Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Black 47 With Ric As Their Producer

One of Ric’s earliest post-Cars production projects was his involvement with NYC’s most famous Irish Pub band Black 47. Ric produced two of their albums in the early 1990’s. He was at the soundboard for both their critically acclaimed “Independent” album in 1991 and their 1993 effort “Fire Of Freedom”

Ric also lent his guitar and keyboard talents to the ‘Fire of Freedom” project as well as his vocals. Ric is soley responsible for the opening keyboard work on the Black 47 song “Fanatic Heart“.

Some familiar names of Ric’s post cars posse were also involved. Ric’s long time friend and techy David Heglmeier was the engineer for the album as well as his old pal Darryl Jennifer (bass Player for the Bad Brains) who contributed his bass playing as well as spoken word to the “Fire Of Freedom” album. Jennifer also has appeared on two of Ric’s solo albums Beatitude and Nexterday.

Below is an article on how Ric and the members of Black 47 got along during the recording for “Fight For Freedom” how things evolved and how Black 47 felt about working with Ric.

We used to play the Wetlands in NYC quite often. Famous People would watch us play. Joe Strummer came in often to see us, so did Matt Dillon as well as Sinead O’Connor. One day, Murad and Judy showed up. Judy was the sister of Elliot Roberts who had apparently managed everyone from Jesus on down. Elliot was, at this time, looking after Neil Young, Tracy Chapman and Ric Ocasek. He was based in LA but offered to manage us - with Murad and Judy handling things in New York. Soon after, while on stage in Reilly's, I noticed a commotion in the crowd. It was hard not to take note of Ric Ocasek. Tall, deathly pale and intense. However, when I joined him for a drink I was stunned to see that no one was paying any attention to him but to the leggy blonde on his arm. Where had I been? I had never heard of Paulina, his wife and world famous model.

Still, it made things easier to have a one on one with Ric. After a few compliments about the band and the information that the Cars had started in a similar dive in Boston, he got down to business. "I can make that independent cd of yours great." That sounded intriguing, especially coming from someone who had sold 30 million records. "The problem is, I'm going away in a couple of weeks. If we're going to do this we've got to start right away. Think about it." Then Paulina turned to him, he melted into her arms (who wouldn't) and we got up to do our next set.

The next morning, Elliot was on the phone. "Well?" Says he, "do you want to do the CD with Ric?" I wasn't sure but then thought, "what the hell." We started later that night. It was a great experience - at least, for me. Ric was one of the most intelligent, insightful people I have ever met. In the public eye, he has been painted into a corner by his enormous success with the Cars. But to me, he is a true artist - very inquisitive, a vast sensitivity and, despite or on account of all his success, thoroughly unafraid to fail. He was an amazing blend of humility, artistry and self-confidence, and then on top of all that, he was a real rock 'n roll star, in the flesh - with all the good and bad that bestows.

His style of producing was to let you make the record, sit back on the couch and listen. And what ears he had. His studio was set in the basement of his town house in the Gramercy area. He rarely began recording before 5pm and would continue well into the dawn and long after I had crept home, bamboozled with sound. Whenever you faltered, he would make a suggestion, invariably right. Oftentimes, he would disappear upstairs with Paulina and leave you with his engineer and assistant, Heg. He had an uncanny knack for knowing when things weren't right and he believed that records should be made with the minimum fuss. Probably his long years of trauma making records with Mutt Lange confirmed him in this. After my departure at 4 or 5 am, he would work on. The next afternoon when I showed up, bright and bushy tailed, I would insist that Heg let me hear anything Ric had been messing with.

Thus was born the beautiful intro to Fanatic Heart on Fire of Freedom which he created with a Roland guitar synthesizer. Compare it with the more bare bones but still moving version on the independent cd - two ways of seeing things, each equally valid. Two snippets that he was about to discard were the pieces of Livin' in America which later became Fordham Road 8am and Bainbridge Avenue 2am. Whenever, he heard me do anything that sounded vaguely like the Cars he would beg me not to use it. "I'll be criticized for that," he would say. I told him to quit the paranoia! But he was right . Critics hated him and blamed him for a number of my ideas. (One moron who writes for the NY Press even chastised him for the production of Black 47 Independent). He took it all stolidly. Such was the price of fame - perhaps, if you're married to a super model, have a lot of money, fame and success, these things don't matter - I wonder?) Still, hanging out with him was a lesson in life and I remember the time with great affection.

But back to the recording. We worked and remixed many of the songs from the independent cd and added, Fire of Freedom, Maria's Wedding, Our Lady of the Bronx and New York, NY 10009. But time was catching up with us and Ric had a departure date. Sometimes we worked separately, in two studios, to get more done. He had such a clear idea of where a song should go. I had been agonizing with John Goldberger, the engineer, about the mix of Maria's Wedding. Ric swept in, an almost spectral figure and demanded the mix. When we told him our problems, he merely said "play it!" And while we listened back, he moved 3 or 4 different faders. By the time the song had finished, to our amazement and hurt pride, a new mix had been created. Without a word, he swept out of the studio, leaving us there staring at each other.

But it was a two way street with Ric. He loved our band dearly and delighted to be inspired himself. One of my most vivid memories is making the cries and screams for the intro to the Famine song, Black 47. I used, perhaps, six tracks to get those sounds, layering them and always keeping in mind the millions who had died. Before doing a track, I would sit in his little vocal booth and summon up the spirits of those dead and discarded people. Track after track, I screamed, cried and moaned and each time I emerged, I would look at him. He would just stare back. Eventually, after losing all sense of time, he nodded. It was done and the three of us listened back wordlessly. He was a wonderful illustrator and always drew as he listened. When he left the room I snuck a look at his book. The page was empty.

That recording and mixing went by in a blur and, as usual, we continued to do gigs. One of which was an outrageously rowdy affair in Sam Maguires - that wonderful bucket of blood in the North Bronx. I remember rushing back downtown to the Record Plant where I had left John Goldberger mixing James Connolly. My ears were bleeding from Sam's and yet Connolly sounded magnificent - all the instruments blended together like some amazing fife and drum band. I heard Connolly on a compilation tape recently. It still sounds great. But all good things come to an end: Ric flew off to the Caribbean, Pete Ganbarg signed the band and so I brought the finished tapes up to EMI.

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