A Hellecaster Takes a Solo

As one of the "three tenors of guitar" in the band the Hellecasters, John Jorgenson spends much of his time recording with his bandmates, Jerry Donahue

As one of the "three tenors of guitar" in the band the Hellecasters, John Jorgenson spends much of his time recording with his bandmates, Jerry Donahue and Will Ray. His schedule is further filled with his stints as a sideman for Elton John's touring band and as a session musician: he has recorded for Bob Seger, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Willie Nelson, and a long list of others. But Jorgenson managed to find the time to write, arrange, record, and produce a solo album in his home studio. On the album, Emotional Savant, Jorgenson recorded all the tracks except the drums himself.

Jorgenson's studio resides in a Hollywood garage built in 1917 to house a Model T Ford. "I put a sliding glass door in the middle when I decided to transform it into a studio," he says. "One half is used as a storage space and playing room, with cabinets for guitar storage, amps along one wall, and a '50s Hammond B3 and Leslie cabinet nearby. I also keep a Roland pad drum kit set up in this room, for those times when I get a drummer to come over and play a track either into a sequencer or onto one of the ADAT machines.

"The only time I really had a full band in my studio was for the Hellecasters' Hell III CD" Jorgenson says. "Our drummer, Steve Duncan, had a DW kit that was already outfitted with Shure mics, so I just took the lines from the snare, toms, and kick, added the Sennheiser 421s for overheads, and put a Sony condenser mic on the hi-hat. Our bassist, Dennis Belfield, went direct, and Jerry used his Morley JD10 preamp to go direct with his guitar signal. Will Ray and I each played through small amps that were stuck back into the tool room." Although most of the guitar parts were later redone by Jorgenson, Donahue, and Ray in their home studios, this setup allowed the band to get a live feel and good dynamics.

"For my solo CD, I recorded Greg Morrow playing drums along with my scratch piano and vocals at Chuck Howard's studio in Nashville," Jorgenson says. He took these tracks, recorded on two ADAT tapes, back home to California to start laying down other basic tracks. "Usually I would reduce the drum tracks down to a stereo mix, then I'd rerecord the piano. I brought one ADAT machine into my living room and recorded my Steinway Vertigrand upright. The mic placement was very tricky, as it was difficult to get close to the strings without getting a lot of key or pedal noise-I learned a lot about my piano in the process! I ended up using four mics on it, two AKG C 414s and two Sennheiser 421s. These were placed on either side of the soundboard, so I'd have some flexibility in the mixing process."

Jorgenson also borrowed equipment to help him fulfill his recording requirements. "A friend of mine loaned me two Neve 1066 modules and a Demeter stereo tube mic pre/direct box," he says. "I used these extensively: the Demeter for recording the bass, guitars, and some of the keyboards direct; the Neves for anything that was miked. I also have a Groove Tubes mic pre/EQ, and I use the mic pres in my Mackie board, as well."

Jorgensen also owns countless stompboxes and effect pedals, having been a working guitarist for nearly 30 years. "I'm not shy about using any of the effect pedals in unorthodox ways," Jorgenson says. He will also track a guitar sound on the spot rather than adding the effect later. "Many times, if a particular processed sound is important to the track, I'll record it as it goes to tape. I've found over the years that it's not always easy to get the sound back again later."

For further information, contact Jim Cowan at Pharoah Records; tel. (805) 531-0281; fax (805) 531-0281.