When we left off last month, I’d been
called in to play accordion on a fast-paced
session with unfamiliar and difficult music.
I’m not that comfortable on accordion, and
a large contingent of the band’s friends and
family was peering at me through the glass.
I scrutinized the chart I’d scrawled and
asked, “Do you want to take this in sections,
or . . .” “Nah, we’re just going to do takes
and see what happens,” came the reply.
Digital recording lets us track lots of
takes and pick the best one, and these days,
that’s exactly what most people do. Some
producers even “comp” together a track out
of the best material from many passes. This
is a great opportunity to stretch out and try
different stuff. It also assumes one can get
through the track, something I had not yet
accomplished. I had barely learned the tune
and I was already on the spot to match a
band that had been rehearsing for weeks
and playing together for years.
On the first take, we had a couple of
false starts as we tried to lock into the Tex-
Mex rockabilly groove, but it was pretty
good overall. I’m buried in my chart, watching
out for the odd number of bars in the
verse and the deceptively simple chorus.
“Nice,” I was told. “On the next take, we’ll
mute the guitar, and you play the solo.” By
the fourth time through, I was really getting
it, internalizing the odd form and anticipating
the musical twists. My written chart started
to fade away — I wasn’t so much counting
anymore, just painting in broader strokes.
On take 7, I thought I’d nailed it, but they
wanted one more: “Just try anything, go a
little crazy. We can always go back and
edit.” I thought take 7 was better technically,
but as we listened to my final, “crazy” pass,
I realized that despite a few fluffs, it had
better energy. I bet that on the final record,
that entire track will be there — no edits or
comping, just an honest performance.
The moral of the story is that music
works best when, mentally, the written
chart fades. This is why bands rehearse,
and why you have to internalize the music
you’re playing, even if it’s on the spot as a
hired gun. A combination of experience
and reverence for the recording process
helped me navigate uncharted territory
and do a good job. Now, back to the