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The Tail Behind The Tune ... Walkin’ The Dog

Updated: Apr 21, 2023

We started recording this song as a whim in 2009.

Dennis and I had been working on another tune ... had some time left over at Sam Reid’s studio.

So I asked him if he would mind if we did something else before he had to leave.

He said sure ... what would you like to do ... I replied Walkin’ The Dog ... in what key, he asked.

I said A and counted it in ... in two three four ... and we recorded the song, vocals and bass only.

We left a space in the middle for a solo, I was thinking of making my debut on kazoo at the time.

And that is the only time in this whole adventure that any two of us were in the studio at the same time ... when Dennis and I recorded the tune together ... everybody else came one at a time.

So here it is ... the first step on our musical journey ...

Listened to our initial recording at home a few times ... really enjoyed it.

And found myself singing an under harmony part to my lead vocal as I listened.

Next time I was at Chalet Studio I asked David Chester if I could add the under harmony.

Sounds simple enough and it is ... David played back the original track while I sang my part with headphones on so you can hear the original recording and the new part you are singing too.

That happens all the time in a recording studio ... it’s called overdubbing.

To make it sound good you have to match the under harmony as closely as you can to the lead.

And that can be a bit tricky ... nailing the timing down for the new part exactly.

You are after all singing to yourself but it can still be a bit challenging getting it just right.

But it came together well ... and so now here is that next step in the process ...

I had been working on a project for a while called Duets And The Whole Nine Yards.

That would include a duet with each member of our band and then tunes by the whole band.

With regard to that concept, I had come to think that Walkin’ The Dog was my Dennis duet.

I was talking to Dennis on the phone a few months later ... catching up with him.

When he said to me that he had to keep practicing every day to keep his lip in shape.

Asked why a bass player would need to keep his lip in shape ... he replied that he played trumpet.

News to me! ... I have known Dennis since we played in a band together in the late sixties.

I told him I never knew he played the trumpet at all! ... and when did he start doing that?

He said that he just played trumpet as a hobby and had been doing that for many years.

His brother is a professional saxophone player apparently ... so he thought he would try trumpet.

When we hung up a notion occurred to me so I phoned him back and asked him if he would be willing to come out of the closet with his horn and play on a song ... he asked which one?

I replied Walkin’ The Dog ... he then inquired what key it was in again ... I told him A.

He said that puts me in the key of B which has sharps all over and is a difficult key for trumpet.

I don’t know why, but some instruments ... like sax and trumpet ... are not made in the same key as most instruments like pianos are ... the key of C ... so you have to transpose for them.

Dennis went on to say that he would love to sit in on trumpet but the key was too difficult.

When I got off the phone with him I had another thought so I called David Chester.

David is the keyboard player in our band and he owns the studio where we record most often.

I asked Dave if he could transpose our whole recording up a semitone without having it sound like The Chipmunks ... he replied that he knew it could be done but he had never done it before.

I then asked if he would like to give that a try and he said yes he would be willing to do that.

So one day soon thereafter I went over to the studio, Dave got out all his manuals, went to work.

And after an hour or two he had accomplished our task & had transposed the whole track to Bb.

So I called Dennis back and told him what we had done ... he said that was great and that he would play trumpet on the song now, because C was a much easier key for him to play in.

A little while later Dennis came to the studio with his horn and overdubbed two parts he created.

And in so doing he made his courageous public debut on trumpet ... and here it is ...

Recording in a studio is a very different experience than playing live ... not the same thing at all!

Many people think that you just walk into a studio, plug in your gear and ... in two three four ... You then just play the song the way you would at a live gig, pack up your gear and go home.

But that is not the case at all ... playing in the studio is indeed a very different kettle of fish.

And it requires a different set of skills and a very different mindset than live performance.

When you are playing live you feed off the audience and often it inspires you to play even better.

In the studio there is no audience, so it feels somewhat like you are playing in a vacuum of sorts.

Many musicians and singers experience something called red light fever ... a type of anxiety that sets in when you start to record and the red light goes on ... some folks freeze up.

When you play live and you make a mistake or go out of key for a moment or something like that, most people in the audience don’t even notice ... it’s the whole show they remember.

But when you record, down inside yourself you realize that listeners will be able to hear every single little thing you did and it weighs on some people in a way that live playing never does.

Of course the more you work in a studio the less such things are a problem for most folks.

And the evolution of digital recording has made a huge difference in that regard as well.

Back in the days of analog, we recorded onto tape ... the only way to edit anything was with a razor blade ... techs in studios actually did that and some of them learned to do it amazingly well.

However, with digital recording you can edit anything, like a surgeon in the operating room.

You can cut an “s” off the end of a word, cut and paste phrases with ease and even tune stuff.

So in that sense, modern technology has “taken the pressure off” when the red light goes on.

Because if you don’t get what you want you can just do it over again and paste it in place.

Once you understand and realize that, you can relax much more easily and perform better.

I am very proud to say that we do very little editing when our band is recording.

Often what you are hearing is sheer performance with no edits at all with these guys.

That was the case completely for the whole band with our recent recording of Morning Hymn.

What you hear on that recording is exactly what we played and I sang in one of the takes.

In this day and age of digital editing and the manipulation of what you are hearing, that is rare!

The next musician to play on Walkin’ The Dog was our drummer ... Al Cross.

To be honest it is ass backwards to bring the drummer in so late in the game.

The drummer of course sets the time which is critical but in this case we were fortunate.

Dennis Pendrith is a consummate professional bassist who must have a metronome implanted.

Because when we first recorded together his timing was spot on throughout the entire tune.

Less experienced players would likely have sped up or slowed down a little as the song went on.

But not Dennis ... critical ... because any variation in the time would be problematic for Al.

However in any endeavour Murphy’s Law seem to come into play at some point and it did here.

When you record a drummer there are over a dozen mics on the drum kit ... one for every single drum and cymbal he is playing ... there is often a mic inside the bass drum ... and room mics.

The recording engineer that day was new to the studio, installed the room mics upside down!

So when we were listening to the track later the drums did not sound right at all.

As a result we sent the drum track down to our mixing engineer Josh Bowman in Toronto.

The mixing engineer plays a critical role at the end of this process when he goes over and massages every single sound we recorded making sure it sounds as good as it possibly can.

He then balances all those sounds with each other to create the mix you finally get to hear.

On this occasion we asked Josh if he could “fix” the problem we were hearing and he did.

It’s still Al playing every whack on the drums etc but he was able to correct the sound problem.

Which was great because setting up to record the drums again is a costly proposition!

In the studio there is constantly a meter running ... time is money ... literally!

Al Cross is a world class master drummer ... he knows what to play and even more importantly what not to play to make a song work well ... and you can hear that in his performance here.

His playing on this track is very simple and straightforward ... as it needed to be for this tune.

You can listen to the master at work here ...

The last member of our band that came in to the studio to join our musical adventure was our guitarist, Graham Young, who was in a rather bad frame of mind on that particular day.

This was a young man who thought about and played guitar 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

If he wasn’t playing guitar he was going to the music store to buy strings, or listening to records, or jamming with his friends, or going out to play gigs or going out to hear other people play gigs.

Guitar was the main focus of his life ... and then along came the pandemic and it was all gone!

We all identify ourselves to a great degree by what it is we do and suddenly the universe had pulled the rug out from under his feet ... as it had for all young musicians ... and that had hit hard.

To understand other aspects of our session that day some other background is required as well.

Graham and I have an understanding that he will play his Fender Telecaster in the studio.

Unless he approaches me with some rationale as to why he wishes to play a different guitar.

The reason for that understanding is that we have had circumstances in which he recorded some stuff with his Telecaster one day but when I later asked him to come back another day to do some overdubbing on that track he showed up with a different guitar ... which did not match up with his Tele at all ... so we had to throw everything he did on that session in the garbage.

In the studio, time is money and his return session on that occasion was a waste of both!

So, in order to keep things consistent, we have this understanding with which he fully agrees.

Aside from that I must admit I am a bit of a Telecaster junkie myself anyway ... it has been an iconic guitar in country, rock, blues and r’n b for a great many years, especially in Toronto.

It was the guitar played by a great many young guitarists from my era in the sixties because Robbie Robertson played a Telecaster with Levon And The Hawks back in the day, so all the young bucks in the city who idolized Robbie ... Domenic Troiano, Bobby Star etc ... all played a Tele.

Graham won The Sleepwalk Guitar Festival in Toronto when he was 15 years old ... he took the prize money from that award, went out bought himself a Telecaster and has picked it ever since.

While, like many other guitarists he loves to fool around with other guitars and explore them, that Telecaster is like part of his body ... he has a deep intuitive understanding of that guitar.

On this particular day however, Graham pulled out his homemade guitar and started playing it in our session instead, which I decided to just ignore and let him play whatever he wanted.

Frankly I was just very happy that he had come to the studio at all that day so I let that go.

He played several passes at the song ... we can and do tend to keep everything we record for later ... however as Graham was playing Dave and I kept looking at each other with some dismay.

We were not hearing anything in particular that we would want to keep or use on the recording.

After he had played 5 or 6 takes ... and we were getting nowhere ... I finally asked Graham if he would get his Telecaster and take a run at the song with that ... to which he objected at first.

He said that he hadn’t played that guitar in weeks ... but I asked him if he would do that as a personal favour to me, if for no other reason ... which he then reluctantly agreed to do.

He is a real sweetheart and a great guy to work with in music anywhere! ... studio or live.

So he went and got his Tele, tuned it up a little, plugged it into his amp, pulled out his slide and played exactly what you are going to hear in just a moment ... there is not one edit in it at all!

It was an amazing and stunning performance that immediately blew Dave and I away ... thrilling!

If you listen closely you will hear Graham’s mastery of something guitarists call intonation ... his ability to manipulate and alter the tone of his guitar while he is in the motion of playing it.

This aspect of his playing is particularly evident and apparent throughout his solo and is something that he constantly does on his Telecaster that is almost instinctive in nature.

There is something else that is truly wonderful that needs to be considered and understood here.

Not one note of what Graham is playing here is predetermined ... he makes it all up in real time.

If he were to have played the song again for us, it would have sounded entirely different.

If I were to ask him, what are you going to play this time he would laugh, tell me he had no idea.

Until he starts to play and then it just happens ... one of the great joys of making music with him!

Whereas, by comparison, Alex Lifeson from Rush knows every single note his is going to play at a gig when he gets up in the morning, including all his solos, not one note of that is improvised.

Which frankly flies in the face of what rock music and its forebears ... jazz, blues ... are all about.

Graham’s guitar performance is indeed the cherry on our musical sundae ... and here it is ...

The final act in this play is to send what we have done to our mixing engineer Josh Bowman.

Josh goes over the whole recording with a fine tooth comb massaging and making every single aspect of the soundscape we have sent him sound as good as it possibly can, balancing out all the instruments against each other, placing them to the left or to the right side of what you hear.

He is an absolute master of this part of the process and he does a wonderful job for us.

Josh is originally from B. C. and worked on the Bryan Adams Team of engineers out there.

So here is the end of the road in terms of this musical adventure ... the final mix by Josh.

If you compare it with the previous recording shared above you will notice the difference.

Thank you for taking the time to read about our musical adventure ... the tale behind this tune.

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