GALERIE du RC
Enjoy a stroll through Randy Crenshaw’s illustrious gallery and gain insight into the voice behind the voice.
You may also take a Secret Detour to Mr. C’s TRUE, TALL TALES…
RANDY CRENSHAW – SONGS and SESSIONS
RARE FOOTAGE FROM THE VAULT
Performing “Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two” Song for SCL
The Johnny Mann Singers
K-Earth 101 Jingle Session – (Vocals)
“Weird Al” Yankovic
The Making of “Straight Outta Lynwood” – (Vocals)
RANDY CRENSHAW – PHOTORAMA
COURTESY OF POP A. RAZZI
Randy Crenshaw’s True, Tall Tales…
When I first came to town in the mid-’80’s, I was hired to sing on a Ray Conniff album. I didn’t really know what to expect from Ray, having only heard his records on my grandparents’ stereo, or maybe on easy-listening radio. When I arrived at the recording studio and actually saw him, my first shock was that he was wearing a rather obvious wig on his head! It was a gray-haired Prince Valiant-looking one; sort of a “bowl cut” that looked kind of like a leftover from the Beatles mop-top days, or maybe the Little Dutch Boy; except, of course, that the wig hair was all gray with Ray…
My second surprise was that he made all of us singers do a long rehearsal BEFORE the actual recording session started. I thought with pro session singers, you always just jumped in and sightread through the music, but apparently that wasn’t the way Ray Conniff did things. He had all of the women sitting in one row of chairs, and then all of the men sitting in another row of chairs directly behind them. It kind of felt like being in Mrs. Nelson’s third-grade classroom to me…
My third surprise was that Ray was pretty well deaf by this time in his life. As he ran the rehearsal, he was constantly asking the singers to repeat sections they had already sung correctly, apparently in hopes that by listening to it again, he could somehow hear it better the second time around.
I was singing top tenor on this session (this alone will tell you how long ago the session was!), and we came to a men’s soli section in one chart where I had a high B flat to sing, forte. Ray listened to the men singing, then asked, “Who’s singing the top B flat? I can’t hear it!” I told him that I was singing it, and he told me I wasn’t singing it nearly loud enough. We went back through the same section again, and I really sang it out. He complained again that he still couldn’t hear the high B flat loud enough. This time he walked directly over in front of me and leaned over towards me, cupping his ear with his hand. The women sitting in front of me giggled.
I thought to myself, “Alright, that’s it. He wants loud? I’ll GIVE him loud!”… So this time, I just rared back and hollered that high B flat, probably as loud as I’ve ever sung a note in my life. It was so loud that everyone in the men’s row, as well as all of the women in the front row, instantly doubled over with laughter, holding their ears and shaking their heads. “There,” I thought. “How’s he like THAT loud?”
Ray never reacted at all. He just kind of stood there, looking around at the collapsing singers… It was obvious that he still hadn’t really heard the note as loudly as he wanted to, but I think he also may have realized that it had just about destroyed the other singers in the room, judging from their reactions. He couldn’t really ask for another run-through of the same section without looking even more foolish, so he had us all take a break, and he kind of wandered off, looking confused…
WE LOVE THESE KINDS OF SESSIONS!
Most group vocal recording sessions for singers follow a somewhat similar script. But every once in a while, you’ll get called for something that is completely different! That’s what makes our business so interesting!
Some years back, I was called by an arranger friend, who asked if I could sing group vocals for a song demo session. Normally, a song demo session entails you coming in and singing the lead vocal on a song, as well as singing any background vocals that might be needed. On this session, though, he told me, “You’re gonna be singing group vocals only; but in a BIG group. 24 singers!” “24 singers?” I said. “What’s it for? A film score?” “Nah,” he said. “This is for one song, which will be a finished master recording; full rhythm section, orchestra, and full choir.” “Wow! Count me in,” said I.
So on the appointed evening and time, I showed up at one of the major recording studios in Hollywood, and a bunch of the top session singers in town also arrived. We soon started working on recording the chart at hand, which was an original song, written by a guy none of us had ever heard of. It was a nice, but unremarkable ballad, extolling the many virtues of Boston, MA. Having lived in Boston myself for a few years while attending music school, I had somewhat different memories about the town (like “Car Theft Capital of the World”!), but “oh well,” I thought: “it’s his money.” The song was beautifully arranged and recorded, with all the best session players on the track.
We were booked for a 3-hour recording session, and one of the unusual things about this gig was that we were being paid cash for the date, by the songwriter himself. At the end of three hours, we had recorded a very nice version of the song, and as we were leaving the studio, the songwriter’s chauffeur (the songwriter had been driven to the session in a long black limousine) was handing everyone envelopes full of crisp new one-hundred-dollar bills. Turned out the songwriter was a multi-millionaire who had made his millions by a) developing the game “Hooked on Phonics,” and then selling the rights to the game, and b) being the syndicator of the then-hugely-popular “Dr. Laura” call-in radio advice show!
So, cut to a few days later… We were contacted by the arranger, who told us that the songwriter needed to change a couple of lines in his song. Could we come back in that night for a quick fix-it session, for several hundred more dollars in cash? You betcha!
At the session, things were going kind of slowly, due to technical problems. After the allotted session time was over, there was still more singing to be done. The songwriter came out into the room and somewhat apologetically asked if we might possibly stick around and sing for a little bit longer, in exchange for being paid several hundred more dollars cash apiece. Yes, we could, everyone decided quickly!
After about 20 minutes more singing, we left the session, having each been paid multiple hundreds of dollars in cash just to re-sing two or three lines in the song!
This same scenario then happened one more time, this time just before Christmas. So, in addition to being paid several hundred more dollars in cash, this time we were all handed expensive gift-wrapped boxes of chocolates and bottles of expensive champagne as we left the session.
You know, a person could really get used to working under these kinds of conditions!
The following two stories were originally included in a collection of music business true tales entitled “Music Horror Stories,” edited by Janet Fisher.
SINGING AT THE FUNERAL
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I did anything and everything even vaguely related to music, in order to try and earn enough money to live. For a while, I did “singing telegrams” for a company called Eastern Onion. (Get it? Pun on “Western Union”? Har-de-har-har!) I would show up at some poor unsuspecting victim’s office, or the front door of their home, and blast them with an a cappella vocal solo performance of whatever song the client had paid me to sing to them. Sometimes it was just an innocent version of “Happy Birthday,” “Happy Anniversary,” or a favorite love song, but more often, it was some weird “specialty” lyrics which had been written and set to one of those famous tunes, with varying degrees of success… Imagine me appearing at a high-powered downtown L.A. law office to loudly sing, for one of the senior partners there, a lovely parody-lyric version of “Happy Birthday” entitled “Happy Divorce Settlement.” Good times…
I even got hired to play “Taps” on trumpet or bugle for former military members who had died, as well as sing for funerals and memorial services. My most unforgettable moment occurred during one funeral service at a very-well-known cemetery and memorial park in the Hollywood hills.
A little old lady, a friend of the family, had been asked to sing the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” one of the favorite songs of the dearly departed. I had been hired to sing “The Lord’s Prayer” immediately after that, with organ accompaniment. She quavered her way through the entire song reasonably well, until, at the big finale, she got a bit confused on the lyrics. She sang, with all of the pathos she could muster, “You’ll ne…ver…walk…(big pause)…AGAIN!”
Some in the elderly listening audience gasped. Her statement WAS technically true. Naturally, it struck me as being quite funny, and both the organist and I began doing that peculiar snorting, coughing sound that people do when they’re not supposed to be laughing at a solemn event…but ARE. Then we started hearing other people among the mourners beginning to make similar “camouflaged laughter” sounds.
The organist, behind a little scrim which stood between the mourners and the two of us, was now laughing so hard that he had actually fallen off the organ bench. After trying to gather his composure, he played the introduction to “The Lord’s Prayer” (one-handed, while collapsed over with laughter!), and I attempted to launch into singing the song. I was so incapacitated by this time, though, that every line of the song was interrupted by my shaking guffaws. I tried several times to begin singing, but for the only time in my professional life, I literally could not finish the song. I finally gave up and snuck out of a side door of the little chapel, fearing certain horrible consequences. I didn’t need to worry, though; the next day, the person who usually called to hire me left me a very loud and jovial voicemail message in which he laughed about the incident, saying the whole incident was already becoming legendary among the other employees…
THINKING BY COMMITTEE
In my career as a session singer, I’ve experienced getting LOTS of stupid direction from producers. One of the dumbest moments, though, happened some years ago.
A group of eight of us had been hired to sing on a television commercial, doing a rewritten version of the song “The Wells Fargo Wagon” from the musical The Music Man. The client was a huge, well-known amusement park located in Anaheim, CA. They were planning a fall promotion entitled “The State Fair At ___________” and the song’s original lyrics had been changed to ones which now talked glowingly about all the special fall activities happening in the park. While the song was going on in the commercial, the TV viewer would see, among other things, a brief snippet of a greased pig race (always a popular event at state fairs, apparently). Behind this footage we were supposed to be singing “Oink, oink, oink, oink…”
We sang. Then we waited for comments from the assembled ad agency and client reps in the booth. There was a long pause, during which we could see an extremely animated conversation taking place on the other side of the glass, complete with emphatic hand gestures, etc. This went on for quite a while. So long, in fact, that the vocal contractor told us all to “take a ten” (i.e., go on a 10-minute break) while he figured out what could possibly be taking this long.
When we returned from our break, they were still arguing among themselves in the booth. Finally, a junior ad agency rep came over the intercom from the booth, and said, “Mmmm… our clients feel that the four oinks don’t quite read ‘pig’ to us…”
After that came a moment of stunned silence from us, during which time we were all trying to decide whether to burst out guffawing at this ridiculous remark, or to try and take it seriously. The sour look on the vocal contractor’s face, though, told us this must be serious.
The rep continued, “There needs to be exhilaration in your delivery, because, as a pig, you’re so excited to be racing with all the other pigs, yet at the same time, anxiety, because, of course, only one of you can win the race!” “Um-HMMM,” we all nodded, looking as serious as we could…
Thus began a 45-minute debacle in which we attempted to sing the oinks in question in every conceivable style. We sang high-pitched oinks… “Too scared-sounding,” said the reps. We sang low-pitched oinks… “Too much like Mafia guys.” We sang oinks in octaves… “Too polished-sounding.” We did spoken oinks… “Too casual-sounding.” At last, having long since squeezed any possible meaning completely out of the phrase, we recorded it to the satisfaction of all the inhabitants of the control room.
All this for a two-second-long bit of an otherwise completely unremarkable television commercial… This is a great example of how clueless people justify their salaries. Welcome to the music business!