group, their catalog of hits nonetheless ensures them an honored spot in the history of pop rock.

Thanks to Joe Glickman, the “fifth Classics,” for his help with this article. Glickman has shot a documentary on the Classics IV that is currently in post-production. More about the group can be found online at www.classicsiv.com.

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