The recording of the album "Stringbeat" in 1961 was a major turning point in my career - in
more ways than one!. The big solo guitar sound was all the rage with hit records like "The
Peter Gunn Theme" and "Shazam" in the charts.
John Barry had long used my guitar as
the featured instrument in his Seven recordings and was now determined to milk the commerciality of the sound to the full.
Using the "plus four" sound and a full string section, we recorded "Stringbeat"
in three sessions at EMI. In EMI Studio 2 to be exact. EMI 2 has been photographed many times
so I expect most people know that it is a big room. Not as big as EMI 3, but
still a big room. Along the back wall was set the rhythm section, piano, bass and drums.
Slightly in front of them was a lone chair and music stand. That was where I sat and performed for
9 hours with just a few short breaks in between.
Faced with a wall of violins, violas and cellos
I surveyed the pile of music in front of me.
Turning page after page it dawned on me that
I was never going to stop playing solo guitar for the whole day. Interspersed with the written notes were such
comments as. "Fill behind strings" or "Adlib solo for 16 bars". I was starting
to realize that quite a lot depended on me for the making of this album.
At that very moment,
I didn"t realize how much my future session career depended on my performance during that day. All the
contractors, or fixers, in the recording industry at that time were violin players. And all of them were
sitting in a row a few feet in front of me!. Many of the string players, not knowing my
capabilities, apart from those luckless violinist who had plucked their way to fame on the "plus four"
recordings, met my eyes with stony looks as they assembled in front of me.
Guitarists today might listen to
a copy of that album and find room for criticism. To my ears, the sound of my guitar left
a lot to be desired by modern standards. Sometimes the playing was not as accurate as
even I would
have liked but I would challenge any one of them, under those circumstances and at that moment in time,
to do better.
John Barry asked Les Reed and myself to each write a title. Les wrote 'Donnas
Theme, and I wrote a piece called 'Zapata.' I was complimented many years later by Warren Bennett,
the son of Shadows drummer, Brian Bennett, covering 'Zapata; and making a very good record.
think it was twelve or thirteen titles I recorded that day for the album Stringbeat - all recorded onto compatible stereo.
No tracking. No overdubbing. No, "I"ll put it on later." And all
under the eagle eyes of some of the top string players in the world, let alone London.
The A&R man for those sessions was Norman Newell and his assistant was John Burgess. Both men went on to
carve auspicious careers in the music business.