Note: Gilbert Klein is the newest contributor to Computer Audiophile. Gilbert's stories will appear monthly in his new column titled The Music in Me. Enjoy - Editor
I hope you’re okay with spooky, because I’ve got some for you. But, y’know, the good kind.
My pal Johnny had worked for some of the greats in the 70’s and 80’s before settling in for a long ride with the Rolling Stones. He’s seen stuff that you or I would dine on for years, and my favorite story of his is from when he worked with Jerry Williams, a brilliant musician, songwriter and singer. He wrote songs that others had huge hits with, he was highly regarded, he sang soulfully and played —and mastered— every instrument in the studio. I’d heard that by the time he was recording his album “Gone,” he and Warner Brothers were at each other’s throats, and everyone knew Warner’s was going to bury the album: limited distribution and no promotion whatsoever. No tour, no radio, no support, no merch; It was going to be DOA, but the recording had to take place or he’d owe them a lot of money.
Years later Los Angeles musicians knew Jerry for all the songs he’d given to Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Plant and many others, but this was before all that, and they’d cut all the material he had, and that night on the last day of recording, they had more than enough songs for what Warner’s expected from him, but still… he wanted to say… more. The album was finished; just mixing and sequencing left, and time was running out, but still he wanted… more. Didn’t know what.
Warner’s wouldn’t put up any money for more time, and the musicians had gone home. He had no more songs to record and he only two hours to write, record and master whatever else he did. He had no more songs, but still… The musicians were gone and the clock was ticking.
Now it was time to put something on tape, and Jerry stood on the dais, quietly, almost serene, while Johnny and the engineer waited to hear… what? In the studio, Williams said, “Give me a minute,” and he put his chin on his chest and he seemed to be asleep, when after about a minute of … silence, he lifted his chin and said softly, “Now.” The engineer had all of his volumes set, so he rolled the tape and sat back to hear what Jerry had, and Johnny doesn’t remember anyone speaking in the booth as they stood, stared, stunned, as Jerry sang a heartfelt, mournful tune about a man talking with God about his music. Four minutes later Jerry stopped singing, his chin fell back on his chest and again he stood in silence, for maybe a minute, maybe a half, no one knows. It was a shocked silence in the booth as out in the studio Jerry stood, composed, chin on his chest, and then he snapped his head up and seemed to jerk awake, and he said, “Just give me a minute, I’ll come up with something.”
Even more now, the engineer and Johnny were stunned. It was beautiful, it had affected them deeply, and if he had this song in his back pocket, then why hadn’t he brought it out before this? It was beautiful, it was moving, and it was reverential. And what did he mean by that ‘give me a minute’ thing? But that’s what it was: Jerry Williams had no memory of singing anything.
It took a moment to register that Jerry hadn’t realized he’d been singing. They said, “Jerry, you just did it! You gave us the last song for the album, man. You did it!” He had no idea. And you can listen to that song, but first I want to you know something interesting about the track and then something astonishing about the track.
During the mic set-up for the track (and before anyone, including Jerry, knew what was coming) Johnny remembers, “... there was a portable wooden dais with a lectern on it for orchestra leaders to conduct an orchestra. It was a large room capable of a full orchestra. Jerry stood on the dais while singing the lyrics… and thumped his foot while singing. The recording engineer complained about the sound bleeding into the vocal mic…but instead of not thumping his foot… Jerry just told the engineer to put a mic down by his foot!!! And Keep The Thumping Loud And Clear On The Track!!! Thereby being the only real percussion on the whole track.”
Now, that’s interesting, right? But wait! He knew he needed to flesh out the track, but all the musicians were gone and it was late and time was running out on Warner’s tab, and the song was… reverential… it needed something special. And then Jerry Williams had an idea.
He went into the booth and recorded fifteen, twenty tracks of one note each. He recorded each single note as long as his breath would allow, and every track was a note and every note had its own fader on the board. A half a minute of A, maybe a half minute of B, then C and all the notes he needed, half-notes maybe, I don’t know. But as you know, a chord is made up of several related notes; for instance, an A is typically complemented by D and E, and what they had was all those notes for a music track. Using the faders, Jerry slid the sliders, faded up, faded down, and played those notes and formed the background music. Then they mastered it, and it was done. And you can listen to it any second now, but I have one more word of caution for you before you listen: the song will sound “produced.” It will sound “professional.” Yes, it’s double-tracked and the background music will sound like a finished track. But there were no tricks that night, no studio tricks at all when, in a desperate hour, Jerry Williams recorded this conversation with God and had no idea he was doing it, then he recorded the backing track and he walked away. The year was 1979, and he gave the album to Warner’s where it passed into obscurity, and thereafter Jerry wrote and recorded a lot of music, and gave a long list of songs to artists who were successful with them before he passed into eternity in 2005. I think the man was immensely talented and I’m glad to be able to introduce you to him.
Johnny says, “There is a part where his vocal turns into some very high singing… almost screaming. And when you hear the lyrics you can tell that what the song is about is his inability to figure out what the lyrics should be. He’s singing about not being able to figure out what the words are. Amazing!”
And he says that a fan of Jerry Williams’ has re-released “Gone” and he says it’s available. So, if you’re interested, y’know, have at it. And because I am not above bribing you to like this column, here is another song by Jerry Williams from his album, “The Peacemaker,” with Eric Clapton supplying a soaring solo. Here’s the song we’ve been talking about, it’s called “This Song,” and the bonus track with Clapton is “Sending Me Angels.” Rock on, Jerry Williams, we hardly knew ye.
This Song -
Sending Me Angels -
Engineer Michael Braunstein (left) with Jerry Williams at the board at the Record Plant Room B monitoring individual notes he'd recorded.
Copyright Michael Braunstein
Gilbert Klein has too many degrees and not enough stories. He’s been a radio talk show host, a nightclub owner, event producer, and has written two books: FAT CHANCE about the legendary KFAT radio, and FOOTBALL 101. He threatens to write one more. He spent 25 years in New York, 25 years in San Francisco, and is now purportedly retired in Baja.