Finishing Songs from Memory in Atlanta this week, I'm in the mood to ramble on about another independent recording project.
The Refreshments were offered many things in those first months of gigging. Lots of bands wanted to play with us, and lots of club managers wanted us to play their venues. People offered to be our fan club president (thanks, Kathleen) and to run our official Web page (whatever that was; this is 1994 we’re talking about.) We could feel that people wanted to help us, wanted to be part of this thing we’d started. If they thought they had something that would be of value to a fledgling band, they offered it.
Don Salter was one such person. Don approached one of the band members after a show in what must’ve been the early summer of 1994. Don owned and operated the Saltmine, a recording studio in Mesa, Arizona. Don loved the band, and he wanted to have the Refreshments into his studio, so much so that he offered free recording time to get us there. If we didn’t mind coming in at odd hours--times when Don didn't have a paying act in the studio--we were welcome to have a go at it.
Free? The price was right.
We got ready to make our first record by doing what we always did, playing and practicing. There was very little discussion of how we wanted the record to sound, no pre-production; we were proud of how we sounded live, so we were done, as far as we were concerned. The only thing we really had to decide was which songs we would record, having more than an album’s worth of material by then. We quickly decided to record only our “first batch” of songs, more or less what we had going into our first gig, plus “Mekong.” We would go into the Saltmine and play these songs, just like we were playing a live gig, only this time tape would be rolling.
And that’s what we did. We went into the Saltmine, usually late at night, set up, cracked a twelve-pack, played our songs, cracked another twelve-pack, played some more, broke down our equipment and went home. This happened maybe two or three times for basic tracks, once for guitars, twice for vocals, once for mixing. It was all done by the end of the summer, Wheelie in the can, our first record.
Don Salter’s fond of telling the story of the Beeramid, and he tells it well, so I’m reluctant to repeat it here. Basically, one night while we recorded basic tracks, the band started building a pyramid of beer cans in the window between the console room and music room. By the end of the night (sometime early in the morning) the Beeramid was so tall and impressive that the engineer had to struggle to see around the thing to view the band.
The Beeramid. It’s an adequate symbol for the whole project. Anyone who’s heard Wheelie knows why. It’s still out there somewhere, Wheelie, if you can find it. I was careful to keep a few copies for myself, but over the years I’ve found reason to part with one here, one there. I’m down to one copy, and that one’s staying with me.
We’ll do more on Wheelie later, as it fits into our time line. There's plenty more to tell.