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Saturday, November 6, 2010

233. "Take Her Out of Pity" by The Kingston Trio

Simultaneously one of the very most ambitious things I've attempted on 39-40 and a total cop-out, since it comes from and is destined for a project I'm working on anyway, this one has a lot of unique features, none of which will interest you unless you're into either my dad's band or the half-ass gearhead aspects of how I get things done. If neither of those things appeal to you, skip this write-up, but please do give the song a listen and give me some feedback, because this is basically the "beta" version of a track I hope to get onto a CD to be released before Christmas and I'd like to get it right.

The basic tracks for the cover version here are almost as old as the original. They come from a giant pile of 1/4" tapes my dad had kept over the years, most of which were recordings of his band at various stages in their career from the late '50s (various college bands before the Thunder Hill years) through the mid '70s. They were incredibly difficult to sort through and digitize, being sometimes four-track tapes which were recorded on and over multiple times at different speeds in either direction at the same time... at one point I literally had three songs stacked together, with one song running the opposite direction and at a different tape speed on the stereo left channel of another one. After a hell of a lot of work, it boiled down to about 24 hours of audio and a raft of oddities to sort through and identify, from middle school choir concerts to radio broadcasts of '50s hits to me blathering into a microphone at 5 years old. But the good stuff was a solid bunch of unreleased Thunderhill recordings that are finally going to see the light of day.

One of the most surprising and frustrating nuggets I found was this fragment of a recording of the song "Take Her Out Of Pity". Dad's not entirely sure what brought it about... it sounds like a studio (or oddly upscale rehearsal) recording (with no chatter and a conspicuously cool-sounding slapback echo on it), but the truth is I'm not even totally sure who the personnel are or when it was recorded. It's definitely Dad and Ed Jordan. The bass might be either Tom Lowry or Jerry Marsh, quite likely Lowry because this would've been a very early number as the K3 version was released in 1961 and Thunderhill formed in 1963. As a sidelight, the version here is substantially different from the Trio performance where the lyrics are concerned. It's a traditional song, so I thought I'd have an easy time tracking down who else might've performed it in a closer version to the Thunder Hill one, but the Internet isn't showing me much evidence for any other recorded versions save a later solo John Stewart rendition and a short stack of songs probably coincidentally entitled "Sister Sarah" recorded in the '90s, so that remains a little odd. But far and away the most problematic thing about this piece is pretty obvious... it cuts off before the second verse is even over. There's also some major corruption on one side of the stereo picture, especially during the intro. I messed around with that sporadically for a year or so before determining that it was never really stereo to begin with, but just sounded that way because there was corruption on one side of the tape and not the other-- in other words, it was a mono recording that got screwed up in stereo. Which, I know, duh, but hey.

So this one, along with a couple of other bizarre challenges, has been something I've worked on in my mental downtime for a couple of years now, and as I've gotten better at various aspects of recording and engineering and editing I've sort of solved my dilemmas one at a time until just about exactly now I thought I'd be able to do something with it if I really worked it. And man did I work it-- this is definitely some of the finest fine-tuning and minutest minutiae-minding I've ever done. The solution was going to be faking the thing into stereo and using new tracks to cover up the edits and audio-recycling it was going to take to keep the song going to its conclusion. There was a lot of tempo quantifying and stretching, and the intro guitar riff was cycled into an incessant loop meant it all together. A lot of new instruments were added, almost all of which were designed, played, EQ'ed and otherwise manicured to sound like they were not only not new but in fact the same damned instruments that were already on there, just moveable and played continuously and live (since the real original instruments were now being sliced, diced, and replicated (there are many copies, and they have a plan)). It's fortunate (albeit unsurprising) that I both have appropriate instruments-- to all intents and purposes, my Epiphone 12-string appears to be the same instrument my dad is propping up in that photo up there, and I managed to get a fair fake standup bass sound, I think-- and know how to play this kind of stuff fairly well. A lot of basically uninformed trial and error effort went into EQing the individual tracks, ending with the realization that the rule of thumb solution was to remove all bass from the ancient tracks and max out the bass in the tracks I was recording in the now. The words "labor intensive" don't even begin to cover it.

I ended up exetending it to more than twice the length of the original fragment. The core of the chorus is unfortunately identical all three times it crops up, but the dressing around it changes (and there's even an additional voice on the harmonies varying things up). The third verse was just never going to reappear, so I did a John Householder-inspired 12-string solo instead, and put a choral "answer" where the last line of the 2nd verse was supposed to be... it's short and sweet and gets back to the chorus before (I hope) it registers as too "modern" sounding.

So the question is, is a blurry mush or a mushy blur? Well, that and is it any more of a murry blush than the recording was to begin with? It's obviously not supposed to sound like anything totally pristine... it's just supposed to get to the end without sounding like it was screwed around with too much by anybody's then-unborn son forty-seven years later with some kinda damn Flash Gordon computer smaller than a high school yearbook. The absurdity of which makes me a little curious as to what my daughters might do to this thing in 2057...

Personnel (196?):
Jim Broome ~ Guitar, lead vocal
Ed Jordan ~ Guitar, harmony
Jerry Marsh or Tom Lowry ~ bass
(and maybe Dale Rawlings is on there, I dunno)
Personnel (2010):
Rex Broome ~ Rhythm & 12-string guitar, fake string bass, backing vocals, tambourine, thumb-numbing nob-twiddling



One of the above puzzles was solved as of April 2011 and the preparation of the liner notes for the Thunderhill compilation: this song is apparently not a traditional song at all, but an original K3 composition.

1 comment:

  1. Hi - just found your blog. So interesting!

    I have a question. Is "Take Her out of Pity" a traditional song...and the K3 just changed some of the lyrics? Is there info on who and when the song was first written?