Pat McDonald - Drums and Percussion

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"The Session From Hell"

This story is absolutely true........I'm not proud of it but it was just too crazy not to share!     A recent thread on houseofdrumming.com got me reminiscing about nightmare gig/session stories this one fit the bill perfectly.   Any names have been changed to protect the innocent......

I got hired a few years ago by a buddy to do an album project with some out-of-town singer who wanted to cut a record in Nashville.    My buddy owns a studio in town and I do alot of work there.   He told me that the guy was a bozo and he didn't want to deal with him so he quoted him an exorbitant price thinking he'd balk.......he didn't.     My buddy tells me he'll pay me something crazy like $200 a song plus rehearsals to play a 10-12 song custom project.    Most projects in small studios like that pay MAYBE $50 a tune.    How can I refuse, right?   How sweet is it to pick up a couple of grand for a couple of days' work?  Simple.    I'm in.  I've done hundreds of these before so it couldn't be much different.....or so I thought.

 We arranged to rehearse two days then track everything the 3rd day at Ocean Way Studios here on Music Row in Nashville..  

We got to my buddy's studio, set up and started working.     The "artist" is there talking about this big name guy who's gonna produce....supposedly engineered a bunch of the 80's era "boy band" records.   (I won't name exactly who but they were part of the first wave and NOT the 90's N'Sync/Backstreet era.)    Not exactly the first guy I'D think of when looking for a guy to produce a country project but it's not MY money, right?    Whatever.     

We spent a whole day hashing out tunes, arrangements, parts, etc. with the "artist" telling us what he wanted.     The "producer" isn't there....won't be flying in until the next day.      This should have been an omen.....

The next day we show up, start getting ready to work and the "producer" arrives.   He's a tall, goofy guy with long, stringy gray hair, a 2-packs-of-Camels-a-day voice and a HEAVY Boston/NE accent.    The bass player (we'll call him Joe) and I are sitting in the control room and Joe's holding his beautiful Yamaha 5-string in his hands.     The "producer" walks in, Joe outstretches his hand to greet the guy and the guy doesn't shake hands.    He doesn't say "Hello", "Nice to meet you.".....nothing.     The first words out of his mouth are "I only cut records with a Fender Jazz or a Fender Precision."      He hasn't heard a single note yet and already the bass sucks.   Then he turns to me and says "I only use Remo Coated Ambassadors, you got em?"     I told him  "No, but Fork's is right up the street.   I'll run out and grab a set for you."      As I'm walking out the door, Joe looks at me with a deer-in-the-headlights look that says "This is gonna be interesting....."    Little did we know.......

We finally get the gear how this guy wants it and start playing.     Four bars into the first song, the "producer" jumps on the talkback and says..."What is THAT shit?  What are you guys doing?   That sounds like CRAP!"  and on and on.      We politely told him that we are just running things down like the "artist" asked us to do at rehearsals the day before.     He says  "That Nashville shit has got to go.   It sucks!"      He and the "artist" start hashing out their ideas and differences and we start over an hour or so later.     All day long, this bozo is berating us, changing parts every time we play 8 bars, telling us how bad it sounds, how we couldn't hang in the "real" studios in New York.....blah blah blah.     We keep our professional poker faces on and slog thru it.

We take a break and go to a local joint for some dinner.     We're all sitting at the table listening to this guy run his mouth about what he's done and who he thinks he is and so forth when the food comes.      The guy apparently has some false teeth that don't fit well.   He pulls out his partial, LAYS IT ON THE TABLE and digs in, gumming his food to oblivion, still talking, with food flying everywhere not encumbered by teeth!     Joe and I and the rest of us are just looking around like the hidden cameras are SOMEWHERE around and we're about to get Punk'd.    No such luck.    

We finish dinner and head back to the studio and the "producer" realizes he's LEFT HIS TEETH sitting on the table!     We turn around and go back to get them and after a long search, he finds them.     I'm guessing they were probably in a bus tray by the dishwasher and from what I can tell about the guy so far, he most certainly didn't wash them off but just stuck them back in his trap.   But I digress.....  Back to the studio again to finish up for the night and get ready to head to Ocean Way in the morning.....

I get to the studio and get everything ready to go early the next morning.    Hit time is 10 a.m.   This is my first time tracking at Ocean Way and I'm anxious to see how things sound.   I'm set up alone out in the middle of the big room---basically a converted church with vaulted ceilings and stained glass all around.    Beautiful place.    We started getting sounds.....

Now, I have to admit, the toothless "producer" DID know how to get an amazing drum sound.     My kit sounded positively THUNDEROUS.......very "Bonham-esque" which was cool but I found myself wondering why in the world he'd want THAT on a "country" project?  Oh well.......not my call.   I just play drums.    He's the producer.....

I played a little to tape and came in the control room to give it a listen.     The guy put the drums up in the big, wall mounted studio monitors above the console and just BLASTED the room.    It sounded amazing but I was a bit puzzled as to why he spent so much time with those monitors.      Nobody uses those things anymore.     Most studios, if they even still HAVE them, rarely turn them on anymore.  Technology is so advanced now that small NS-10/Genelec-type monitors can handle huge SPL's and give a super clean and  much more accurate representation of what you're doing.     Oh well.....he proceeded to blast them so loud that he blew the drivers in  both of the horns.     Break time again while someone went on a search around town for new diaphragms for them.      At this point, the staff at Ocean Way are starting to question the guy's ability and rolling their eyes along with us.      And the clock is ticking.......

I sat in the control room watching the "artist" noodle on the Steinway in the booth next to the control room.     He had a lip full of tobacco and was spitting on the floor in between his knees onto the imported Persian rug under the piano.     Seriously.     No cup, just a big puddle of brown spit by the sustain pedal.      Unreal.

Someone brought in some bagels while we waited and Mr. Snagglepuss yanked his recently re-acquired teeth out and set them on the edge of the console.    He rolled the chair over to a rack to adjust something and when he did, he knocked them off onto the floor.     When he rolled back to the console......CRACK!!   The chair wheels rolled RIGHT over them and shot plastic and little fake teeth all over the room!     Joe and I were about to explode with laughter but managed to keep it together.     I only had a FEW drops of coffee come out my nose and managed to clean up before anyone noticed.

By this point it's around 6 pm and we haven't recorded a single note......

We FINALLY started tracking and managed to get a take or two.     Mr. Gums-A-Lot never quite got the concept of the talkback volume control.     I'd play something and he'd call from the control room and tell me why it sucked.    Over and over.    Every time he clicked the button a huge, loud "POP" would hammer my ears and I could hear a mouse fart in the room with them.    I was beginning to get really pissed but managed to keep my temper.   I asked him several times to turn it down a little because it was killing me but he apparently wasn't listening.      Joe was cutting bass in the room with them and he was facing me thru the window.    He had a legal pad and had drawn a big dollar sign on it and would hold it up to the glass so only I could see it when the guy was chewing my ass.     Thank you, Joe.

After a couple of hours of this, the guy  was STILL not able to figure out how to control the talkback.     I was pissed.    I was seething.     I was ready to kill him.    And then it happened......

He pushed the button and spiked my brain yet again, then told me I was playing like shit.      I answered....."Okay, man.    We'll try it again but I I gotta say something.......if you don't turn that fucking talkback down, I'm gonna come in there and knock the REST OF YOUR FUCKING TEETH OUT!!!!!!!"     Oh boy.   HERE we GO!

It was ON at that point.      I threw my cans on the floor and headed into the control room.      He was yelling at me, I was yelling at him, everyone was trying to get between us and I was fully prepared to beat the living snot out of him right then and there.     Total chaos.    Everyone managed to keep us just far enough apart that SOMEONE didn't start bleeding......a whole lot.      He tried to get at me with the cliché..."You'll never work in this....." and before he could finish I cut him off....   "What?  This town?   I LIVE here!   I'll be working here when you're long gone, pal!  If you think you're gonna come in here from up North and act like an asshole and rule me or this town, you've lost what's left of your simple mind.     I don't care if your driveway is PAVED with gold plaques, I don't take this shit from ANYBODY!"      I lost it.    I admit it.     And I'm not proud of it.     As I said before, that is NOT how I do business.     I was embarrassed that I lost my cool but enough is friggin' ENOUGH!     

We managed to cool off and I said to him..."Look man, I'm obviously not the guy for this thing so why don't you guys just pay me for what I've done so far--two rehearsals and two tracks--and I'll pack it up and let you guys get someone else in here.   I tried my best to be a professional but I'm not the right guy for this.   You need someone else."      He refused.   So it's 12 hours into it and we've got 10 tunes to go.    I went back out to the kit and sat down and told myself...." Okay, you said your piece and you're tired and ready to go.    If he wants tracks, give him tracks so far up his ass he'll choke on them."    And that's what I did from then on.      It seemed to work because he got off MY ass and started in on Joe.     I watched it unfold until I saw Joe take his bass off and get in the guy's face himself.     Thru the glass I see Joe's gesturing wildly and OBVIOUSLY coming unglued now too.   I waited for the fists to fly.     Joe calmed down, sat back down and glared at me thru the glass as if to say "If YOU don't kill him, I'M going to!"        I think his dollar sign had long been crumpled up and thrown out by this point.

By 5 a.m. the next morning, we had FINALLY gotten it done and I headed home but not without him first haggling with me over the money and me too tired to argue anymore.     I got my check for less than what I was supposed to get---ESPECIALLY considering the bullshit I had to go thru to GET it but I was done.      I went home and slept for 12 hours.      

After all the money spent, drama and bullshit the "artist" paid WAY too much for a CD that he is probably STILL trying to unload from the stage of his club gigs in Kentucky.     Poor bastard.     

Everyone on the session that day is a working pro in town still and none of us have seen Mr. Gums since then.     Thank heaven for poetic justice.

Joe teaches bass part-time at a local college.   He called me a few weeks later and said he was in a class with some guys and they were talking about dealing with unreasonable people and being a pro no matter what.     He said one of his students said   "I heard about this session once at Ocean Way....." and proceeded to run down everything I just described!     The kids were shocked and amused to find out it was in fact NOT a tall tale, it was all true and that their teacher was one of the players involved!    We still get a kick out of it to this day.     If I check voice mail and hear "I only cut records with Remo Coated Ambassadors and a Fender bass...."   I know it's Joe without having to look at the call log!      

 

Oh well....things turned out okay and I'll always have the memory to reflect on.   I've had a few difficult sessions since but I can always think "Well at least this isn't as bad as that ONE day!".      

They say there's a bit of good in everything no matter how bad it seems at the moment.     It's true.....

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