ROCKING THE RYMAN
Last night (July 19) I played sax on stage at the Ryman Auditorium with Tom Fuller, who was opening for Ted Nugent. Tom is a rock songwriter from Chicago. I’ve been working with him for a few years, playing on his albums, thanks to a long standing relationship I’ve had with his producer Rick Chudacoff.
A producer is not just a person who makes some decisions in the studio. He can be the "secret sauce" that motivates people, elicits creativity, and assembles and inspires an effective team. Rick brings tremendous imagination, skill and experience to the studio, but he also has a great way of relating to people. He makes it look easy when everybody's having a good time doing what they're uniquely qualified to do. I see why Tom likes him so much.
My first encounter with Rick goes back to approximately 1978, when he walked into my house in Woodland Hills, California, with his good friend Peter Bunetta. The meeting had been arranged by Bill Elliott, a wonderful musician (currently teaching arranging at Berklee) I had known while living in Boston. Bill and I were among a wave of musicians who moved from Boston to L.A. in 1976. That was a watershed year for many of us, as we adapted to our new west coast environment, meeting lots of new friends, hearing lots of new music.
Rick and Peter were the bassist and drummer for an excellent funk group called Crackin’, which had already recorded several albums for Warner Brothers.
Together they were a great rhythm section, a great musical team, Peter’s passion and Rick’s vision. We formed a quartet with Bill and me, writing and playing some Joe Sample flavored instrumental tunes. It soon became a quintet with the addition of Arno Lucas, also from Crackin', on percussion.
Peter and “Cheese” (as some friends still call Rick) began their first efforts at producing by writing and producing the song “Steal Away” for Robbie Dupree, a singer they’d known back east. That record did so well that they had to scramble to put together an entire album for Robbie. Next came “Break My Stride” for Matthew Wilder. Then records for New Edition, Smokey Robinson, and many more. Bunetta and Chudacoff were a hit making team for decades.
Rick eventually moved to Nashville, and we’ve been working together on various projects through the years. He brings his laptop to my studio, and we’ll overdub horn parts, and then he takes the session back home to mix it. That’s how I worked on three Tom Fuller albums. We had talked about adding sax to his band for live performances, but the opportunity never came up, until a few weeks ago, for this gig at the Ryman. It caught me by surprise, but I was happy to be invited.
The way it happened was that Tom’s agent also books Ted Nugent. Tom has opened for Ted several times before, so this was an established pattern. But it was the first time that Tom had all his studio musicians onstage with him, including the background singers.
Rick had given me mp3 files of the songs for the show, and a few charts. There were two songs that featured some sax solos, and several others that used sax to reinforce strong guitar lines. One musical model that Rick and Tom liked was “Savoy Truffle,” the George Harrison song from The Beatles “White Album” that contains raw distorted saxophones doubling a churning bass line. It’s a powerful sound, and that was part of what Rick had added to some of Tom’s songs.
As I listened to other songs from the albums, I noticed parts that sounded like a flute was playing. It turned out to be a keyboard, with a simulation of a Mellotron, which is itself a simulation of a wind instrument, made famous, again, by The Beatles, in the introduction to “Strawberry Fields Forever.” So I offered to play flute on the show for those two songs.
Rick had scheduled a 4 hour rehearsal the day before the gig at S.I.R.,
Studio Instrument Rentals, a long established pro facility for gear and rehearsal space, with offices in New York and L.A. The rooms are all equipped with full P.A. systems and acoustically treated wall coverings.
Different rehearsal rooms are marked by acoustic guitars hanging above the door with the number of the room displayed.
Along the walls are iconic posters for legendary rock acts, to help the visitor or client feel immersed in rock'n'roll history.
The singers who had worked on Tom's albums were Jason Eustice and Tabitha Fair. I remembered Tabitha from her performing around town in the 90's, with her husband Michael Fair. Since then, it turns out, she had moved to New York, played lots of jingles and gigs as an artist, with great A team sidemen like Will Lee and Ralph MacDonald, then returned to Nashville.
She and Jason are both fine singers, of course, and brought another level of polish to the overall sound of Tom's songs.
DAY OF SHOW
Playing the Ryman means thinking about practical things like how many cars arrive containing band members. Of course, the Ryman being downtown at the peak of Nashville's economic boom cycle meant that real estate (i.e. parking space) was limited. Rick and I worked out a plan to meet at Guitar Center in 100 Oaks, along with Christian and John, Tom's publicist, to car pool, to arrive at the Ryman by 4:30. Rick took us up Bransford, around the fairgrounds, and up 8th Avenue, till we encountered downtown, with all its exploding construction glory, and pulled into the Ryman parking lot.
Here are photos from that experience.
I was happy the Ryman provided a music stand for my parts. Another few gigs, and I'll have the parts memorized, but for now, I need that security blanket.
We were informed our schedule was to start at 7:25 and play till 8:05. The Ryman is very specific about times. But the good news is that we had great sound, and it came off well.
Tom made a point of telling the crowd how happy he was to be at the Ryman, and that he had never played with his studio band before.
We knew we were only the opening act, and very few people in Nashville know who Tom is, but after the show, we had lots of people telling us how much they enjoyed.
I had a couple of friends in the audience who had taken cell phone photos and sent them to me right after the show. It was a great way to see a valid document of the evening.
We were careful to get our gear offstage as instructed, to get out of the way and packed up. We were out in the parking lot loading our cars as the sun was setting on another beautiful summer day. We all hugged each other numerous times, and thanked the Ryman staff who had been so helpful. It was a great visit to Nashville for Tom Fuller, and a great example of putting together a great band by Rick Chudacoff. I'm glad he included me.
What a night!
-Blogging Bryan 20July2017