News From The Woods - March, 1991


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published March, 1991

"Cate Brothers and Other Sessions"

Hello again from the deep woods of northern Arkansas! Y'know, four years ago I considered myself lucky if I got one band a month here. We were 8-track then, and stuck 'way out where no self-respecting musician would care to venture. I kept telling myself (and my wife, who had to stare at overdue bills all day) that if I really stuck to it, did the best I possibly could do at every session, and made sure that, no matter what, I would treat my clients fairly and with the respect due professionals, that someday people would start seeking me out. Well, I'm here to tell you that it does pay off. Although we are not out of the woods yet (pun intended), we do see the light at the end of the tunnel. Every week I get a call from someone who has just read an article in Nightflying, or someone just heard some band's tape I did three years ago and liked the production enough to book the band or even a call from a musician in Tulsa who got one of my business cards from a fellow musician.

Bands don't seem to mind making the trip to Mountain Home any more. I've averaged a session a week since January 6, and we are booked every weekend through March 10 (as of February 11). Every session is what I call a "serious" session. No cover demos all originals. These groups are trying to get national attention, or at least to put out their own cassettes for promotional reasons. I don't think bands necessarily have more money than they used to; I just think that they are more careful about how they want to spend what they make.

Here at Cedar Crest Studio we don't make "package deals" on time. The guy who spends four hours gets the same deal as the guy who spends two days. Everybody pays the same rate ($45 per hour for 16-track). There's no "after midnight" discount. Set-up time is on us, whether it takes 30 minutes or four hours. And I take my time during set-up. One reason is that, since it's on me, I can take as much time as I need to get the sound just right. Also, while we're setting up I can talk with the band and we get to know one another a little bit. That takes the "edge" off and helps settle the band into the studio, which is usually very intimidating. I also request that rehearsal cassettes be forwarded to the studio at least a week prior to the session. By listening to these rough "boom box" demos, I not only know the direction of their music, but also have a pretty good idea what the strong points and rough edges are going to be during the session.

I don't know what other studios, if any, utilize this approach to booking sessions, as I never visit other studios as a client. One of the few advantages to owning my own studio is that I don't have to answer to anyone other than my client. I imagine most studios don't want to pay an engineer to sit around and gab with every group that books time just for the sake of making everybody more comfortable. Maybe they're too busy to take the extra personal time to listen to rehearsal tapes of the band ahead of the session. Or maybe they don't want to get too personal with the artists. To me, making music is very personal and I know I would be intimidated working in a studio run by someone I've only barely met. Everyone needs a little guidance during the recording process and it's easier to take advice from someone who has taken the time to get to know you than from a total stranger.

In studio news this month, the Cate Brothers returned to finish up three more great songs. "Blue Motel" is a ballad begging for video. Written by the Cates and Dan Penn, it's a sad tale about "a long and winding road on the outskirts of hell/where only losers find their way to this old rundown motel." I liked it from the very first moment I heard it. "Get up, Come on" was featured on the "singles" cassette release done by the Cates in Fayetteville in 1988. This version has more spunk to it, thanks to Porky Hill and John Davies, who are getting tighter and tighter with each performance. Ernie Cate added a funky clavinet part behind brother Earl's chicken-pickin' guitars. Rapidly becoming known as the defenders of funky white R&B, these guys have been doing it for a long time (like six albums' worth). The third cut, "Hold On," is an up-tempo, bittersweet song with lyrics from the heart. It's a little more keyboard-oriented than "Get Up" and has some nice sax, provided by the newest addition to the group, David Renko.

Earl and Ernie are old pros in this business, with a successful track record. With Porky's and John's tight rhythm section and young David, I think they have just the right combination of talent and looks that should attract the attention of the major labels. Armed with this five-song demo, the Cates have everything in their corner and I'm very proud to have been a small part of it. If you haven't seen this band lately and you liked them before, you owe it to yourself to catch the Cate Brothers' new line-up.

Although we're still waiting for the Letters From The Earth CDs to arrive, Hamilton-Lambert have been rehearsing with bassist Shelby Collins and drummer Dave Randells. The group is preparing to play several live dates throughout the state to promote the new album. Incidentally, the album-release party for Letters From The Earth will be held at Vino's in Little Rock the evening of March 21, 1991. I look forward to seeing all of our old friends and meeting new friends there.

Marc Turner and The Pranks returned to the studio in February to master their ten-song release Trainwreck In Progress. This is power-trio blues and rock at its best and I'm sure this project will take many by surprise. It is very well played and the arrangements are very tight and precise. Ross Hurley on guitar and Jason Adams on drums did outstanding jobs. My favorite cuts are "Hello, Hello," "Greenhouse Effect" and "Why Do?" Thrash punkers will love "Fool's Paradise."

Fayetteville rockers AXXIT wrapped up their 11-song project, soon to be released on the HYPE label in cassette format. This has been an on-going project for AXXIT that has taken six sessions over the past couple of years to produce. Plans are for the band to do some showcase dates in California in the very near future. They hope that the cassette will stir up some additional momentum.

As you may have read in the last issue of Nightflying (in Linda Knight's "Holding The Fort" column), FIXATION is due in the studio next for a seven-song session over the weekend. I've been listening to their rough rehearsal cassette for a couple of weeks and I'm up for the session. They have several songs that should be fun to do. I'll report more on this session in the next issue.

And as a last bit of news, Dime-A-Dozen Music has entered into a limited joint venture with Butch Stone Enterprises for the purposes of developing Arkansas-based talent. Demo tapes should be sent directly to Dime-A-Dozen Music, at P. O. Box 28, Mountain Home, AR 72653. A co-publishing agreement already has been established for the song "Rocking In Baghdad" by Randy Burden (formerly of Paperkid). The song is being considered currently for recording by the reunited Black Oak Arkansas, among other groups. Mr. Stone managed Black Oak and Swiss metal rockers, KROKUS.

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