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Talk about specific projects? What was the most difficult and why?

"Wheels of Fire" was one of the most difficult.

Why was "Wheels of Fire" a specially difficult project?

Well, it was the first DCC gold disc I worked on. I picked the title myself and there was a lot of pressure to get it to sound good. Also, it had to be a double disc and was going to cost $50.00 right out of the gate. Ouch. 

I'll skip over the artwork adventures, how we found the original foil vendor and day-glow ink vendors so we could exactly duplicate the first Atco LP pressing. That took months. Also, I'll skip over PolyGram's righteous indignation when we reproduced the ATCO in the album cover. Wow, were they mad! They were also mad when they found out that our buddy at PolyGram Bill Levenson sent us "extras" to use on the disc like the edit outtake pieces of "Passing The Time" and "Anyone For Tennis". 

When I first got the tapes, I was not thrilled. We got many reels including the master mixes, retrieved by Bill Inglot from Atlantic where they had sat since 1968, even though they lost rights in the 1970's. They sounded ok, but muddy and the safety reels and the overseas copies sounded shrill and thin. Someone tried to compensate for the muddiness by just jacking up the upper midrange and top end. Urrgh. 

I listened to all copies of the original LP, the original ATCO, the recut ATCO, the Record Club versions, the Polydor UK versions, etc. Also the current PolyGram CD version. I sure didn't like the way ANY of them sounded. 

I guess I had forgotten how much I wasn't thrilled about Tom Dowd's mixes and how there seemed to be no bass but just mud down there. Some of the mixes were the dreaded CSG and some were plain stereo. But, it was too late to turn back so I went into the studio (Location Recording Service in Burbank) and started listening to the tapes on the big ol' vintage studio monitors they had in Studio B. I guess I wanted to hear what Tom Dowd heard when he mixed everything and why he did what he did (soon to be repeated for "Hotel California" and other strange sounding master mixes for DCC's Gold Disc projects). After a week of scratching my head, I realized that my best chance to get this to sound improved over other versions was to NOT try and fix the top end and NOT try to "mask" everything (like console noise, pops and pot crackle) and just concentrate on the midrange and the bass. 

I needed a LOT of extra EQ to make my ideas about how to fix the bass work, so we patched in three Sontec Paramterics in a row and I set to work. I tried a lot of stuff and finally got the low end the way I liked it; you could hear Ginger's bass drum now and less mud in Jack's six string bass. 

I lived with this a month and then tried to do something (anything) to fix the "practice pad" of Ginger Baker's snare drum sound. I wasted a week on this before I decided to SCREW IT and just focus in on the vocal sound. If I could get that to sound "lifelike", I could live with the crappy snare sound. So, I discovered some of my (soon to be used all of the time) tricks to enhance the vocals so they would at least sound like real people. Tubes came in to play here for the first time on one of my projects. Kevin Gray turned me on to the use of tubes and I always try and thank him for that, even though it raises the temperature by at least 10 degrees in the room. 

When I got everything fixed to my satisfaction, I scheduled a real MASTERING date and we lined up all of the gear and I gave it a shot in real time using the actual master tapes instead of the tape copy I made to save wear and tear. Too many mastering moves for one pair of hands so I drafted Kevin Gray and even my ex-girlfriend Robin to "do stuff" during the songs. Six hands working the mastering console was pretty trippy. Too bad I didn't take any photos. 

At any rate, I was finally happy with everything and even though it's not a great recording to begin with, I think the DCC version sounds the best that it can. I love the album so I forgive the sonic weaknesses. 

When the DCC version was issued, both Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce loved it (phew!) I was worried that I would get a lot of letters complaining about the noisy Atlantic mixing console and hissy mic pre's because I left all of the non-musical "sounds" of the recordings intact, but I was mistaken. No one complained. 

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. I can still listen to the DCC version of "Wheels Of Fire" without thinking that something needs changing or fixing; in other words, with pleasure. 

This project is where I first worked with vacuum tubes on a master and where I learned many of my so called "tricks" for bringing life to rather dead sounding tapes WITHOUT harming dynamic range, etc. I've used many of these techniques ever since! 

After mastering this I tackled CREAM'S "Fresh Cream" but that is another adventure... 

Remember, there are two different versions; one with some hidden bonus tracks (made in USA) and the original Japanese press, no hidden bonus tracks. 

An alternate mix of "Sittin' On Top Of The World" and "Passing The Time", correct? Was there one more? Heck, I can't remember!

The paper is the SAME on both. We printed up a lot of it and the inserts in day glow. All the WHEELS OF FIRE GOLD CD'S were made using this one time printing. All that changed was the manufactuing of the actual discs.

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On one hand it seems obvious why you would listen to all the different versions of an album you could get your hands on, even after you've heard the master—to get some differing perspectives, familiarize yourself with what different listeners might be "used to" already, maybe even see if somebody else had a good idea. But are there other reasons you could elaborate on as to why you use this method of research? And could you give a specific example where a particular pressing influenced your work in a specific way? You don't have to name names...
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There is usually old mastering notes in tape boxes anyway, but sometimes I need to hear what the old timers did so I can see what they were aiming for. I HATE to rewrite history (which is why I resist remixing) but I need to hear what the World has heard and loved over the years so I don't go off on a tangent. 

One quick example: 

The DOORS "Strange Days". The master tape sounds NOTHING like the actual Elektra LP which was cut from the "ledo" creation or a tape copy that was futzed with by someone at Elektra. Now, the "ledo" is NOT the master tape, but it is what every single version of that LP was made from, all over the world, down through the years including the CD's. Therefore, it IS actually the master, see? Now, the real master is actually only a work part, since it was "changed" to make the LP's. I wanted to make sure I kept part of the essence of the original Doors' on vinyl intact while using the actual work part master. That is where the original LP comes in handy.

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Hoffman on other Recordings

Elvis 24K Gold Greatest Hits INFO
RCA Nashville. Good tapes. Lots of life. Most of the Elvis in stereo was engineered by my buddy Bill Porter. He's the man. I think it's fascinating when you find something that sounds good with a minimal amount of equipment. That always gives me a little thrill. 

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Roy Orbison's Greatest Hits LISTEN
Those sessions span 1959-1963 at RCA Nashville Sound Studios, again, done by Bill Porter. Whatever I said for the Elvis tapes goes for Orbison. Great music, all recorded live! Bill Porter's motto about bandwidth was "From DC to light." Of course with the monitors they were using you couldn't hear anything below 50 cycles. And they probably heard little over 12,000. It's a nice thought but reality imposed the limitations of the day. Considering the good results, it was probably a good thing they stayed focused on the range they had. They had a lucky combination of engineering and equipment.

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The Eagles: Hotel California LISTEN
First of all, the tape wouldn't play because of the "sticky shed" syndrome. The binding and oxides gum up. Any tape made after about 1974 is prone to that. However, if you heat tapes up in a convection oven, the tape will play for a week or two. So we cooked Hotel California. I had to sign a disclaimer for Ampex saying it's not their fault if the tapes are accidentally destroyed. I thought, "Sheesh, why does it have to be Hotel California that needs cooking?" 

The tapes came back and they played fine. Phew. Next, the sound itself: It's a long story, including getting a pair of the same small JBL monitors they mixed it with originally. This was the toughest job I've ever done, a real pain, but I think it turned out very well. Others do, too. The Eagles Greatest Hits had the same set of problems. 

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The Doors' First Album LISTEN
Good old Sunset Sound in Hollywood. The first Doors album was recorded on four-track, so it has a nice vintage sound. They're playing in the same room, it's almost spontaneous, it's being created before our eyes. 

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Jim Croce LISTEN
I compiled his first album in its entirety, along with the best from his other two. Lots of songs we all love. That was a pleasure to do. All the tapes were in great shape, properly stored in one place at the right temperature. That was a snap.

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Ray Charles INFO
Over many years, we worked his entire catalog for one project or another. Ray and I like each other. A one-album venture turned into years of working side by side. 

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The Beach Boys INFO
Love the Beach Boys. There's always been the stereo versus mono Beach Boys controversy. The mono mixes were the ones that Brian Wilson liked because he only had one ear drum working at full throttle. Yet the stereo mixes had all the life and dynamic range and were more satisfying musically, in my opinion. This was because engineer Chuck Britz was in a hurry to do the stereo mixes when Brian wasn't around; therefore they were not over-mixed. 

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Greatest Hits Fundamentals INFO
All the "Best of" rock albums we know and love have always been made from tape copies, for obvious reasons. The original masters are on other reels that correspond to the original LPs. So when they needed to make, let's say, an Elton John Greatest Hits, they'd make copies of all the masters and then use that copy. I could be wrong, but I think our company is the first to bypass the "Greatest Hits second-generation syndrome" copy and use the original masters for every song. It's a real hassle, since each song from each album has its own set-up tones, its own peculiarities that match the rest of the songs on that tape. You can't just string them all together, because levels aren't the same and the balance is off here and there. But it's worth the work.


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Jazz Samba INFO
Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd: Jazz Samba was done by a private "We'll Record Your School Party" kind of outfit in Washington, D.C. Set up their Ampex two-track at All Souls Church. Great natural echo there. One of those albums that ends up sounding audiophile in a nice way. Everything sounds natural. That album started the Bossa Nova trend. It preceded the famous Getz/Gilberto album by about a year.

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