Tonight I have an interesting gig. I’m playing for a group of teens called Ambassadors For Unity. There are 16 kids from Cleveland and 16 kids from Beit Shean, Israel, Cleveland’s sister city. They are Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews (their ranks may include Reconstructionist and secular as well, I’m not sure). They visit each other’s cities at different times during the year, but I don’t know if they visit more than once.
(Here’s an article from a previous year.)
I’ll post the rest of this blog in Noah’s Attic so I can get back to the recording here.
So, recording with the Prayer Warriors…On Saturday, March 11, Herb Thomas shows up with four of the Prayer Warriors. There are about 25, I think, in the group, but obviously, we couldn’t get all of them. However, these four shook the rafters all by themselves.
Herb is an interesting guy. He’s an award-winning television journalist and videographer and works as a camera operator for one of the local network affiliates here in Cleveland. I guess his title with the PWs, aside from “founder,” is Artistic Director. He plays congas with them, but doesn’t sing and is not the Musical Director. Anyway, he sat in the booth with us while we sent them into the studio to sing. More about that in a minute.
After all of the introductions and business matters were out of the way, we got down to the business of making music. First, we played the version of the song as we had it recorded with my truly crappy scratch vocal. I told them that I wanted them to put their mark on it; that I didn’t have charts or anything for them (it’s a pretty simple, repetitive song), I just wanted them to listen and sing what they felt. Then we’d start picking and choosing and honing. (See: "Picking Up," 6th paragraph down)
I really didn’t know what to do with the song. I knew generally how I wanted it to sound: Gospel. But I had no idea about structure or who would or could sing what. I wanted it to grow organically. It did.
First, we gathered around the piano and found some parts and put together some “ooohhhs” for the background. (When I say “we,” I mean “they.”) Then we recorded all of the “ooohhhs” on all of the verses. Then, we went to the end of the song, the play-out, or fadeout, and we had them do all kinds of gospel-y improvisation. They were standing in a semi-circle, all four around one microphone. These are people with big, fat, rich gospel voices. I didn’t know how big. That is, until I stood next to them. We had done a couple of takes and weren’t quite getting it (you know…”it”) when Herb said, “they seem a little intimidated.” So I said I’d go in and sing one with them. Like I was going to teach them something about gospel singing. The track started, we all took a breath, we all opened our mouths, and out came this gorgeous, big, fat, rich gospel sound. Only, nothing was coming out of my mouth. Talk about intimidation. I stood there with my mouth hanging open and no sound coming out. When the take was over I said, “Uh, that was great. Gimme more like that,” and I turned to leave the studio. They said, “But you didn’t sing!’ I told them they didn’t need me. And they didn’t. We were all laughing at that point and on the next few takes they really delivered.
At one point, Herb turned to me and said, “Watch this.” Then he pushed the “talk” button so they could hear him in their headphones. “Gimme some LOVE, Elma!” On the next take, Elma held this one, soaring high note for a long, long time. It was perfect. You’ll hear it on the record.
We had Elma solo a couple of verses, Gloria, who was scared and unsure of herself, gave us one really cool take on a verse (she’s got this great tenor voice) and Ron, who sounds like Preacher (Amen!) sang the bridges.
I got the ultimate compliment (once they sang it and heard how it could sound with the right voices.) They told me how much they liked the song. It was unsolicited and genuine. That made my day. They all hugged me as they left.
Then, I went into the vocal booth to record my parts for the song. Man, the vibe in there was awesome! I sang well. I was comfortable. It felt easy. Just before we left for the day, I asked if I could, or should, re-sing the vocal for “Blessing.” It was OK, but I just wasn’t happy with it. I could tell that David and Jimmy didn’t really think it was necessary, but I said I wanted to. I wanted to do it while “the spirit” was still in that booth. I did one take all the way through. For the most part, that’s the take you’ll probably hear on the record. I made one lyric mistake (which I didn’t even notice until a couple of weeks of listening to it) but it was a good take. It just felt right. And it still feels right when I listen to it. It just has the right “vibe.”
Sometimes you just have to be open to receive.