The Tim Buckley Archives

Interviews


Stan Agol: Recording Engineer

Chat Room 109 - May 24, 2000

by Jack Brolly

I think we're in for a good time with Stan Agol, the recording engineer for three of Tim Buckley's albums...'Starsailor', 'Greetings From L.A.',and 'Look At The Fool'.


(Editors Note: This online chat has been reformatted to a more reader-friendly conventional interview. No meaningful text has been changed.)

How many years have you been in the music business and how many years as a recording engineer?
37 years

Roughly, how many different record labels have you worked for?
Elektra, MGM.

Who was the first big name entertainer that you worked with?
Dizzy Gillespie, around 1967, it was the last Bell Telephone Hour, filmed live at the Jazz Workshop in SF, I also recorded Charles Lloyd at Reed College for the same show.

Can you possibly recall how many big names you worked with and which were some of the most exciting?
Bing Crosby, Dizzy, Frank Zappa, Robert Goulet, Diana Ross, Jackson 5, Sly Stone, Al Jarreau, Sammy Davis Jr, Eric Burdon, Jimmy Witherspoon, mixed a lot of Woodstock I, Harry Chapin, Little Feat,Mickey Newbury, Judy Collins, The James Gang, Todd Rundgren, Don Costa, Buddy Greco, The Osmonds, The Silvers, Steve and Edie, The Boones, CSNY, Blue Cheer, CCR, Steve Miller, Dan Hicks, Cal Tjader,John Handy, Sir Douglas Quintet, Gene Clark, Ronne Blakley, Ry Cooder, The Charlatans, Robby Krieger, T-Bone Burnett.

How did you wind up working with Tim Buckley?
I had just finished Chunga's Revenge with Zappa.

What's the difference between a producer and a recording engineer?
The engineer is responsible for the technology involved in the recording The producer, if one is present, is responsible for the overall direction. A record producer would equate to a film director and the engineer to the cameraman. Sometimes a producer is not present and some of those duties fall on the engineer.

Which of the three albums - 'Starsailor', 'Greetings From LA', or 'Look At The Fool' - was your favorite session? Which of the three turned out to be your favorite finished product?
Starsailor was the most fun. Look at the Fool the best sound.

What was a typical session day like?
Well, they were mostly nights. None of them were typical (Musician) Union sessions with charts were straight ahead, Four songs in three hours, very professional. Starsailor was not like that, a lot of what we did was experiment which eats up the time.

When did everyone arrive?
When the session started or thereabouts.

How long did they work?
Sessions could be from four hours to 24 hours.

How long did it take to finish a song?
An hour to a week.

Did Tim assume a leadership role in the studio?
During Starsailor he did. Less during Greetings and Fool.

Were things chaotic or organized?
Yes!

What was the social atmosphere like?
Very creative, relaxed.

Did everyone get along?
Mostly.

"His career was looking up. He was going to play Woody Guthrie in 'Bound For Glory'. He was leaving Herb Cohen and signing a big deal with Screen Gems. He was NOT a junkie..."

Were you at any of the rehearsals?
The only rehearsals of Tim's I attended were between Starsailor and Greetings, when Chapman (Emmett Chapman - inventor of The Chapman Stick) was with him.

Was it all business during the actual recording sessions?
No. Fool was probably the most business-like, the studio musicians were first-string, they were used to doing a lot of charted sessions, film scores, etc.

Were there many bystanders/groupies at these sessions?
No groupies. Friends drop by, record company people sometimes.

Did Tim's wife, Judy, attend?
I don't think she was at Starsailor, some at Greetings, more at Fool.

Did Larry Beckett attend any of the sessions or was he around at all?
No. I never met Larry at any of the three.

Before the recording of 'Starsailor', the song, what did you think of the concept?
Maybe more avant-gauche than avant-garde.

How did Tim explain to you what he wanted the song to sound like when it was finally mixed or did you guys just wing it?
I couldn't possibly remember that. A lot of the effects like flange phasing and backwards vocals were my ideas He was not specific about effects.

However, I just ran across the following notes this past Saturday and I'll share them with you<>

COMPOSER'S NOTES

Harmonic Structure: a set of horizontal vocal lines is improvised in at least three ranges, the vertical effect of which is atonal tone clusters and a rhythmic counterpoint.

Performance: The written melody is to be sung, after which the lines of lyric are to be re-ordered at will and sung to improvised melody, taking advantage of the opportunity for quartertones, third note lengths, and flexible tempo.

What did you tell me the other day about playing Starsailor, the song, backwards?
You can hear the backwards parts Palindromorphic

Did the musicians use sheet music?
Sheet. No.

Did Lee Underwood have a lot of input?
Yes, it was basically Tim and Lee and John.

The writers of Starsailor, the song, were Tim Buckley, Larry Beckett, and John Balkinhow much of that song was actually John's?
I have no idea.

Were Tim, Larry, John, and Lee all satisfied with the final mix of ‘Starsailor‘, the song, or did they have differences about how it should sound?
Well I don't think Larry was there I don't recall any disagreements

On ‘Song To The Siren‘, who played the electric guitar?
Lee, I think

Was that Tim's voice in the background at all times on ‘Song To The Siren‘?
Yes, I think we used all sixteen tracks for vocals, a lot of backwards vocals, no instruments

In 1999 Stan Agol created a version of the song 'Starsailor' that can be played both forwards and backwards and somehow it sounds the same. He calls this 'Palindromorphic Music'. Stan is quite proud of this recording which he produced himself.

The technology was yet available for Tim to make Palindromorphic music in 1970. However, words were recorded backwards on the song 'Starsailor' on the album.As you can hear, Tim did give that recording process a whirl.

Stan calls his nine-minute Palindromorphic version Starsailor 2000.

Jack Brolly

Double-click start to play clip

Starsailor 2000

Could you explain what phasing is?
That's when you take a signal and duplicate it and vary the speed of one of the signals slightly then you get phasing. Originally named flange phasing because to vary the speed of one of the signals you would put your thumb on the flange of the tape reel.

Did Tim hang out in the control room with you for playbacks?
Yes.

Did you spend any time at all with Tim outside the studio?
Not a lot. The rehearsals mentioned above, and at the Boarding House in 1972 right before Greetings

On which album did you first work with Joe Falsia?
Joe and I met at Far Out Productions, basically Eric Burdon's company run by Jerry Goldstein and Steve Gold. I was a staff engineer and Joe was staff guitar player and arranger.

We first worked together with a group called Fatha. They were to be War's replacement as contracts were broken.

How different was Joe Falsia from Lee?
Totally different Joe was a studio player from NY, basically R&B oriented, and an arranger - the strings on Sweet Surrender, the horns on Fool. Lee was more of an artiste

Were Joe and Tim good friends?
They had a relationship I had no part of (on) the road. I would say they were good friends

Do you know how they met?
They met on Greetings.

Did you consider Joe a good producer or did you have to help him a lot?
I had to help him when he was playing guitar solos, he couldn't play and produce at the same time. I had more input on Fool than Greetings.

I understand that you were very unhappy with the outcome of ‘Greetings‘?
I feel that the basic groove was better without the sax, organ, handclaps, etc overdubs.

What was it like to work with Jerry Goldstein the producer of ‘Greetings‘?
I've worked with producers I've liked better

Where was ‘Look At The Fool’ recorded?
Wally Heider's Studio Three, the Record Plant Studio B. Mixed at Heider's Studio Three after remodeling. Mastered at Warner Bros Amiga Studios.

Were there any studio incidents that were funny or worth telling about?
The album was originally titled Tijuana Moon (note the cover) All three albums had a last-minute-addition-for-time song. Starsailor it was Moulin Rouge; Greetings it was Hong Kong Bar; Fool it was Wanda Lu - which Warners and Discreet picked for the single.

How did you view Tim, as a personality?
Friend.

As a musician?
Incredible vocalist. A better singer than guitar player. Twelve-string guitars are very difficult to keep in tune .There is none of Tim's guitar on Fool.

As a writer?
I don't know which lyrics he wrote and which lyrics Larry wrote. I admire the use of analogies, metaphors, and similes. I write lyrics and they always end up structured and rhyming.

As a singer?
His pitch was awesome, his range was awesome - 3 1/2 octaves, not five-plus as reported elsewhere

When was the last time that you saw Tim alive?
At the completion of Look at the Fool.

You were there at the end of Tim's recording career Is it true that Tim felt the need to carry a gun? Was anyone looking to hurt him that you know of?
I never heard about Tim carrying a gun.

Any anecdotes that you would like to share with us, before we open up the floor to questions from the other people in the room?
No, not in public anyway

What about that Paramount (Studios) session you told me about?
The ones with Chapman?

Yeah, that session
Timmy on twelve-string, Maury Baker on his custom tympani/trap drum set, Emmett Chapman on Stick (Schtick as Timmy put it), Glen Farris on trombone. John Balkin was not at the studio, I don't remember the rehearsals.

Was Tim a funny guy?

Yeah, he was intelligent, so was his humor

Did he like to stretch the truth at times?
He just liked stretch marks

Why did he abandon the acoustic guitar?
I didn't know that he did. At least not before he died. He didn't play guitar on Fool.

How many takes did Tim typically do to get a song down the way he wanted it?
Who Could Deny You was done in one take the first time, at the start of the session. Others took several takes maybe with some punch-ins.

Why didn't Tim play guitar on ‘Look At The Fool‘?
His guitar playing was not as good as his singing. He played on the live takes, but we just didn't use it in the final mix. I mentioned above the tuning problems with twelve-strings

Was there much overdubbing on Fool?
It's sort of a paradox. He had perfect pitch, I think, and his vocals were always so in tune. The problem with the guitar is just inherent with twelve-strings

How was Tim's state of mind during LATF? Some writers characterize him as down and desperate.
No, that's bullshit. His career was looking up. He was going to play Woody Guthrie in Bound For Glory. He was leaving Herb Cohen and signing a big deal with Screen Gems. He was NOT a junkie!

About the Paramount sessions How much material was recorded?
Only one or two songs

How disappointed was Herb Cohen over the material on 'Starsailor,the album?
It was not the material, it was the album in general. Well, it was almost two years before he recorded again.

Did Tim require many vocal punch-ins on ‘Song to the Siren‘? The emotional continuity of his performance is awesome.

No, I don't think there were a lot of punch-ins. Remember there are sixteen vocals, some backwards.
(Editor: Stan is referring to Starsailor the song, not Song to the Siren.)

  Herb Cohen took the credit as executive producer of 'Starsailor'. did he do anything at all?
Not in the studio, he was never there.

What was Herb's role back then?
Executive Producer is a suit that sets up financing etc.

How did Tim get along with his various producers? Were there conflicts?
I only saw Herb a few times, and then he was usually complaining about something I think Tim thought Jerry Goldstein was a yo-yo He got along good with Joe.

You said that you recorded some stuff of your own on the computer What did you record?
Some lyrics I wrote.

On what subject?
Meaningful subjects like child abuse, endangered species, etc.

Tell us your theory on why Tim left this earth, if it's not too personal?
Singers like Tim are angels, they get to leave when their work is done

How did you find out he had died?
I called Joe at home to find out how the movie deal was going, This was the next day after he died.

The deal was close to being made?
That's what I was calling to find out, it was looking very good!

Were there any other contenders for the role?
David Carradine got the part. He sucked as Woody Guthrie Tim looked a lot like Woody.

Did Tim do a screen test for the movie?
I'm not sure, I think so. That would be hot to get a copy of

Any general comments about Tim's professionalism?
Yes, he was very professional in the studio

Well, I guess we should call it a night Thank you Stan, it was very nice of you to answer so many questions.

© Jack Brolly/Room 109


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