The mastering of Clem Comstock -- the pros and cons of tampering with history, Part One
CCAS Vice President Sherrie Guziel caught up
with archivist/producer Roger Klug, the man responsible for rediscovering the works of our
hero, the great Clem Comstock, in order to discuss the process of compiling and mastering
a collection of early 1960s recordings in a world of Y2K technology. Ms. Guziel, in
her spare time, freelances for the Mental Giant "Techheads" column, at www.mentalgiant.com.
CCAS: So you found these tapes after they lay dormant for thirty years or more. What kind of shape were they in?
RK: They were sticky, gooey, yucky. But after 15-20 minutes in the oven at 150 degrees, pre-heated, they were resuscitated back to health. It's an old industry recipe. I only lost one reel when I spaced once and mistakenly set the oven to 350 degrees. That was a frigging mess.
But the recordings themselves sound incredibly clean. Surely you encountered problems with tape hiss, not to mention anomalies from such factors as oxidation, tape degradation, etc.?
Well, as I said, sticking the tapes in the oven brought them back to life, made them playable again, but you're right, there was tape hiss, in some cases an ungodly amount, so I hit upon an ingenious idea of which I'm extremely proud. I took a piece of blank tape from the beginning of each session, nothing but room tone, made a loop of it, then flipped it out-of-phase and pasted it on top of the master mix. This virtually eliminated any nasty tape hiss, or as we say in the biz, tape piss.
So, as far as musical content goes, you stuck pretty much to Clem's vision?
Oh yes, very much so. I constantly referred back to his mono mixes, all on vinyl, of course, all we had access to were the original 45s, courtesy of the Clem Comstock Appreciation Society without which etc., etc., to get an inkling of how loud a vocal was or what kind of fade-out he did, all the stuff that's done at the mixing stage. I took a few liberties here and there. On "Come And Get It While You Can," there's a nifty little jam that got faded on the original single, the guitar player starts going a little wacko, I think too many hours in the studio, possibly, or it could've been just for fun, you know, they probably knew it was going to be a fade-out so they just screwed around till Clem cut them off. So I left that in. And "Pamela" was originally a fade, with Little O'Ryan making this odd vocal noise, like a dog barking, people would say, what is that? What's he doing? Why is he doing that? Well, at the end, when the musicians stop, it becomes apparent that he'd had a bad case of the hiccups, and used it to his advantage, so I left that in for everyone to hear.
So to clarify: you found the original three-track session tapes, but not the tapes of the original mono mixes?
That's right, they would've been done on another machine, a one- or two-track. Either Clem, if he's still with us, God bless him, has the original tapes of the mixes or they're lost in some studio or landfill somewhere. Mind you, if someone sees an old one- or two-track tape machine for sale with a bunch of tapes in the local Trading Times, please contact me at once! I'll clean your pool for a whole summer.
Clem Comstock never mixed in stereo. What were the obstacles involved in remixing for stereo, and why even attempt a stereo mix?
Clem didn't mix in stereo because 45RPM singles
weren't released in stereo back then, and he was mixing for the singles market, AM radio,
period, end of story. I personally felt stereo mixes would help the modern-day pop
scholar see the material in a more educational way. Not better. Not
definitive. Just different. And people today don't want to plunk down fifteen
bucks for a CD that's in mono. Besides, with three tracks to mix there's only so
much you can do anyway; one goes in the left speaker, one goes in the right, and the other
goes in the center. Those old mixes from the early days of stereo are great 'cos the
whole band will be in one speaker, and then you'll have someone else sweeping the floor or
rustling papers around in the other. You can hear the room they're in, it's
Now on a couple of songs, one I can recall is "I Want To Hold You," Clem actually had a stereo mix happening on two of the three tracks, so I think he was anticipating stereo as the wave of the future. "Never Gonna Get Married" I remixed in pseudo-stereo, which is a couple of notches above "electronically reprocessed for stereo." Basically mixed in mono with a stereo reverb, and a sneaky stereo delay to give it some surround, but it's pretty true to that mono wall-of-sound of the original 1964 single.
How did a typical Clem session progress?
Pretty much the old-fashioned way, mostly live in the studio, play it again until you get it right, but he overdubbed too, even on his first records, that little sound in the bridge of "Reed Pipe Boogie," don't know if it's a Clavoline [early '60s primitive version of a synthesizer -- Ed.] or an oboe recorded through a cardboard tube, Clem was very crafty, but that's overdubbed, so's the piano solo in "Pamela," and then of course all the double-tracked voices, which were modus operandi back then, and still to this day, I suppose. But most of the backing was done live, and often the vocal was, too, so it's very interesting to hear the difference between, say, a Take 1 performance and a Take 51 performance. When you've got a studio full of musicians and singers and a producer running around trying to keep it all together, it creates a kind of frenetic energy that to my mind can only compare to a Broadway musical, preferably something Andrew Lloyd Webber didn't write.
Did you hear any fights, disagreements, or interesting tidbits on the tapes?
Well, that's opening a veritable Pandora's box and until Clem or someone with his authority comes forward out of the woodwork, my lawyers have advised me to keep mum on that front. And it's not just Clem who's involved here: I wouldn't want to say anything to harm Bridgette Schulte's reputation, as she is apparently quite happily married now, nor do I want to drag Gary Cilantro under the microscope as I had the pleasure of meeting with him last year and he was quite helpful in filling in the cracks of missing information about Clem so I consider him a friend now and therefore I'm not going to say anything that might raise eyebrows, even today in 1999. So end of that one. For now.
How did you know which take was "the master take?"
Lots of listening, and research, luckily Clem did leave a lot of detailed hieroglyphic chicken-scratch about the recordings which I became quite adept at translating. And also, usually the last take they did was the best one. It's funny, when you're putting together a project of this magnitude, making decisions without the artist's cooperation, you really have to get inside his or her mindset if you're going to do a decent job of presenting their work for them. Well, believe you me, by the time this was finished I felt like I knew the workings of Clem Comstock's artistic mind inside and out.
Continue to Part Two, where Roger discusses individual tracks from Where Has The Music Gone?: The Lost Recordings of Clem Comstock
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