Black Dob Web Pages Interview circa 1999
John Savage is a singer-songwriter and guitarist from Clinton, New York. He recently released his first CD, titled John Savage, recorded in 1998 and 1999. The CD features six original songs, and features the talents of producer George Deveny (guitar), Dave Olson (drums), Steve Wargo (bass), Frank Talerico (organ), Darryl Mattison (percussion), and Fritz Scherz (accordion). BDWP - The new CD has a big sound. Where and how did you record the songs? JS - I chose Tuffy’s Barn Recording Studio in Sangerfield, NY primarily due to their outrageous arsenal of vintage pro audio gear. Owner/Chief Engineer Jim Barnes and I worked together at Savage Studio during `95 and `96, so I had confidence in his abilities. His studio is full of incredible vintage analog gear; not to mention some of the most sought after tube mics and limiters. Tracking was done on 2” analog 16 track (ultimate audiophile set-up) with pretty much everything going through a 1970’s era Electrodyne console (the James Gang & Roy Orbison purportedly tracked on the same console). Jim & his partner got the board, which at the time was in need of a little TLC. They basically took it apart piece by piece, scrubbed, cleaned and replaced what wasn’t salvageable. I have two of the identical channel strips in my digital studio and they are ultra clean mic pre’s – just what the doctor ordered for that big up front sound. These guys have gear like no other facility within 200 miles – so the quality of the recording was not limited by mediocre semi-pro audio gear getting into the signal path. But before the studio was even considered I took one major step in the right direction by getting a third party involved in the project. I was fortunate to be able to persuade guitarist/songwriter George Deveny to produce the songs for me. George is an exceptional talent – not only as a player, but also as a leader. In many ways I think a great producer needs to be a leader - much as a coach must lead a team through inspiration and direction. BDWP - Tell us a little bit about the players. JS - As I mentioned, George Deveny produced the songs, and I must give him credit for the line-up. While we were doing some pre-production work he mentioned that the guy who used to drum for Robert Cray was living in Syracuse and doing a three-piece blues gig with Utica area bassist Steve Wargo. I jumped at the opportunity to get a working rhythm section like Olson and Wargo for the recording and within a few weeks we had scheduled a date on the books for the tracks to be recorded. Tracking the bass and drums went incredibly smooth. We would run through the song once (Olson & Wargo had only sparsely arranged demos to work off initially) and then record the second take. Unless I am mistaken all but one track was kept on the first pass, with the exception of Bird of Prey only because we were screwing with variations on the bridge section. Playing with Olson and Wargo was a very, very cool experience – guys of this caliber playing my tunes – I had all I could do to contain myself. Once the rhythm tracks were complete we started in on guitars and vocals. Bringing in Frankie Talerico for the B3 stuff was also quite an experience – you would hear his first or second pass and say – “man, he’s got it”…and then he would say …..”just let me try once more….’’and then it would be everybody in the control room with shit-eating grins all over their faces – “yep! Now he’s got it!” I think the most surprising addition was in the area of percussion. Darryl Mattison added an assortment of percussion ranging from subtle egg shakers to timbales, and in many cases the percussion really made the tracks come alive. “Don’t Wanna Be Your Dog” took on a whole new feel with the congas, to where you couldn’t help but groove along – tapping a toe or finger or something. And I can’t forget to credit Fritz Scherz for his accordion part. Fritz’s Polka Band was in the studio laying down tracks and we cornered him into recording the piece. He complained just a little – and with all of about 3 minutes to learn and rehearse the part we kept the second take. George had the idea for accordion and I think it nicely frames a somewhat sparse production in “If I Catch Your Eye”. BDWP - In your bio it mentions TAXI. Can you tell us who they are And about your involvement with them. JS - Taxi is a great outfit. They call themselves an independent A&R Company, and basically they screen tapes for the Music Industry. Check out Taxi.com if you’re interested, their web site is excellent. Even though Taxi does a great job for its members, you are still dealing with probably the worst business in the world. The best thing I got from Taxi was their criticism – real feedback from folks making a living in the music industry. Where else is a guy from Utica New York going to get that? And they go out of their way to be picky and there is a pre-defined format for their critiques so it’s useful stuff. The first year I joined I sent them a lot of crappy 4-track demo stuff and the response was fairly negative – so I took some time off. I went from my own 4-track cassette studio into a partnership in a 16 track ADAT based project studio. Basically for two years I recorded Greenday cover bands playing out of tune guitars through loud obnoxious solid state amps – ouch. After tracking this current project I rejoined Taxi and resubmitted some rough mixes of the new stuff. The feedback was very positive, and several cuts were forwarded for consideration. Unfortunately I got divorced last year which basically “broke the bank” for a spell – but Taxi is an opportunity to get my music in front of the right ears, and I should have a budget for pitching the songs again early in 2000. BDWP - And you are on MP3? JS - I just finished putting up my MP3 site and I am very impressed with the interface they have in place. With virtually no contact other than logging onto their site I now have a page at MP3.com/johnsavage which contains a downloadable CD quality MP3 cut of Rag Man and low fi cuts of the other tracks. I can customize any and all of the info on the site right from my own desktop – it’s very slick. All six songs are available in DAM CD format with secured credit card orders at $6.99 each. You even upload your cover art and MP3 manufactures the CD for you – sells it and gives you half the take. That means no manufacturing and distribution costs to the artists. But just uploading your files is not enough to guarantee traffic. Traditional promotion and good old fashion gigging to support the CD and the Web Site are essential and an integral part of our plan to achieve success on a local level. BDWP - You also own a digital studio? JS - I think I caught the bug after tracking my first demo at AQROCK recording studios in Utica. I recorded Smell the Roses with sequenced drum tracks – but it was my first time singing through a large diaphragm condenser mike. There was no going back to my Tascam 424 after that, and I began to piece together the resources for my first ADAT. Now I am recording using a hard disk PC based system with (2) Layla sound cards by Event. The 20 bit ad converters are a significant cut above the 16 bit ADAT systems of yesterday and I can only imagine where this all is going in a few years. I am a firm believer in analog, but these new digital systems are incredibly powerful. Being able to not only hear but see the audio is also a real advantage over analog systems – and probably 95% of the population wouldn’t hear the difference between 24 bit digital and 2” analog. BDWP - What are your plans for the future? JS - With the studio and web site in place I am looking to build upon the gig list. It takes a while to get the word out and get into peoples calendars but the audiences have been very, very responsive, so we are optimistic about the future. George is in the middle of a few tracks at Savage Studio, and we both hope to be putting out more quality music in the near future, perhaps even forming a label. Central NY is known for it’s quality players, and with the internet opening up new channels in distribution for independent artists, I hope to be involved in creating, recording and promoting music for many years to come.
John Savage | 11/06/2016