Classic Tracks: Charlie Rich "Behind Closed Doors"

Sep 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Barbara Schultz


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So working with Rich inaugurated an era of Sherrill recording all vocalists beside the 7-foot Steinway in B, and this is one of the reasons Rich’s sessions are so memorable for the engineer, almost 40 years later. He can still picture the band setup. (See illustration.)

“The straight side of that piano, the bass side, was pushed up against a low divider between it and the drums—Jerry Carrigan was the drummer on that session,” Bradley says. “Later, we made that wall higher, but at that time it was no higher than the piano. Henry Strzelecki’s [electric] bass was also next to the piano—the bass and drums were under a shed that came out—and behind the piano and by that bass was a 6-string tic-tac bass guitar; Tommy Alsup played that.”

Rich stood very close to Robbins, at the front corner of the piano to Robbins’ right, with backing vocalists positioned near him. The rest of the room was nearly full of guitarists: two acoustics close to the rounded end of the piano, and electric guitar and pedal steel across from them, on the opposite side of the tracking room from the drummer. Pete Drake played steel on the Behind Closed Doors sessions; other guitarists included Jerry Kennedy, Billy Sanford and Pete Wade.

Recording to a 16-track Ampex MM1000 machine through the custom Columbia console, Bradley had developed a standard mic setup for most of the musicians: He took the electric bass with two DIs—one off the bass and one off the amp—and blended those. One Neumann KM84 on each captured acoustic guitars, piano and stand-up bass, and a U67 was used for electric guitar. On drums (the Studio B house drum kit and a snare nicknamed “Old Red” that Carrigan brought to the sessions), Bradley used mostly Neumann mics: KM84s on snare and hi-hat, U67s overhead and KM84s on toms, plus an Electro-Voice RE-20 on kick drum.

For Rich’s vocal, Bradley chose a different mic from the usual U67 or U87 he would have used on other singers he and Sherrill recorded (George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Andy Williams, Tanya Tucker, etc.). “I cut Charlie on a U49,” Bradley says. “Charlie made a lot of lip sounds and mouth sounds, and a 67 or 87 or 47—that type of mic—has a sharper spike at the top end right in that range, but the 49 or the 249 had a gentler curve up at the top, and Charlie sounded so good on it. He was such a good singer anyway.”

Because of Rich’s position in the center of the band, Bradley says he had to develop a few tricks to deal with excessive vocal leakage: “One was to use a little slapback, very subtle sometimes, at the point that was causing the problem,” he explains. “And sometimes I put the slapback on something other than the vocal, and it would cause a little distraction; you had to make something happen in that empty space where you had the leakage from the vocal, either in the piano or the guitars or background. But most of the time we could deal with it. If you listen real close to the old record, you’ll hear [that leakage] just a little, but it didn’t hurt that record at all.”

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