|Tracks...the Wild Ones|
|Chapter 17. AEROSMITH LAYS OUT SOME TRACKS|
|By September of 1978 it had been almost a year since Tracks released “Brakes On You” and well over a year since we had recorded the single live at The Club. The only band members left from that recording were Lorry Doll and me and the only reason we were even playing the two songs on the record was because they were still getting airplay. So we knew it was time to get another recording out there, especially because Tracks now sounded a lot different then we had almost a year and a half before.
Lorry and I wanted to do another live recording. We liked the concept of a one take challenge – what we are is what you get – no frills, add-ons or other phony studio bull. We had heard the results when other Boston bands had gone into a recording studio and wound up coming out sounding like something totally different from their live shows. It wasn’t always an improvement. A prime example is probably DMZ’s Sire debut. They were probably our favorite of all the Boston bands, but Lorry and I couldn’t listen to that record without getting pissed. Besides, we had done some of our own low-budget studio recording and hated the waiting around, the sterile environment and the final results. That wasn’t rock ‘n’ roll – it was manufacturing. So everybody in the band was up to recording another live set and releasing at least one, maybe two singles from it. But then our drummer Pat O’Neil announced that he had managed to get us studio time at Intermedia on Newbury Street through his connection with Aerosmith (he was their drum tech). Hmmmm … Free recording in a state-of-the-art studio? So our punk esthetic took a dive out the window. Lorry and I were afraid to ask Pat for details, but I suspect that Aerosmith had purchased a major and exclusive block of studio time – and if they weren’t going to use it at the moment, we were. Now we were talking in terms of a studio single, followed by a full album that we could shop to independent labels. (Our involvement with the individual members of Aerosmith became much more interesting after Lorry and I moved to New York just a few months later – I’ll give you details when we get there.)
|At around that time, my temp agency had gotten me a job in the file room of an insurance company. It only paid minimum wage, but it was a mindless gig so I could write songs in my head while doing it. One of those shave the night before, roll out of bed in the morning and walk two blocks to make a buck jobs. Although, the paper cuts were murder on my guitar playing fingers. A couple weeks into working there, a high school kid started coming in to work the afternoons. Bryan was a friendly kid, and I always seemed to relate better to younger people who hadn’t had time to get their heads screwed up yet. He was heavily into music, punk in particular, and played drums in a jam band now and then. He had no idea who I was and I didn’t tell him. I said I played some guitar and was playing with some people, but didn’t say it was Tracks. I don’t know why I didn’t tell him, I guess I just thought it might change our budding friendship. Maybe I was embarrassed I was working such a crappy job. (Years later, with NEON, I would find out what some of the most renown rock ‘stars’ really did to pay the bills – but I’ll never tell.) And it never came up until a few weeks later when Bryan mentioned he had been jamming on “Brakes On You” along with a bunch of other punk songs. So it forced my hand. I’ll never forget the look on his face – a very weird and scary combination of awe and reverence. It gave my ego a nice jolt, but I knew I was a nobody, the world knew I was nobody and it just wasn’t the reaction I wanted to see. It took a bit of tact to calm him down. Ahh, youth!
|Of course Bryan idolized Lorry, so off the top of my head I suggested maybe we might all get together and jam some time since our regular drummer was on the road. He wanted to know where and what time. Later when I told her, Lorry didn’t think it was such a good idea having a seventeen year old kid come around, not with our lifestyle. But, I explained that Bryan might turn out to be the perfect solution as a permanent fill-in drummer whenever Pat was away. As soon as Lorry met Bryan, I could tell she liked him as if he were a cute little brother. But Bryan had no idea that was the case. He didn’t know her like I did. Lorry had her own form of tough love. She had gone into her greaser chick mode. She was intimidating, insulting and chided him about everything. Poor Bryan. I think he had been nervous enough just meeting Lorry and wasn’t quite ready for the level of her intensity. When we finally “jammed” (Lorry made sure that Bryan knew it was really an audition), it was a disaster. Bryan was awful. He could barely keep the sticks in his hands between songs he was shaking so much. I guess I told you a few times throughout this history about punk being harder to play on drums than it appears, and Lorry’s ability to bully a drummer into shape like a drill sergeant. She felt Bryan was a real challenge and because she really liked him, she was up to the task. Within a week or two, he was showing us just how good he really was and the energy of youth seemed to have no boundaries. Lorry stopped her role playing once he came through which made Bryan Brat, as he was thereafter known, a hell of a lot more relaxed.
|TRACKS - THE ALBUM
On September 7, 1978 Tracks went into Intermedia Studio on Newbury Street in Boston and recorded the first single for their planned album. It was never released.
|So Lorry and I sat down and wrote the songs for the single. Up to that point, they were the most involved compositions we had done. Before, for the most part, we would come up with a concept for a song – a chorus, maybe one or two verses, maybe just a riff – and then bang it into shape instrumentally with the full band. Then we’d go back to it on our own, finish off the lyric, polish it up a bit, then jam on it some more until we had a decent song. But this time we worked out full, complete lyrics, lead and rhythm guitar parts, dynamics, everything before we even showed it to the band. Then John Shriver and Pat added their parts and made suggestions for changes. The results were quite different from Tracks’ usual sound. “Never Again” was the closest we ever came to doing a power ballad. Although Lorry retained her gritty delivery, it also showcased a vulnerability and sensitivity that often had been lost on our out and out punk rockers. “Lovin’ Kiss” was a very heavy song. Lorry and I jokingly called it our Led Zeppelin tune for years afterward. Maybe it didn’t sound too much like that band, but the song definitely had that bad-ass and bluesy fat bottom of their early albums. In case you’re thinking we were selling out by going to a somewhat more conventional sound, the subject matter and lyrics Lorry delivered on our planned “A” side, “Lovin’ Kiss,” obviously and purposefully had even less of a chance of making it to commercial radio than “Brakes On You” did. We had thought it was very cool that when the Rolling Stones followed up Exile on Main Street with Goat’s Head Soup in 1973, the only really hard rocker on it was “Star Star,” which of course was impossible to air on top-40 radio without drastic and ruinous editing. It was one of the classic Stones’ songs and could have been as big a commercial hit as “Satisfaction,” “Jumping Jack Flash,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “Brown Sugar” – any of them, but the Stones chose to thumb their noses at the music industry instead of having another instant hit. So “Lovin’ Kiss” was our own little form of punk rock rebellion. For good measure, Lorry threw in a word or two that made “Never Again” unplayable on commercial radio, too. Not that they would even consider playing punk rock anyway.|
|Going into Intermedia was actually fun. Pat’s friends from the Aerosmith crew handled the board, set up the equipment, ran out for beer, pizza and … other refreshments. Doing the music was fun, too. As I’ve been saying, I really liked playing in this version of Tracks and I genuinely enjoyed the company of the people in this band. So there was a nice interaction of us coming together on these songs. After the basic drums and a “live” reference track were recorded, Lorry laid down some real choice acoustic guitar for both songs that established a solid base to build on. After several years of playing a Stratocaster, I was just starting to come to terms with my recently acquired Les Paul and getting it to do what I heard in my head. I was real satisfied with what I was getting out of it at Intermedia. It was also the first time we really started seeing and hearing what went on in a recording studio – the cause and effect of things, how producing was an art form in itself. The songs were completed pretty quickly and sounded real good. But a week or so after mixing it all down, some doubts started coming into my head. I just wasn’t too sure if these songs sounded like Tracks. They would work in an album format, but as a single? Had we gone too far with a ballad – a punk rock ballad? And a song that may have been closer to Heavy Metal than Punk? These were new and different songs, songs we hadn’t even performed live yet and I needed to put some time between the recording and seeing if we wanted to press them as a single. And we had written another new song, “City Off My Mind,” that I thought was just great. Maybe we should record that one, and maybe another one or two before we decided. So Lorry and I pretty much figured that’s what we’d do. What the hell, we now basically had our own recording studio at our disposal.
However, Aerosmith had other ideas. They decided to get active again and hit the road with Pat, our drummer and key to the studio, in tow. That put an end to any recording plans for the time being and left us with only three-quarters of a band. But that wasn’t too much of a burden. Pat was worth waiting for and we always managed to pick up a drummer from another band for a gig or two when needed. But, it did mean we were dead in the water as far as recording went. Fortunately, we had been real careful with booking and never missed any gigs when Pat was on the road – luckily he was around for our show with the Police and all the NYC trips – but it seemed inevitable that at some point we would get stuck. What we really needed was an extra drummer in the bullpen.
Tracks' relief drummer behind his kit at Blue Door Studio - 1978