Friday, May 28, 2010

Kevin Shirley: 'Imagine putting together your dream band'

Producer Kevin Shirley has worked on projects for bands such as Aerosmith, the Black Crowes and Led Zeppelin. He says Zep was one of his "first loves," the type of music he grew up on, along with Bad Company and Deep Purple.

The secret to producing, he says, is to make "the type of music you love to listen to." However, it can be tough to do that when you've hardened with age and experience. Shirley concedes, "After almost thirty busy, passionate years making records, there are only a handful I love," he confesses.

There was one time last year that Shirley fell in love musically once again. It happened on Nov. 12, 2009, at the House of Blues in Hollywood, Calif., when one of his closest friends and favorite guitarists welcomed to the stage a former member of Deep Purple. The two performers were guitarist Joe Bonamassa and singer/bassist Glenn Hughes.

Shirley says Bonamassa takes the cake as a guitarist. "It's his lyrical fluid guitar style, rooted in the deepest blues traditions, that touches my soul," Shirley attests. "And he can flat out rock, all the time keeping his own style front and center. There’s no copycat styling there, just 'Always On the Road' Bonamassa."

As for Hughes, he's just as complimentary. "Will the voice of rock please step up," he emphasizes. "The enigmatic Glenn Hughes! He sings [and] plays everything from metal to soul. ... There’s nobody else around that can match the talents of Robert Plant and Paul Rodgers and still be unique."

As Hughes guested with Bonamassa that day last November and jammed at the House of Blues, the two hit it off musically. And that's when something important happened.

"When I heard Glenn Hughes and Joe Bonamassa tearing through an impromptu jam on Glenn's song 'Medusa,' a light bulb went off," says Shirley. He recalls that Bonamassa's manager, Roy Weisman, was "grinning like a stoned Cheshire cat, saying, 'We got something here.'" Shirley's reply to him, "Let's go!"

That was the moment the band now known as Black Country Communion was conceived in Shirley's mind. He started thinking about who else would join Hughes and Bonamassa in his dream band lineup.

Healing Sixes

With two capable singers, guitar and bass already lined up with the above two people, Shirley started thinking about a drummer and ultimately chose Jason Bonham. He explains:
"I've been a fan for a long time. I produced the Healing Sixes album [Enormosound] a while back, and brought Jason in for the first album I produced for Joe, You & Me, and there's nothing like being in the room with him when he lays into a groove -- you really feel the air move, literally. It's genetic! Of course, he has the heritage and pedigree, so he's the drummer."
The only other recruitment Shirley had was for keyboards, and he picked Derek Sherinian because he was, quite simply, "the best keyboard player I had ever worked with." They had met when Shirley produced Dream Theater's 1997 album Falling into Infinity. He says:
"[Sherinian] can play a harmony riff to the fastest lead guitar solo and blow you away with his technical prowess of his own virtuosity, but he also sits quite happily behind the music, playing nothing but a single note or a simple chord if it suits the music. And I wanted to hear that Hammond rip -- well, if it was good enough for Jon Lord ...! So, here's the keyboard wizard -- and the most grounded guy of the lot."
Black Country Communion
Photo credit: Marty Temme

What happened when he brought the four of them together? Shirley says:
"The music – well, classic rock was my brief to them. Ignore trends, forget American Idol and all their bastardized pop offspring, bypass heavy metal and formulaic style, and write rock music you like and that's easy to like. For the car, and for a stadium of people who enjoyed good classic rock.

"And they took to the task like ducks to water. Glenn cornered Joe in his off-month from his annual slog around the world which is his constant touring, and there was a spark. Derek joined in, and the rest was the creative juices at work once we got to the studio.

"The music was all recorded together -- four guys in a room, playing together, with me sitting in as well – no glass partition, no headphones -- just enjoying their energy, raw and unfocused as it was. After two days, everyone disappeared to the far flung corners of the earth, and I was left to sort through some recordings. 'One Last Soul,' 'Medusa,' 'The Revolution in Me' – what a great start!

"So we found another three days three months later -- and those were the tracking sessions. Glenn and Joe hadn't refined the lyrics at that stage, so a month later they popped into my studio, The Cave, and sang for a couple of days, and after they finished their vocals, I mixed the song. Quickly.

"On getting the mixes, mastering guru Bob Ludwig said, 'I love your flat mix of "One Last Soul" as well; if there is no level issue for anyone, then go with it! All the rest would basically be your flat mixes then as well,' so this album is as it sounded in the studio.

"Enjoy! I do."
Black Country Communion promises the album will be released this September on the independent J&R Adventures label, overseen by Bonamassa and Weisman. Touring is expected to follow in 2011.

Update: Click here to view pictures of the band's studio recording sessions!

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