Classic Tracks: Charlie Rich "Behind Closed Doors"

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


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Engineer Lou Bradley (left) with songwriter/producer Norro Wilson, who co-wrote “The Most Beautiful Girl,” which appears on <I>Behind Closed Doors</i>

Engineer Lou Bradley (left) with songwriter/producer Norro Wilson, who co-wrote “The Most Beautiful Girl,” which appears on Behind Closed Doors

Bradley also has great memories of the musicianship on those sessions: “Bill Sanford is such a great player,” he says. “He’s still working, and he’s always had that great talent as far as what a session musician should do when they don’t have the ball. This isn’t a guitar song with guitar leads or predominant guitar parts. But Billy [Sanford] would fool around and find out what he could do to contribute so that if you turned his track off, you’d wonder where the record went. And I think this record is a good example of that. He’s in there, he plays a little run every once in a while, a dip in the bridge—just real simple. He could play great leads, but I was always impressed with what he’d do when the ball wasn’t in his court because this song was predominantly Robbins on the piano.

“I asked Pig the other day,” Bradley continues, “I said, ‘I’m going to be interviewed about “Behind Closed Doors”; you got anything to add?’ He said, ‘I don’t know. I was a little nervous and scared with Charlie, who was such a great piano player, standing right there beside me singing in my ear.’ But Pig said, ‘I tried to be me and think a little bit like Charlie, because Charlie had a style that leaned toward blues.’ I think Pig set the mark real high with what he played on this record.”

Like all of Sherrill’s countrypolitan records, “Behind Closed Doors” included strings that helped create the drama in the arrangement without overpowering the song. Bradley recorded an 11-piece string section (violins, violas and celli) in B. “Bill McElhiney wrote those strings,” Bradley says. “Billy would get together with the arranger he’d use, and he’d hum or play lines he wanted the strings to play. You know, Billy was a good piano player and McElhiney knew what he wanted.

“I’d use two overheads on the violins—from time to time, either 47s, 67s or 49s. And I liked the KM86; it looked like the KM84, but it had the capsule on the end with switchable pattern and the sound of that mic was similar to the 49. A lot of times for strings, you’d get a real warm sound, and if they did a gliss up, 47s or 67s had that spike on top that would make them jump out more than they should have. But I’d use a 67 or 87-type mic on the violas, and stereo-mike the two celli with KM84s fairly close, in an ‘X’ position so they’d add up, and I might put a little limiting on the celli. We had some good UA limiters and some Teletronix ones, too.”

McElhiney’s string arrangement was one of two elements that were overdubbed onto this mostly live track. The other was Rich’s vocal on a rewritten last verse. Bradley says that in O’Dell’s original song, the last verse was originally “kind of mild. They went behind those closed doors and you thought they might’ve held hands.” Sherrill reworked that last verse to give the song a little more heat, and as Bradley says, “The revamped lyric was more to the point, and it made a good song better and stronger.”

Thanks to the way “all forces came together,” as Bradley puts it, “Behind Closed Doors” rose to Number One on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles chart in 1973 and reached Number 15 on the Hot 100. The crossover hit also earned Song of the Year and Single of the Year Awards from the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music, and Rich received a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance. “Behind Closed Doors” and “Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” also on the album, continued to be signature songs for Rich whenever he performed, until he passed away in 1995.

Bradley still lives in Nashville, but he flies out to California a few times a year to record Merle Haggard, who’s now his main client. His memories of Studio B and working with Sherrill—who’s now retired—are fond as well as vivid: “What was so great about Billy was he knew how to make a band play to work with that singer. My job as the engineer was just to capture that. A lot of people thought Billy used dynamics just to use dynamics, but he was really doing the dynamics to make the song come across. I think he was one of the best at cutting country ballads that ever was.”

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