NEWS FROM THE WOODS
By Bob Ketchum
Originally Published June 25, 2002
"Survival In Meantime"
It's that time again! Yep. Time for another CD release from "Whiplash Gumbo" aka. M.R. Keck. My working arrangement with M.R. ("Randy" to his pals) Keck spans over so many years that I can actually remember the very first record we did together. I say "record" because that is exactly what it was. A 33 1/3 RPM Long Playing Record.
You know………… vinyl.
PVC with a label
"Black Gold" !!
"Stacks and stacks of Hot Wax"…….
Oh, never mind………
Anyway, that album was called "Dalte Kizer" (named for a local resident from Randy's home town). We recorded it in 1983 on 8-track and it contained just seven songs. But those 7 tracks were L O N G . . . The shortest being 2:55 and then longest maxing out at 7:36. Three music videos were also produced from this album.
Next came the "Whiplash Gumbo" release. This one was a cassette-only project. It was 1990 and a time when the industry was moving into the digital age and away from vinyl releases. We didn't have the "digital" part together here in Arkansas at that time, so a cassette release was the choice of the day. This project contained a whopping 13 songs which were penned by Randy in the 5 years between releases. Also, it took almost a year to record the tracks for this release, as Randy had many players that he wanted to feature on the album. Little did I know this would start a trend of long tracking sessions which lasts to this day.
1994 saw the release of the "Whiplash Gumbo" CD. This was our first CD release together, and the title (just to confuse everyone) was exactly the same as the previous cassette release. The main difference - besides all new songs - was this release marked the start of Randy's own WILD HOG label. 13 more songs graced this release, totaling almost 70 minutes of music.
By 1998, "Whiplash Gumbo" had become synonymous with the name of Randy's stage band, so the name carried over to the forth release, entitled "What It Is". This album also took over a year to track and produce and contains 10 songs, one over 7 minutes in length and two others just under seven minutes. The CD contained just under an hour of Randy's formula of (what I call) "slanted jazz".
Let's see…. That makes four releases in 14 years, or approximately one album every three and a half years. Considering it takes about a year per album from the start of tracking to the final mixing, that leaves about two and a half years for him to write more material between sessions. Funny thing is - I don't recall those two and a half year "lay off's" between each release. Part of my problem stems from Randy's practice of going back to earlier sessions and re-tracking some select songs for release on "newer" albums. We still have some tracks from almost ten years ago which haven't (yet) shown up on ANY releases. Some of them are getting so old that the masters will have to be baked before we can transfer them to the 24-track for overdubbing and mixing.
And here it is -2002. Present day. And true to form, Randy has pulled more rabbits out of his musical hat and come up with yet another album, this one called "Survival in Meantime". This album is special for several reasons. First, it is the very last tracks recorded by Porky Hill, who passed away September 9, 2002 (for more on Porky, go HERE). And secondly, there are some wonderful tracks revived from previous sessions. "Thin Lines", a really great track from the original "Dalte Kizer" LP gets the full treatment in an all-new and star studded session. Also, "Mister Christopher", "Alone Lee", and "Dirtdobber" have resurfaced from the 1990 "Whiplash Gumbo" project, mostly due to the fact that that particular release - on cassette - did not sell very well because it was only available on a dying audio format. Not to mention it is hard to get radio stations to play music off of cassettes! Hopefully more great songs from that ill-fated release like "The Letter 'S'", Sugar Daddy, and "Two Is For You" will grace future Whiplash Gumbo albums.
I have always maintained that each successive project with Randy has yielded better performances and higher recording quality, and this album certainly is no exception. Personally I feel it is the best recorded album we have ever done to date. Some of it is due to the advancements in recording technology and better sounding gear at a cheaper (make that affordable) price. Extra time in mixing was also spent just getting Porky's drums right up front where they should be, as this album is in many ways is a tribute to Porky and his musical legacy. He was a phenomenal drummer and generally recognized by all as the session drummer for 90% of the Whiplash Gumbo sessions stemming from way back in 1990. As a matter of fact, with the exception of the very first album, the only other drummer to appear on any of Randy's releases beside Porky was me (sequenced drum tracks excluded).
The roster of players is long and noteworthy. In addition to Randy's vocals and all keyboard parts, support players included: Cal Jackson (guitar); Frank Posey (lap steel); Gary "El Buho" Gazaway (brass); John Davies (bass); Ross Hawkins (bass); Ron Eoff (bass); George Mason (violin); Rod Arnold (guitar); Brian Crowne (sax); Fred Rakestraw (DX7); Archie Fleming (flute & sax); Earl Cate (guitar); Dave Mallard (bass & acoustic guitar); and Jai Lambert (guitar). Additional background vocals were provided courtesy of Chris Payton, Darren Ray, Gerald Edmonson, and Bob Macanarney. I managed to squeeze in a little lead guitar on "Dirtdobber" and did some background vocals as well as assorted percussion.
This album has something for everybody. The album opens with a soundscape of electronic waterbirds, a thunderstorm, and a chorus of crickets which eventually reveal the track "Thin Lines". From there we venture to "Late Bloomer", a nice blues ditty featuring "El Buho" on an overdubbed brass section. The next track starts with Randy's dog "Muncher" asserting himself for the microphone and running into "Thick As Stroop", a song evidently written about a barley based syrup from Holland which is both bitter and sweet… just like a lot of things in life. Cut 4 is "Dirtdobber", which is a real funky thang. This track was originally recorded in 1990 and revived from the dusty ditty bin. I get to play some synth guitar on this one, which was a first for me - to be featured as a "guitarist" on a Whiplash Gumbo project. Followed up by the ever so crunchy "Purest Of Heart", which is a sorrowful blues track highlighted by some pretty tasty chops by guitarist Jai Lambert. Next is the tongue-in-cheek "Hard Lessons Learned Well". This is the "Hee Haw" track of the set ("a Honeymoon through the pits of Hell"), with dobro accents playing off my jaw harp (another first for me!). "Alone Lee" follows. This is another track from 1990 which shines with Cal Jackson's guitar and George Mason' jazz violin solos. Track 8 starts with a little "Whiplash Theatre" and slides right into "Pisswater Swill". And I mean S L I D E S in - with Frank Posey giving it that sleazy and greasy design. After all, what else could you have for a song called "Pisswater Swill". Incidentally, this is one of my personal favorites on the CD. The lyrics are absolutely razor edged stuff. "Fell Shy" follows with a crash and bang, and then mellows out for a nice piano-laden track while Randy sings about just missing the mark. The instrumental breakdown in the middle is really weird and a "must hear" for those of you who like wearing stereo headphones. The last track on the album is "Mr. Christopher", a tribute to a fallen friend. Earl Cate's guitar and Randy's piano are the prominent instruments until the song unfolds to Porky's solid half-time drums and stacked background vocals and swirling Hammond. The last minute of the song develops into an anthem march with everyone blowing and jamming off into the sunset, finally ending with a big snare hit and once again "Muncher" dog shows his colors with some excellent whining. By the way, that's Muncher in the back cover of the CD.
I think one of the reasons this album turned out so well is that this is the first time we got to use our new Soundcraft console with automation. Most of you know by now that I am an Analog Freak, but I don't cut off my nose to spite my face and know when is a good time to use digital (like fooling with the stereo masters) and when not to. As far as I am concerned, basic tracks cut on analog just sound more musical. And having the luxury of automation means you can not only do some exquisite fine tuning to a track - bringing out the best the track has to offer - but you can do thing you simply could not do conventionally, like muting handfuls of tracks at certain times in a mix, all without having four guys hovering over a hot console with hands full of sliders. But one of the main things is you can sit back and listen to a mix after the fact, make subtle changes in it, and then run it again without having to remember literally all of the mix chores. It does take a bit more time but for most modern mixes with complicated arrangements and multiple instruments it is a real lifesaver to have.
Yes, the advanced technology and new gear has definitely helped this time around, but without a good song which was performed well by a talented group of players all the automation and digital this n' that wouldn't amount to much in the end. After all - a good song is the basic building block of music that keeps a person coming back time and time again to hear that track just one more time. You'll be doing a lot of that on this album!
© 2002 Ozark Network Communications, Inc.