Birth of an Album

People look back at the 1960s and 1970s and assume that the photos and portraits of ‘hippies’ and hippie bands were as Hollywood painted them, vapid, stoned, and a little left of whoopee. While Magic Music had all the elements of the ‘whoopee’ (I mean Colorado was the first State to legalize pot) our true orbit was around and about the music. It was about the sounds of the two acoustic guitars and mandolin, the vocal blend, the flute melody lines and the songs.

Starting in the early years the band recorded several times in various settings with different producers and in a number of studios and at radio stations. The recordings were usually mixed live to analogue two-track tape. The tapes and live shows brought Magic Music to the attention of the major labels. A hand full of offers came in from labels and music moguls that always included stipulations that the band change or alter the sound, stage performance, arrangements and even instrumentation: things like, “You guys need to stand up when you play…you really need to add drums…what about a string section…etc.” One way or another, ignorance or bliss, we stuck to our guns, refusing onerous contracts with publishing “land grabs” that came out of New York, Nashville and L.A. There were offers like, “Sign here and we’ll be glad to take all your publishing for you.”

By 1975 our tours included festivals, colleges, concerts and a few butt-ugly rowdy bars from Minnesota to Arizona. As a result, the extended solos and the new grass side of the band became more of the musical focus. Some of it was pure survival – when we got requests like, “Play Rocky Top or I’ll punch your lights out” – and some of it was because it was just damn fun to play. In 1975 and 76 the Telluride Bluegrass Festival grabbed us – along with The Ophelia Swing Band and Sam Bush and New Grass Revival. Our manager, Steve Dahl with Stone County also managed New Grass and he took us into Applewood studios in Denver to record all our catalogue two-track (one more time). Independent label Flying Fish out of Chicago expressed strong interest and they chose two of the songs for a one-day 24-track session: Better Days and Old Man Das – (that we funded by selling our bass flute to the owner Green Daniel). Those were the only songs that were ever recorded multi-track. Shortly after completing the recording, and while Flying Fish was still mulling over the “few changes we’d like the band to make,” MM looked at the disco train slamming onto the airwaves  and decided it was time to park the Magic Music busses. But there was and is a core group of roughly 20 songs on those two-track tapes that audiences and fans remembered. We still have many of those two-track tapes. AND WE ARE ALWAYS LOOKING FOR MORE. If you have or know of anybody who has tapes of Magic Music, especially the early years with Flatbush please contact us — we would love to hear them and even look for ways to get them out to fans. (Chris.Daniels@ucdenver.edu)

In November 2011 when we all came together to play a reunion show at Swallow Hill in Denver I reserved a day at Coupe Studios in Boulder to try and capture that magic in the new world of modern recording technology. We focused on 16 tunes that really defined the breadth of the Magic Music catalogue. That was the map. That first day we got a good basic track for Bright Sun and some scratch tracks. Then the big silver birds flew our little band of brothers back to our various homes and realities.

Over the next few months I laid down the basic rhythm tracks for the other 15 songs with guitar, mandolin, banjo, vocal and click track at Coupe Studios. From there I sent the hard-drive out to Tim and Will on the Vineyard to add their parts – and that is where it really got fun.

With all his years of performing and recording experience in L.A. and Nashville for everybody from Johnny Cash to The Doobie Brothers, Tim really wanted to give the songs the production and refinement that we were never able to do in the 70s. As Tim and Will put it, “Now it’s our turn to play with it.” Tim began by importing the files into Digital Performer, the program he and Will use for their various writing projects and then planning out the steps to take it to completion. Working almost daily with Will on mandolin, guitar, keyboard and vocal parts the album started to take shape. I would fly in and do sessions with Tim as did Tode and Das. Then it was time for some amazing friends (musicians) like Tommy Major, “The Nipper,” Jimmy Haslip, Sam Bush, Bill Payne and Scarlet Rivera to help us refine the vision for the album – reworking some songs completely and adding new arrangements and instrumentation on others. And, Tim busted our collective asses to play the best we’d ever played in the studio. It all culminated in the 2014 mixing sessions at East West studios in L.A. where Tim and Brenden worked their wizardry. For the first time these songs have been brought to life through the magic of modern technology, Tim’s vision for what the songs could be and all our collective input into the production and ideas. There’s much more to tell. The story continues.

Chris (Spoons) Daniels

Coming soon

The Producer’s Corner” – watch for posts from Tim about the process and the players, Digital Performer, East West Studios and more.

Here in the MMBlog you will find

Stories from the Porcupine Flats” – various stories from Tode, Will, Tim, Spoons and others about old trucks, dogs, years on the road and the like.

This is Fun” – tales of jumping into the mix from Tommy, Jimmy, Billy and more.