We received an interview with Richard Sanders and David Bendeth who did the remixing of the Elvis Number Ones CD.
RS –Richard Sanders DB –David Bendeth
1. RS – David, please give me the background on the team that is currently working on this project?
DB – The key four people who are working on this project are Ray Bardani, Myself, Ted Jensen, & George Marino. Ray Bardani’s background is as an engineer and mixer. He’s worked for many years in the New York area for such artists as Luther Vandros, David Bowie and Prince – just to name a few. George Marino and Ted Jensen are partners in a company called Sterling Sound, which is a mastering lab in NY. In my opinion they do some of the best mastering work in the world. They have worked on artists from Metallica to Bob Marley and were a huge and integral part of what we did.
2. RS – What were some of the challenges regarding the original tapes and applying the new sound - which we’ll describe in a minute?
DB - The biggest and hardest hurdle to overcome would be finding the right chain of equalization and compression and experimenting to the point to where we got everything finely tuned. One of the hardest things was not making it sound phony or fake. We had to keep the integrity of all of the tapes and panning the tapes of all the music left and right is the same, but I’d say the BIGGEST challenge was keeping it true to sounding like Elvis.
3. RS – It’s my understanding that you worked from the original masters. This is the first time these masters have been touched, can you speak of any difficulties you may have encountered when dealing with those types of masters?
DB – Obviously they are very, VERY dainty. Some of these tapes are over 40 years old. They came from Iron Mountain, which is a place we store all of our studio tapes. Some of these boxes hadn’t been opened in 45 years. Some boxes were moldy but luckily the tapes that were contained inside were not. One of the difficult challenges was getting the tape onto a 3-Track tape machine (there are only 3 of these machines in the world) and transferring them over to digital. The biggest problem with that was the tape machine constantly overheating. We also had a problem with the leaders between the songs breaking. In one situation we had to bake the tapes because oxide was falling to the floor and we had to grab it quickly and bake the reel in the oven. Each tape had a different stage of deterioration, but we were luckily able to get to the one path where we could bring everything over to the digital side so we would be able to work on them. Every tape was done once.
4. RS – Going back chronologically, how many songs were recorded in Mono or Stereo or 2-tracks, 3-tracks, 4-track, … 24- tracks?
DB – Obviously, the first 9 or 12 songs on the record were recorded in Mono in which you can’t mix, those can only be mastered, which was done by Ted Jensen. The years of 1956-61 were all Mono recordings. 3-Track recordings took place between 1961-66, then 8-Tracks, then songs like “In the Ghetto” and then we had “Burning Love” which was recorded in 16-Track . There was one song recorded in 24-Track.
5. RS- In trying to come up with a contemporary sound, what was your main objective?
DB- The main objective was to be able to take an Elvis record for the first time and be able to play it on your stereo system at home, … your computer system at home, …or your car and have it be heard at the same contemporary caliber of any record you could buy in the store today. We want the songs to sonically contain the full dynamic range of bass and treble. To have full dynamic range is to have all of the tones hitting your ear at the same time and having the level also be competitive to every other record that’s out in the market right now. That process alone kind of gives you a new sound.
6. RS- Are there any anecdotes that you would like to relate as far as times that you were in the studio? … the hours... any craziness… unusual happenings in the studio..?
DB - There certainly were some weird moments. There were times when there was an incredible frustration in trying to get the sound that we were looking for. We were trying to imagine what Elvis Presley would have liked and it’s impossible to do that because he is not in the room. Certain times with certain things when we were just about to give up and quit late at night – we would suddenly try one thing and everything else would just come together. It felt like there was a different force at work other than us. I don’t even believe in that kind of stuff at all, but in this situation I did. There was one situation where we had to grab horns and piano from the original and EQ them and put them back on our tapes. (we were told that the tapes with those horns were lost) The only way we were able to do it was because they were turned to the right side and if it had been anywhere else but there – we wouldn’t have been able to do it. Never been able to mix those 2 songs. One of them being “Suspicious Minds” which was a huge song. We were able to pull it off and I really think … I was sitting there listening one day and for some reason I turned it over to the right side and heard the horns almost by themselves and went BINGO! It’s almost like somebody led me there. It was certainly very strange. I just think somebody was definitely watching over us while we were doing his project. I’m convinced because it was so hard to do, and at certain times thinks just kind of came together in a very interesting way.
7. RS – Have any other outside producers or musicians come into the studio an commented on what you are doing?
DB – We had some people from R.E.M here on Thursday and they were very excited to hear this. They said that they thought it was great and they had never heard anything like it before. Today we have Luther Vandros who’s upstairs, he’s going to come down as a friend and just give us some comments. Obviously we want to get any feedback we can. We have Arif Mardin coming in next week to have a listen – just people who want to drop by. It’s great to have so many great artists come by who just want to hear Elvis Presley sing. Not to mention all of the people from our company who’ve come by which is also very encouraging.
8. RS- At one time you defined this process as an archaeological dig. What are some of the things that you’ve unearthed during this process?
DB – One of the things that we found was just some humor around the music and the recording of the music. It was certainly exciting to hear Elvis chuckle and laugh and say little comments at the end of things. We were able to make things that were said under his breath much louder and it was great to see that Elvis had a great sense of humor as professional as he was. It was great to hear him joke about stuff that he was doing. In “Suspicious Minds” we heard him say “Sing the Song, Sing the Song, Man” and that was great to hear. In fact, we can’t listen to the song anymore with our hearing that in our head – even though it’s not on the record anymore it’s burned in our heads. To hear him commenting to his band mates about certain things…. We got a real inside look at a human being that was VERY talented.
9. From listening to all the recordings, did you gain any insight into how he recorded and can you comment on that?
DB- Yeah, basically he – according to the drummer DJ Fontana – came in and kicked the GoBo’s over (Go Between’s) which are the things that separate the singer from the band. That was the first thing he’d do, so that the band and him could be in one room. He would do a take an he would play the whole song all the way through and it would have to be perfect! All the vocals, musicians had to play perfectly and the engineer would actually have to fade it perfectly. If one person screwed up any one of those things … the whole song would be ruined. We l