Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Old tapes

I feel like Winthrop Paroo today, although it's for USPS that I await and not the Wells Fargo wagon.

In a search for old dB's master tapes, I was informed by Mark Bingham that he had a stack of old 1/4" reels that belonged to me. Mark is a brilliant musician and producer whom I got to know during the recording of Out of Time by R.E.M., and he was the proprietor of the now-shuttered Piety Street Recording Studio (where the likes of Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint did The River in Reverse, among hundreds of other notable clients). Prior to Hurricane Katrina, I had delivered a bunch of recording tape to him for baking and transfer--old recording tape sheds its oxide, where the information lies, as it ages, and baking in a convection oven preserves the oxide long enough to make a digital transfer, which should be done fairly immediately. While Mark's staff had not performed these operations, they did provide a safe storage area for the tapes during Katrina, for which I will forever be grateful.

So Mark boxed the tapes up and sent them to me in NC. I pondered on how to proceed from that point--and part of my conundrum was the fact that some of the tapes were recorded on a Tascam 388, a bulky piece of old technology that ran 1/4" tape at 7 1/2 IPS and had eight tracks. In fact, a lot of stuff was done in Los Angeles on that machine, which I'd sold before I moved to New Orleans. It was not the most universal of formats in pre-modern recording, so I was concerned that I might have trouble finding one.

Enter Keith Leedham and The Tape Farm, located on the delightfully-named Chicken Road in Lebanon TN. I found Keith via a Google search of "Tascam 388 digital transfer," where the Tape Farm popped right up. We began corresponding, and Keith assured me that he could do all of my old stuff up right and get it back to me in digital form. So the box went out to Lebanon on a wing and a prayer. 

Over the next couple of weeks, Keith wrote me of his various experiences with my tapes, including letting me know he'd gotten his 388 from songwriter Paul Craft's widow (he wrote "Keep Me From Blowing Away" and "Dropkick Me, Jesus"). The 388 even blew one of its 35-year-old fuses; Keith did intrepid detective work and troubleshot from the Tascam manual. He finished the transfers up, some requiring a -20dB recalibration for my hot (read: recorded stupidly) levels on a couple of songs, and then he sent the box out.

It has just arrived at my door to much joyous and postal carrier amusement due to old-guy happy dancing on the porch.

These are, in large part, demos of songs from about 1984 through 1993, recorded in New York and Los Angeles, many unsung but instrumentally finished tracks. It occurred to me that I might want to take a crack at tying up some loose ends on songs that sounded good in my memory. Not sure if anything will come of it, but I'm going to give it the old college try.

And I want to say thank you to Keith Leedham and The Tape Farm for having created a situation for me that I actually CAN try something like working on a nearly 30-year-old song, where I might have consigned it to magnetic heaven otherwise.
PS: And, as it turns out, Keith is no slouch as a songwriter and recording artist.

1 comment:

Rob-in-Brevard said...

Oh boy -- I like the sound of this! Go for it, Peter — I hope you have a bog ol' time with it...