“Ignore the man behind the curtain
Ignore the puppets strings
Ignore the lies and nonsense
Of those who would be king”
Wind of Change by Randy Lewis Brown
I don’t normally use my own songs when I write about music stuff but this particular lyrical reference to the title song from my upcoming album was simply too tempting. The title and the rest of the record is an examination of the effects and situations created by change in our life. Goodness knows there has been enough change in the music business alone in the last few years. Between the rise of streaming, COVID, inflation and the demise of physical CD sales most of us have been hit hard. Now, I don’t believe change is necessarily a bad thing. Without change we would still be living in the dark ages. But dealing with the changes that impact your ability to do your job and earn a living is hard to swallow for all of us. Though most artists I know, myself included, aren’t gonna let a little change stop us. We will adapt and survive. But we can’t survive without our “team.” Our “men behind the curtain.”
The line “ignore the man behind the curtain” is from the 1939 classic movie The Wizard of Oz. It is spoken in one of final scenes in the movie when it is finally revealed that the all powerful Oz was a fake. But in this particular case rather than having you ignore the man behind the curtain I want to point them out in order to praise them.
Music and recording in particular is seldom a solo endeavor. Certainly there have been some great records done by a single person. Paul McCartney did it with his first solo record: Ram. Bruce Springsteen also did it with his masterpiece of darkness, Nebraska. There are many others too but they are not the norm. Most solo artists records are recorded by a team of players, engineers and others working together in tandem to flesh out the artists vision and in my opinion they don’t get the credit they deserve. So that is what this little rant is about. So pardon me now as I get personal and specific.
As I mentioned I recently completed recording a new record of original songs at a wonderful studio in Liberty Hill, TX owned and run by the mega-experienced drummer, golden eared engineer and dear friend, Merel Bregante. Merel has a long history in music dating back to the 60s as drummer and vocalist for the The Sunshine Company and following that, working with Loggins and Messina and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in the 70s to name a few. He and his handpicked group of stellar studio musicians which I personally think of as Merel’s Wrecking Crew turn out jaw dropping performances like they were easy and make the folks like myself that work with Merel and his crew feel like stars.
I always bring what I consider fully formed songs to the studio when I am ready to record. But I can honestly say that I am almost never prepared for the final product. It always surpasses my wildest expectations. I could never create alone what these folks create for me, in a million years. They are each masters of what they do and they put their heart and soul into the parts they play.
Mine is not a unique situation in the music business. Especially today when touring is hard and expensive even as a solo artist. Traveling with a band is impossible for most unless you are an A-lister in the Folk/Americana world with very deep pockets, which I certainly am not. Most of us touring artists have a group of musicians we can count on when it is time to record and I consider myself unbelievably lucky to have this caliber of players to help me fully realize my work.
Just as with the original Wrecking Crew is Los Angles, The Funk Brothers in Detroit, The Memphis Boys in Memphis and The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section in Muscle Shoals every recording artist I know has a secret sauce of sadly unsung geniuses. Musicians who, in the end are as responsible for what you hear as the folks who pen and sing the songs. Sure they get paid for their work and are listed in the liner notes but that is not enough for the folks who always add the magic. I highly suggest, if you have any interest at all, you watch a movie or two about the “man behind the curtain”. I think you will be amazed.
Here is a short list of the documentaries on this subject that I think are invaluable to fully understand the contributions of the sidemen to recorded music:
The Wrecking Crew – the history of the folks who created almost all 60s hits
Standing in the Shadows of Motown – the story of the Funk Brothers who created Motown
20 Feet from Stardom – interviews with some of greatest backup singers of all time
Muscle Shoals – the story of FAME studio and the players who made it great
Tom Dowd & the Language of Music – one of the great producers of the 50s, 60s and 70s
One of the greatest losses of the streaming era, in my opinion, is the fact the studio team is not acknowledged because liner notes don’t exist in the streaming world. I have always read every word on every CD or vinyl record liner notes trying to find out who played what. Now, technology made them not only faceless but nameless and that is certainly a travesty.
So here you go. The folks who make my records happen in no specific order:
Merel Bregante: Engineering, production, drums. Percussion and harmony vocals
Mark Epstein: Fretted, fretless bass, upright bass both plucked and Arco
Dirje Childs: Cello
Dave Pearlman: Dobro, steel and lap steel – Plus he makes incredible microphones
Michael Dorrien: Electric and acoustic guitars
Cody Braun: Mandolin, Fiddle and Harmonica
Peter Wasner: Keyboards, piano, B3 and synth
Sarah Pierce: Harmony Vocals
So there you are, my own personal wrecking crew. These folks are all professionals who without being directed, hear my songs and instinctively know how to make them the best they can be. I don’t direct them in anyway, I simply send them the songs, they listen and magic happens. Google them, you will be amazed at their accomplishments.
So, please when you hear a record you like, notice the accompaniment. Those folks are playing their hearts out for little or no recognition. But without them our musical landscape would be pretty dang bleak. The men (and women) behind the curtain are what makes our world of music work. So contrary to the title, please don’t ignore the folks behind the curtain. Give them the due they deserve.
Wind of Change will be released on September 30 and available everywhere fine music is streamed or sold.
I would love to see your comments, complaints, corrections and suggestions. As they say, hit me with your best shot. I welcome every single one; positive or negative.
Randy Lewis Brown may be a over-the-hill, baby boomer, curmudgeon who is also an award-winning Northeast Texas-based singer-songwriter and self-proclaimed “performing philosopher”. Despite his years, and an early bedtime, he remains stedfast in attempting to decipher the intersection of spirit, faith, science and the human condition. Always trying to maintain a sense of wonder and whimsy in his occasionally clever folk-Americana songs and stories. He is constantly thankful for his fans, friends and the musicians who grace his records with their genius.