INTERVIEW WITH JIMMIE HASKELL
Jimmie Haskell on podium
In preparation for Ace Record's 2004 CD release entitled "Rick's Rarities", the following telephone interview with legendary arranger, composer and producer Jimmie Haskell took place over several weeks during July and August of 2003. Jimmieís memories and insights of Rick Nelson were always heartfelt, humorous, and respectful towards a beautiful person and musical artist who gave us so much, in so little time. I hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I did doing it.
KM:††††† Hello, Jimmie?
JH:†††††† Yes, Hi Kent. Would you hold the phone one moment please?
KM:††††† Of course.
JH:†††††† Oh good. (short pause) Thank you. My wife Barbara just gave me an assignment. She went to the market and she left three old packages of cookie mix on the kitchen counter, and I need to find the stamped date to tell her if they are still good (laughter), but we can talk now. I did look at those pages you sent me, and then I went through that wonderful list I have of who played on what session, but it only goes from 1959 through 1962. So, unfortunately, none of that works for your project. What Iíll have to do now is rely on memory, and that scares me.
KM:††††† Yes, that was so long ago.
KM:††††† Well, I do appreciate your time with this interview Jimmie, as I know you are busy with other projects.
JH:†††††† Of course; I read the first draft of the liner notes and I told you my specific comments the other day. Regarding Ricky supposedly becoming frustrated with his dadís purported meddling in the music studio: that was a myth. I never saw Ricky frustrated because of his father. The closest it came once was when Ricky was learning how to smoke and told everyone in the studio that his dad would be there in a half-hour and to clear the air. One time, when Ozzie was about to direct a scene on the set of their show, I remember Ricky going up to his dad and asking if he could talk to him about something. And Ozzie said, "Can it hold Ďtill dinner, son?" and Rick said, "Yes, it can, dad". Thatís how the family members were to one another, always respectful.
KM:††††† Thanks for setting the record straight on that Jimmie. We made sure the liner notes reflected that accordingly.
JH:†††††† Good, and whenever Ozzie was in the studio, I was there also. I was there all the time that I recorded with Ricky and I never once heard Ricky tell Ozzie to leave, ask him to leave, or any of that. Ozzie just couldnít stay very long. He went to the first couple of sessions to make sure that I knew what I was doing as the producer and that the engineers knew what to do. And after awhile, after a few sessions, he came to know that we knew what we were doing, and then he just wanted give us some input. For instance, somewhere around the third session we had several takes, and there was one great take with everything except that James could play a better, more perfect, solo. We always went for perfection. Ricky was a fine musician. Although he didnít know much about reading music, he had excellent ears, excellent feeling, and an excellent sense of time. Matter of fact, he played rhythm guitar on all but the very first sessions. After that, we found out that he played rhythm guitar extremely well and he played rhythm guitar on those sessions until Glen Campbell came in.
KM:††††† Did Ricky have perfect pitch or relative pitch?
JH:†††††† I donít know if he had perfect pitch. Itís funny, I never asked him that; I never checked on it. But he sang in tune, which is unusual nowadays, and he had an amazing range. I think "My Bucketís Got a Hole in It" gave him his highest note and "Lonesome Town" gave him his lowest note. And every one of those notes came out clear.
KM:††††† I like the song "Thatís All" Rick did on Imperial. I think at the end of that song Rick hits a really low note as well, so you can tell his vocal range was extensive.
JH:†††††† Yes. Now getting back to that third session. We went ahead and took another take where the second half of James Burtonís solo was absolutely superb and the first half of the previous take was superb, and we began having a discussion of editing. Evidently, Ozzie had never been involved in editing a phonograph record. He had been involved in editing on his TV show and he knew that sometimes that takes a long time. Our engineer was Bunny Robyn. (He actually has a real first name but everyone called him Bunny.) Bunny was busy in the corner while Ozzie, Ricky, and I were discussing the merits of editing--taking the first part of the previous take and the second part of the latest take, and the pros and cons of doing another take and trying to get it perfect. We must have had that discussion for about three minutes and Ozzie still wasnít sure editing was the way to go when Bunny spoke up and asked, "Would you like to hear it?" While we were discussing what to do Bunny had made the edit wearing headphones. And you know, from that point on Ozzie allowed edits.
In those days we started out recording mono and then we began recording in two-track stereo. Ozzie was a very busy guy.† I mean he would get up around four-thirty every morning. And there we were working at night: I started at seven along with the band, Ricky would show-up about eight and Ozzie would show-up around eight-thirty or something like that. If he were to drop by after that it would only be for a few minutes because he had to get an early start with the showís script conference. But nobody ever kicked Ozzie out. Donít know why someone would claim that; maybe they were just trying to get attention.
KM:††††† Very good information to share. Thanks Jimmie.
JH:†††††† And then I told you about the piano players we used?
KM:††††† You did--Gene Garf, Ray Johnson, and Leon Russell--I provided that information to Bill Parker in the UK to further clarify the liner notes.
JH:†††††† I appreciate that. I never played piano on those earlier sessions. I played the accordion on only two songs: "Louisiana Man" and one other that I cannot recall at the moment. We brought Gene Garf in because of his technical abilities. Both Ray and Leon would always listen intently to the song one time, then they would play along the second time, and by the third time it was nailed. Ray would frequently put too much in the third time so I had to ask him to play it the way he did the second time.
KM:††††† Very talented piano players.
JH:†††††† Yes. And then there was a horrible TV show on MTV where they made Ozzie out to be an ogre. It was pretty bad. And they made Harriet out to be a drunk. The only time I ever saw Harriet drink was on holidays, and when she did she never drank enough to get drunk. Even in her last days, after her husband had died, and her son had died, Iíd occasionally visit her in Laguna and I never saw her drunk. She was a brilliant and elegant lady. One of those times I asked, "Harriet, why donít you quit smoking?" and she said, "Why should I?"
KM:††††† So she never really gave up smoking throughout her whole life?
JH:†††††† No; She had emphysema too, and I think thatís what may have done her in.
KM:††††† I never knew that growing-up and watching "The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet" on television because she never, of course, smoked on the show.
JH:†††††† No, of course not. And the fact that she could do long scenes without smoking showed that she wasnít really all that dependent on it. What a gentle lady, what a true lady.† Ozzie wanted to do an album with the two of them once, and they had me do the arrangements. When we completed the recordings, I said to Harriet, "You were just wonderful. I mean you picked it up like youíd never quit singing. I hope you enjoyed it." And she said, "Jimmie, Iím going to see the dentist tomorrow and have a root canal. Iím looking forward to that more than I have doing this entire album." So I asked, "So why did you do it?" and she said, "Ozzie wanted it." I wouldnít have known that attitude because she was so charming and she sang with the right feeling on every take that we needed.
KM:††††† And that was back on the Imperial label.
JH:†††††† Yes, yes.† Ask me some questions.
KM:††††† So, did you have a chance to read all the liner notes?
JH:†††††† Yes, the liner notes sent to me by Bill Parker.
KM:††††† Are they factual as you recall?
JH:†††††† Yes, I found nothing else wrong with them. There were things that I was not on top of such as his popularity in England, or lack of records and things like that.
KM:††††† Yes, this was written from the British perspective because they are the ones releasing this rare and wonderful material.
JH:†††††† Of course;
KM:††††† I have about eleven questions all written out here, but Iím not sure if this one is on the list.
JH:†††††† Start in the middle and then work to both ends.
KM:††††† Okay, itís in regards to "On the Flip Side", do you recall that musical show?
JH:†††††† I recall that event and I know that the way it came about is that Burt Bacharach called me and said, "Jimmie, Iím doing a couple of tunes with Rick Nelson and I know youíve been his arranger. Iíve got an idea of how those arrangements should go." Burt invited me to his house and he played me practically every note that he wanted to hear. And I said "Burt, you know what you want in this arrangement. Youíre a fine arranger. Why donít you write it?" And he said, "Because it would take me two or three days to have both of these arrangements finished and youíre going to have them both written by tomorrow, isnít that right?" And I answered, "Yes, thatís right Burt." And that was all that I remember. I think I did "They Donít Give Medals."
KM:††††† Did you work on all four songs that Rick performed or just the one?
JH:†††††† I think I did two of them.
KM:††††† Do you remember what the other one was?
JH:†††††† Read me some titles.
KM:††††† Sure: "They Donít Give Medals (To Yesterdayís Heroes)", "It Doesnít Matter Anymore", "Try To See It My Way", and "Take A Broken Heart."
JH:†††††† I think it was "Take A Broken Heart."
KM:††††† Were these tunes recorded at Western Recorders in Hollywood, do you remember, or were these recorded in New York when Rick was on location?
JH:†††††† I thought it was all done at Western Recorders.
KM:††††† Do you know if James Burton and Rickís other personnel actually played on all four of those songs from "On the Flip Side"? I canít really hear them on the recordings.
JH:†††††† Have you been able to talk to Burt Bacharach about that yet? Burt was in charge of all the music.
KM:††††† I am talking with his management company now, but I suspect he is a busy man.
JH:†††††† Burt, when he was at his height, was an extremely busy man. I saw him at an event about two months ago and he said "Hi Jimmie." He was very sweet and pleasant. I donít think he is doing that much right now which might mean heís not as much under pressure now.
KM:††††† I received a copy of the session contract from you for "They Donít Give Medals (To Yesterdayís Heroes)" and "It Doesnít Matter Anymore" that was very helpful. James Burton, Joe Osborn, Donald (Richie) Frost, Glen Campbell, Glen D. Hardin, along with all the orchestra players, are listed as having played on those two sessions. Can we be sure that Rickís band indeed played on them even though it shows checks were distributed to them? I guess my question is, did the record companies ever pay Rickís band members even though they may not have played on a session?
JH:†††††† Highly unlikely--because the record companies were not in the habit of paying extra money to musicians who did not actually record. Itís more likely that Rick requested those players, and that they did play. Itís also possible that whoever mixed those tunes did not use the same balances that I did on our records.
KM:††††† One of the titles from another session contract you sent me lists "Fairy Tales and Dreams" as one of the tunes. You and I had talked about that one and you werenít sure if the word "and" was correct. When I compare the associated Decca matrix number 13,958 with my tracking list, I can see that this number also belongs to "Fire Breathiní Dragon." Is it possible that the contract has the wrong name, or that the song was re-titled at some point?
JH:†††††† Either the song was re-titled or the original name was never released. One good way to check is to listen to "Fire Breathiní Dragon" and hear if the words "fairy tales" show up in the lyrics.
KM:††††† Thanks Jimmie. As I continued to review the recording contracts and remittance statements, it occurred to me that I didnít ask you about several items. What do "plus three tracking penalties" and "plus two sides tracked" mean?
JH:†††††† In those days, the Ďnormalí way to record, such as did Sinatra, etc., was that the band and singer would record simultaneously. When overdubbing and multi-tracking became popular, the union ruled that if the band recorded without the singer, that was called "tracking" and that required extra payment to the musicians.
KM:††††† Interesting--So while we are discussing contract details, what does "L Ė C" stand for next to your name?
JH:†††††† That means "Leader Ė Contractor" which meant that I called the musicians. Under union rules there must be a contractor on every session, but, if there are less than twelve players, the leader may be the contractor without an extra fee. The contractor is supposed to get an extra fee and if he calls more than eleven people he deserves his fee. Right now Iím working on a session with a new singer, and heís changed the date twice, Iíve changed it once, and so far Iíve called eleven people--each of them about three times--and may have to call at least one more time. As the leader, the rules are that I receive twice the pay scale that is due to the players.
KM:††††† And what does the word "doubles" mean next to Clarence White and James Burton on the contracts?
JH:†††††† Clarence White got "one double" which meant that he got 20 percent extra and James Burton got "two doubles" which meant he got 35 percent extra. The "two doubles" meant that James either played another guitar or a dobro, or maybe by then that was his fee. There are musicians today who are in great demand. Some of them want double scale and some of them want two doubles as extra payment.
KM:††††† From these remittance statements I can see that pay scales have sure changed.
JH:†††††† When I first started with Ricky scale was $41.25 so I made the handsome sum of $82.50 for a three-hour session. The contracts that you see represent two sessions where the basic scale was $81.33. A typical session was three hours in length. Each three-hour session would be two completely finished and satisfactory recordings. There are clients today, on low budget sessions, who expect me to complete four songs in a three-hour session (which I do very well). The major record companies only ask me to arrange one or two songs per session. There are many choices with 24-tracks going, and later they started going up to 48-tracks. And now, with Pro-Tools, there are no limits to the number of tracks you can have, so I am sometimes asked to write several different versions of each song.
KM:††††† Do the players listed on these contracts record on the songs noted?
JH:†††††† Take Orville Rhodes, also know as Red Rhodes; It would be fair to say that all four songs on this contract had steel guitar. Normally, in those days, when someone was called in for a session it would be rare to have that person come in and work on just one side. Today we may call a musician in to play on only one tune.
KM:††††† I can see quite a few recognizable names here, and some not so well known.
JH:†††††† Let me go over some of the names with you on that session. Jerry Kolbrak was better known as Jerry Cole and played guitar. Don Randi played piano and his other claim to fame is that he owns a famous jazz and blues club in Hollywood, California called "The Baked Potato". Irving Goodman played trumpet and was Benny Goodmanís brother. Oliver E. Mitchell played trumpet and was better known as Ollie (and still is as he lives in Hawaii now and has his own band). James Wells Gordon played piano and woodwinds; you have to use all three of his names as there were several Jimmy Gordons around at the time. David Ward was the copyist (and he's still my copyist), but they don't normally put the copyist on the contract. I write the arrangements, scribble them out by hand, and David copies my notes and makes them look pretty on music paper. Glen Hardin was, and always is, Glen "D." Hardin (you must always be sure to add the "D."). Glen was John Denverís pianist until the end and I believe he played for Presley as well. Lawrence Wootten was also known as Red Wootten and played bass.
KM:††††† I recognize all these old addresses listed for each musician; they are in my general area here in Southern California. Did you ever have an opportunity to visit any of these fellow musicians at their homes?
JH:†††††† In those days I was working around the clock: that lasted at least 15 years, and I got little sleep. I didnít really have a chance to visit the homes of the musicians. The only home I visited was Rickyís on Camino Palmero Drive in Hollywood. The Nelsons always invited Barbara and me over for Easter and Christmas, and then the 4th of July was in their Laguna Beach house.
KM:††††† Those must be some happy memories.
JH:†††††† Yes, they were. Now there is a fellow I speak with from time to time named Jim Ritz.
KM:††††† I know Jim Ritz very well.
JH:†††††† He has done quite a bit of research in connection with Ricky and may be able to help you with this project. Wouldnít Capitol have unreleased material as well?
KM:††††† They probably do, but this is for Decca only. This CD will be for the unreleased Decca and MCA sessions. I know Ace will be working on those Capitol unreleased pieces later, as well as the Curb sessions, which I believe were Rickís last sessions.
JH:†††††† What did you call them again?
KM:††††† Curb Records.
JH:†††††† Oh yes, thatís right. Thatís whom we were working for. Rick called me up again in 1985 and said he wanted to record the way he used to.
KM:††††† There are re-mastered tapes that Iíve heard on those Curb sessions, and I think Rick had done a version from Elvisí King Creole sessions called "As Long As I Have You."
JH:†††††† Oh yes.
KM:††††† I was just stunned by not only the quality but also the way Rick actually approached that song. The rendition is wonderful.
JH:†††††† I totally agree with you. That was the next to last song we worked on in that album. The very last song we recorded was "True Love Ways". (That was an old Buddy Holly song). That was most haunting.
KM:††††† Why most haunting?
JH:†††††† Most haunting because it was sung in a very quiet yet sincere voice, because it was Rick's very last recorded vocal, because it was the very last recording of the boys in his band (even though not all the band played on that tune), and, because I drove Bobby Neal to the plane. It was at Conroy Recorders. I recall Rick telling me that they had to go catch a plane and the guitar player, Bobby Neal, had to finish just one quick overdub. I told Rick that Iíd drive Bobby over to the plane when he was through, and Rick said okay because they had a lot of packing to do. So Rick and the boys left, except Bobby. I recorded Bobby's overdub, and then drove him over to Sherman Way; that little airport there in Burbank. It wasn't the main airport; it was a little private airport; at least thatís where they kept the plane. I feel very badly because that was the last time I saw them alive. They did do several other gigs after that, but then they were supposed to do the New Yearís Eve gig and thatís when that terrible thingÖ(pause). A reporter in Texas called me on New Yearís Eve, and he asked, "How do you feel about Ricky Nelson?" And I said, "Well, I think heís wonderful, but why are you calling me on New Yearís Eve?" And he said, "Because he just died" and in disbelief I said, "Oh, no! "
KM:††††† That must have just stunned you terribly.
JH:†††††† Yes, it did. The guy said, "We think he was free-basing. Was he free-basing?" And I said, "No way." Then he asked, "Well, how can you say that so positively?" And I answered, "For two reasons: Iíve been in the studio behind locked doors for the previous two weeks with them and if he was going to do dope he would have done it then behind locked doors. And the fact that Rick was a little bit afraid of flying and he wouldn't do anything that would endanger the flight." About three months later, on page eight of the Los Angeles Times, they finally determined the crash was due to a faulty heater. They were freezing, and no one, no one told them they shouldnít light it when they were in flight because of that old DC3. If you wanted to light the heater you had to light it before you took off, otherwise it was dangerous. No one bothered to tell them that. I donít know why there wasnít better communication between the pilot and passengers. I flew on USO tours on DC3ís thousands of miles and we could talk to the pilot all the time; we could open the door and talk to them.
KM:††††† Yes, that was a day that the music stopped for me, as Iím sure for millions of fans.
JH:†††††† Terrible. Not only talented Ricky but every one of those guys was a sweetheart: Pat Woodward on bass, Bobby Neal on guitar, teen heartthrob Rick Intveld on drums, and Andy Chapin on piano. You can see them all on that video we did at the Universal Amphitheater in 1985. Rick's girlfriend, Helen, was a terrific person too. Around November of '85 we were recording at Baby-O Studios and I had brought Rick a few tunes and he had chosen two of them. I arranged those two and also wrote the chord charts and the lyric sheets; I got those all ready for him.
KM:††††† What two songs were they, do you recall?
JH:†††††† You know, I donít, sorry. Ricky said, "Jimmie, among those songs that you brought me there was a third one that I really liked and Iíd like to try it tonight." And I said, "Oh, okay, but itíll take me a bit of time to transcribe the chords, and transcribing and typing the lyrics will take extra time." But his girlfriend Helen said, "Iíll take down the lyrics." So I took down the chords and used their local Xerox machine to give the pages to everybody and naturally I chose the key that Ricky would sing in at the same time. I donít have perfect pitch; I have relative pitch. That way I can write in any key I want.
KM:††††† What key did Rick normally sing in, what key was Rickís best?
JH:†††††† There wasnít just one key; it was all based on Rick's range. The range determined what key it was in. You know, that question always bothered me--asking what key someone sings in--Itís the key that gives them the best range of notes that they like. Now, referring to my piano playing, Ricky called me in 1985 and we did a record called "You Know What I Mean." Rick had already recorded it and Greg McDonald said to me, "Yeah, weíre going to release it." And I said, "Well, there is a mistake in timing on the drums." So Greg turned to the drummer and asked, "Is that right?" And he said, "Well yeah, but you seemed to be in such a hurry I wasnít going to stop the recording." Greg then asked, "Well, what can we do to straighten it out?" And I said "Let me have a quick recording session" and Greg replied, "Well, theyíre leaving tomorrow." And I asked, "Can I have the band for 45 minutes and Ricky for 15?" And he answered, "Yeah, we can work that out." So we made a better version of the song, which Greg subsequently released. But he didnít stop the release of the one with the drum error in it. Ricky liked the way I managed to get the old sound that we used to get. And you know, Rick asked, "How did you do that?" And I said, "The same way we used to: We get balanced, you guys played, and thatís it." And of course I was always particular about how they played. Which didnít mean I told them how to play, but if they went too far to one direction or the other Iíd say, "Oh no, come back to the way you were just a few minutes ago." We couldnít talk too technical to the players, and Ricky certainly didnít talk technical to them. Eventually we reached the point where Iíd say "Thatís it." Ricky usually agreed with me because I do have a good sense of timing and of feeling. Then Ricky would be the one to say, "Iíd like one more take, I think we can do it better." He was really a perfectionist in his own seemingly laid-back way. By the way, I started talking about piano. So the year was 1985, we began doing some other recordings and Silver Eagle Records had something that they had started where they recorded a bunch of tracks and they wanted me to finish producing them. Ricky was going to be out of town and said to me, "Iíll be out of town but you go ahead and complete it." So I listened to the tracks and they had been recorded on 3-track, which I thought was too bad because Ricky was trying to accomplish the old sound using an old machine on which we used to record. I worked it out with the engineer, a guy named Lee Miller, and I said, "Lee, letís transfer to 24-track and use some very clever EQ and see if we can separate the bass and the guitar. Put one on one track and one on another track," which he managed to do, to a degree. When we came across "Fools Rush In", I said, "That piano part is not the same as the way it was played on the original hit record." (Gene Garf played a very fast moving lick with a lot of notes on that one). So I said, "Iíll play it." And Lee asked, "Youíre going to play it?" and I said, "Yeah, but you've got to slow the tape down half speed because I canít play it at full speed." So I played it an octave lower because I remembered all the notes pretty well. And then he sped it up, and boy it sounded good! Itís the only time I played piano.
KM:††††† Thatís a great story. Thank you for sharing that, Jimmie.
JH:†††††† It was only on Silver Eagle that we did that. Rick was very pleased with the way the tracks sounded because he had not accomplished it with his catch as catch can method on the 3-track. Yet all the basics were there. I also re-played the cowbell on this re-make of "Hello Mary Lou" because it didnít sound right. I played cowbell on the original "Hello Mary Lou" with Imperial, and I knew how it needed to sound. Iíve told you that story, havenít I?
KM:††††† No, I donít think so.
JH:†††††† Well, I was about three or four years older than Ricky, and I was also very serious in my mannerisms and demeanor. Ricky, in his own quiet way, was a fun-loving guy. And Ricky, Jerry Fuller, Dave Burgess, and later on when Glen Campbell when he came in, theyíd have a lot of fun, joke around, and kid each other. One time Glen Campbell was facing Jerry Fuller across the microphone, and to this day I canít remember who said the line, but they both started to sing and one of them burst out laughing. The other one asked, "Whatís the matter?" And the one laughing said, "Youíre breath smells like the hind end of a hog! "
KM:††††† Thatís funny!
JH:†††††† Like I say, they were fun loving. And theyíd add hand claps in rhythm once in awhile, and Iíd ask, "Do you want me to come out there and help?" And Rick would look at me and say, "Uh, no, thatís okay Jimmie; you stay in the booth." He felt like I wasnít hip enough to perform with them, you know. As I told you earlier, weíd start the sessions around seven oíclock and Rick would show up around eight oíclock. Well, he showed up around eight oíclock the night we were recording "Hello Mary Lou" and I was playing cowbell. I didnít want to give too much to the drummer, Richie Frost, as I wanted him to just get a great drum sound. Ricky came in and said, "Hey, that sounds pretty good." And I asked, "Do I get to play on the tape?" and he said "Yeah."
KM:††††† Oh, I didnít know that.
JH:†††††† And thatís my claim to fame: I played cowbell on "Hello Mary Lou"!
KM:††††† Well let me ask you a few other questions from those tracking sheets that I sent you.
KM:††††† Regarding the Decca catalog, do you know of anything that might be missing or lost there?
JH:†††††† Unfortunately, I wouldnít know. When I was at Imperial, I was the official producer of records, and I had to keep track of everything. I submitted the contracts and details. But when we went to Decca, a very nice fellow and good musician named Bud Dant was the official producer, although he did not produce the actual live recordings (Rick and I did that). Bud came to the first session and saw that Ricky and I had a relationship that he would be wise not to change. So he never showed up at any more sessions but he did handle the paper work. Bud also had some say in the packaging and sequence of artwork and most likely was involved in some final mixes. Iím sure that the Decca people would have that in their files. When Rick was at Decca, I worked with him for almost a year, and then after that we kind of started going our separate ways, but I'd come in from time to time, and at other times he would be assigned different producers. I enjoyed arranging and conducting more records with big orchestras, and Rick began producing his own records. And then there was the "Another Side of Rick" album. Was that on Decca?
JH:†††††† Okay. That was an interesting thing, where Ricky really didnít want strings on his records, but he accepted them like on "Young Emotions" with Imperial. There was one other one on Imperial that I canít recall, but after that Rick didnít record with strings again until "Another Side of Rick." The producer, John Boylan, told him that he really thought they needed strings on this one cut, and Rick said, "Okay, please call Jimmie Haskell", which was nice.
KM:††††† Well this is kind of interesting: There is a song on Decca entitled "I Need You."
JH:†††††† Yes, that sounds familiar.
KM:††††† There was, of course, a Ricky song that was released on Imperial called "I Need You" but it isnít the same song. The song here has strings on it. Do you remember that Jimmie? [KM plays record on phone to Jimmie.]
JH:†††††† It sounds like my style.
KM:††††† It appears to be the only classic Decca song with strings and orchestra.
JH:†††††† What year was it?
KM:††††† It was June 22, 1965.
JH:†††††† If itís strings, itís mine.
KM:††††† Itís absolutely you all over. The arrangement and strings are just wonderful, complete with your signature approach. I believe the fans will love this song because of it too.
JH:†††††† I will call a terrific gal in charge of archives at the musicianís union and ask her about that. Debra has been, as much as possible, putting things on computer. They had a terrible fire at the union about 10 years ago and local #47 had to reconstruct from whatever paper data anyone else could bring.
KM:††††† Thanks Jimmie. Itís a shame why this tune was never released. My only thought was that Ricky did not fully embrace the use of strings on his recordings.
JH:†††††† Wasnít his first choice.
KM:††††† It wasnít his first choice, right.
JH:†††††† Ricky loved country, he loved rockabilly, he loved whatever Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins did. By the way, both Elvis and Carl had the highest respect for Ricky.
JH:†††††† Ricky just wanted to enjoy the music that felt like country, rockabilly, and certain kinds of country rock to him. That was his style, and that was his feel. Strings kind of put it into another area. Which doesnít take away from his great abilities, by the way.
KM:††††† From another session contract you sent me, there is a song I want to ask you if you can recall. The title of the tune was "Freedom and Liberty."
JH:†††††† Can I ask you to give me the recording date?
KM:††††† December 21st, 1965.
JH:†††††† Also on Decca?
KM:††††† Yes, does that sound familiar at all?
JH:†††††† It feels familiar but I donít remember it.
KM:††††† I guess my question is, if Rick actually wrote that song?
JH:†††††† You might want to contact his boys, the twins, or their current manager. You can also check with ASCAP or BMI on the Internet to determine composers of the songs, if listed. The alternative is to call up ASCAP or BMI but be prepared to wait twenty minutes or so to get through to the right person in "research".
KM:††††† Thanks Jimmie, Iíll see if I have any luck there. There are a few songs on this CD of unreleased Decca material that we are not sure who the composers were. "Peddler Man" for example. Do you recall that song?
JH:†††††† Not at the moment.
KM:††††† This was actually recorded August 15th, 1966 and I believe James Burton plays the dobro.
JH:†††††† Dobro, James did play dobro. Oh. Okay.† Have you been in touch with him?
KM:††††† No, I have not been in touch with James.
JH:†††††† This would be one case where I would try to reach either James or his wife for you and give him your number. Whatís next?
KM:††††† Letís see, that song "Freedom and Liberty," Iím just wondering why it was never released. Could it be that it was just too political at the time?
JH:†††††† It might have been. Also, it doesnít sound to me like the kind of a thing Ricky would want to represent him. He loved doing country songs.† He loved doing Cajun songs.† He loved songs like "Peddler Man." I can see where he would choose that. And songs that were recorded for that last album, the one that had "True Love Ways" on it.
KM:††††† The Curb Records?
JH:†††††† Yeah. Ricky was doing a lot of traveling and I was trying to select songs for him. And he said he liked the one "You Know What I Mean" which I think was written by Rocky Burnette.
KM:††††† I think that was written by someone by the name of Jupp.
KM:††††† I think so. Sorry, donít mean to correct you.
JH:†††††† No, thatís all right. In any case, he told me, "See if you can get a couple of songs from Rocky Burnette the son of one of the Burnette brothers.
KM:††††† Thatís right.
JH:†††††† When Ricky liked someoneís style, he wanted to get more songs by that person. For instance, Jerry Fuller, he would do songs by him. And he would do songs by Baker Knight.
KM:††††† Hereís another question for you personally Jimmie. In my opinion, and certainly many others, your sound, your arranging and producing styles are not dated: You have just excellent productions that seem timeless. Any idea why?
JH:†††††† Oh sure. For one thing, Iím conscientious.† For another thing, I have ears.† And I will go beyond what is required because, if Iím working on something, I want it to sound and feel as good as possible. Now there are people who can go for great sound (and there are wonderful engineers who will do that.)† And there are people who will go for great feel.† But many times they donít put that all together.† And I like to feel that I put it together. And also, I like to feel that, as arranger or producer, I am the accompanist when there is a singer present. Iím there to make the singer have the best framework possible. For instance, on "Ode to Billy Joe", (that was my first Grammy as an arranger), I only put strings on the introduction because I wanted people to know strings were there. That was one of my signature things, and then I didnít play anything with the strings for about a minute, or until I began to score the words. I like to do that. Now, in Rickyís case, we went for great feel. And I was lucky in that everyone in Rickís band had a good sense of timing: James Burton, Richie Frost, Joe Osborn and even James Kirkland, the stand-up bass player who started with Ricky.
KM:††††† Yes, I agree.
JH:†††††† Okay, but by the time Joe Osborn came in (and James Burton was already there), Ricky was demonstrating a perfect sense of time when he played his guitar, rhythm guitar. And lots of people are not aware of that. So I feel we got the clearest sound with enough punch. Now letís talk about the punch, and this is where Ozzie comes back in again. In the beginning, Ozzie said to me, "Jimmie, you know weíre going to be playing these tunes on television, and on television, we tend to lose a little bit of top and a little bit of bottom."† I translated that to mean a little more bass drum, a little more bass, and a little more high-end EQ. Around the time I was working with Ozzie I was also doing a Saturday morning show called "Land Of The Lost."† I was very particular working with the engineer as I had him mix it through a television speaker. I learned I could add a lot of bass below 100 cycles, but all it would do is make the sound soggy and soften everything else because it put too much information where nobody could hear it. So we learned to roll off below 100 cycles (or 100 hertz as we call it now) then add more bottom above 100 hertz, and everything that you hear in the bass area has a punch to it, not the soggy sound. For high-fidelity people, those who had great sets, yes, we had it below that for Ricky. But we also had enough of a little bit of a boost in that range thatís above 100 hertz so that it would get through the television speakers. Now, in doing that on Rick's recordings, and raising the bass drum a little bit, we created a sound that Nashville actually copied by having more bass drum. I like to think that Ozzieís suggestion, and my interpretation of it, helped create the fact that a lot of hit records after than began using more bass drum and more bass.
KM:††††† Very interesting.
JH:†††††† We used six overdubs on the original "Hello Mary Lou," which meant seven different generations of recordings all playing at the same time. So I mentioned to the engineer that we were going to have quite a few overdubs on this one. When we were through and everything sounded crisp and good I asked, "How did you do that?" and he answered, "I added more top end: added seven kilohertz here, five kilohertz there. I even added some EQ above the human range of hearing knowing some of it would disappear on each generation, and I guessed the right amount."
KM:††††† Yeah, he sure did.
JH:†††††† I think there were two engineers that worked that. One was Eddie Brackett. (Not the movie star.)† Eddie eventually became a sound effects mixer, not a music mixer, over at Universal. I asked, "Eddie, donít they know youíre a great music mixer?" and he said, "Shhh, donít tell 'em. Iím getting a good salary, and my pension is good. Iíll be ready to retire with a pension."
KM:††††† Jimmie, all this information is just wonderful. I absolutely love what you do, and Iím sure millions of Rickís fans would agree. All my life Iíve loved it. Iím just grateful to be able to tell you this in person.
JH:†††††† Thank you Kent.
KM:††††† Another question: Did Ricky know a lot about sound?
JH:†††††† Yes. In the early days, Ricky would hear me tell the engineer to "add 3 K" (3 kilohertz) and Ricky would ask me what that did. I told him that it hardened his voice a little bit, made it brighter, and made Jamesí guitar a little brighter too, giving it a little more edge. Then a couple of years later, Rick would be listening to a track and heíd ask, "Do you think we ought to add 3 K to it?" and I'd say said, "Yeah, I think we should."
KM:††††† By some of the dialogue between takes I could tell Rick knew what he was looking for. Hereís another question for you.† David Nelson, Rickís brotherÖ.
KM:††††† I want to say in 1969, this was a time you were working less with Rick, I believe. Well, David followed Rick around the country one time, filming a video that David had eventually entitled, "Easy To Be Free"Ö.
JH:†††††† Yes, I think I saw it as a documentary one time.
KM:††††† David included a song that Rick recorded called, "Tonight Iíll Be Staying Here With You," written by Bob Dylan I believe. David had inserted a jet airplane going overhead at the same time Rick was performing this song on the video. The song has never been released. Iím just wondering if David is in a place to consider ever allowing us to release that song, and that he perhaps has it recorded without the jet airplane going overhead as well?
JH:†††††† Youíd have to ask him.
KM:††††† Iain Young, you met him I believe in the mid-ninetiesÖ.
JH:†††††† Yes, and I do know that he co-authored the book, "The Ricky Nelson Story Ė The Hollywood Hillbilly" and sent a copy to me.
KM:††††† Yes, and an excellent job he did. Well, he promised you an extra copy of that at the time and lost your address. He was wondering what he could do to correct that situation.
JH:†††††† Iíd be very happy to have him mail it to me by slow mail.† I do recall that in reading Iainís book I was sorry I had not been able to do an interview with him when he was here in the United States. I was really working three sessions a day in those days. The book was excellent. Please tell him that Iíd be thrilled if he still wants to send me that copy, and to be sure he sends it slow mail to save on postage.
KM:††††† Okay, will do. Thanks Jimmie.
JH:†††††† Now, Ricky's first bass player (we wonít count the first couple of sessions when we had older players that Ozzie knew, but when Ricky settled in to his band), he was James Kirkland.
KM:††††† Oh yeah, James Kirkland.
JH:†††††† I kept telling James to learn how to read music because Ricky was starting to get very popular and, because of that, people would start calling him. He said, "No, no, I donít think so." Well, last I heard, after Ricky discovered Joe Osborn, was that James Kirkland had become a truck driver. Imagine that!
KM:††††† Thatís quite a jump. Well, I canít think of much more at the moment Jimmie. We just so appreciate your time and willingness in helping keep Rickyís memory alive.
JH:†††††† Well, Ricky was wonderful. And people are unaware of what a conscientious guy he was musically; what a good singer he was musically, what a great guitar player he was even though it was rhythm guitar. There are still a lot of people today that donít get as good of a sound on rhythm guitar as Ricky did.
KM:††††† Yeah. He actually played some lead guitar there in the seventies as well.
JH:†††††† Iíll share an interesting thing in Rickyís career. I would come to see him at Stage Five Productions where he had his own little bungalow with a piano. Thatís where we would do some rehearsing the day before a session to make sure everybody was into what we were going to do. So he was going to Hollywood High School. I donít know how he managed that and also work as an actor on his folksí show. When he graduated I said, "Congratulations, are you going to college?" and he said, "No, what for?" I said, "Well, youíre going to be coming into a lot of money and you should learn how to handle it." And he said, "Weíve got accountants." Unfortunately, I think some of the accountants did him in, and I wish he had known more about accounting. But he was also studying with a famous guitar player named Vicente Gomez who was featured in a Tyrone Power movie called "Blood and Sand."
KM:††††† I remember him. He was very popular at the time and I think Ozzie actually had him on the show one time.
JH:†††††† I believe he did.
KM:††††† --Where Rick and he played a duet together.
JH:†††††† Yes, you got it. Boy, you've got a good memory.
KM:††††† Well, I remember my "Ozzie & Harriet."
JH:†††††† Anyway, Rick was studying guitar. And one day, a few months later, he said, "Jimmie, I just discovered a new style of playing, itís called jazz." And I said, "Thatís wonderful. Let me hear it." And Ricky played me some good jazz licks on his guitar. Ricky continued to learn musically.† He continued to grow musically without flaunting it. People never had enough respect for his true musical ability except for those fans that really know him.
KM:††††† Yeah, weíre all heart broken over the fact that he is no longer with us of course. And Iím sure heíd still be playing today.
JH:†††††† I think he would be. I was called in to do the sound on the show at the Universal Amphitheater in August 1985, starring Ricky Nelson and Fats Domino. So, Iíll give you two anecdotes on that.
KM:††††† Okay, good.
JH:†††††† Here's the first: Rick and I were watching videos of his performance that night, after the show was over. He said, "Okay, Iíll lose weight." He was really getting himself geared-up to get back fully into the business doing everything. He was more self-confident about meeting and greeting people: In the early days he was very shy. So that was a funny comment as he saw himself a little too heavy and said, "Okay, Iíll lose weight." The 2nd anecdote was that there was a news crew that came in to interview him after the show and I asked, "Okay, should I leave now?" and Rick said, "No, stick around." So I stayed to hear what was going on, and they asked him about his traveling and his plane. And he said, "Well you know, we bought that plane from Jerry Lee Lewis. So Jerry Lee and I were in town and we were both going to go to Farm Aid and I said, 'Jerry, do you want to fly with me?'" and Jerry said, '"Not in that plane.'" The next interesting thing about it was that Rick didnít get to Farm Aid, so I called the bass player Pat.
KM:††††† Pat Woodward?
JH:†††††† Yeah, Pat was like the leader of the band. He kept everything together. When we were doing those final recordings in 1985, Iíd call Pat, and Iíd say something like "Weíd like to record on Tuesday at Conway Recorders (or Baby-O studios)." Pat said, "Canít do it Jimmie." And I said, "Whatís up? Conflict of schedule?" He says, "No, we havenít been paid for the previous one." I said, "I see, okay." So then I called Greg McDonald and said, "Greg, Rick wants to record Tuesday but the guys say they canít do it because they havenít been paid for the other sessions." Greg said, "Oh, are they going through that again? Go ahead and book the date Jimmie. Theyíll get their money before then." I said, "Okay." I then called Pat back and said, "Greg says youíll have your money before that day" and he said, "Okay, weíll count on it."
JH:†††††† I went through that with at least the last five sessions. Oh, so hereís the point of what Iím getting at: I called Pat back and asked, "Hey, how come I didnít see you on Farm Aid?" and he says, "That damn plane is going to kill me yet." The plane had a breakdown on the previous date and Pat said they had to wait, and wait, and wait to get it repaired. The small town they were in didnít have the part so they had to send for it from another town. Yes that was his statement: "That plane is going to kill me yet."
KM:††††† That was sadly prophetic. Now, you did arrange the Curb sessions, is that correct?
KM:††††† At Conroy Recorders and Baby-O Studios?
JH:†††††† Now, when I say arrange, I selected songs and gave demos to Rick. After Rick chose two or three to record, I then wrote simple charts in Rickís keys, and while doing so I made modest upgrades from the original demos, after which I printed copies and gave those to the band to play. And then I produced the arrangement as we rehearsed and recorded my charts. That was the way I worked with them because hardly any of the guys were heavy music readers. Anyway, please ask me one last question and we can continue on another day.
KM:††††† Thank you. The Orange Street garage--are you familiar with that term?
JH:†††††† Orange Street garage?
KM:††††† Apparently, Rickís legacy, if you will, his recordings and his tapes and so forth, are all stored in this Orange Street garage.
JH:†††††† Before that they were in some other place. The people who would know that would be Rickís twins because I understand that, at one point, they wanted to collect all of their dadís recordings, catalog them, and have control over them.
KM:††††† Yes, Iíd just like to get a picture of that garage for my own collection.
JH:†††††† Well, there are several "Orange Street's" in Los Angeles and surrounding communities. The Orange Street I know is in Los Angeles. Itís right near La Brea Avenue.
KM:††††† My concern is that it is actually a "garage" that is storing Rickís legacy, subject to weather conditions and other mishaps.
JH:†††††† And rightly so! I recently tried to play a master tape that had been recorded in 1980. It started to play correctly then it slowed down and it was gummy. If you donít store those tapes properly, the glue holding the oxide tends to get gummy after awhile. Now there is a way of bringing the life back to it: Costs about seventy-five bucks a tape--Iím talking about the big two-inch master tapes. They bake it; they slowly bake it. Have you ever heard that?
KM:††††† No, I havenít, but it restores the quality?
JH:†††††† It restores the quality enough for you to make a copy to any other medium that you want, but one pass and youíd better get it right because it starts deteriorating again--quickly.
KM:††††† Thatís good to know.
JH:†††††† I havenít done it myself, but a couple of engineers have told me that it really works, especially when you have the professional "tape bakers" do it.
KM:††††† Iím hoping Rickís fans will be able to hear those Curb sessions someday. Iím wondering if the quality is acceptable for release?
JH:†††††† Ask Jim Ritz about that; Heís more up to date on the final disposition of those recordings. This much I do know: Greg McDonald called me three months after the plane crash and asked, "What do you think weíve got on the tapes?" And I answered, "I donít think weíve got anything," because Rick only had scratch vocals and we didnít have the lead guitar overdubs. Greg had me meet him at the studio with the engineer, Lee Miller, and we played the Curb session tapes. They were surprisingly good, although unfinished. Greg then took it to another engineer named Gene Shively, and Gene and Greg picked my brain. I said things like: "Well you know, if you are going to use Rickís vocals, the drums are leaking into the vocal microphone and youíre going to have to find a way of delaying the real drum track so as to be in sync with those on Rickís vocal track, then reverse phase to cancel out the drum leakage on Rickís vocals." And Gene agreed that was good, and I gave him a whole bunch of other suggestions. And they didnít call me again: I guess they had received all the information they wanted from me (and Greg certainly didnít want to pay me for my time to do anything else). Then this engineer, Gene, called me about 10 months later and said, "Jimmie, I was promised money by Greg McDonald. Iíve got these tracks here. Iíve done the best I can with them. Do you know anything about the situation?" And I said, "No, I donít." So, evidently, those recordings were upgraded, and Gene was capable of doing good sounds because he used to run a mastering studio across the street from the Post Office in Hollywood on Wilcox. And now that Iíve told you all that, I hope you will talk with Jim Ritz. Jim told me that someone had released those final recordings.
KM:††††† Well, I believe three of the songs were released on a bootleg. They shouldnít have been, but they were, and the quality, of course, was poor.
JH:†††††† Thatís too bad.
KM:††††† Just one final question: Are you semi-retired now or looking towards ever retiring?
JH:†††††† Iím definitely not retired, and Iím always ready, willing, and able to work full time. I just arranged and conducted big band swing arrangements in the style of Frank Sinatra for Ronnie Milsap. It was similar to the typical Sinatra lineup: five Saxes, three trumpets, a small trombone section, a full rhythm section and a full string section. Ronnie did a great job of singing, and I can hardly wait for the CD to be released. This Sunday night Iím appearing as the featured guest on a radio talk show on KPFK, 90.7 FM here in Los Angeles. Itís called Samm Brownís "For The Record," and Iíll be interviewed on a segment called "Legends." Iím hoping I can present some of the people Iíve been producing lately and get them some airtime.
KM:††††† "Legends," thatís appropriate, Iíll be listening.
JH:†††††† Okay Kent, we will talk another time.
KM:††††† Okay, thank you Jimmie.
JH:†††††† Thank you.
Jimmie Haskell and his wife Barbara continue to live in Southern California. Their daughter Scottie is a well-known studio singer and their son David is a successful financial advisor.