The Historic RCA/Wooden Nickel Sessions
Rebels without a pause. I've always been known to be a rebel to the music business. I had a major music executive say in a newspaper article; "Corky is great at being a human but he sucks at being a rock star." Jim and I and the band just wanted to have fun. Our decision making was always based on quality of life. In the 70s we scheduled two performances a week out of town but within a 250 miles radius of Chicago. And we did our regular hometown gig every Tuesday at the international known and deeply loved Quiet Knight in Chicago. But then we did mini-tours to places we wanted to go, like San Francisco, and Colorado, and then we'd take a week or two off to just hang in those places. Bill Graham of the Fillmore Auditorium in SF used to ask me; "How could you guys make any money?" The fact is we has such low overhead, with no management and very little use of agents, that we were probably making more money than some of the super groups. In fact many were going bankrupt at that time. We would show up to a venue and inevitably be asked: "Where's your equipment." We had three small amplifiers and a set of drums and some major groups we were opening for actually told us they preferred us to go on last, and I remember we did at least one time.
$92,500 saved on each of the 5 albums: And we took the same approach into the studio. You won't believe this. When others groups were recordings at Paragon, the same studio we were using, they were spending at least 50,000 to 100,000 or more to make a single album. My largest budget for one of the 5 RCA recordings was $7,500. One of the albums cost as little as $4,500. When RCA heard the recordings they refused to believe they didn't cost more, and they thought I was sneaking money out of my own pocket or from somewhere else to finish the recordings.
Here's the trick: Performing groups are experienced at performing. But when we get in the studio and the red record button is pressed the whole psychology changes and we become hamstrung. In a live performance you just sail through imperfections, errors and inconsistencies. In the studio you get removed from performing and the mind is polluted with listening and judging i.e. During the recording, into the mind will creep such thoughts as; "oops I will get it right on the next take." This is the kiss of death for a performance and it does not happen like that in a normal performance. LOL! So my plan was to create an environment where we could all remain in performance psychology as much as possible.
Pure performance mode in the studio: The first rule was to just record and not listen back. We'd play a set of 12 tunes straight through without pausing (all fresh 1st takes). Then we'd break and do it again rearranging the set. (another set of fresh 1st takes). And then lunch with a desert of sweet melon and then we'd play the tunes again and go home. Now we have three very fresh takes of each tune. I would than go home and listen to the takes. We'd find a couple that were excellent. So the next session we'd just do a set of 10. And that's how it went. We could do the whole recording in just a few sessions and all the listening and any editing plans were done separately without having to pay the studio for the time. This also separated the judgement and choices part of the process completely from the performance time.
Perfection and Expression: We were able to shoot for the illusory perfection without having to compromise the natural expression or fun. And it was a blast! It never, for a second, felt like work. Here's a cut from those sessions. You tell me!
A PS to this story. The big success for Siegel-Schwall was due to Chicago Radio WXRT where Siegel-Schwall did their first "Unconcerts" when they were getting started. When the first RCA/Wooden Nickel albums came out the DJs and Management at XRT called all the other radio stations in the country and told them they should play these recordings. Wow! And they caught on like wildfire. Thank you WXRT.
PPS. Please no negative ads: RCA showed me a mock up of an ad that's punch line was something like; "The Chicago Fire destroyed Chicago. Now Siegel-Schwall is here to come back and destroy Chicago again." I told RCA I thought that was too negative and destructive. I would like something more positive. This time they didn't ask me and here is what they came up with in all the papers and magazines:
"Take all your superstardom, your gold albums, your airplay, your press conferences, your chart ratings, your triumphant tours, and .... "