Tracking in Soulville

This is drinking music, says John Bigham, front man for the Soul of John Black. I wanted to make down-home-blues party music, he says of the band's latest

John “JB” Bigham

This is drinking music,” says John “JB” Bigham, front man for the Soul of John Black. “I wanted to make down-home-blues party music,” he says of the band's latest CD, The Good Girl Blues (Cadabra Records, 2007). You can put it on, cook up some food, and play cards!”

That stylistic approach differs from the band's self-titled debut release in 2003 that blended soul, hip-hop, funk, and Afro-beat influences. That album received raves from the Wall Street Journal, Interview, Blender, Billboard, the New Yorker, and Rolling Stone.

Guitarist, keyboardist, and songwriter Bigham played for eight years in the funk-ska-punk band Fishbone before embarking on his solo career. He also had stage and studio stints with a range of artists including Eminem, Dr Dre, Nikka Costa, and Bruce Hornsby. Bigham wrote for and played percussion with Miles Davis, and Bigham's song “Jilli” appears on Amandla (Warner Brothers, 1989), Davis's last studio album. Bigham also appears on the DVD Miles Davis-Live in Paris (Warner Brothers, 2001).

The Good Girl Blues was recorded in Bigham's home studio — Whitley Manor — in the heart of Hollywood's historic Whitley Heights area. “Actually, the studio was in my closet initially, but I just graduated to the second bedroom,” he exclaims. “I caught my girlfriend with her guard down! Once I set it up, she saw how cool it was.”

Not one to amass gear just for the sake of it, Bigham's modest setup suits him well. He records into an Apple Power Mac G4 (running Digidesign Pro Tools LE and Propellerhead Reason) through a Digi 001. He says that his first recording rig was an Atari ST, after which he graduated to a Roland VS-1680, and then to his Mac.

Bigham owns only a couple of mics. “I'm not inspired to buy much new stuff; I don't have the money. I'm a big fan of Jon Brion, and he said that if you don't have a lot of money, get one mic you like and use it on everything. I actually have two: a Shure SM48 I got 15 years ago and an SM57 that I mic my amplifiers and record my guitar with. I have a Neumann TLM170, but that's borrowed. For me, it starts with the instrument sounding good. Whether you record low-fi or hi-fi, it's going to come through because the essence is good. When you listen to that old blues stuff, you feel the energy. It's not like they had a brand-new Gibson; they had whatever they had, and it was captured. The only people who care about technical stuff are technical people. This system works great for me.”

Bigham played all the guitar and Clavinet on the CD, and he programmed the drums. “I did all the drums in Reason 3.0.4. I have a dbx 160× compressor/limiter and mic pres by the Mastering Lab in Hollywood and M-Audio (the Audio Buddy). I wanted it to feel it was played by a real drummer. My favorite thing to use is Reason's Rex Loops. That's the mustard for me. It's over the top. I like to keep my drum parts minimal, but then I'll add these rhythmic loops.”

The Good Girl Blues

One of the highlights of the CD is the gospel-tinged background vocals provided by the talented trio of Laura Jane Jones (who has sung with Enrique Iglesias), JoNell Kennedy (who played Joann in Dreamgirls), and Kandace Linsey (who sings with Marc Anthony).

JB's homage to the blues artists that have influenced him is evident on The Good Girl Blues. “John Lee Hooker said, ‘Real blues — that's what you call soul. And I'm gonna stay in Soulville a little while,’” recalls Bigham, who then adds, “Me too!”


The Soul of John Black

Home base: Los Angeles, California

Key software: Digidesign Pro Tools LE and Reason 3.04

Mics of choice: Shure SM48 and SM57

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