On this album you will hear Steve Lukather‘s first sessionwork. After visiting the website of Terence Boylan and his contribution to Brian Sweet’s book Steely Dan Reelin in the Years, I tried to contact Terence. After some days he contacted me and wrote me this story.
You are the first person to ask me how the session players came together, how we knew each other, and how we arrived at putting various people together.
When David Geffen first signed me to Asylum, I had asked Walter and Donald to be the session producers for the group of tracks I had lined up. They agreed, and we started to plan the first sessions, but the scheduling was difficult – they were, I think, getting ready to go on a Steely Dan tour at that time. I was eager to get going, so I decided to go ahead and start without them – at least get a few sessions done and start working on overdubs and vocals. I knew basically which rhythm section I wanted on each song, and which lead guitar player, and so I matched them to the songs and booked the first two sessions. That first session (at The Record Plant Studio B)was nerve wracking, because I was in room with Jim Gordon , Chuck Rainey , Dean Parks and Victor Feldman – intimidating but also confidence inspiring, and I was both the producer and the artist, which is difficult because you’re running back and forth, going over the arrangement out in the big room and then dashing into the control room to check the sounds. Luckily I had good engineers (more on that below). We got the first two songs on that one (“Don’t Hang Up Those Dancing Shoes” and “Shame”, and I knew that Fagen would be playing piano on overdubs when he got back, and they were solid tracks, so I was happy so far.
By the third session, I knew I wanted Jeff Porcaro for “The War is Over” and I knew he’d worked with Bob Glaub and Jai Winding, so I put them together, at Warner Bros. Amigo Studios in Burbank, CA. It was on that session, Jeff Porcaro and I were thinking about who would be the perfect guitar player for the song, and he started talking about this young kid that he’d heard who was amazing, and I should give him a try. We got the basic track that day, and I called Steve Lukather the next day, and booked him at Westlake Audio to do the guitar parts. He was absolutely wonderful – easy to work with, eager to try out any ideas, and we messed around with all kinds of sounds, which he loved doing. I remember I sang him what I thought would be a good guitar lead for the intro, and he nailed it, and then doubled and tripled it in thirds and fifths in three consecutive takes. Se we had the basic riff for the turn-around, and then I just let him on his own, and he came up with all these cool lines for the verses, and then worked out a part for the ride-out that he built up with three layers, and then wove in a solo around those layers riding out. As I recall, we put his amp out in the front hall of Westlake, on the other side of a soundproof isolation booth, and mic’d it, and we also went direct-in to the console, so he sat in the control room with us, doing the parts, and we mixed the amp and direct together.
Steve was very young then (maybe 17 or 18?) and I knew he admired Dean Parks’ work, and I think he was pleased to be on an album with Dean and Larry Carlton, and Fagen and Victor Feldman, who was a legend even then. Victor and Larry Carlton played often together, which is how I got Larry on some of the sessions.
The third rhythm section was Russ Kunkel and Lee Sklar, and the combination of those two with Jai Winding on piano was really a joy. I loved those sessions. Lee and Russ come up with the coolest little moments, that I used to marvel at, how perfectly synched their instincts were about where to shift to another accent in the rhythm. They could feel where the other one was about to go, and they’d land on it perfectly together.
On one session, for “Rain King”, I borrowed what was basically Joni Mitchell’s band (she was seeing drummer John Guerin at the time, and Max Bennet was her bass player and Larry on guitar.
David Paich was simply one of the most wonderful players in the world – beautiful, haunting little melodic parts crept in with no fanfare or mention on his part. His intuition about where the song was going was amazing. His sense of time was also what distinguished him – as rock solid as any good drummer, but never mechanical. He could breathe the time back into a perfect pocket, or kick it with little subtle pushes. I loved working with him, even though it was only a couple of sessions, and would happily again, any time.
** (A note on engineers) At that time there were five or six recording studios that seemed to draw a lot of the top sessions and big producers. I’m thinking of The Record Plant, Village Recorders, Westlake Audio, Warner Bros./Amigo Studios, Elektra-Asylum La Cienega Studios, Sunset Sound and a few others. There were also four or five top tracking engineers, and these, especially for an ‘artist/producer’, were very important. I was lucky to work with some of the best, especially Paul Grupp, and so did not have to worry about sound glitches or not getting a great take down on tape. While I was running down the song arrangement with the musicians, Paul would be working as hard as five people – changing mics, trying different placements, going through different pre-amps, spotting trouble down the line and fixing it early. Not enough credit goes to the engineers who cut basic tracks, where the time pressure is great and the opportunities for error are many.