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The Tanyards Recording Sessions

 “Tanyards” was my first solo project.  It was recorded in 1983 in a private studio somewhere outside of Nashville, TN.  When Dave Thompson and I first got to the studio, Jim & Jesse’s banjo player Mike Scott, was finishing up his album.  The “Tanyards” sessions were back to back with Kenny Baker’s “Highlights” sessions.  We had the studio from 2:00 in the afternoon to 10:00 at night.  At 10:00 Kenny began working on his album. That lasted until 8:00 am the next morning.  We did this for a week. 

This turned out to be a great opportunity to see how the old pros recorded together.  Observing how they used the mics and how they worked together provided the foundation for how I record now.   After we had finished each day, Dave and I would hang around to watch the “old guys” do it.   It was great!  Kenny had Joe Stuart and Charlie Collins on guitar at the same time.  As I looked across the studio on the right Joe was playing bass runs exclusively.  Then a few feet to the right of Joe was Charlie who was strumming chords, with no runs.  In the middle of the room was Kenny with the RCA 77-DX ribbon mic, sitting on a tall stool.   To my left was Bob Black in the same chair that he used while recording my album.  Jesse had been sitting on a riser to one side of the room so that we could hear his count offs, but when Bobby Osborne came in to record his part on Kenny’s album, he moved his chair off of the riser closer to the guitar players.  The experience was awesome.  Roy Huskey Jr. was playing his bass sitting down. 

We came into town a few days early to work on the tunes.  One thing Bob and I felt we should do, was play “Tanyards” and “Real Foot Reel” for Bill Monroe.  It was Bill who suggested that I record the tunes on my fiddle album.  He had told me that his record company would let him record only a few of the tunes he wrote.  During the 1970’s, Bill showed me about 10 tunes that he suggested I record.  Some I have only heard once when Bill played them for me.  Kenny once said that Bill would write a new tune every few days.   One thing that happened had to do with the tune “Tanyards”.  Bill had played it for me out in California and again at his farm and that is how I learned it, however, when Bob and I went to his offices he played it differently.  So there I was eyeball to eyeball with Bill and he had changed the tune.   We quickly learned the changes to get his approval.  Bob Black asked him to come over to the studio to record the mandolin part, we thought he had him convinced, but he said that a new guy at his record company would not approve of it.  So he told Bob “you take care of him”, meaning me, and we were off.  Bill did say that if I recorded the tunes the way he wanted them recorded, that he would make an endorsement to be used on the album.   After the album was completed, Bill listened to the recordings of his tunes and kept his promise. 

During the mornings of the sessions, Bob Black, Dave Thompson and I would go to Baker’s farm to rehearse the tunes we would record that afternoon.  Bob Black is a genius. He can learn a tune perfectly in minutes.  Bob learned to play banjo in a town of fiddlers.  This led to his developing a style that allowed him to play fiddle tunes note for note, something that up to that time in the early 70’s, had not been done with such accuracy.  Bob really created that very “fiddle” style of banjo playing. 

Kenny really acted as the producer for both albums, making many of the critical arrangements with the studio and in getting Jesse for both projects.  I had spent many winters at Kenny’s, learning the finer points of playing the fiddle, to then have him mentor me through my first fiddle album was terrific.  I didn't say easy, I said terrific.  He was very supportive at every step and I am forever in his debt, but there is no fooling Baker.  We even got to see him play the banjo.  The song “Tune For Andy” from “Highlights”, was about a panda bear that played the banjo in a cartoon he saw years before.  This is what you hear Bob playing at the beginning of that tune. 

Sonny Deaton the studio owner engineered both sessions and virtually worked around the clock to do it.   I remember Sonny showing us a fiddle that was made by Gibson and it had a virzi inside of it.  Jesse doesn’t remember it, but I remember it was pretty different from everything I had seen.  On the “Tanyards” sessions we had Dave Thompson on guitar, Bob Black on banjo, Jesse McReynolds on mandolin, Roy Huskey Jr. on bass and a guest appearance by Kenny Baker on fiddle.   We cut all the tracks live, one right after the next, then for only a couple of tunes came back and added some tracks.  Jesse would count off the tunes and away we would go.  We recorded in one big room, which was the second floor of the engineer's house.   This turned out to be a bit of a problem as there was not enough isolation of the standup bass to keep it out of the other mics.  This was not a big problem in the remix, but it did color the original mix. 

I was never happy with the original mix, which is what led to my becoming so involved in the recording process.  The mix was my doing, but I swore I would never produce a mix without “grind” and “thunk” again.  We recorded the album in a week and on the night before Dave and I had to catch our plane, I sat up with the engineer and mixed the album.   We mixed it in 5 hours, boxed up the tapes and caught the plane.  In 2002, after finishing the Sleeping Lady album, I remixed the “Tanyards” album with the appropriate “grind” and “thunk”.   I cannot put into words the sound of “grind” you will have to listen to the CD to hear that, but “thunk” is a rock and roll term that refers to the sound you get when you make a fist and strike your chest.  The sound you get is a “thunk” sound that exists in the mandolin and fiddle notes, but has to be brought out.  It is what helps to deliver punch in your recording.   Bill Monroe had “thunk” in his mandolin playing in the sound system at Bean Blossom.  A flathead banjo can have “thunk”.

To work on the old 1-inch 16-track tapes I had to bake them in my electric kitchen oven at 130F (with no more than 10 degrees plus or minus), for 8 hours, twice, to dry out the tapes.  Tapes from the 1980’s have a tendency to collect moisture.  When they do, they give off a gummy material, like wax, that sticks to the heads and prevents the tapes from playing.  George Horn of Fantasy Records who is an old friend suggested that I bake the tapes and how to go about it.  It worked.  Next I had to find someone who still had a tape machine with this very old format.  When I did, I transferred the tracks to digital tape and worked on them in that form back in my own studio.

The remix utilizes classic analog studio gear to get the robust sound that is the signature of my later recordings.  I also designed some vacuum tube gear that I now use to optimize the dark or wood sound of the mandolin, fiddle and even the flathead banjo.  This sound is the result of listening to, and talking with Bill Monroe at Bean Blossom and from watching Kenny over the years in a lot of places.  Monroe would push the mics at Bean Blossom to over drive the mics a bit to get a big deep wood tone through the sound system.   On the other hand, Kenny played so quietly into his RCA 77-DX on his tracks in both the “Tanyards” and his “Highlights” album that it took me years to figure out the common ground in the recordings. 

The versions of the tunes on the Tanyards CD that are traditional, I learned from Kenny Baker with the exception of “Chicken Reel” which Bill Monroe taught me. 

I cannot read or write tab, so just after we recorded the album I asked Bob to send me tab for the tunes on the LP.  The original LP didn’t have two tunes that appear on the CD.  These are “Tennessee Wagoner” and “Leather Britches”.  I am not sure why we left those off, but since they were not on the original LP they are not included in this tab book. 

Over the years I have received a number of CDs and tapes from bluegrass musicians who have recorded my tunes like “Old Blue Hen”.  It sure makes me feel good when I hear about them.  Be sure to visit our web site and don’t forget to say hello.

Jim Moss, 7-24-2002


I have just been working on the re-release of my first CD (1983)
"Tanyards".   This was my first solo album project and was recorded
in 5 days, back to back with Kenny Baker's album "Highlights".
By that I mean that I had the studio from 12 noon to 10 pm and
Baker would have it from 10 pm until dawn.

(People really should call or write County Sales to get them
to put Baker's great albums out on CD. They are classics.)

In the 1970's Bill Monroe had given me about 10 tunes to record
when I told him that I would be working on my first fiddle album.
He felt that he would never have a chance to record all his tunes
himself do to the limitations of his recording contracts at that time,
and would show me a couple of new ones each time we got into a
jam or when we might be sitting around for some reason.  At that time
Bill would write a tune a week.  This CD actually has 2 tunes that
he wrote outright and one that he influenced heavily.  I have only
recorded four of these tunes so far.  Bill's recordings of these
10 tunes are in my tape collection and hard to find in there, as in a
lot of cases we would be in the middle of recording something else
and Bill would say "here is another one for your album".  So when I
record a new album, I just have search through these old recordings
until I find another of these tunes.  The one on Sleeping Lady was
found completely by accident one day when I was looking for
a recording of "Evening Prayer Blues".

The Tanyards album has some really nice mandolin and banjo playing on
it by Jesse McReynolds and Bob Black.  This album was the motivation
for me to become educated in the field of recording.  The fiddle mix is
not up to my standards, but at the same time is not bad.  The studio
we used only had a spring reverb.  I intend to remix this album at
some point and make the fiddle sound as tough as my other albums.
Some people, audiophile types, prefer this album's sound.  The multi
track tapes are gummy and need to be baked, which Fantasy record's
George Horn has taught me how to do.

Kenny Baker is listed as a producer on this album.  This is the least
I can say about his help on this project.  Kenny found the studio, gave
me much help.  He worked with me on the tunes noting and fingering
techniques of execution.  In the case of Florida Blues, gave me his
rough mixes of  "Farm Yard Swing" to learn his version that was not allowed
on his album due to what I understand was a feeling by County that
the tune was too swingy.  I can tell you, that his version kicks ass.
If this is true, then County made a big mistake.  Baker and Jesse really walked
me thought the recording process.  I had recorded before, but these
guys really helped me understand both the process and the attitude
involved in recording.  I am forever in debt to these guys.

Monroe on the other hand, taught me the importance of the subtle
details in his tunes.  Of course that was what Baker had spent years
teaching me, but this time it was on a mandolin.  The transition from
mandolin to fiddle was made very clear to me as I played the tunes
over and over and over in front of Monroe.  Both Baker and Monroe
have a way of waking you up if you start drifting off, when they would
say "Can't you hear that?" or "You can't hear that?".  :-)  (God!!!  :-Þ).....
"Of course!.." I would say.... "Let me try it again!"
...and I would try to listen so closely that at times I thought I could
photon particles bouncing into each other.  I mean, what else can
you do with Monroe or Baker staring at you?

When Bob Black and I were in Nashville to record this album we
visited Monroe several times at his office and almost got him to record
his tunes under a pen name.  He did do two things though..  First he
told Bob Black to "Take good care of" me.   This is a fact that I never
let Bob forget  :-)    and second Bill promised to give me an endorsement
of my recordings of his songs to be used "on" the album, but only after he
heard them recorded.  I played the final mix tapes to him and he
made this recording for the album.  He also gave me his signature
on the cover of a BOSSMEN book, if I were to need it.

When the LP came out we decided to use his words as liner notes only. 
In remastering the 2 track recording of the entire album for CD I decided 
to include Bills own words as an introduction on track 1.  I think the recording
of Monroe's words makes the point of how he felt about people recording 
his "numbers".

Jim Moss

John Bird wrote:

> Great stuff, Jim, as usual.
> Could you elaborate a bit more on what you mean about "attitude" while
> recording? I think it would be interesting to hear what they taught you, and
> from you know from your years in the studio...

there was a cool calm professionalism with Baker and McReynolds.
Also true with Bobby Osborne and Joe Stuart who worked with
Jesse on Baker's album.  Charlie Colins was there and was quiet
and I guess professional, but not like Baker, McReynolds, Bobby
and Joe.   They were very deliberate and I guess the word that
really covers it would be Focused.  They were focused and a half.
Dave Thompson and I thought it was a little like Gary Cooper in the
movie High Noon.

They would tell stories when outside the studio, but it was total focus
on the music when we were in the studio.   My style even now is
to be focused, but not calm.  I think some lively banter can help
break up a mind lock situation.  Once on the Sleeping  Lady album
we were doing basic tracks and on, I forget which track, the band
just could get any spark in the recording.   So I hit them with something
so far over the top, that it shocked them and made them laugh too.
I said, "You sound like a bunch of limp d----s!  Is this what your wives
have married?  Is this what they come home to every night?  Well it
ain't gonna fly here!"    Boy they didn't know what to think. I wasn't
sure if they were going to kill me or start laughing..  I had made sure
that all the doors leading out of the studio were unlocked first...
but they started  laughing and making jokes accusing each other of
having martial problems..

The point was they broke up that mind-lock that they had and laughed a bit.
When they got back to work, they knocked out a great track.  Really hot.
They had just gotten into a rut is all.   It all took about 10 minutes and
that saved me hours of being nice and maybe not getting the track.
But..  a little of that goes a long way.

Well, nothing like that ever happened with Baker and them.  They were
cool and calm, and they got the job done.  Jesse set the tempos and
did the count into the track.  Here is something else I noticed, which is
part of how they must have evolved, working in sessions for others.
I could not get a critical judgment call from Baker or Jesse.  Baker would
talk to me in his code language that I knew how to understand, but Jesse
would not say anything at all critical.   I asked him to and he wouldn't.
I wanted to get a second opinion, someone else's ears who was a fiddler.
Baker was not there at that time.  I asked Jesse about a track, face to
face..  and he just said nothing.   I learned from this, that in their world
of recording on other people's albums that you really need to keep your
distance from the person who's album it is.   I do that myself now when
I do session work.  I thought about that a lot and how Jesse who was
totally supporting me in the project, would not make a critical comment
about anyone else's performance but his own.

So here is what I figured out.  When you go to a new company and
interview...   The people there will ask you about why you are
leaving your current job.   If you say something negative, that will
soil your image.  It does it subconsciously.  No one might say "Oh,
that is a guy with a bad attitude", but they will feel less toward you
than to the guy who just says he simply needs more money or needs
to grow.

When these guys, Baker and Jesse comment on someone's track
even if it is requested and could help, in their world, it could loose
them future session calls.   Those are a few things that come to mind
right now.

They did joke about Curly Ray Cline's recording studio approach.
The story was that Curly Ray would record an album in 2 hours.
He would come in, sit down, and go for it.  They had heard this
from a studio engineer.   When this engineer asked if Curly Ray
wanted to hear a play back of his track, he just said "No, move on
to the next!".   Like Curly Ray would just hammer them out with
no looking back.  I heard that story when the engineer was taking
a bathroom break.   By the way, the engineer worked 20 hours
a day on both of our sessions that were running back to back.

There was an interesting thing that happened to a well known
dobro player who was working on Sally Goodin for a session in our
studio room.  He had to finish before we could take the studio in the
beginning of the projects.  What happened would amaze you, but I
can't talk about it out of respect for the guy, who I don't really know.
The respect that I think I learned to have from my experiences with
Baker and McReynolds.

Jim Moss