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Author Topic: Revisiting the Sloop John Billy Strange guitar gift story  (Read 1167 times)
aeijtzsche
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« on: October 20, 2019, 11:49:19 AM »

It's one of the classic Pet Sounds sessions anecdotes; I'm sure we all know it by heart but here it is from Billy:

Quote
"I had just gotten a divorce, and I had my son one day a month. Brian called me on that Sunday. I had gone to pick up my son, and he tracked me down at my ex-wife's house in the Hollywood Hills. He said, 'You gotta come to Western 3 right now and listen to this right now and see if there's something you can do on it I said, 'I have my son, and I don't have a guitar.' He said, 'Don't worry about it.'

So we went there, and he played it for me. It was 'Sloop John B.' He said 'What I need is an electric 12-string guitar solo right here.' I said, 'Brian, I don't even own an electric 12-string.  So he called Glenn Wallichs at home, the owner of Wallichs Music City and he sent somebody down to the music store.  They opened the store up, got a Fender 12-string and a Fender Twin amplifier, brought it to the studio. I tuned it up. I made one pass at this thing, it was either eight or sixteen bars, and Brian was happy with it. He said 'That's it.' He reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of bills and gave me $500 and said 'Don't forget to take your guitar and amplifier.' That's the kind of guy he was."


Now, this is a great story, and I have no doubt that there is truth to it, but some things about it seem off.  Forgive me if this has been discussed before.


So first -- None of the Sloop John Sessions were on a Sunday.  Second, Billy had heard the track before when he played on the complete backing track session, and had played the figure for, you know, many takes that day.  It would not have been new.  Third--He had an electric 12 string for the basic track; why would he not have had it a few months later?  And along those lines, let's not forget that Billy had done so much work by then that it is almost inconceivable that he wouldn't own an electric 12.

Now, if he DID own one, maybe it was not available to him on that day.  If he was indeed at his ex's house, and his guitar was at his home in Northridge, sure that's an out of the way trip.  But isn't it more likely he had his arsenal stored with the presumably open 24/7 cartage company?  Couldn't he even have called one of his many crew-mates to borrow one?  Certainly he would've had access to a stash of amps on hand in Hollywood at all times?

It just seems to ring a little "off" for me--perhaps it's a conflation of events, or maybe it was a different song recorded earlier in the 60s when electric 12-strings were still emerging?

Thoughts?  The one thing I am sure of is that Brian showed some sort of great generosity to Billy and that's memorable.
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« Reply #1 on: October 20, 2019, 11:55:34 AM »

I've always wondered about this as well.
If not this, could it have been the remake of Help Me Rhonda (guitar solo at end of instrumental break)
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« Reply #2 on: October 20, 2019, 12:01:57 PM »

Thoughts?  The one thing I am sure of is that Brian showed some sort of great generosity to Billy and that's memorable.

And at the end of the day perhaps that's the most important thing. Smiley
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« Reply #3 on: October 20, 2019, 02:12:07 PM »

I've always wondered about this as well.
If not this, could it have been the remake of Help Me Rhonda (guitar solo at end of instrumental break)

Nope, that was Carl on that overdub. Plus, that's only about 9 months or so before the "Sloop" overdub, so availability of a guitar & amp shouldn't have been an issue then, either.
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« Reply #4 on: October 20, 2019, 03:21:25 PM »

where is there a 12 string solo in that song?
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« Reply #5 on: October 20, 2019, 04:02:21 PM »

where is there a 12 string solo in that song?

In Sloop John B?  There isn't one, as such.
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« Reply #6 on: October 20, 2019, 05:18:14 PM »

where is there a 12 string solo in that song?

In Sloop John B?  There isn't one, as such.

I believe it was the interlocking part to the main guitar figure.
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aeijtzsche
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« Reply #7 on: October 20, 2019, 05:19:57 PM »

where is there a 12 string solo in that song?

In Sloop John B?  There isn't one, as such.

I believe it was the interlocking part to the arpeggio figure.


Well, I think the point is that that goes the whole song vs. Billy's recollection of it being 8-16 bars.
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« Reply #8 on: October 20, 2019, 05:25:52 PM »

where is there a 12 string solo in that song?

In Sloop John B?  There isn't one, as such.

I believe it was the interlocking part to the arpeggio figure.


Well, I think the point is that that goes the whole song vs. Billy's recollection of it being 8-16 bars.

I believe he is talking about the musical figure he played throughout the song. That's how I interpret it.
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« Reply #9 on: October 20, 2019, 05:39:22 PM »

where is there a 12 string solo in that song?

In Sloop John B?  There isn't one, as such.

I believe it was the interlocking part to the arpeggio figure.


Well, I think the point is that that goes the whole song vs. Billy's recollection of it being 8-16 bars.

I believe he is talking about the musical figure he played throughout the song. That's how I interpret it.


But Billy remembers:

"I made one pass at this thing, it was either eight or sixteen bars"

Which could indicate he is remembering a different song?
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« Reply #10 on: October 21, 2019, 01:11:51 AM »

Maybe this has been brought up before, but what if Brian had asked Billy to play a third line above the other two for the eight bars before the double-tempo passage and then decided against using it?

Of course, if Billy ever said every time I listen to that passage I feel so proud there's my theory out of the window. Smokin   
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« Reply #11 on: October 21, 2019, 08:26:42 AM »

The Fender Electric XII was not available in stores until November or December of 1965, and most of them were manufactured in 1966. So unless he has the guitar model wrong, the session could not have been much earlier than Sloop John B in December '65.

It couldn't have been an earlier session (e.g. "Help Me Rhonda") because the guitar didn't exist yet. Fender rushed it into production due to the success of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and other such recordings. Carl had an early prototype, but I don't think he had it before the middle of 1965.

There were other electric 12-strings available at the time, e.g. Rickenbacker and (much cheaper) Danelectro. But the Fender was the only solid-body one so it's quite a different instrument.
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« Reply #12 on: October 21, 2019, 08:45:28 AM »

The Fender Electric XII was not available in stores until November or December of 1965, and most of them were manufactured in 1966. So unless he has the guitar model wrong, the session could not have been much earlier than Sloop John B in December '65.

It couldn't have been an earlier session (e.g. "Help Me Rhonda") because the guitar didn't exist yet. Fender rushed it into production due to the success of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and other such recordings. Carl had an early prototype, but I don't think he had it before the middle of 1965.

There were other electric 12-strings available at the time, e.g. Rickenbacker and (much cheaper) Danelectro. But the Fender was the only solid-body one so it's quite a different instrument.

Carl had his by February '65...he's seen holding one in that shot with Glen and the other touring guys, standing in front of a truck with a sign promoting their show of Feb. 21st.
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« Reply #13 on: October 21, 2019, 08:52:39 AM »

where is there a 12 string solo in that song?

In Sloop John B?  There isn't one, as such.

I believe it was the interlocking part to the arpeggio figure.


Well, I think the point is that that goes the whole song vs. Billy's recollection of it being 8-16 bars.

I believe he is talking about the musical figure he played throughout the song. That's how I interpret it.


But Billy remembers:

"I made one pass at this thing, it was either eight or sixteen bars"

Which could indicate he is remembering a different song?

I wonder if he's talking about the specific part of the song where the drums drop out, and it's just guitar and bass behind the vocals (the final verse, where Brian sings, "The poor cook he caught the fits", etc.). That's an 8 bar figure...maybe when listening back years later, that part jumped out at him as clearly being overdubbed?
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« Reply #14 on: October 21, 2019, 09:45:53 AM »

where is there a 12 string solo in that song?

In Sloop John B?  There isn't one, as such.

I believe it was the interlocking part to the arpeggio figure.


Well, I think the point is that that goes the whole song vs. Billy's recollection of it being 8-16 bars.

I believe he is talking about the musical figure he played throughout the song. That's how I interpret it.


But Billy remembers:

"I made one pass at this thing, it was either eight or sixteen bars"

Which could indicate he is remembering a different song?

I wonder if he's talking about the specific part of the song where the drums drop out, and it's just guitar and bass behind the vocals (the final verse, where Brian sings, "The poor cook he caught the fits", etc.). That's an 8 bar figure...maybe when listening back years later, that part jumped out at him as clearly being overdubbed?

That is exactly the part with the overdub being referred to.
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« Reply #15 on: October 21, 2019, 10:16:10 AM »

It's one of the classic Pet Sounds sessions anecdotes; I'm sure we all know it by heart but here it is from Billy:

Quote
"I had just gotten a divorce, and I had my son one day a month. Brian called me on that Sunday. I had gone to pick up my son, and he tracked me down at my ex-wife's house in the Hollywood Hills. He said, 'You gotta come to Western 3 right now and listen to this right now and see if there's something you can do on it I said, 'I have my son, and I don't have a guitar.' He said, 'Don't worry about it.'

So we went there, and he played it for me. It was 'Sloop John B.' He said 'What I need is an electric 12-string guitar solo right here.' I said, 'Brian, I don't even own an electric 12-string.  So he called Glenn Wallichs at home, the owner of Wallichs Music City and he sent somebody down to the music store.  They opened the store up, got a Fender 12-string and a Fender Twin amplifier, brought it to the studio. I tuned it up. I made one pass at this thing, it was either eight or sixteen bars, and Brian was happy with it. He said 'That's it.' He reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of bills and gave me $500 and said 'Don't forget to take your guitar and amplifier.' That's the kind of guy he was."


Now, this is a great story, and I have no doubt that there is truth to it, but some things about it seem off.  Forgive me if this has been discussed before.


So first -- None of the Sloop John Sessions were on a Sunday.  Second, Billy had heard the track before when he played on the complete backing track session, and had played the figure for, you know, many takes that day.  It would not have been new.  Third--He had an electric 12 string for the basic track; why would he not have had it a few months later?  And along those lines, let's not forget that Billy had done so much work by then that it is almost inconceivable that he wouldn't own an electric 12.

Now, if he DID own one, maybe it was not available to him on that day.  If he was indeed at his ex's house, and his guitar was at his home in Northridge, sure that's an out of the way trip.  But isn't it more likely he had his arsenal stored with the presumably open 24/7 cartage company?  Couldn't he even have called one of his many crew-mates to borrow one?  Certainly he would've had access to a stash of amps on hand in Hollywood at all times?

It just seems to ring a little "off" for me--perhaps it's a conflation of events, or maybe it was a different song recorded earlier in the 60s when electric 12-strings were still emerging?

Thoughts?  The one thing I am sure of is that Brian showed some sort of great generosity to Billy and that's memorable.


I don't think the story is off. Surely not based on session sheets. If there is that much detail in the story, with that many minute details, it lends more credibility to it because human nature says unless some guy is just completely making stuff up out of thin air, you don't include that much minute detail when retelling something like this, which is minute anyway to most but the diehard fans and guitar obsessives.

And - Some backup from someone is needed here - I have heard other versions of it besides the one clipped above, perhaps even from Brian himself, where the detail got into a call made to the owner of Wallich's to have the store opened to fill the request for this guitar and amp and then to arrange it getting to the studio that day. In that version - and the help would be in finding that quote - Wallich's was not yet open when the call was made, and the owner himself helped fill the request.

Again, with that detail, why would someone go that in-depth if the story were exaggerated or juiced up for effect?

The part itself: It is that final verse, "the poor cook...". There is *another* layer of guitar arpeggios added to beef up this final verse, leading to the full volume climax when it switches to double time in the drums. It is a full 16-bar phrase just as Billy said, and it is an additional electric guitar arpeggio figure added to the existing figures from earlier to beef it up.

According to Brian, he had a sound in mind after hearing the records Sonny Bono had been cutting with similar layered guitar figures (with Don Peake usually playing lead electric and others filling out the layers), and it reminded him of a Sonny And Cher record when the layered guitars kicked in on Sloop.

He probably wanted an extra sonic "push" on that last verse, which was not there, and hence called Billy in after the other parts were in place to add that final layer of icing to the cake which was missing. And it's a brilliant wall of sound as a result, for the final sections of that song. And it does sound very close to the type of guitar layering Sonny Bono had all over the charts in 1965.

As far as Billy and the 12-string electric. Perhaps he didn't own a Fender XII? Maybe he would borrow an electric 12 string on dates if he needed one? Maybe he had a Danelectro but his supply of guitars was not available that day when he got an unexpected call to come to the studio? Who knows.  

Cartage was different in 1965 than it would become soon after. The standards were not the same. If you check out Hal Blaine's book, he talks about how he helped change the way other drummers would cart their gear to studios...and how they got paid extra for it. Hal was one of the first to hire a "tech" to move and set up his drums for him. And he had multiple kits and setups cased up and ready to travel, so he could be playing one studio date while his tech was across town setting up his kit for the next one. All Hal had to do was show up. This was previously not a standard thing, and the issue of charging cartage fees on a union contract became a newer issue as well. So Hal would bill for this stuff, and soon other first-call players did too.

It suggests the business of these guys lugging gear to sessions changed not long after this mid-60's period, and when Billy Strange got this specific call, his gear may have been locked in storage miles away to where he didn't have easy access to it, he did not have a tech or a runner to pick up his gear, and perhaps if he even had an electric 12 string he couldn't access it that day, so he showed up to find the guitar and amp Brian wanted used on this track waiting for him having just been purchased from Wallichs and delivered specifically for this session. And consider there were some players who became known for carting around rather huge supplies of guitars and string instruments to sessions to cover all possible requests, while others generally did not unless there may have been a specific call for something different. (And they would share and swap sometimes too, on the session.)


I think we can all hear the results of this Billy Strange Electric XII overdub on the final mix of Sloop, and there is more to suggest it happened as described multiple times in several sources versus saying it's doubtful it happened.

« Last Edit: October 21, 2019, 10:21:59 AM by guitarfool2002 » Logged

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« Reply #16 on: October 21, 2019, 10:22:27 AM »

where is there a 12 string solo in that song?

In Sloop John B?  There isn't one, as such.

I believe it was the interlocking part to the arpeggio figure.


Well, I think the point is that that goes the whole song vs. Billy's recollection of it being 8-16 bars.

I believe he is talking about the musical figure he played throughout the song. That's how I interpret it.


But Billy remembers:

"I made one pass at this thing, it was either eight or sixteen bars"

Which could indicate he is remembering a different song?

I wonder if he's talking about the specific part of the song where the drums drop out, and it's just guitar and bass behind the vocals (the final verse, where Brian sings, "The poor cook he caught the fits", etc.). That's an 8 bar figure...maybe when listening back years later, that part jumped out at him as clearly being overdubbed?

Well, and it is--but of course the figure is overdubbed throughout the song save the first verse.

The real issue I'm getting at here is that Billy used a 12-string electric guitar on the Monday July 12, 1965 track session.  Then suddenly on Wednesday December 22, 1965 for the overdub session he has lost access to it?  Just seems like there's more to the story to me...

Which, as I've typed this, Craig has illuminated out what I was really getting after: the logistics of studio cartage.

Like I said above, I don't think it's a made up story.  I'm just curious as to, if every detail is right, the circumstances that lead to it.  And if some details are off, which ones.

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« Reply #17 on: October 21, 2019, 11:00:04 AM »

So by a miracle I managed to find the Guitar Player interview with Billy Strange and other studio players who worked with Brian in the 60's, from December 1993's issue, piled up in my magazine stacks.

Here's the transcript of Billy's account from that interview:

"I was finally spending a quiet Sunday with my son, the phone rang, and it was Brian. He said I had to get down to Western 3 right away. I went, but I didn't bring a guitar. As soon as I buzzed in, he played a song - Sloop John B - and said 'I want you to solo right here'. I told him I didn't have a guitar, and he asked what kind of guitar would sound good on the track. I said I thought an electric 12-string would work, and that I'd bring one in on Monday. But he said he had to have it right then. He got people on the phones to find some music store owner to send over a Fender 12-string and an amp. We waited around until they delivered this brand-spanking-new guitar and amp. I played my eight bar solo and told Brian I wouldn't bother to charge him for it. He insisted I turn in a bill. Then he said, 'By the way, take this damn guitar and amp home with you in case you need it again.' He never asked me to play electric 12-string again, but I got a guitar, amp, and $500 for eight bars of work."


There is another account in the book "The Wrecking Crew" too, if someone wants to transcribe that here. That account suggests Billy brought his son with him to the session that day.

And one of the keys to confirming the story is how the accounts I've seen besides these mentioned how Wallich's store was closed on Sundays (confirmation?) , but a call was made to arrange this special delivery to Brian's session. Key to remember is that the owner of Wallichs Music City was Glenn Wallichs...who was also a co-founder and president of Capitol Records. So the process would have been somewhat easier for one of Capitol's biggest selling acts and producers in 1965 to arrange this with the owner (and co-founder of Brian's label) as was done for Brian versus someone not on Capitol, I'd think.
« Last Edit: October 21, 2019, 11:01:42 AM by guitarfool2002 » Logged

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« Reply #18 on: October 21, 2019, 11:14:14 AM »

That is certainly a more satisfying account.

Still seems a little strange to me (get it?): the day of the week being wrong, the fact that Billy had played a substantially similar part on the basic track (although it was 5 months between, to be fair, and it wasn't a solo.

But ultimately these things aren't that important to the overall story.
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« Reply #19 on: October 21, 2019, 07:47:47 PM »

I have to think one of the takeaways of the story Billy Strange told was how it showed the mutual respect that existed between Brian as producer and the musicians whom he most often contracted to play on his sessions. Here's Billy Strange, who - for those who don't know - was a successful songwriter and arranger in his own right besides his career as a first-call guitarist, remembering Brian's gesture that day years later, with such detail...compared to some of Brian's producer peers in that same era and time who some musicians would refuse to work for because of how they were treated. I've heard from quite a few of those musicians who worked Brian's sessions say that they'd cancel other dates to work with Brian. He always treated the musicians well, and he respected them, and it was reciprocal.

Brian pays Billy 500 on the spot and gifts him a new Fender guitar and amp...for coming down to play a track on his day off with his son. That's the stuff people remember.

And Billy, in return, told Brian he didn't have to pay him anything for his studio time that day. The guy takes time off with his kid to come to Western 3, and says Brian doesn't owe him anything before being paid 500 bucks and a new Fender rig. Who does that, right? That's respect.

Compare that to the stories of other producers, one comes to mind specifically who Howard Roberts refused to work with ever again after said producer made him run take after take on an acoustic 12-string track that ended up with Howard needing medical treatment on his hand which sidelined him for months. Or producers who would cut the session with 10 seconds left to save money versus Brian who would deliberately run a minute into overtime even though he had the final take...so the musicians could get more money.

In that way, the story does shed light on the working relationships Brian had with these musicians, and how he'd be overly generous to those who were doing such great work with the tracks he would bring in. And that's not myth...it's backed up by those musicians who were the core group of those who Brian regularly used on these dates.
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« Reply #20 on: October 23, 2019, 10:30:57 AM »

And just to add a little perspective to the known date of the 12-string overdub session...as I put it in my Pet Sounds essay (at www.beachboysarchives.com):

NOTE: despite the session date of 12/29 appearing on the AFM guitar overdub contract, the first guitar overdub was clearly done simultaneously with dubdown A, as evidenced by the multiple takes made during the process (takes 1A-5A), and the date of 12/22 is inscribed on the tape box track sheet from that session (sessionman Billy Strange later recalled that his second guitar overdub was done immediately after the first, on the same day). Vocals were also added on that date, and probably on 12/29 (onto dubdown 1B) as well - so it would seem that the AFM contract for the 12/22 guitar overdub session wasn't drawn up until the 12/29 vocal session, and the then-current date was simply used.

And, guitarfool2000, didn't you once mention on a similar thread some time ago that there's a chance Wallichs' was actually closed on Wednesdays? If so, Billy's recollection may have been wrong about the day of the week, but correct in regards to the store being closed...
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« Reply #21 on: October 23, 2019, 10:44:50 AM »

Where do the alternate vocals fit into this? The ones with Carl on the first verse, Brian and Carl harmonising on the first chorus, then Mike on the second verse before stopping. Those seem to have been added on a separate tape before either of the guitar overdubs were recorded.
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« Reply #22 on: October 23, 2019, 10:55:38 AM »

Where do the alternate vocals fit into this? The ones with Carl on the first verse, Brian and Carl harmonising on the first chorus, then Mike on the second verse before stopping. Those seem to have been added on a separate tape before either of the guitar overdubs were recorded.

Yeah...the common assumption is that those were recorded shortly after the July tracking session, before work on the song was temporarily abandoned.
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« Reply #23 on: October 23, 2019, 11:06:18 AM »

Where do the alternate vocals fit into this? The ones with Carl on the first verse, Brian and Carl harmonising on the first chorus, then Mike on the second verse before stopping. Those seem to have been added on a separate tape before either of the guitar overdubs were recorded.

Yeah...the common assumption is that those were recorded shortly after the July tracking session, before work on the song was temporarily abandoned.

Ah, that makes sense. So those would probably be on 3-track rather than 4 around the same time as Brian's guide vocals?
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« Reply #24 on: October 23, 2019, 11:23:43 AM »

Where do the alternate vocals fit into this? The ones with Carl on the first verse, Brian and Carl harmonising on the first chorus, then Mike on the second verse before stopping. Those seem to have been added on a separate tape before either of the guitar overdubs were recorded.

Yeah...the common assumption is that those were recorded shortly after the July tracking session, before work on the song was temporarily abandoned.

Ah, that makes sense. So those would probably be on 3-track rather than 4 around the same time as Brian's guide vocals?

Right.
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