Joss Stone, Dave Stewart Get Loose at Blackbird

Sep 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Blair Jackson



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For Stone’s vocals, McBride says, “I had three mics set up; a [Neumann] U47 ended up being the mainstay. We have a particular U47 that George Massenburg says is the finest example of a U47 he’s ever heard. That one never leaves the studio, and was the same one I used on Dave’s vocal whenever he’d overdub vocals on the earlier project.

“Then I also used a RFT 7151 bottle mic—they were made between 1939 and 1943 and I have about 40 of them now,” he continues. “It’s a U47-style microphone, same capsule, but it has an extra gain stage. It has such a hot output you don’t need a mic pre. I’m running that right into a mono Fairchild and maybe an EQ. I might add a touch of air, maybe 15k at the top end of it. Then the third was a Telefunken MIR 251.

“Joss sounded great on all those microphones. She’s old school. She doesn’t sit there and comp together a vocal. She’s not splitting syllables and lines or whatever. She sings the whole song, and says, ‘That was it,’ or it wasn’t. She’s so good. She’d go into some stuff that was incredible, then do the next take a little different and that was incredible. Then another. But it didn’t require much.”

“Because the band was so great,” Stewart adds, “we had this foundation that was so solid that Joss was confident she could really let rip. And instead of people going, ‘Hang on, that won’t get on the pop radio’ or something, everyone was just encouraging her to go for it. So she did. I think she felt she was in a really safe environment with these musicians all playing live in the room. She loved the sound that John had in her headphones—she could hear herself crystal clear and see the people playing when she was singing. That was exciting for her.”

For guitars, McBride used the same approach he had on Stewart’s album—a single vintage RCA BK5B ribbon mic on each amp through an RCA BA11A pre. Because of the project’s slightly retro sound, McBride originally thought he might do a simple three-mic approach to capture Cromwell’s drum kit, “But because I wasn’t going to be mixing it [it was mixed in New York by Steve Greenwell], I didn’t want to tie him down with a more minimal mixing approach.” In the end, McBride settled on Neumann tube 67s on the toms; an RCA 44 along with either a Sennheiser 421 or a FET 47 on the kick; two Shure SM57s on the top of the snare and an AKG C12 on the bottom; C12s on the hats and overheads; and Neumann M50s as room mics.

“John’s such a great engineer, so conscientious,” Stewart comments. “The studio’s got all those amazing vintage amps and microphones and limiters, and the guys who are playing bring in their favorite guitars and amps and things, so basically, as producer, I’m not worried about any of that. I’m just worried about capturing the essence of the song and the atmosphere and making sure the song is a great song, as are the performances. I know the rest of it is being taken care of brilliantly.”

As he had on his own Blackbird sessions, Stewart had the Stone sessions videotaped from top to bottom for a future documentary. So the whole process—from Stewart and Stone running down tunes to the band with just acoustic guitar and voice, to the live band tracking, to Stone and Stewart’s Martini Time vocals on “Picnic for Two” (“We were so drunk we could barely do a take for laughing,” Stewart says)—was captured for posterity.

“The whole session everyone was having a good time,” Stewart notes. “In fact, I’m having a little problem editing the documentary together because you don’t have that trauma or tension where something goes horribly wrong! People won’t believe that all the time we were having a great time, but that’s the way it was. Actually, now that I think about it, it’s good for people to see that, too.”

Since the Joss Stone record was completed, Stewart returned to Blackbird for a third round of sessions the first week of August. This time, he and the band tracked a dozen new tunes—“It goes off a bit psychedelic sometimes, some of it’s really rockin’, and it has a some delicate moments, as well,” Stewart says. “It sounds like a natural progression.”

“He’s unbelievable,” McBride says of Stewart. “He’s probably the most creative person I’ve ever met. He gets stuff done and it’s all good work. And Joss, she’s just so wonderful; a ray of light. You meet her and she makes you feel so comfortable and so relaxed and at ease. It’s so great when you can have that type of vibe at a session, yet the quality standards remain extremely high. Just because everyone’s nice doesn’t mean you can get away with anything,” he chuckles.

Video of Joss Stone in the Studio

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