A Sweet Slice Of Life


So many strange and wonderful things happened to me in my 35-year career,
that I have to pick and choose carefully, with thought as to what would interest
other people, what could I share that might give them a new insight on the music
biz, or the career of a composer, or jazz piano player? For me, there were so
many hilarious incidents that occurred during recording sessions… and I did
a ton of recording sessions in one 15-year period, mostly because of all the TV
and radio jingles we produced in that stretch. Back then recording studio time averaged $150 an hour, so some folks could get a little up tight if things were
not going exactly right while they were “on the clock.” My musicians were
usually cool, but some of the shit that went on with the clients in the control
room was unbelievable!


The owner of the big studio I had an office in, Doppler, was Pete Caldwell,
one hell of a good guy. I worked for Doppler as an independent composer/piano
player for 15 years, We had a “per job” arrangement that worked great for us.
After every recording was finished, we’d walk up the hall together to the break
room. He’d pour us each a cup of beer from the tap he had there, toast us
and say, “Good job, Hulse. Oh, and by the way, you’re fired!”
To which I’d replay, “Again??”

Me, Pete & Joe Neil

One of my favorite assignments he ever gave me started like this – “Hulse,
I’ve got good news and bad news for you. Which would you like to hear first?”
“The good news.”
“Well, the good news is that I want you to write and record a full symphony!”
“My god,” I gasped. “That’s great news!” while I wondered what could the
bad news possibly be.
“The bad news is,” he grinned, “It has to be sixty seconds long.”

Studio E Control Room

It wasn’t all hearts and roses at Doppler, though it mostly was. We had a
session where Pete hired Al Nicholson to play drums, and he brought in
a little beat box that was supposed to act as a metronome for the track we
would record. It had the sound of a bass drum and Al thought it was the
coolest new thing and that we should try it on my session. I didn’t want
to use it, and told him so. “You’re nothing but a fuddy duddy,” I heard him
say from the drum booth. “That’s it. You’re not playing this session!” and
I stomped out of the studio and down the hall, totally pissed.

Pete caught up with me about halfway down the hall. “Hulse,” he said
quietly. “I’ve indulged you about as much as I’m going to. I’ll get another
drummer today, but I don’t expect anything like this to ever happen again.”
And it never did.

Doppler Studio E

I was doing a big recording session for Tom Wright, who was the head of
a large ad agency in Atlanta. All the instruments were recorded and the
engineer had a rough mix for us to hear. The control room was full of ad
execs, writers and Tom Wright butt-kissers. Tom was pacing back and
forth behind the engineer. “Something’s not working for me,” he said
several times. Pete asked me what I thought. “Well, maybe i need to change
the trombone part…” wherein Tom slammed his fist down on the producer’s
table and yelled, “NO!!!”

Pete took me by the arm and we left the studio and walked up the hall
together. “Tom’s under a lot of pressure, Hulse. Let’s let him cool off and
I’ll handle it from here. Go have a beer.” So i did. Pete went back in and
took care of it all.

Months later, Pete invited me to his house for a drink and an exotic snack
of some sort that he was famous for preparing. No one else showed up
that evening except, you guessed it, Tom Wright. We had several drinks
and snacks out on Pete’s back deck in the warm Atlanta summer evening.
Tom was pleasant enough, I was on edge, on my best behavior, and left
as early as I could. And although I never worked on another Tom Wright
project, I would guess that evening somehow accomplished what Pete
intended it to.

Pete got a letter from a client in Florida, requesting a jingle for his company.
He wanted a :60 second, a :30 and a :10… the usual radio and TV
format for jingles  and TV ads back then. “Oh, and by the way, “ the letter
went on, “We would like for your composer, Moltz, to do the jingle.”

Well. That name got stuck with me for the rest of my time at Doppler. Pete
came into my office and said, all serious-like, “Are you Steve Moltz? If
you are, I’ve got a job for you.” He showed me the letter, and smiled.
“At least he got one letter right.” And when I bought a Doppler shirt, it
came with a hand-stitched name over the breast pocket…. Moltz.

My favorite story, though, has to be about the jingle we did for an
Alabama bank. It was a fairly big production, lots of instruments, big
budget. We got it recorded and sent a rough mix over to the fine folks in
Alabama. Soon Pete got a phone call from one of the bank execs. “Say,
we love the jingle, but our president wants to know, are there french horns
in there somewhere?”

Pete assured them that yes,  there were. He was then asked to remove them
and replace them with some other instrument, as their president “hated
French people.”

After we finished laughing about it, we sat down and tried to figure out what
to do. I told Pete that the french horn was not even a french instrument… it
was really called “horn in F” and was initially developed by the English. At
that point Pete said, “Did the French develop any orchestral instruments?”
I thought about it a minute, then had to laugh. “Yes, the English horn!”
Now the English horn is basically a lower-pitched oboe. I looked it up to be
sure, and the French, indeed, invented the English horn. Pete grinned
wickedly. “Well then, Hulse, I guess we know what to replace the French
horn with!”

We quickly replaced the French horn parts with an English horn, which didn’t
hurt the tracks a bit. And the Alabama bankers were happy as clams, never
to know that the hated French horn on their jingle was replaced, honestly,
by an instrument which was developed by, gasp, the French!

I loved my time at Doppler. There was a most magical mix of characters,
talent, brilliance and craziness that one couldn’t have designed or planned.
We each had our own little niche in a most successful business, and the
looseness of the daily atmosphere trickled down from the top… from Pete,
and that, more than probably anything else, made the place tick. There
was this immense sense of freedom within a very loose structure, and as
long as we did our jobs as well as we could, the business hummed, we
were happy and having fun every day, and the beer flowed in the lunchroom.

Steve Hulse

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