Beyond Pat-Boone-Debbie-Boone: Gerry Hanson RocksAugust 18, 2006
I'm a total sucker for drums --- even crappy jam-band-noodly grooves that drift plus or minus five clicks of the actual tempo. That said, when given the opportunity to play with a real pro, there are few places I would rather be. This past Tuesday and Wednesday evening I made the trek up to Gerry Hanson's studio in Lawrenceville where he laid down drum tracks for five of the songs on the new record. There have been many times in my musical life that I have been in the presence of greatness but only on one hand could I count the number of times I have been truly blown away. Working with Gerry was one of those times.
To truly understand the experience, you have to know a little bit about Gerry. He's played around the Atlanta scene for nearly a couple of decades, working with anyone and everyone including Shawn Mullins, John Mayer, Kristian Bush of Sugarland and too many more to count. Gerry has this very relaxed easy-going way about him. He loves to tell a good story and does not ever seem to be in a rush to get to the next thing. He smokes way too much and I don't think I've ever seen him without a backwards baseball hat on his head. When he starts talking about drums, there is an intensity in his eyes that transforms his entire demeanor.
He had listened to the songs I sent over to him maybe once or twice before I arrived. We sat down in the control room and he cued up "Moving in and Out." Immediately his whole body becomes a drum kit and he is miming parts, punctuating various rhythmic gestures with onomatopoeia-esque* phrases like "boom-chaka-chong-chong-ka," (any drummer I've ever played with who was worth a damn talks in this crazy percussion speak) and every so often he looks to me for feedback and input on a particular turnaround or double-stop. He mentally maps the entire song in his head without a written chart and then we discuss a drummer's style we both know that he can use as a reference such as Omar Hakim or Vinnie Colaiuta and then he is off. He cues up the ProTools session, shuts the control room door, sits behind his small but meticulously selected drum kit and tells me to hit record.
Two bars into the song, any minor concerns I may have had about his ability to do the job were put to rest. He nailed all five songs in the first take for the most part, only laying down additional passes just to experiment and give us a few options in mixing. Unless you've ever tried to record, you cannot understand how difficult it is to do this, especially from a rhythmic standpoint. To lock in on every single beat of the click track, remember all of the nuances of the song's dynamics, breaks and fills and somehow play it with feeling and intensity like it was your own is no small accomplishment. Gerry did it like it was a walk in the park.
He single handedly re-energized these songs for me and I am so psyched now about getting them finished up and out into the world. His drumming skills are only rivaled by his engineering ability. He was able to cut, splice and piece together anything I wanted seamlessly and it goes with out saying that the drums sound so f***ing big and beautiful. We talked toward the end of the session about what makes the magic in a recording and he said something that stuck with me. "When you add live drums, it's the pumping of the air --- actually smacking something and moving the air that gives a song life."
* Years ago when Shawn Mullins and I were hanging out one night at Eddie's Attic before one of his shows, he was talking about the recording session he had just completed for his last record. He got to use Sting's drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and my jaw hit the floor because this guy is a legend. Shawn just smiled and said to me in his southern drawl: "Yeah, but shit man, all I ever really want a drummer to do is to keep time and play a solid 'pat-boone-debbie-boone' fill here and there." Sure enough, a month later when his record was released and I heard the opening track. Vinnie's first fill into the song was? You guessed it: 'pat-boone-debbie-boone'.