By Jeb Wright
Jeff Glixman has worked with some of the best guitarists on planet Earth, producing such icons as Gary Moore, Ritchie Blackmore and Tony Iommi. His skills are second to none, and his musical prowess as an artist has allowed him to enter the creative mind of those in his recording studio time and time again. He is regarded as one of the best. Yet, it all began in Topeka, Kansas when, as a new kid in town, he went to check out a local music store and ran into a rock ‘n’ roll renegade by the name of Dave Hope.
As life can, and often does, a seemingly inconsequential moment can have an impact that lasts a lifetime. The story of the band Kansas too often leaves out the man in the recording booth, the seventh member of Kansas in the 1970s. Jeff Glixman was an important part of the creation of the Kansas sound, using his greatest weapon, his ears, to steer the recording process and capture the miracles that seemingly came out of nowhere.
Kansas will release a documentary titled Miracles Out of Nowhere in March of 2015 that will take the viewer on a journey from the small town Topeka to the world’s stage. Glixman was part of the journey, and in the interview that follows, he shares his story which demonstrates there were a few more bumps in the road than perhaps the common fans might realize.
Jeff produced the greatest Kansas albums of all-time: Song for America, Masque, Leftoverture and Point of Know Return.
Jeb: I am sucker for learning about how records were made in the studio… on the Kansas documentary, Miracles out of Nowhere, you go back to the studio where Leftoverture and Point of Know Return were made, so… I want to dive into that. But first, however, I want to ask you how did you come to know the members of Kansas? Did you go to High School with any of them in Topeka, Kansas?
Jeff: I didn’t go to school with the guys, as they went to Topeka West and I went to Topeka High. Kerry [Livgren] may have gone somewhere else.
I can give you the history: I grew up in Norman, Oklahoma where my dad was a college professor at Oklahoma University. He was doing some research; he was a psychologist and a mathematician, he was a behavioral statistician. He had just published some work on ‘Frequency Behavior’, and The Menninger Foundation in Topeka became interested and hired him to come there.
This was my senior year in high school and I was pretty well depressed by this, you know, when you grow up somewhere and then you have to move your senior year of high school. On the other hand, I had been involved in athletics back in Oklahoma and I had just started flipping into wanting to be in a band. It gave me a chance to regroup and to reinvent myself, so that was good.
I came to Topeka and the place was just swarming with bands and musicians. We moved to a house at 1925 MacVicar Avenue, which is right across from Washburn University, right on the line that divided what high school you went to. If I had been one block over I would have gone to Topeka West and met Phil [Ehart] and the guys earlier. In fact, my parents lived about a ½ mile from Phil’s parents; we just didn’t meet at that point.
However, within a few days of arriving in Topeka, I found this music store called Midwestern Music and I met this guy who was only about 16 or 17 years old. He was smoking cigarettes and he was loud and kind of brash. He became my best friend and his name is Dave Hope.
Dave had just returned from Wentworth Military Academy in Missouri. He and I started talking about getting in a band, and after a few different ones, we had a band where our guitar player was Rich Williams.
It seemed none of the groups stayed together for long and I had an opportunity to go to NYC, so off I went. My sister had started college at 16 and was already in grad school at Columbia, but was back home to Topeka for the summer. I was just got out of high school and she had an apartment on the upper west side of New York City, so I decided to sublet it from her for the summer. I figured I would get things going there, which I actually did. I got together with a guitarist named Warren Eisenstein, who was just awesome.
I was in touch with Dave Hope on a trip back to Kansas a year or so later and he told me he was in this band called Kansas, but that it just didn’t ‘rock enough’. He asked what I was doing and I said, “I am in this killer hard rock band in New York called Concrete but we’re having some issues.” Dave said we should get together.
I went back to New York and talked to Warren about heading to Kansas to join Dave and Phil. Warren said he was good with this, but that he had to finish high school first, as he was a senior in high school, seventeen years old.
I drove back to the Kansas and I sat around with Dave and Phil and we decided to put the band together. We jumped back in my van and I went back to New York to join Warren and get the band ready to hit the road.
Jeb: Good lord, you were moving around a lot.
Jeff: I know, it sounds nuts. I was going on 1,200 mile runs, Topeka to NYC and back, just jumping in the car and going. My little sister was going to NYU and she and her boyfriend were caretakers at a church in Brooklyn. She said we could hang out there and sleep on the pews, so back we went, rehearsed with Warren for about four days in Brooklyn and then hit the road back to Topeka and rehearsed for about three more days, played one gig at this place called The Candlelight and we took off for New Orleans.
We got down there and the band really came together. We performed four sets per night on weekdays and six on the weekends. Somewhere along the way we decided to add Steve Walsh as our singer, obviously a brilliant move! This band, White Clover, cut some tapes in New York which, in a roundabout way led to Kansas, at that time still called White Clover, signing their record contract with NYC based Kirshner Records.
This version of White Clover soon disbanded and Phil went to England for a brief period for much the same reasons I went to New York. We figured it would be better in England, or New York, but we found out it wasn’t so much better.
When he left, I put together the band Cocky Fox and we were tearing it up around the Midwest with Warren, Greg Currie and Dave Wilson. Phil returned from England and put together the band we know as Kansas, minus Kerry. Still called White Clover, they cut a demo, the band was signed, as a five-piece, and they added Kerry to the band, as they felt they needed additional songwriting. Another brilliant move!
Meanwhile, Cocky Fox had put out a single that I produced, which we drug around to every radio station in about three states and we were getting airplay everywhere. It went from off the charts to #3 in three weeks. I ended up driving back to New York by myself and met a gentleman named Dave Maney at 20th Century Records. He wanted to sign the band and put us on tour. I went back to tell Warren and Greg who were in school at Kansas University and they both said they would do it once they finished school, which pissed me off royally. They weren’t ready to leave when we had that opportunity, and of course the opportunity passed.
Warren is still a very close friend of mine, with whom I have a special connection, as I really developed my skills by learning from him, and I feel close with Greg, even though I haven’t seen him for some time. Cocky Fox was just the greatest band anyone could hope to be a member of… we truly rocked!
In the meantime, Kansas had gone about recording their first album and they were headed down their path to success. Dave told me that he had talked to Phil and they wanted me to come out and do sound for them on the road and that I would be the tour manager and I could work on the second album. I said, “Okay, but I want to get to playing.” I never did. Their second album was my first, and that album was Song for America.
Jeb: I had been told you were involved in the debut album, but I didn’t think you did.
Jeff: I had nothing to do with it.
Jeb: While going in to do Song for America, did you really even know what you were doing?
Jeff: I did and I didn’t. I had never worked for a studio, or had any training in a studio at all. I picked up a lot of what people would call engineering. At that time, I didn’t understand things like phase relationships and optimum signal to noise ratios and level to tape, but I knew what I wanted to hear. I had written songs with the guys and I had played with the guys, and I was going to bear down on the engineer if necessary, or work the console myself and keep turning knobs until I got to what I wanted to hear.
I knew what I was doing in terms of capturing the sound of Kansas, the arrangements of the songs. As for handling the band, this was no problem.
All bands have a leader. I was always the leader of my bands and Phil was always the leader of his bands. We came together at a time in our lives where we could comfortably share the responsibility, and this worked very well.
Wally Gold took on the role of Executive Producer, handling the relationship with the label, the billing, et cetera. I would take on these responsibilities later on in my career, but at that time I was really like an extra member of the band and my job was to get their songs presented in the fashion that they wanted them put on a record.
Jeb: You spent a lot of time going back and forth to New York. When you joined up with Kansas, did you notice a giant step in their progress as a band?
Jeff: Actually, we thought our band, Cocky Fox, was better than they were. We thought Kansas was a very good band, but they were a little too arty for my taste. I was more into bands like Deep Purple, Humble Pie, and Zeppelin. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the guys in Kansas were extraordinary musicians, I just felt that the music was just a little bit—the first albums material didn’t kill me.
I became really enthused when they started putting the songs together for the second album, a strange juxtaposition between pure Avant Gard pomp and outright rock. Steve had two songs, “Lonely Street” and “Down the Road” which were fairly concise three or four minute songs that just flat our rocked. Kerry had four songs that were these big, gigantic adventure pieces.
I thought the material was really starting to show direction, but it was showing two directions. Remember, we were not thinking in the terms that people think in today. No one was going, “Who is our target market? What are we trying to accomplish?” We were just trying to make a statement of what we were doing at that moment in time.
My job is to understand what the writer is feeling, emotionally, as they create the song and what the musicians are feeling when they perform this song and how to get this thing, within the constraints of time, money and physics, onto a piece of clear plastic ribbon that was covered with rust and then onto this round piece of plastic, so that someone who has never met these people, or even seen these people, shares the same emotional experience. That was my job.
Jeb: ‘Punching in’ today is not even punching in anymore. It is so easy.
Jeff: Today we have non-destructive recording where you don’t lose anything.
Jeb: Take the tune “Song for America.” Did the guys have to sit there and play that all the way through in the studio?
Jeff: They didn’t have to, but they wanted to. I am going to go off on a little bit of a tangent. Everything I recorded with Kansas I recorded ensemble, the exception being “Dust in the Wind.” It was never pieced together. Every note was performed and every note was sung.
I still approach productions like that. Michael Crichton, the writer, the medical physician and film screenwriter once said that the word processor is a great tool, but it doesn’t necessarily contribute to original art. I think there is something about linear recording, where you have a timeline and you’re capturing a performance, that is much more powerful than a cut and paste world.
I am not saying there is not a place using strictly technology. I love electronica. I love the band Enigma, but, for me, what I enjoy the most is half athletic performance event and half the use of art as a social commentary on our times.
ProTools is a wonderful tool, but I don’t personally choose to produce in a non-linear fashion. I think when there is performance involved and, from a production standpoint, I am not sure the end result is as powerful when you comp pieces together, as it is when you have to commit a performance to ‘tape’. If I am recording on ProTools I still tell everyone that we are going to record this thing from top to bottom. I may go back and replace 90 percent as what’s there, but you will first perform it as a band. There has got to be that song that inspires you to keep going and allowing you to know where to put in that drum fill, or where it may retard a hair, or speed up a hair. I enjoy that a lot; I find that satisfying.
To give you an idea, there is a lot of decision making that happens when you’re producing in the analog world and you don’t have enough tracks. Was that vocal good enough? Where am I with this singer? How well do I understand his capabilities? What are his capabilities overall? What are they on this given day? What are they at this very moment?
I might decide to keep a vocal track because I know this is the best he can do today. I might burn one more track to convince myself he went over the top. If I feel he has greater potential, then I am going to come back to it.
If I am producing an album then the singer has been singing on several different days and there will be one day where it is effortless for him or her. On that day I will go back and re-track all of the vocals, if I have to. I want that day where it comes naturally and there is no concentrating on pitch or timing, it just comes.
One doesn’t get this type of performance when piecing things together. There is a big difference between getting down a hill without falling and doing some skiing. I want the artists to stretch out and ski. I want them on the day when getting down the hill you can take for granted and you can go for it. Same with producing… You have to make that decision in the moment. If you’re going to punch in on that line then you’ve got to be confident that you’re not letting go of the best things you’ve ever heard in your life because once you punch it in then it is gone.
We were very fortunate with Kansas. Phil can knock out those drum tracks over and over flawlessly. When we did “Know Place Like Home” he just knocked it out. He unleashes his performance and he is just like that in the studio. I had the luxury of having a drummer that didn’t want to just get down that hill without falling; I had a guy that was snowboarding!
A lot of times you accept things that you don’t want to, but you need to. Phil gave me the ability to do repeated takes so that the other guys could start getting their performances in, too. A lot of that comes from pre-production and familiarity of the song.
Some people say that this makes a performance lose its spontaneity in the studio, but this is not true. If you’re snowboarding down the hill and you don’t know the course you may not fall down and you may do well, but a good part of your ability is burned up figuring out the course. If you know the course then you’re going to get extreme. When you know that song and you’re comfortable with it, then you really start to put the performance together.
So again, these songs were all played ensemble and the guys were going for it There are only two edits, but other than that, I don’t remember any tape cuts with Kansas.
Jeb: What are the two cuts that you remember doing?
Jeff: We cut the opening of “Carry on Wayward Son” just so we could make the beginning work. Phil played it but we cut the vocals to the front. The very last note of the same song is an edit to a previous take because there was noise on the bass track during the fade.
Jeb: On Masque, Kansas switched studios. Going from the big city studio to the studio in the country… did that help?
Jeff: From a production standpoint that was probably the greatest decision, or event, that happened for the band Kansas.
I wasn’t in New York for the first session, so I can’t comment on that one, but I was in Los Angeles and there were far from a few distractions that went on. One, the record company had access to you on a daily basis if they want. Two, I am working with a big time engineer who had done a lot of other projects and he says, “This is how we always did this” or “This is how we always did that.” Third, we were just not that important to Wally Heider Studios, as they had Crosby, Stills & Nash and all of these other big names in the studio.
To top it off, Steve got arrested for jaywalking in LA when he was walking across the street to get a soft drink. He didn’t realize you can’t just step off the curb in LA. Every car stops for you when you do, but it is jaywalking and you will get busted for it. We had to go find him as we were trying to record and had no idea where he had gone, right in the middle of things, here we were getting Steve out of jail!
Jeb: How did the move to Studio in the Country impact the recording process?
Jeff: It was immensely important for the development of the band, the music, and me. We moved to Studio in the Country in Bogalusa, LA where we were the single most important thing that was happening there. More importantly, it allowed us to maintain our ‘Us against the World’ attitude. Everyone was much more focused.
Jeb: On the documentary you go back and visit the studio. What was that like?
Jeff: It was unbelievable. For one thing, it is just as it was in the ‘70’s. The condition of the place is phenomenal. I was so inspired going back that I developed a relationship with Debbie Farmer, the current owner of the studio and we formed a non-profit organization where we are going to award grants to deserving artists so that they can come to this studio and record. It was such an amazing opportunity for us that we would like to provide this experience to others through the Studio in the Country Foundation. Think of it as a scholarship awarded to a deserving student. Personally, going back has impacted my life greatly. I am re-attached to the people there and to the city of New Orleans and it is a direct connection to a time when what mattered was just the music
It is also the place that Kerry and Steve figured out how to work together. If you listen to Song for America, it is distinctly two different writers. Of course, Steve is always singing great and the band is playing great, regardless of the song. Maybe it was Steve’s influence in the rock world, or maybe it was the isolation and intensity of being there with no distractions, but some of the best songs that Kansas has written were from there.
The prototype for what was to come was on Masque, and that was the song “Icarus: Borne on Wings of Steel.” Kerry took one of his great adventure songs and got the rock element in, too. The song goes through the band filter and comes out with all the ‘rock’ and all the ‘art’ in a concise easily accessible package. That song delivers in five and half, or six, minutes what Kerry had been taking forever to deliver in previous songs. “Song for America” was an eighteen minute song that we got down to ten minutes!
“Icarus” set the table and was followed by two of my all-time favorite art rock statements: “Mysteries and Mayhem” and “The Pinnacle”. Kerry had all the pieces in place with this couplet; it has the art and it flat out rocks, the band delivered and then some!
Kansas literally came off the road from non-stop one-nighters into the studio and everyone was razor sharp, playing at the top of their game. The transitions were getting better and, in fact, everything kept getting better. That album was the prelude to Kerry writing Leftoverture. I think it all really happened there, with everything coming together in that situation.
Jeb: “Icarus” is the point that the true Kansas sound was born, it was there. It was hinted at before, but that song as a whole was where it was born.
Jeff: It is “Icarus.”
Jeb: What was that song like to record?
Jeff: Each song is a little different. “Icarus” was put together on the road. It was a new song that Kerry came up with. “Icarus” was put together and performed during sound checks, so the song was cohesive when we came to the studio.
Some songs were not and some we worked on during a brief six-week period of rehearsal before we got there. “Icarus” had been worked on at sound check, which is kind of a weeding out process. I am certain that the song was even performed live before we got into the studio, as had most of the songs on Masque. The only thing that we really did differently in the studio than we had planned was to change instrumentation. We changed that more than we would change parts.
Parts were kind of there, but sometimes, like in “Miracles Out of Nowhere,” in the breakdown in the middle, the three counterpoint melodies were all done on violin, where live it is two synths and a violin. We might make that exchange, but the notes remained constant.
“Icarus” was just there. Masque, the entire album was performed to two-track prior to us recording. I was just running down the sounds and I recorded it to two-track. Somewhere from the rundown there is a beautiful recording of “All the World” where Steve just sang it great. We put the song down in the studio to 2-track, it is not the performance that made the album.
Jeb: Talk about “Child of Innocence.”
Jeff: That one is right in the “Icarus” time period. Those songs almost arrived together. Kerry really started to show the rock influence in his writing. That song is awesome; Kerry works with melody on that song extremely well, which he typically does, weaving vocal and instrumental lines together effortlessly.
It is the prelude to a song like “What’s On My Mind.” He was really developing his style. “Child of Innocence” is to “What’s On My Mind” what “Icarus” is to “Wayward Son.” It was also the prelude to “Miracles Out of Nowhere.” These songs are representative of the band finding themselves on that album. It is not the best album, and it is the one, sonically, I like about the least, but from a growth perspective it might be the best.
Jeb: “The Pinnacle” could have been on Leftoverture.
Jeff: Yes, it really could have been. The highpoints are as high as anything that followed.
Jeb: By this time were you the guy who was dealing with record executives? Was there pressure to get the band on the radio?
Jeff: Yes. There was a lot of pressure at that point. In the documentary, Ron Alexenburg talks about calling me up and talking to me about delivering a hit. I would tell them we had ten minute songs on the last album and we are now at five to six minutes; I told him we were getting there. That was why “It Takes a Woman’s Love” was on the radio when Masque came out; they were determined to have a radio song.
We were already getting pressure while we were on the road; they wanted to know what we had, so we ducked into a little studio in Tulsa while we were on the road and cut two songs Steve had written, “Woman’s Love” and “It’s You”. We were at the point of not knowing if we were going to get to record another album if we didn’t send them something, so we sent them these two and they said, “Okay. Great.” That’s why “It Takes a Woman’s Love” was on the radio when Masque came out; they were determined to have a radio song. Masque sold fairly well. It sold 250,000 and live, the band was building a big following.
Jeb: Were you still doing the live sound?
Jeff: At that point I was. We didn’t have a tour accountant, or any management out with us. To be honest, Phil was handling one aspect of it and I was in charge of another. Phil still performs those functions to this day. He is the Band Dad. I was dealing with the travel agency every day and Jerry Gilliland was handling the crew. Phil was taking care of the personnel in the band and Jerry began to handle the logistics for the crew travel by the time we hit Leftoverture, because things really went nuts by then.
The record sold so quickly that I was receiving telegrams daily advising of venue changes and additional shows. Remember, no cell phones, no internet, no e-tickets for flights… arranging airline flights for seven every day required the travel agency to write out seven tickets with many, many legs per. Once the schedule changed it required me to head to the nearest airport, or Airline ticket office and have new tickets hand written. So the three of us, Phil, Jerry and I were handling it all; day to day band management, accounting, press and logistics. We were a small, tight, efficient unit.
Jeb: The next period of Kansas changed the band. Walsh did not have any songs when it came time to Leftoverture. What happened?
Jeff: The year after we released Masque, and before we recorded Leftoverture, we performed more than 250 concerts. We rehearsed for six weeks and we recorded and mixed the album in seven weeks. If you start adding it up there was not much time left in the year. We spent those seven weeks in Bogalusa and then we were back on the road.
Neither Kerry, nor Steve really had any songs at that point. There were just these little pieces that became “Magnum Opus.” The song was originally called “Leftoverture,” as it was comprised of snippets of music they had come up with during sound check, or left over from Masque, so naturally we came up with the name “Leftoverture.” We fell in love with the name and made it the name of the album instead and we changed the name of the song to “Magnum Opus.”
Kerry had “What’s On My Mind.” Although for the most part Kerry had no complete songs, he had that one and I thought it was great. Steve had some songs, as he is a songwriter, but they were not songs the band was interested in. Steve, in the documentary, says he wrote some songs for the wrong reason; that they were almost rebellious. He had some frustration with the songwriting and how it was going…
He was reworking a song of Kerry’s, “Closet Chronicles” which later appeared on Point of Know Return. That song was around in some form, or another, for quite some time. Steve had re-written it, but there was tension about Steve re-writing a song by Kerry, so it was scrapped.
Everything was not as pretty and polite as it comes across in the documentary, but this is just the normal stuff one deals with when you are working with a group of extremely talented artists and multiple songwriters, and the results speak for themselves! Kerry was, as the documentary states, writing like a madman during the time we were in rehearsal and what songs he was delivering!
Jeb: Did you stay with the band during rehearsal?
Jeff: Typically I do. I have always done pre-production with the artists I work with. There have been exceptions like when I worked with Ritchie Blackmore, who had every note of every song completed. When I worked with Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, I was there at the creation and writing of every single song.
It just depends. It is whatever is needed at the time. Sometimes you sit back and don’t do anything at all, and sometimes you do it all. It is like the position of a director in a movie.
I am just trying to get what’s in the writer’s head onto that disc. My approach back in those days was that if you can’t sing and play then why are you recording? If you need to use auto-tune on everything then why do it? Find someone else who can do it and work with them.
Jeb: When you first heard “Carry On Wayward Son” did you know that was the one?
Jeff: Let me tell you a funny story. We had the song put together and we were getting ready to record. Richard was counting throughout the songs, 1,2,3,4 and I asked Phil to give us a timekeeper to get into the song. We were going to start it on the riff. So Phil goes, “thump thump, thump-thump bam” and the song started. We always meant to go back and replace that placeholder but we never had time to do so. We wanted a more interesting drum intro and it ended up being the most famous drum part that Phil has ever done. That was really just a placeholder.
The band sang the chorus vocals an additional time as the song was going and I mixed down these vocals, cut the piece of tape onto the front that the intro piece is edited on, and the very last note of the song is an edit, but other than those cuts, the song is a complete performance.
The reason for the edit at the end was we wanted that last note to linger quite a while and deep into it there was a crackle on the bass track as it was fading out. Dave wasn’t around, so I cut the last note from a previous take onto the master.
Okay, back to what you asked. [laughter] We recorded “Wayward Son” and I’ve got all the pieces in place, it is just about to be mixed; it was a very easy fix.
On Masque we did a lot of superfluous things with extra tracks on songs. We were all growing together, me and the band, and it was like, “Let’s put two guitars on this!” But “Wayward Son” was lean. The drums were on four-tracks and the quality was just great.
I had made those decisions we talked about earlier so there was not much left to do when it came time to mix. I had left/right drums, the kick and the snare. We had rhythm guitar left and rhythm guitar right, Kerry and Rich. We had an organ track and we had a stereo piano, an acoustic guitar and we had a track with the solos on it, both Kerry’s and Rich’s and we have the organ solo. We have a lead vocal track and we had three backing vocals tracks. I didn’t even use the 24-tracks I had available to me on that song.
As I said, it was an easy mix. I cranked it up and let it rip. Phil was with me. I ran it once and I said, “Oh fuck, I missed a move.” I ran another pass to tape and we then listened to it back and Phil goes, “What do you think?” I said, “If it wasn’t us I would think it was fuckin’ awesome.”
You know, these were the guys I had grown up with and hung out with. We had not been through everything yet so it was just the guys from Topeka. I thought it was awesome. I called Don Kirshner and I said, “Don, we’ve got a hit.” I played him the intro over the phone and he said, “Bring me a tape tomorrow Jeff.” I said I would bring him a little reel-to-reel and he goes, “Great. Bring that reel-to-reel to me. There will be a plane ticket set up for you tomorrow. We will pre-pay the ticket; just bring this to me tomorrow.”
We looked around and we go, “Does anyone have any money? I don’t have any money.” We were being given a stipend while we were out on the road; the hotel was paid, but we were given money to eat and do our laundry and that kind of thing, so you just don’t have a lot of money.
We pooled everyone’s money and I had something like forty dollars collectively. Either Bill Evans (owner, Studio in the Country) drove me to the airport, or I took his car, I don’t recall. I get off the plane and this big limo is there and I get in the car. The limo driver says, “Donnie wants you to come right to the office; do you have the tape?” I said, “Yeah, I’ve got the tape.”
This guy has a radio phone and I’ve never even seen anything like this before; he calls and says we are on the way. I get into his office and I flip the thing on and he is just grinning.
His office was in the old Blackrock Building which contained the CBS Offices. We go down to Ronnie Alexenburg’s office and he must have played the song ten times in a row. He is calling everyone in and finally he says, “Jeff, you’ve got yourself your first hit.” It was over five minutes long but they didn’t care.
Jeb: Soon Kansas was one of the top selling bands in the world. How did that change the inner working with the band?
Jeff: Well, that’s a good question. To be honest, there was a lot changed; there were new relationships and priorities changed, as was to be expected. There was also, now, the expectation of success, whereas before there was the dream of success. There were many complications as we were preparing for the next record; let’s just say that Point of Know Return was the most difficult record I’ve ever made in my entire career.
Jeb: You’ve worked with Ritchie Blackmore and Yngwie Malmsteen, who are famous for being difficult.
Jeff: They were easy money. This was the one. I am not going to point any fingers, but there were a lot of difficulties. One of them was money. The next tour was already booked and huge advances were taken on these dates based on when the record was going to be out. I was put in the position to have to mix most of the album in 80 hours straight in order to get it completed and on the radio in advance of the first date, as was the agreement with the promoter.
I had mixed “Dust” and “Paradox” but that was it when we began the long stretch of mixing. My engineer and I just moved into the studio at that point and we would take turns going over to the hotel to shower.
We were sleep deprived and our ears were shot. I was cutting these mixes up, as we had a lot of complicated stuff with a lot of panning, so quite often the mixes needed to be done in sections, then put back together.
I remember this like it was yesterday. We mixed until the last moment to get our flight to master with George Marino at Sterling Sound. I said to the receptionist at The Village Recorders in Santa Monica, “Call a car service.” We grabbed a car and went to LAX where had TWA first class on an L1011 flight so the seats would be big enough for us to sleep in.
We flew to New York and got off the plane and went right to Sterling to master the album. I flew to Toronto with the test lacquers—the albums weren’t even pressed. They were original test lacquers that I took to the radio station so they could get it on the air. It was truly a nightmare to do that record. At that point I was like, “Man, what if this is how it normally is and what if gets worse? This is crazy!” Then Steve briefly left the band right after that album… there was just a lot going on.
Jeb: There is much more acoustically going on with “Dust in the Wind.”
Jeff: It’s all acoustic. There is a six-string acoustic on the left; there is a six-string on the right, there is a hi-strung six-string guitar in the center, all recorded with the same Martin D-28. There are a few punch in’s on the song, as the guys were having a little trouble just nailing it.
Because I was cutting acoustics, I had to keep the click track quite low in their headphones, so we would not record the click coming through on the microphones that were on the guitar. It was hard for them to hear the click, and this was what was causing the trouble. They really did an amazing job.
When I got the two six-strings cut left and right I immediately put the high strings from a twelve-string on the Martin and recorded the guitar with just the high strings, placing it dead center in the mix. I wanted to add a little bit of shimmer to the pattern. For the violin and viola parts—we didn’t have a viola so I sped the tape up and had Robby play the viola parts on the violin and when I slowed it back down it went down to pitch.
Jeb: I love Leftoverture, but when push comes to shove Point of Know Return I think is better.
Jeff: You know, I am not going to disagree with you. Part of the -for lack of a better vocabulary to describe this- the tension going on at that time contributed to the overall feel of the album. It is not an angry album, but there is a frustration to that album that gave it a certain power.
Jeb: It is well documented that Walsh quit the band during the record.
Jeff: Steve was angry the entire album. He quit in the middle of the album. I said, “Steve, you can’t quit in the middle of the album; let’s get it done and it will all sort itself out.” He quit after the album too, so I guess it didn’t sort itself out. [Laughter]
Steve left the band and then he got back with them, immediately. He did Monolith and he did Audio Visions before he left for good. It got to the point where Steve and Kerry wouldn’t be in the studio at the same time.
Steve and I had a lot of laughs recording Leftoverture but during Point, the laughs were gone. We did a version of “Cheyanne Anthem” and in that part where the synths play, Steve and I played around with the tape speed, slowing down and speeding up while recording loads of vocal parts, and it was like a big Queen production piece. We thought it was hilarious and cool at the same time. Kerry didn’t like that at all, and we got more serious.
Point of Know Return started in Studio in the Country, but we moved to Nashville and I finished it there. Being at Studio in the Country, being back there as much as I loved the place, it was different. Things had changed. The restaurants weren’t as good and the hotel wasn’t good. [Laughter]
Jeb: One song I want to talk about, that I just think is amazing…
Jeff: If it is “Portrait” I agree with you.
Jeb: It is!
Jeff: I was never happy with the mix. It was the last one and I was exhausted. And I think “Paradox” is one of the best songs on the album.
As I said, I won’t argue with you about Point of Know Return, although most people say Leftoverture is the best. I think “Mysteries and Mayhem” and “The Pinnacle” are amazing from Masque, as good as any of the best work. I have been dying to go back and remix those. I did a lot of surround sound mixing for Universal and Sony and I would love to go back and mix those songs in surround.
Jeb: I can’t let you go without talking about the title cut “Point of Know Return.” That song was made to be a hit.
Jeff: We thought that the album needed another rock song and we didn’t have another song. Steve had two warm ups that he did: One was “The Spider” and the other was the riff from “Point of Know Return.” We had already put “The Spider” on the album. Steve, Rich, Robby and Phil were the ones who recorded that song. Rich put a rough bass down and then later Dave came back and put his bass on it. Kerry was not on that song at all. It was a very commercial endeavor.
Jeb: Was “Dust” the obvious choice for a single?
Jeff: Yes, we all knew it was going to be a huge hit.
Jeb: To end this segment, let’s talk about each original member of the band Kansas. First up: Kerry Livgren.
Jeff: Kerry was/is very mature and extremely well read. It took me years to catch up with some of the philosophical issues he was dealing with at a very young age. He worked his way through various religions on his way to Christianity. His awareness of life is on the level of someone like Roger Waters.
When you observe the relationship between the older man and the older woman in “Lamplight Symphony” or when you listen to the words of “Miracles Out of Nowhere” you see that he’s got an old soul perspective that I am totally in awe of. The maturity of his philosophical view of life is outstanding. We were very fortunate to have such a tremendous writer in the group.
Jeb: Steve Walsh.
Jeff: Phil and I go back and listen to some of the live stuff that we have laying around and we are still in awe of Steve. He wasn’t just hitting the big notes on pitch; he was nailing all the grace notes as well. He is one of a handful of the most gifted musicians I have ever been around. Forget his singing, his ability on the Hammond organ and his ability to understand and grasp any instrument he wanted to grasp and make a statement on that instrument is just remarkable. I have heard Steve sit down on drums, and he is not a drummer, and put down the groove he is talking about. He is amazing. If Kerry makes a case for channeling, Steve proves it.
To me, there are two aspects to a singer. One is your God given voice, the other is what you do with it, the singer you are. That is where you get a guy like Bob Dylan or Leon Russell or Willie Nelson; these guys don’t have great voices, but they are singers; they know how to sing. Steve’s voice is just one of the instruments in his bag of tricks. Overall, he is one of the five most gifted musicians I’ve ever known.
Go back and listen to the harmonies to “Journey to Mariabronn” and his sense of timing and pitch is phenomenal. And, he had the instrument that allowed him to do everything he ever dreamed up.
Jeb: I want to hear something about Steve Walsh’s musical ability that no one knows.
Jeff: Early on, we pulled into Hayes, Kansas and there was this organ store. It was the first time Steve had played an organ with foot pedals. He sat down while we were doing something and in about forty minutes he was playing those foot pedals. And I mean well!
When Phil got the first sponsorship that anyone in the band had, it was with Slingerland. Steve said, “Let’s order some vibes.” Those vibes came two days before I cut “Magnum Opus” and that is Steve playing those vibes and that is not cut and paste; he sat there -and this story is important besides being interesting- he sat there and figured them out, and two days later he cut all the vibes on that song. I am still impressed with it.
Jeb: Phil Ehart.
Jeff: Phil is very disciplined, extremely consistent and dependable. You add these qualities to one of the most musical drummers ever and you get the dream scenario; a rock-solid, repeatable drum performance where the song is the single most important thing.
Phil delivers the ideal drum track: it is so in tune with the music that is being performed, so in the pocket that you can listen to the song without being distracted by the drums. And then, if you choose to single out the drums in your listening experience, you get to hear some of the coolest stuff ever! I’ve worked with many excellent drummers and without fail I get this question: “You know, what exactly is Phil playing on Journey from Mariabronn?” or some other song. He has a really unique approach.
Jeb: Dave Hope
Jeff: I have never heard another bass player like Dave. Dave is one of the best, if not the best, non-funk bass players to ever play in rock. He is up there with John Entwistle and Bob Daisley. He comes up with parts that are different and he has the ability to execute the parts. I have worked with bass players more technical, but I like Dave better.
Dave is like Daisley; he’s got the groove, he’s incredible but he is not funky. Dave gives Phil the ability to play the drums the way he plays just as Entwistle did for Keith Moon. Dave just feels the groove. If you asked Dave what measure he is playing he will not have any idea, but it will be outstanding.
Jeb: Robby Steinhardt.
Jeff: What makes Robby great is his personality and he has a whole lot of ability. It is his unconventional and undisciplined approach to life that comes across in his playing. You can give ten guys something to play and Robby is going to play it differently than the rest and that is what makes him great.
Jeb: Rich Williams
Jeff: Rich is Rich, he is a rock. Rich is just how he looks. He is big, solid and unmovable. Rich was always good, but he is even better now than he used to be.
Kerry as a player had less consistency than Rich, he was more likely to experiment whereas once Rich was happy with what he was going to play, you got that performance every time. Rich’s note choice is not your typical note choice, either. There is one commonality between Rich Williams and Yngwie Malmsteen, and there are not two guitarists who are more diametrically opposed, but neither one of them will ever play the notes that you think they are going to play.
With Yngwie he would have moments where he would play something and I would say, “Was that really hard to play?” He would go, “Yeah, it was hard to play.” I would go, “Well, it was also really hard to listen to” and we would laugh and he would stay at it until it was easy to listen to.
Rich was never put off because it was difficult, and he, too, would work at it until it was easy to listen to. Rich never made you squirm when it was his time to play, he was always right there. He is just solid as a rock. Look who I chose to have counting time for me for Leftoverture? Rich! The thing about Rich is that you never want to start the song in the wrong speed, because if you do then that is what is in his head.
Jeb: The last question comes via Rich Williams. I was texting with him and he said to ask you about your infamous mirrored belt…
Jeff: [Laughter] I did have this infamous mirrored belt. One time we were using a mirrored ball and we had some of that mirrored ball material left over. I went down to the leather store and I had them make a belt with two rows of mirrors in it. It was awesome.
Recently, I was watching some runway show and they were backstage and they were talking about this custom made mirrored belt. I was like, “Wow, I’m just 40 years ahead of my time!”
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