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Recording "The House I Live In"

This evening I went to Dave West’s Play Ball Studio to record a project for Art Emr. As I loaded my harp into the car I felt some trepidation because I’m the kind of musician who likes to feel prepared, to have at least a lead sheet or chord chart to work from and I’m not that comfortable just winging it by ear. I’d played this Sinatra song in concert with Art before but this studio version was a different arrangement. Art had provided me with a rough mix of the vocals he’d already recorded and I obsessively scribbled out my own lead sheet but I still had no idea what he wanted me to actually play.

Laurie plays harp in recording studio

When I got to the studio the real fun began. Dave would roll the tracks and Art would say to me, “Now right here can you give me sort of a bong, bong, bong and then a gliss of some kind?” while waving his arms around and wiggling his fingers like a cartoon character parody of a harpist. That’s about the level of direction I was given but amazingly it worked well. Luckily I didn’t have to play through the entire song, we just punched in and out inserting harp fills a phrase at a time. I surprised myself when I had to play some parts by ear (Art would hum them for me) and I picked it up pretty easily. It only took an hour and a half to record the harp and then I went in the control booth to listen as Greg recorded guitar and harmonica tracks. Art’s direction to Greg was, ”Play whatever you want, just make it sound like a lonesome cowboy.”

A view into the studio control booth
My view into the control booth

It was fun to be part of the creative process. Art has the vision of what he wants to hear and we musicians just had to try to interpret his direction. Dave is an amazing sound engineer with great ears and the ability to keep “artistic personalities” focused and on track, making efficient use of studio time. This was the first time I’d used my Camac pedal harp in a recording session and Dave’s fancy microphones made it sound big and sparkly. I'm looking forward to returning to his studio one day with my own project.