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A Fireside Chat With Producer John Snyder

By Published: September 30, 2003

JS:It depends. Sometimes it is a straight reissue of an existing LP. Sometimes it is a straight reissue with added material and sometimes it is a compilation. I've done hundreds of those and the first big challenge is to find the most original or best source because record company tape libraries are well maintained or well documented, although they are getting better.

Fifteen years ago, when I was really active on a daily basis, mostly, it was an investigative job. Where is the tape? It was a question of finding tapes and then after that it is how you EQ a two-track tape to go on CD. In those days, and even now, there are no rules about that and so early LP masters were exaggerated on the top and bottom and been made CDs. If you look at some of the 1980s CD reissues and you listen to them, they are usually kind of overly bright. They had the potential of doing that and so they kind of overdid it.

For me, it was a question of how to best reproduce the existing master. Don't change it unless it is broken. If it is broken, be subtle about the fixes. As far as choosing the material goes, it was generally what I thought was right. When I did the Aretha (Franklin) set on Sony, I listened to all seven of her records on CBS and all the outtakes, everything, every note that was recorded and tried to make sense of it because the producers through the years there did not know what to do with her and so she did everything from Broadway show tunes to Dinah Washington tunes. John Hammond did the first three records and they were mostly jazz records and after that, school was out. They just did all kinds of things and mostly, not very smart.

So how do you make a compilation of that material? So I just thought about emphasizing the jazz to soul connections and just avoided the Broadway trial and error stuff that they were doing.

FJ: Apart from flooding an already diluted marketplace, do compilations serve a purpose?

JS: Commercially speaking, they are done because it is material that the record company has. Artistically speaking, if you were trying to make a representative record, you are not going to get but a slice of that pie because most artists recorded for many companies and so it has it limitations. It depends on your point of view and what purpose you have in making it. If it is just for the record company to make some money on a record that is already paid for, that's that, but I never thought of it that way.

The idea was to find the best material of the material that was available. Then you are trying to look for some sort of pattern, or consistency, or point of view, or concept. Record companies are always big on concepts and God knows, I have done enough love songs records to put you to sleep. Sometimes it is a valid concept, but you can find others. The concept that I like the best is this is the best playing.

I've often wanted to make the definitive Charlie Parker record. If I was a twelve-year-old kid and somebody said to buy a Charlie Parker record, what record would I buy? I don't know the answer to that and so I would like to take all the Charlie Parker records and I would like to program that record. I think somebody has come close to that through the years. If an artist has recorded a song many times, and that is often the case, which one is the best version? It helps to have some sense of the past and how it was reviewed and how it was written about. You want to make sure you don't overlook those and make sure that there are not others that were overlooked.

FJ: The musicians you worked with span the spectrum of recorded music. But I have a particular affinity for a few, the first, Junior Wells.

JS:Junior was a good friend and I loved Junior. Junior was trusting and he didn't automatically give his trust, but over a period of years of working with him, he came to trust. He would let me design the records for him and then he would trust me to help him get through the vocals. It was always an issue with doing songs that he didn't know. I will never forget trying to teach him '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' because we did a Rolling Stones tribute and I thought he would sound good on that song, but he had never heard the song. It took seven hours or something to do that vocal overdub. I would have to squeeze his arm or point to him to show him where to sing. It was a tape and we had already laid the track down. He was present for that, but he just didn't feel it naturally.

The question was how do you create the illusion of reality when it is obvious that it is not reality? You know a movie is not reality, but if it is convincing, you suspend your knowledge of that and accept the illusion. I think music is often the same way. Generally speaking, blues and jazz are not illusionary music, but like any recording, there is some degree of control and manipulation that is involved even if it is overdubbing guitar solos.

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