Charles Walker @ WKCR-FM, 1973.
When I reflect on all the hard work the musicians put into the recording of Blues from the Apple, it’s sad to realize it didn’t even sell out the initial pressing of 1000 LPs, Oblivion’s poorest selling release. But it’s probably supports the thesis in Dick Pennington’s liner notes that “the New York City blues scene has been so far underground that even to the avid aficionado it has remained invisible.” Tom Pomposello, Long Island born and raised, was New York blues biggest champion. For 30 years he exposed local bluesmen on his radio shows “Something Inside Me” on WCKR (later on WBAI).
During a broadcast in March of 1973 Tom was interviewing New York based (Atlanta born), latter day country blues musician Larry Johnson. He’d brought a friend, guitarist and singer Charles Walker, and they spontaneously broke into an acoustic set featuring Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Decoration Day.” During the interview Tom quizzed Charles about the local scene, since he’d been recording singles for Danny and Bobby Robinson since the 1950s. Tom wasted no time in convincing me we had to act to start this review of our blues scene.
“Fred,” said Tom in his big brotherly way, “in this business, you can never act too soon.”
His wisdom made sense even though I was skeptical that we were going to be scooped by Alligator, Rounder or some other 70s indie. We went right to work on what was to be a year of scams, flim flams, and some awesome music.
It seemed like we were recording every week, and in fact, my notes show we did well over a dozen sessions to get the album. All the recording was done in WKCR’s Studio 3, recently rebuilt with a custom radio recording 2-track board and Scully recorders, using Neumann, Shure, and AKG microphones borrowed from Mark Seiden. Acoustic piano, rollicking drums, electric guitar, and live vocals made getting balances pretty tough live to 2-track, but all in all the sound was pretty bluesy.
Really the blues: Foxy Ann Yancey, WKCR-FM, 1973. Portrait by Roy Langboard.
My favorite sessions were the ones will drummer Ola Mae Dixon and Foxy Ann Yancey. Ola was a classic 5x5 fireplug, sweet as the day in long. She’d show up straight off the subway, put down her case, and one by one, extract the whole kit from inside of the bass drum. Those drums could scream under her powerful arms, and to my ears you hear her best on the instrumental “It’s Changin’ Time.” Ann never talked much, and frankly, to this 23 year old suburban white kid she was kind of scary. Despite that she captured the whole flavor of the blues best for me the day she showed up on for a Saturday session with a pack of cigarettes, her Stratocaster, and a full length sparkly evening gown — at 1 o’clock in the afternoon.
After a year, we retreated to Tom’s almost one bedroom home in Commack, Long Island to edit the hundreds of takes. The coupling Tom’s deep desire to get it right with the overall looseness of the performances that things got hard. We’d set up our prosumer stereo Teac recorder in his living room around 9 o’clock and start work. We’d still be at it when his wife went to sleep in their curtained off bedroom and three four year old Travis would collapse around one or two in the morning, and when the sun came up in the morning. We’d edit the tracks over and over, trying to capture the perfect feeling, keeping the tempos straight, and working hard around the foibles of a couple of leaders (Charles Walker and Lee Roy Little) who, to be charitable, weren’t always in the best conditions to have consistent takes.
My notebook show that we brought our sequenced sides over to Echo Sound Studio in Levittown where engineer Kevin Behrman helped us balance the levels between sessions and add a slight touch of equalization and echo (WCKR had neither). We sent the reels over to Wakefield Pressing in Phoenix for mastering and the quietest 1000 vinyl LPs made in the United States.0 comments Tagged: Blues from the Apple, Charles Walker, Foxy Ann Yancey, Lee Roy Little, OD-4, Ola Mae Dixon, recording, Tom Pomposello,.