Mike Varney On Recording Eric Gales

Project: Mike Varney producing Eric GalesDates of Recording: November 2005Studio: Prairie Sun Location: Cotati, CaliforniaAlbum Title: Crystal VisionProducers: Mike Varney and Eric Gales Engineer: Jason D’Ottavio
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“Eric Gales showed up, cold from Memphis, Tennessee, and we assembled an entire rhythm section for him,” Mike Varney says as he reflects on the sessions for Eric Gales latest release, Crystal Vision. “The process was basically that Eric Gales and I, as well as two musicians that Eric had never met — Steve Evans (who is known for his work with blues artists like Roy Rogers and Coco Montoya) and a young Bay Area drummer named Thomas Pridgen (a student of Tony Williams) — came together for a couple of weeks and put the whole album together in the studio. They rehearsed for about five days, and that included writing almost all of the material in the studio.”

“As a producer I just worked with Eric to arrange songs, recorded them as instrumentals, and then returned to place lyrics and vocals. I was Eric’s co-writer on just about every track,” Varney states. “For the creative process it was pretty great. Coming up with a good blues/rock album; writing and recording it on spot in just a couple weeks. He literally came in with just a handful of riffs and one complete song. But from the second they started off, it was just smiles all around the room, as the players were just so solid. When Thomas first came into the studio, the first thing he said to me was, ‘I’m the last guy you have to worry about.’ He was just that confident, and playing with a click he was a total one-take drummer.”

“Eric came out, throwing caution to the wind, and just trusted that I would have good equipment waiting on him,” Varney says with a slight chuckle, “so I brought a whole compliment of guitars for him to check out. He ended up using a rather standard Strat and a decked out EMG SuperStrat. Most of the album was done using a Fender Bassman for the clean sounds, and a Marshall for the distorted tones. For effects we used a variety of Jim Dunlop products like the Univibe — as well as the Hendrix Octave Fuzz. This, through these unique EMG pickups, was used for most of the leads, which ended up being pretty much the holy grail of the Texas blues guitar tones.”

The guys jumped between two of the three rooms at Prairie Sun, depending on which part of the process they were involved in. Tracking was done using a modified Neve console — a Custom 80 Series 32/8/24 mixing desk with Flying Faders automation (it was originally commissioned for Pete Townsend’s Eel Pie studios) while employing a wealth of Prairie Sun’s high-end and vintage gear; everything from Tracy Korby Cm-1s to U47s to Schoeps M-221s were available for their audile palette. While the album was tracked in Studio A, the mixing was done in Studio B using an SSL 4080 G/E, G+/TR mixing desk with VCA automations and Total Recall.

The album was, at first, recorded down to 2" on a Studer A827 24-track 2" analog tape machine, and then put down to Pro Tools HD3 for the overdubs using the Neve 8026 32 input, 8 bus console with 24 monitor returns.

The end result is an electrifying conglomerate of rock and blues; progressive in scope but restrained enough as to ensure that the songs don’t fall outside of the necessary blues parameters — the guidelines that allow the blues to continue being the blues. Technical prowess matched with solid groove and copious soul, Crystal Visions is damned impressive, even more so when one takes into account the rather unorthodox manner in which it was recorded.

Concerning the collaboration, Mike states, ”I had seen Eric when he was 15 or 16 at NAMM and I had always wanted to wok with him, so when the opportunity arose I was just thrilled. As Eric is a really high-level performer, everything that comes out of his guitar or mouth just tends to work. It was really easy to work with him, and the rest of the band, who are all practically virtuosos. We were only in there for a few weeks, and we didn’t even have an album to start working on when we started.”

“It was, honestly, one of the most miraculous sessions that I’ve ever been involved in.”