A Glimpse into a 1960s Girl-Group Recording Session
When you listen to one of your old girl-group favorites, do you ever wonder how it was recorded? Here's a first-hand look from Kaye Krebs, an original member of the Pixies Three.
"Birthday Party" was recorded at RecoArt Studio in Philly. But all of our records after that were done in New York at Mira Sound, the premier studio at the time. At our session, we recorded "Cold, Cold Winter" and "442 Glenwood Avenue." I remember this session best because we were so excited to be in the "big leagues," recording where all the hits were made, with some of the most famous musicians of the period.
John Madara and David White were our producers and they wrote the songs and rehearsed us on two weekends prior to the session. Leon Huff (of the famed Gamble and Huff, and who later created the "Sound of Philadelphia" and "Soul Train") was our age, 15 to 17, and played piano for our rehearsals. I played piano for the Pixies for many years, but I was just blown away by Leon Huff, who stood while he played and danced at the same time.
When we got to Mira Sound for the session, the band was already set up and Leroy Lovett, the arranger, was rehearsing them. As I recall, it was a big session: piano, at least three sax players, lead guitar played by the renown Vinnie Bell, bass guitar or maybe acoustic bass, drums and, I believe, a keyboard player and a brass section. They rehearsed for awhile and then the producers asked us to sing--although we would not be recorded. This was just for the band to "get the groove."
After several hours, Madara and White were satisfied with the two instrumental tracks and the musicians left. I asked about that and was told the studio musicians in New York were all union. A "session" was a specific amount of time (like 4 hours, I think) and when you went over that, the overtime was very expensive. By this time, having recorded "Birthday Party" backed with "Our Love," I was aware that WE were actually paying for the session--subtracted from our royalties--and was glad to hear that someone was looking out for the cost.
They put Midge, the lead singer, in a separate enclosed glass booth, but we could see her from our booth. She was on a separate track and Debra and I were on another track since we were both singing in the same microphone. I wondered about this because there weren't enough musicians to use all 24 of the tracks. Later, I found out why they were saving those tracks. They overdubbed our voices probably three times; probably three tracks of Midge and three tracks of Debra and I. It was the style that gave you the big, chorusy sound. I can't even remember how many times we sang those two songs. They never told us which takes they were keeping and which they were not using. When they said, "It’s a wrap," I thought we were done. Little did I know.
We all moved into the control room: the producers, the arranger, our manager, us, and various hangers-on. Brooks Arthur was the engineer. They mixed all the tracks, adding EQ and reverb and I watched and listened in awe as the music came alive. After each run-through, Madara or White would say, "We need tambourines here" or sleigh bells, or hand claps, and one or more people would go into one of the recording booths and add another track to the song. The last thing I remember adding were more "oo's" to the chorus of "442 Glenwood Avenue."
I can't remember how long this session was, but know it was over 24 hours. I remember walking out of the studio the next evening and was confused. Could a day have gone by?