THE MAKING OF “BOBBY DARIN SINGS DOCTOR DOLITTLE”
This recording is arguably a great lost Bobby Darin masterpiece. Because of the friction between Bobby and Atlantic Records around the time of it’s recording and release, this album barely saw the light of day.
From an interview with Roger Kellaway, Bobby’s musical director and the arranger and conductor of “Bobby Darin sings Doctor Dolittle” from Bobbydarin.com comes this excerpt:
“Bobby Darin and I were at the Flamingo in Vegas. He called me up one morning. I went immediately to his suite where he not only presented me with the Dolittle songs, but told me that we were recording in LA in 3 weeks and then, he handed me the instrumentation list.
Yes, he was thorough and totally involved! And, as I mentioned earlier, I knew him so well at this point that he completely trusted me to arrange the music. We got the correct keys together. Next, we were at Western 1 in LA with a 35 piece orchestra. The “Duck” calls on “Talk To the Animals” were my idea! Also the trombone “Elephants” on the end.
By the way, a production point that you won’t solve today: Darin knew that Atlantic records wasn’t knocked out with this project. So, to appease them, he asked me not to go “overtime” [which would add more $$$’s to the budget]. What this means is that we recorded all 10 tunes in two 3hr sessions! That’s 10 tunes with a 35 piece orchestra, rehearsing and recording each tune—–in 6 hrs! “Talk To the Animals” was recorded in 1 take, for instance! [These days, very few recordings are done “live”. They’re mostly begun with the rhythm section and the vocalist, and, in 3 hrs you’re lucky if you have 3 tunes recorded. Then after the album is “tracked” you add the orchestration—–if there is any].
My favorite Bobby moment comes whenever I hear our performance of “After Today” [Bobby Darin Sings Dr. Dolittle] I’m transported immediately back on stage doing our “magic” together. Also, when Bobby recorded this tune he had a cold—–you can hear a darker quality to his voice. This adds to my emotional connection to the tune. [Remember: 1968 recording was in 4 Tracks and live. That means that the orchestra was setup to be recorded in 3 tracks, leaving only one track for the vocal. That meant that if Bobby wanted to change anything about the vocal, we would be replacing the existing vocal. Imagine this strain with a cold!]”
Bobby Darin Sings Dr. Dolittle” had very minimal promotion and was quickly dropped from the Atlantic catalog. This resulted in a separation between Atlantic Records and Bobby and was the start of Bobby’s own record company, Direction Records.”
In recent years Doctor Dolittle has been reissued on CD but sadly the original mixes have either been lost or ignored and the resulting remix and re-mastering done by Diablo Records in the UK contains new mixes that not only do not represent the intentions of Bobby Darin, Roger Kellaway and myself, but frankly are also simply horrid!
Because of a combination of good luck and some compulsive, obsessive behavior, a pristine copy of the original stereo album mixes have survived in my personal tape library. I have transferred the original analog masters tapes into the digital domain and have re-mastered the album hoping that one day it will be added to Bobby’s Darin’s catalog of recordings thus completing his legacy. Bobby Darin was one of the greatest singers of his era, who sadly passed away much too early in his young life.
The recording was made on Monday the 24th (session) and Tuesday the 25th (vocal fixes and mix) of July, 1967. As was usual in those days there were no advance discussions between myself and the Arranger or Artist. The producer of the sessions was Roger and Bobby, although I don’t remember anyone actually acting like a ‘Producer’. Roger was in the studio conducting and playing a bit of piano and Bobby was in the vocal booth and on the floor focused on getting his part of the recording done. I was in the control room … alone. It was simply a group of young creatives trying to make a really first rate record.
In advance of the session all I was provided was the studio booked, the session dates and times and the instrumental line up. As I recall the first time I met Roger and Bobby was just prior to downbeat at the first session.
Roger Kellaway not only arranged and conducted, but also played some of the piano. Roger reports the session was 35 players, which is possible, but it sounds to me a bit more like about 40 players. One session sounds to be a bit more orchestral with French Horns, Flute, Tympani and Strings and the second session is more of a Big Band brass and winds line-up with Strings and Percussion. All of the players would have been the ‘heavy hitters’ of the Hollywood studio players of the 60’s. I don’t know who contracted those sessions.
In those days sessions were 3 hours long (without overtime) and that usually meant that only 3 titles could be recorded per 3 hours session. These were constraints imposed by the Hollywood musicians union which was extraordinarily powerful at that time. As the Arranger/Conductor, Roger Kellaway recalls in an excerpt from his interview posted earlier in this article that the entire album was recorded in two three hour sessions with no overtime. No overtime was a directive from Bobby. Bobby was more than likely funding the sessions himself since Atlantic was not supportive of the project (actually they thought Bobby had lost his mind). Special arrangements could be made with the union which allowed for an increase to the number of titles allowed per session for an additional payment. It was expensive, but much less so than overtime.
Also remember, the musicians only worked 50 minutes an hour so a three hour session was actually 50 minutes plus a 10 minute break, 50 minutes and generally a 20 minute break and then 50 minutes. On occasion, when someone or something was late (musicians, cartage, arrangements/parts etc.) a 10 minute break could be called up-front. Then you could work for 100 minutes, take a 20 minute break, work 50 minutes and the session was wrapped. So the entire album was recorded in only 5 hours of actual working time.
The Recording Technology
We were recording live in Western Recorders Studio One to an Ampex 351 4-track with Ampex 351 valve electronics. No noise reduction was used (nor had been invented in those days). We were recording at 15ips on Scotch/3M 131 1/2” tape at Ampex zero (185 n/w).
Everything was recorded live except for the Sitar and Tabla which were dropped in on Bobby’s vocal track at the end of “Fabulous Places”. The track layout was:
1.) Orchestra (left)
2.) Rhythm Section (center) – Bass, Drums, Piano, Guitar, Percussion, etc.
3.) Bobby’s Vocal
4.) Orchestra (right)
The stereo orchestra layout was pretty conventional. Violins on the left, Violas center, Celli on the right, French Horns left center, Brass toward the right and winds (usually doubles between saxes and flutes) towards the left.
Also in those days the only reverberation I used at United and Western Recorders were marvelous live stereo acoustic chambers designed by Bill Putnam. There were EMT plates available, but I never saw any reason to use them with great Bill Putnam acoustic chambers available. We also had Class-A phone line links to rented chambers at TTG Studios and Capitol Studios. But Bill had built a new dedicated stereo chamber for Western 1 and it was amazing. I saw no reason to not use it extensively. Because of how we recorded in those days the reverberation was also printed live. There would have been a mono live chamber used for Bobby’s vocal, another mono chamber for the Rhythm section and for the Orchestra I would have used Bill’s new stereo chamber assigned to the studio.
All of the microphones would have been valve condenser microphones (now rare as hens teeth and some as expensive as a Mercedes). Dynamic microphones were only rarely used (snares, kicks, guitar amps, etc.) and since there were so many really extraordinary valve condenser microphones available using dynamic microphones was only done when they were simple the best choice.
The console was a custom Universal Audio console, again a Bill Putnam design. It would have probably been no less than 14 inputs and no more than 24 inputs, probably 16 to 18. As I remember this console was quite advanced for it’s day and actually had an equalizer on each position. I think it had +/- 3, 6, 9 db at 5khz and 10khz and +/- 3, 6, 9 db at 50hz and 100hz. This was well before the days of really huge consoles. If we needed more inputs we had to be clever. For example if we had a large violin section and we need 4 mikes to cover it and we were short of inputs (as would have been the case for this project) we would patch all four mikes into a mult-box on the studio floor and then from the mult-box directly into one pre-amplifier and fader labelled ‘Violins’. Of course with that technique you really had to know your mikes, ensure they were all of equal gain and know how to control your placement. Otherwise you would have a really major mess on your hands.
It should be noted that Western Studio One (6000 Sunset Blvd. now owned and operated by EastWest) was the last studio, console and live chambers built by Bill Putnam before his untimely death. It was truly a ‘gem’, the logical evolution of Universal Recording in Chicago and United Studio ‘A’ in the 6050 Sunset Blvd. building next door (now Ocean Way Recording).
Western Studio One had a great vocal booth, and as would have been common in those days, Bobby would have sung live with the orchestra. How many of those live vocals were actually used I don’t know, but I believe it was the vast majority.
I remember we went back and re-recorded a few of the vocals on the album the next day. I have vivid memories of doing some vocal overdubs for the album with Bobby. Perhaps we did, at the most, one or two hours for all the vocals that needed improving. Bobby only needed one or two takes to get his vocals and he never struggled with pitch or phrasing. And as we only had one track he only could do one take and we would only rarely, if ever, have done any drop-ins (punch ins).
Bobby’s vocals were all recorded with a Neumann U-47 valve microphone with a Universal Audio 176B valve compressor. Only minimal equalization would have been used as to do any more than just ‘tweak’ the top end or low end would have caused me to resort to outboard equipment which would have been impractical given our recording schedule.
In those days the mix was a rather ‘matter of fact’ process, free of the stress, drama and labor that define the mixes of today.
It might be of interest that in those the days of 4 tracks, monitoring was not done in stereo, but on instead on 4 individual loudspeakers, typically Altec Lansing 605B or 604E’s driven by 30 watt Universal Audio valve amplifiers … one speaker per track. They weren’t particularly loud and they did tend to ‘bark’ a bit…but that said, we were all used to the sound which was, in fact, state of the art for 1967.
With the four speakers used in the Darin album, left orchestra would have been on the far left speaker or #1, right orchestra would have been on the far right speaker or #4 and Bobby’s vocal and the rhythm section would have been on #2 and #3. The channel on the tape machine you were recording on determined which loudspeaker you were monitoring on and the level you were recording at determined how loud that speaker would be. No adjustment on the monitor mix was available. You printed the mix you wanted. Not very complicated. Perhaps that’s why we could do such complex recordings, day in and day out, so casually!
The mix was basically a re-assign from 4 channels to 2. You would monitor the mix on the outboard loudspeakers (#1 and #4). Often you did not have pan pots so you would simply mix to bus 1 and 4 assigning that track on the left to bus 1 and the one on the right to bus 4 and anything in the center went to both bus 1 and bus 4 (double punching). In some consoles when you were in the stereo mix mode one of the busses (2 or 3..sometimes both) went to a pan pot(s) which outputted to the left and right mix bus. On those consoles with stereo mix buses you would have extra assign buttons for left and right (stereo).
Anyway, usually the stereo mix was simply about establishing the same mix you were hearing during the live session and perhaps adding a bit more stereo chamber and perhaps just a touch of extra equalization. The reverberation you printed while recording was perhaps slightly on the light side so when you did the final mix you could add a bit more to get everything, including the orchestra and the vocal in the same stereo acoustic chamber, pulling everything together into the same acoustic space. The stereo chamber we used on the live orchestra tracks and the mix was the famous Bill Putnam stereo chamber that he built for Western Recorders Studio One. It now exists as a Waves Impulse known as Cello Chamber. (Sadly things have changed over the years and this impulse has none of the sweetness and is way longer than the way Bill had that chamber set-up ‘in the day’.) Western One became part of Ocean Way, then Cello and is now East-West Studios where it has been preserved, updated and continues to be one of the finest recording venues in America. Detailed photographs of this room can be found with a Google search.
Anyway…I digress…back to the mix. Once you had a good balance of the 4 tracks, which generally took only a bit more than playing through the tracks in real time to check your balances, you printed the mix to a 2 track Ampex 351-2 valve machine. There were very few if any ‘moves’ required as the majority of the mixing was done live. In any event, all you could do was work with the vocal (which with Bobby was unnecessary … he was a master of setting his vocal right where it need to be in the track), the entire mixed rhythm section and the mixed stereo orchestra. My memory is that we fixed up a couple of vocals and did the mix on the entirely album in, perhaps, one 4 to 6 hour session. So with the live recording the entire album took, at the very most, 12 hours. This was when making records was FUN!
The New Mastering
The tape used for this CD re-mastering was a 15ips, flat, one to one copy from the original 15ips edited master mixes as sequenced for the original LP release (playback machine output was patched directly into the recorder input with tones transferred to assure unity gain and unity frequency response and with further electronic intervention during the copy process). My copy was made directly after the completion of the original mixes in July of 1967 and is still in pristine condition. The original running order and intervals between tracks has been maintained. Of note was that Bobby wanted all the ballads on Side One of the album and the up-tempo tracks on Side Two of the album. Thus on the newly mastered CD tracks 1-5 are Side One of the LP and tracks 6-10 are Side Two of the LP. The tape was played on a Studer A-810 two track tape recorder through a Apogee Rosetta A/D converter and then recorded via AES/EBU into ProTools HD at 24bits, 48k.
Minor adjustments were made to the relative levels, track to track, to provide an improved listening experience and only very minor equalization was applied using high resolution, phase coherent Waves mastering equalizers. Equalization was ‘global’ (i.e. the same equalization is used on all tracks and to exactly the same degree). This approach was taken to maintain the integrity of the original mixing while still bringing the recording up to the best contemporary standards. The mastering was monitored using Genelec 1032 active monitors with Genelec 7070A managed bass extension as well as Dynaudio Acoustics active BM6A reference audio monitors. Further mastering quality control was done on modified vintage Koss/Acoustech Model X electrostatic bi-amplified loudspeakers.
A few selected tracks from this album have been posted in The Listening Room. Sadly I’ve tried to contact the Darin Estate to encourage re-release of this material and have so far failed. Even Kevin Spacey, who has a copy of the newly mastered album, has forwarded it to the Estate with his personal commendation and his expressed desire for a re-release, but to no avail. I’m afraid to say that unless something changes, my version of this album will remain an un-released personal collectors item.