Can you believe?!? 28 years! Where did it go?!?
I decided that on this – the 28th anniversary of the release of “Out Of The Blue” – not enough has been said about someone who was so instrumental in helping to shape the sound of this record… Producer Fred Zarr.
Many may not know this little known fact. All the vocals for this album that were produced by me or Fred or the two of us together were recorded in his laundry room, which doubled as the vocal booth in his humble/home built – yet sonically rockin’ studio – in Brooklyn, NY. There was a colorful cover he pulled across a hanging string to cover the washer and dryer! At times, vocalists Carrie and Libby Johnson and I were all quite cozy in there belting out harmonies to “Shake Your Love!” Saxophonist Jeff Smith would wail the most badass solo of all time (in my opinion) to “Foolish Beat” as I yelled “Dirtier Jeff, less pretty and more gritty!” with my 17-year-old producer hat in place.
Back to Fred… He wasn’t some creepy male record producer getting some weird cheap thrill out of working with a young girl. Instead, he was a cool respectful brilliant musician whose sole goal was to help me bring my vision to life. He would spend countless hours listening to my original demo tapes that I made in the garage and he would take the best of those arrangements and fine tune them and help layer in the perfect sounds. He is responsible for coming up with the cool intros like the one on “Who Loves Ya Baby” from the EY album and even just the drum riff at the top of “Wake Up to Love,” which gives it an air of sophistication before any notes are ever heard.
He shared my love of getting everything pitch perfect pre “Auto Tune!” We would usually do about three go rounds of the vocal – meaning…perfect one, live with it, perfect further, live with it, then go for the three or so words that jumped out as being not perfect and put the final sheen on it. But, he always drew out the emotion in me too, which of course was more important than the notes. He knew where my teenage emotions had their limits and allowed for it to sound intrinsically like “me” – the best me possible. That’s what a great producer does.
On the songs that I solely “produced,” he still helped with drum sounds and arrangements. We always heard how I did it “all myself.” We hear that now about Taylor Swift. But it’s always a collaborative effort, unless you’re Prince! I did what I did as producer and played keyboards and piano and co-arranged, but where I was savvy on a Lynn rack mount sequencer, Fred took it all to the next level without it ever sounding unauthentic.
I’ve not been in touch with Fred for many years. He’s not on social media. He’s not that kind of guy, rather more a musicians musician…low key…I do hope this finds its way to him. I think together we crafted a pretty cool sound and I am eternally grateful that my first recording experience wasn’t at that “on the clock”/hourly rate, high-brow studio that asks you what kind of snacks and hand soap in the bathroom you would like. I love that place too though, I think I’m still paying those sessions off. I was the only one in my high school who knew what “recoupable funds” meant. 🙂
I recall drawing a snoopy on legendary guitarist Ira Siegel’s electric guitar and this incomparable percussionist Bashiri Johnson teaching me to play triplets on the egg shakers. I remember Phil Castellano behind the board as well as Don Feinberg and Billy Amendola, Matt the assistant and Fred’s awesome manager Abbey, and so many amazing musicians who took part in this special event. MnM and Lewis Martinee did amazing work as well. I particularly remember the moment I heard “Point of No Return” and said “Mom, I wanna work with THAT guy!” Hence, “Play the Field!” One enthusiastic David “Snappy” Salidor, who is a friend to this day, promoted the album.
But – back to Fred. Humble, brilliant, often uncredited (string intro of “Papa Don’t Preach” anyone?!?). He was an integral part of my “sound” and of my only first debut album I’ll ever make. It was an innocently fabulous experience!
I would do homework on the couch in between sessions, only to return to school the next day a bit worn and harboring an amazing secret…I was recording a hit album. I was sick as a dog the day I recorded “Foolish Beat” but the deadline was approaching. After “Only in My Dreams” was becoming a hit, Atlantic Records wanted the album in 6 weeks! So, while playing clubs and finishing the 11th grade, we made magic…there in the laundry room…there in Fred Zarr’s basement…in my birthplace, Brooklyn!
These are my cherished memories of the moment before the world would change for me. And still my favorite part of the process. When ya don’t really care if anyone else likes it. When you wear out the recording of the rough mix so much that you have trouble ever mixing it for real cuz in the slickness and the compression, you were forced to perfect a little of the soul and charm out of it. I’m proud to say though…I never was that slick. 🙂
Hope you now listen with some fresh ears and feel like maybe you were there… amidst the Italian take out and the hanging sheets and the crowded vibey studio that gave birth to my first musical baby… “Out of the Blue!”
Happy Birthday Baby Blue!