RSR055 – Bob Bullock – Recording Crazy Horse, Chick Corea, & Steely Dan - Recording Studio Rockstars

RSR055 – Bob Bullock – Recording Crazy Horse, Chick Corea, & Steely Dan

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RSR007 - David Glenn - The Mix Academy

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RSR055 - Bob Bullock - Recording Crazy Horse, Chick Corea, & Steely Dan

My guest today is Bob Bullock, whose career started as a studio engineer in Oakland CA, training under such greats as Humberto Gatica, Reggie Dozier, Barney Perkins, Roy Haley and Roger Nichols. And he became a top engineer himself, working with many great artists like The Tubes, Art Garfunkel, Seals and Crofts, Crazy Horse, Chick Corea and REO Speedwagon.

In 1981, while working at Lionshare Recording Studio for Kenny Rogers, he was approached by legendary producer Jimmy Bowen to engineer for Warner Bros. Records in Nashville and finally moved here full time in 1984.

Bob's engineering credits extend over fifty gold and platinum albums, including Shania Twain, Reba McEntire, George Strait, Tanya Tucker, Patty Loveless, George Jones, John Anderson, Hank Williams Jr., Jimmy Buffet and Steve Wariner.

Bob has spent 40 years working with major label artists like Kenny Chesney, Loretta Lynn and Keith Urban, but in sharp contrast now enjoys working almost exclusively with independent artists from all over the world including Switzerland’s Baton Rouge, Norway’s Gunslingers and Canadian acts, Tyler Whelan and Friends of Jack.

He has also expanded his musical contribution outside the studio and now lends his teaching expertise to multiple universities including Belmont University & The Art Institute in Nashville, TN, and Troy University in Montgomery, AL.

Bob is also passionate about helping artists develop their work at a time, when the traditional artist development label no longer exists. He recently joined the team of providers at PCG Nashville - The Science of Artist Development, a company dedicated to educating and mentoring artists.

“The way audio producers and engineers landed in studios is it was a master apprentice situation so studios had staff engineers and producers. There would be openings for an apprentice. I wouldn’t say intern because they were jobs, might not have been minimum wage, but it was still a real job. I guess the mentality in those days was that if they found somebody that they thought was going to work out, they made an investment in you.”

Bob Bullock

Working with Chick Corea

When Chick Corea came into Kendun Recorders to do the Mad Hatter record, people booked rooms for a couple of months it wasn’t like they just came in to book a session or tracking date and that was your day in, day out job for that period of time. Everybody lived together and sometimes we would just stay at hotels near the studio. In Chick Corea’s case it was kind of a cast of different musicians he had coming in and we would cut tracks one day, maybe do overdubs on another day, the only thing we didn’t do there was mix, they took the project over to Crystal Sound.

One of the guys I learned a lot from Bernie Hersh was his name. He was Chick’s regular engineer and so I assisted Bernie on some stuff, did some overdubs myself. Bernie worked with him even live so, Bernie really knew Chick’s style and sound and most of the time in those recordings, so much of it is still the musician, there’s no magic tricks. In fact we probably at the time had two AKG 414’s on the grand piano. Again when you work in an environment where you’re spending a few months recording, you have the opportunity to experiment with different things for different songs. So it’s not like there are any magic tricks, it’s just being able to try something different for this particular piece and then there are other things that contribute. We were working I believe a Harrison console that was in that studio, but we were also recording to Studer a800 analog tape machines, so all those things contribute.

                                                  Chick Corea - Mad Hatter

How do you See Recordings Sessions Contrasting Today Compared to Then ?

It really was about getting everything the way you wanted it on the front end you know through the 70s & 80s. I still work that way myself for projects I produce, I record them in commercial studios at least getting them the basic tracks down so the only real difference for me and recording music now is that we have to work more time efficiently and have to make decisions much quicker because of smaller budgets. I find myself having to do more pre-planning, more organized, more sure of what I’m going to do. There’s pros and cons to that, that’s a bit of a fight for me because you’re telling yourself that every decision you make has to be the right decision for the music and the artist. Aside from the time constraints, I really record exactly the same way I did 30 years ago with the exception of recording to generally ProTools.

“I only reach for the gear when I think I need it. It’s all about being creative” - Bob Bullock

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Recording Art Garfunkel

The part that I played in it was really cool because I got to engineer it, but I recorded horns for the Garfunkel project Fate for Breakfast . There would be different microphones of choice for the different horns. Most of us would have the musicians standing side by side not really worried about isolation because it was a section, I was mostly worried about the musicians all being comfortable. We recorded in a larger room, but room decisions are always just song to song and project to project. I think Bill Conte was producing and I think describing what they wanted for Art Garfunkels horn section was a more controlled room. As far as mics it’s just a matter of being familiar with what the range of different microphones are. For trombone I’d probably for example a Fet47 with a pad on it, trumpets were probably more likely Norman 87s at that time also with a pad. It was generally just like here’s a go-to starting set-up and if everybody’s jumping up and down and happy then that’s great, if any one of the creative team, including me, say gee I think the trumpets sounding a little thin let me try a different microphone, then that’s what we did.

                                               Art Garfunkel - Fate for Breakfast

“It’s always been my passion. My passion is to try to help an artist try to change it up” - Bob Bullock 

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Jam Session 

Q- What was holding you back at the start?
A -Well I just made a transition so I can’t say it was an obstacle. I started playing guitar at like 11 years old, I first wanted to be a rockstar. But when I was 15 years old walking into Sunset Sound and seeing this real, professional recording environment, my first thoughts were I wanted to learn how to engineer and produce music so I could produce my band. I still play guitar, but after that I came to the conclusion that I didn’t think I could be as good at a lot of things so I felt like I really loved the technical side of it and it was a wake up that I really need to put the time into this. So it wasn’t an obstacle so much as it was a change.

Q- What was some of the best advice you got early on?
A - I had the good fortune of working under the best of the best Reggie Dozier, Barney Perkins, Roy Haley, Roger Nichols, the list goes on and on and I got to be an assistant engineer for all those people. Mostly what I got pretty consistant was you shouldn't do this unless you really love it and it’s all about working with people, you have to be a people person. Every person I just mentioned, their biggest contribution to me was they were always creating a calm environment for artists and producers.

“The vibe of the studio really leads me to pick where I’m going to work with someone” - Bob Bullock

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Q - Q- Share with us a recording tip, hack, or secret sauce.
I learned different things from different people. Al Schmidt was very minimalist on everything and made fantastic sounding records, Roy Haley was real big on a lot of effects and reverb on his work with Simon and Garfunkel so I learned a lot of reverb tricks. From all that I realized I only reach for the gear when I think I need it. It’s all about being creative. Some of my favorite records have happened because of people that made a record that really didn’t know what they were doing and didn’t know how other people did it, they just used their own ears to come up with something that sounded good to them. In many cases those would become classic records.

“Doing what I do is the right fit for me, I wish that for everyone” - Bob Bullock

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Q -Share a favorite hardware tool for the studio
 I don’t really have any. I’m so used to working in different rooms with what they have. For recording I’m flexible. If a band approaches me to record them, I’m going to take us into a studio I think captures the vibe and maybe the sound. There’s a room here in Nashville called Ronnie’s Place. I favor that tracking room a lot because it’s an old 70s wood tracking room and drums just have a different tone.

Q -Share a favorite software tool for the studio
I’m a fan of the UAD plugins and also Waves, but I also use PSP plugins quite a lot it’s much smaller company out of Poland. PSP has a couple of EQ’s and delay programs that just sound a little different to me and so I use those occasionally, it seems to break things up a little bit, a little more boutique.

“I’ve always wanted a more controlled environment and with Carl Tatz Phantom Focus System, I do” - Bob Bullock

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Q -Share with us a tip for the business side of the recording studio

A - I think you have to find a niche, that’s the main thing. What I’ve found myself doing is constantly changing, it’s an evolution. This is not an industry anyone should be in unless they feel like they can’t do anything else. The task is to find out how you’re going to make it now. You’ve got to find your niche, find a way to monetize enough so that you can keep doing it.It’ a constant change and you have to be able to embrace it.

Q- If you could go back and give yourself advice for when you were starting out, what’s the single most important thing you would tell yourself about becoming a rockstar of the recording studio?

A -  As a young person I think it’s important, if you want to work in video games or want to work in hip hop or country go to the places where they do that best. If you want to work in video games, starting a career in Nashville is probably not the right place. You’ve got to go to the places that are doing what you want to do and you have to be open minded to learn from the people who have experience.


Big Thanks to Tyler Cuidon & Merissa Marx for this week's episode!!