Lightly Touching Greatness IV

We had flown up to Boulder, Colorado, to record some backing vocals at
North Star Studio in Boulder. James was wanting to spread his production
money around as much as possible, so he’d have studio “friends” when he
later went on his own. Those sessions were okay, nothing big, and I spent
the afternoons at several of Boulder’s finest watering holes, as James
always produced the vocal sessions, and I wasn’t needed. Back in L. A.,
James had booked Conway Studios for our horn section overdubs for the
Masqueraders’ album. He had told me we were getting the Tower Of Power
horn section, but on the way to the studio he informed me that the Tower
boys had canceled on us. He assured me that we still had some of the best
brass players in L.A. on the session, and he was right, we did… but the
section leader of that session turned out to be my undoing, and the end of
the line with James.

The horn overdubs on the first tune went fine, sounded great. But the second, tune… the lead part was high, and staccato, and the lead trumpet player, who was also the section leader, couldn’t quite nail it. After a half dozen runs at it, James called for a break, and told me he was going to have a chat with the section leader.

I had purchased a Tower Of Power album, which I still love, by the way, and
studied their horn sound… their ranges, highest notes, etc., and felt confident that I’d written these arrangements right in their wheelhouse. We’ll never know if I was right or wrong, because this particular section wasn’t cutting it. I walked out into the studio and sat down next to the second chair player. “I’m not sure what just happened,” I said quietly. “I studied these ranges, they’re supposed to be okay…”
“They are okay,” the second chair replied. “This chart is fine.”
“But the high notes aren’t happening,” I complained. “Did I write them too high?”
“Nope,” the second chair said, picking up his horn. “I can play them.” He
grabbed the first trumpet part off the leader’s stand and put it in front of him. He played the part, beginning to end, without a flaw, and nailed the high note section the leader had been struggling with. “God, that’s great! Why didn’t you play this part instead??”
“I’m not the leader, man.”

James and the rest of the section came back into the studio. “James,” I started, “this guy can play the part just fine…”
“That’s okay, Stevie. We’re not going to record this right now. We’re moving
on to the next piece.”
“but you need to hear this guy…”
“No. We’ve decided not to do it.” And that was that.

“Desire” by The Masqueraders

This is the song that the lead trumpet coudn’t play. There are still plenty of horns on the track, but the high part in the middle (which I was very proud of) is gone. Instead you’ll hear an electric guitar lead.

James never explained what had happened in that break room. He began
distancing himself from me from that day on, and even when we went back
up to Caribou Ranch to finish up the Masqueraders with backup vocals and
synth overdubs, things were never the same, not even when I came up with
a whole bridge of synth for one of their problem songs, “Starry Love,” turning the piece into a beautiful love song. Saving that song delighted the band, but it didn’t change James’ new opinion of me.

We finished up in L.A. in the late summer of ’79. At that point we knew quite a few studio owners, engineers and musicians on a first name basis. On off- nights I would drive over to the Baked Potato, which was located right in the notch between Hollywood and Burbank. A great jazz club, it featured the best jazzers in town on a nightly basis, and it felt like my second home. On one off-night we drove down to Huntington Beach and heard Russell Ferrante sit in with a (then) new jazz guitarist named Robben Ford, who absolutely burned all evening. Little did we know that night that both would become famous jazzers before long! We met up with some of the studio musicians (including Richie Zito) and background vocalists, pushed several tables together and had a fantastic evening of excellent music and fun. The band played to our tables, which made it even better!

Finally back in Atlanta, James and Ed Seay began the final mixes of Nigel
and The Masqueraders. James was getting bills and writing checks to all
the studios and musicians we had worked with, and was surprised when
he began getting phone calls from those people, saying their Bang Records
checks had all bounced! Ilene Burns, the owner of Bang, and her daughter
were at their New York apartment, not answering the phone, so James finally got hold of Bang’s CPA. “Oh, didn’t Ilene tell you? That money’s gone.
She spent that budget money!”
James was livid. “How could she do that?” he yelled into the phone. “She
knew I was depending on that budget! What the hell did she do with it?”
“She bought a used Rolls Royce.”

And right there was the end of Jimmy James Stroud’s love affair with the
Atlanta music community. I don’t know what happened, if any or all of those bills finally got paid. One can assume that CBS Records, who owned Bang, covered those debts at some point. I do know that Ed Seay and James
finished all the mixes. Nigel’s album was released, but did nothing. The
Masqueraders’ album was released with no promotion or news releases,
so naturally it went nowhere as well. On the other hand, Fred Knobloch’s
single release, “Why Not Me?” reached number 18 on the Billboard Hot 100
singles chart, number 30 on the country chart and spent two weeks at number one on the Adult Contemporary chart.

This is Fred’s song, “Why Not Me?”

Later that year the Scotti’s released that duet we cut with Fred and Susan Anton, “Killin’ Time.” It hit number 26 on the Hot 100 and went top ten on the country chart. I was having lunch in a local pub in Atlanta one day about six months later when “Killin’ Time” came on the overhead. It took me a moment to remember why I knew it. “Hey,” I told my friend, “I worked on that song that’s playing now!” It was always a kick to hear something I did on the radio, probably because it didn’t happen very often.

By this time a number of big music people around the country knew who
James Stroud was, and regardless of their perception of him, (he was honest
to a fault back then) his business dealings and his wacky Atlanta backer, he
was well on his way, out of Atlanta and into a most successful music career
as a player, producer and studio owner in Nashville.

The last time I saw James in Atlanta, he told me he was leaving town. He didn’t ask me to go with him, and I wouldn’t have, anyway. I was far too grounded in the Atlanta music scene. He said, “I’m leaving, Stevie. I’m going up to Nashville and start over.”
“What will you do, James?”
“Same thing I did here, only with real money!” Then, “I’ve been thinking…
I don’t see any reason why country music and rock can’t be mixed together.
I think it can work, and I’m going to go up there and give it a try!”

And he did. And he did make it work, and it worked great! And James
pretty much single-handedly started a new generation of country music that would move away from its classic formula roots and into a completely different era. He began up there as Eddie Rabbit’s drummer, then started producing his own artists. In 1989 he was named by the Academy Of Country Music as Producer Of The Year. When Warner Bros. Records founded the Giant Records branch, James became president of the new label and produced several of its acts, including Carlene Carter, Tracy Lawrence, Daryle Singletary and Clay Walker. At the same time, he produced acts not signed to the label. Between 1993 and 1994, twenty one singles produced by James reached the top of the country charts.


Last evening I was playing some piano for B and me, as I often do around
cocktail time. I was playing “If You Leave Me Now” and B said, “Isn’t that a
Chicago song?”
“Yes, Sweetie, it is,” my voice a little tight.
She came over and put her arms around me. “Are you okay, dear?”
“Yes,” I whispered. “Just some memories, just some sweet old memories.”

Steve Hulse

One Reply to “Lightly Touching Greatness IV”

  1. Great read but I’m left wondering what caused James to sour towards you. Did you ever find out ? Drew Jacobs

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