Jimmy Page made an appearance at the International Surround Conference-actually, not the real Jimmy Page but an amazing simulation, Kevin Shirley, who engineered the stereo and multichannel mixes for Led Zeppelin's DVD and both the CD and DVD-Audio versions of How the West Was Won, was at the recent Beverly Hills event to share anecdotes on how the mixes were done. But he didn't just talk- he also inhabited Page by impersonating the guitarist's squeezed, clipped accent to a T.
"At the studio we used" Shirley said, "Jimmy would often be upstairs, because he sort of deplored the idea of repairing the Zeppelin stuff. But sometimes, it would have to be done. He'd come down every third day and say, ""What're you doin'? "Bonzo missed a drumbeat there.' "Ooooo...maybe he meant that. Lemme hear it.' So I'd play it. 'Now lemme hear how it was.' Pause. 'All right, I'm going upstairs to smoke.'"
"We're Gonna Groove" had a specific problem: "Apparently, Jimmy forgot to adjust a pedal, so when he started a solo, this little plinky plinky sound came out. So I said, 'What amplifier did you use?' 'I can't tell you that.' 'Why not?' 'It's a secret.' Now this is from 1970, and I was like, 'All right.' And he said, 'I know you'll tell everybody, won'tchu?' He's an intriguing guy. As it was, he did have amps hidden in other cases so nobody would know what he was using."
Some of the tapes had been stored in the tower of Page's "Tower House." Talk about intrguing: "It's a fascinating house," Shirley said. "There are ceramics of minotaurs on the floor, carvings of gargoyles on the walls." After the tapes were baked, Shirley transferred them to Pro Tools.
"I'm such a huge Zeppelin fan that the first time I saw these tapes, it was like looking at the Holy Grail. And transferring them, I nearly shat myself."
Other fixes had to be done. "Jimmy broke a string in his solo on 'Stairway to Heaven.' If you look at the video, when he gets to that wonderful little fanfare at the end of the solo, he plays it down an octave. But it's such a signature part of the song-what can you do? So we fixed it with another take. You see him playing down an octave, but you hear it normal, It would have spoiled the package if you didn't have that fanfare sound right.
"The idea was to finesse things, because being an entertainment package, it should be enjoyed without all the hiccups. A lot of people might take exception to that, but I felt it was important. This is a celebration of Zeppelin's music.
As for the actual mixes, "we did all the stereo ones first-which frustrated Jimmy, because he was dying to hear the surround mixes." For those, Shirley varied Robert Plant's vocals among the channels. "There's always a ton of leak all over his vocals, so I went through each and every vocal track and cleaned around the words. That's what I put in the left and right front. But in the center, I put his absolutely raw vocal mike-you can hear his foot-steps, his hands moving, his lips smacking. As a fan, I find that stuff really interesting.
"Jimmy was enthusiastic about surround sound. He was very interested in presenting Zeppelin in a new light." Does this mean we'll get the studio catalog in surround? "No I don't think he's interested in that. It may happen in the future, but it's so much work for these guys to do. They've all got families now. And the internal workings of the band are more complex than the Space Shuttle."
At the end, Shirley impersonated Plant, too, recalling when the singer attended the theatrical premiere of the DVD. "He came up to me afterward and very generously said, 'Lovely job you did...It's not like you were polishing a turd, though.'"
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