I remember being in my office in Deerfield, Illinois after The
Storyteller 1997 Fall Tour when one day I received a call
from Sarah Lockwood at Konk Studios in London. It seemed that
Raymond Douglas Davies had struck a deal with Vel Vel Records
to license the Kinks' back catalog of fifteen albums from the
band's RCA and Arista years.
While previously in London I had already completed remixes from
the Kinks' earliest work on the Castle label. But the RCA and
Arista records were the real "meat and potatoes" of the Rock
and Roll Hall of Famer's catalog. And I was excited at the chance
to have a small part of this chapter of rock's history.
However, I realized that this "little chore" would be the most
significant audio challenge thusfar in my career. And without
bogging down in the morass of technical details, I'll need to
present an overview of what these challenges entailed and how
they relate to this story itself.
First, there were over 250 master reels that, according to the
terms of the agreement, were to be delivered to Vel Vel. And
these masters were scattered all over the world. The Arista
masters were stored in the company's tape vaults in Los Angeles,
Philadelphia, and New York City. The earlier RCA reels were
in London, mired away somewhere in the dungeons of Konk, the
Kinks' own recording studio.
Next, I knew that I would have to sift through these many reels
to find the actual masters that the Kinks themselves had mixed
for each album, not the outtakes, radio production copies, duplication
or vinyl masters, or even safety copies. I would be at the mercy
of RCA's and Arista's library staff as to the labeling accuracy
of these master reels. Vel Vel wanted to re-release CD's and
I knew that an engineer a few years back had done similar work
for Steely Dan. But he had errantly used the wrong reels, which
were mushy sounding copies. Nobody had caught it until these
CD's were released and sadly, it stymied his engineering career.
I also knew that these old masters would be in deteriorating
condition and that many would need restoration baking to stabilize
tape oxide shedding. I also knew that Ray's mixing style involved
splicing verse by chorus by verse, much like editing film. That
meant all those old splices could break apart due to the aged
splicing tape drying out. Just rewinding a reel carelessly could
ruin a platinum selling album's master that represented millions
of dollars of sales! Ouch again!
Yet another issue I faced was that the master reel formats spanned
over twenty years of recording technology. No single recording
studio would have all these different tape machines and noise
reduction schemes. And when RCA and Arista released these tapes
to me they were legally "in limbo" until they were delivered
to Vel Vel. Security of these million dollar masters was of
the utmost concern. And on my head!
The next day a Fed-ex box arrived from Miriam Gonzalez at Arista
Records. It was filled with some 200 pages of information. Each
page represented a Kinks master reel in Arista's tape libraries.
Some info was quite complete, while some pages were a bit sketchy,
but it was a good starting point. I called Miriam and asked
her to put out the APB on all Kinks masters nationwide. She
agreed to gather the masters to their NYC office promptly. I
also rang up my trusty "teaboys" (the Brit term for second engineer)
Ryan and Albert at Konk and gave them the skinny on tracking
RCA masters in the studio's musty basement in Hornsey. Things
were inching along. (continued)