As we roll toward NAB, here’s a fun, but true story about one of the most successful albums of all time and how it was saved from near destruction by analog and real-time technology. Even if you’re not a Fleetwood Mac fan, this pre-digital technology achievement is a testament to recording engineers that were masters of their art.
In 1976, Fleetwood Mac recorded many, if not all of the rhythm tracks for their album, “Rumours” (now over 45M in sales) at The Record Plant in Sausalito, CA. Overdubs were done at Wally Heider’s in San Francisco, among other locations.
When co-producers Richard Dashut and Ken Callait started to hear that the original tracks were losing fidelity after hundreds of overdubs, they experienced that “oh s**t” moment when they saw the master tape starting to deteriorate before their eyes on the tape heads.
By the grace of the pop music gods, someone had had the foresight to simultaneously record a duplicate of the rhythm tracks as they were being recorded, which at that time was a bit unusual. The problem was how to get the overdubs from the bad tape on to the unused pristine exact copy.
Down south in Los Angeles, ABC/Dunhill’s studios at the time were known for their techs and state of the art recording gear. Steely Dan was working on “The Royal Scam” at the time, and Aretha and many Motown acts were regular customers. The studio was contacted and one of the techs, Jerry Ferree, came up with a plan that saved the record that had almost disappeared.
Enter Bob Bullock, my primary engineer who mixes a lot of projects for Aircast Custom Music. Bob was an engineer at the time at ABC/Dunhill and was recruited to be on the team of people to transfer the overdubs to the master copy.
Two recorders were placed side by side. One had the clean master, the other had the bad master. There was no “locking up” (synchronizing) of tape machines at the time, so Jerry’s fix was to listen to the high hat drum track of each tape through headphones and sonically “synch” the transfer a little at a time, until the high hats would start to time “wander” from each other and marked it with a grease pencil. They would then back up and do the same thing, for a minute or so at a time – through the entire album.
“Rumours” was saved with grease pencils, headphones and “MacGyver” type thinking from what was a near catastrophe, resulting in what would have been quite a loss for the pop music world. And now you know….the rest of the story.