HELP – GAIL ANN DORSEY (the Bowie Connection, cont.)
Updated: Oct 29
(HELP ... the song & video ... can be accessed here ... Help by Zeek Mitchell Z - DistroKid)
Somewhere along the way of constructing HELP … probably some time in January … I stumbled across a YouTube interview (a long video) with Gail Ann Dorsey. It was like 2.5 hours long, the kind of interview you listen to at the gym … and continue while shopping for dinner after the gym … and still more on the ride home. Well, you do if you find it interesting … which I did. I find all of Gail’s interviews interesting … because she is so authentic and thoughtful in her answers … oh, and cool.
Buried deep in that interview … probably 2 hours in … Gail weaved a story between her time touring and hanging out with Olivia Newton John … and the passing of her mother. They were touring Australia and Olivia invited the band over for dinner at her home. She loved her band and would get personal … at one point asking a question “what do you fear the most?” When it came around to Gail, she said she had rarely thought of that question but, at the current moment, she was worried about her mother (aging and her failing health). Olivia was empathetic and encouraged Gail to spend time with her mother as soon as the tour ended (which was coming soon, I believe). Gail went on to describe the blessing she felt of being able to spend time with her mother in her final weeks or months.
I vividly remember the feeling I had listening to that part of the interview. My heart began to race … a bell rang in my head. That story clinched for me the thought that I’d had for years about wanting the opportunity to work with her. This song … HELP … was the song. Given the inspiration for this song, I was convinced.
For those unfamiliar with Gail, she was David Bowie's bass player from 1995 until he passed. She also has been Lenny Kravitz's bass player for the past 10-15 years, in addition to a who's who list: Gang of Four, Olivia Newton John and on and on.
I’ve always been a fan of Gail Ann Dorsey. I first saw Gail when Bowie played on Late Night with Letterman in 1995. I believe it was right at the start of the 1.Outside tour. I remember seeing her and thinking, “whoa … she’s cool … who IS that?” Her presence actually made me take notice of the fact that Bowie … whom I had actively forgotten about for close to a decade (after NLMD) … seemed kinda cool, performing Heart’s Filthy Lesson (?).
From those first moments seeing clips of her playing with Bowie in the mid-late 90’s … with her zen-like vibe & coolness … and her talent, etc. … I thought everything she did with him was flat-out great. Frankly, it was only because of her (and Bowie’s collaborations with Trent Reznor / NIN) that kept a thread of connection for me with Bowie … until the 2013 “Where Are We Now” single, which blew me away and brought me back to the altar of Bowie worship.
And Gail seemed so articulate, thoughtful, authentic and down to earth in any interviews I had ever seen. Then I found out she was born & raised in West Philly (where I was originally born) … and less well known was that she used an extended family member’s address to be able to go to a suburban Philly high school … Radnor, the arch-rival high school adjacent to mine (Lower Merion). Plus, I understood all her musical and cultural influences and references. So, I felt kindred with Gail and always said to myself that I’d love to work with her some day. But, like many things, that idea seemed so far away and unlikely.
But when I saw that interview, I really felt the kismet about Gail. Especially, when, not long after, I started my communications with Mario McNulty and began working with him.
I asked Mario if he knew Gail and if he’d make the introduction. He did and he would. I explained all the things to Gail that I described above here, and more. She felt the Philly connection and joked about the high school rivalry. And she especially understood the inspiration related to my mother's passing. She loved the demo track and happily agreed to work on it. And not just play bass. But she would love to sing on it, too!
If you ever hear anyone talk about Gail, you will hear “she’s a sweetheart” ... “one of the coolest humans” … “really special” … “the most beautiful voice” … “so professional”. On and on. Mario and anyone I ever spoke to about Gail would say similar things. Getting the opportunity to interact with her, I can say it is all true.
When we first connected in early July, Gail was in Paris. She was aware that I had a September 20 release date goal and was kind enough to consider that and offer some options. She was going to be doing some tracking in Paris before she left in mid-July … and if I could get her files to work on quickly, she might be able to get to it before she left.
Otherwise, when she got back home to Woodstock, she would have some tracking to do for other projects … but then would be able to get to it the last week in July.
I decided to wait. I didn’t want to rush and possibly mess up any file transfers to her. And I thought it would be better for her to be back home in a comfortable setting and not feel like she was rushing, too.
When you are working remotely with folks, you don’t have the luxury of being in the same room … listening to the track together and agreeing about changes to make on the fly. And with Gail and her busy schedule, I knew there would not likely be a bunch of opportunities for “recalls”. Fortunately, with someone at her level, I also didn’t expect to need many opportunities … as long as she wasn’t being rushed …
Which turned out to be the case. We got back essentially perfect Bass & BGVox tracks from Gail. Everything about Gail’s bass track was on point. Her tone was money. She was totally locked into the trip-hop groove. (I had always felt like that would be natural for her). She did a perfect replica of the scratch track and then did a version with some improv and cool little runs. If Joey had to nudge anything on the bass track, I don’t recall him saying so.
The vox track was mind blowing to me. Her voice is so angelic, yet strong, full of natural vibrato, resonance, luster and character … and seemingly pitch perfect … that a single “dry” track (no doubling, no reverb or FX of any kind) probably could have been dropped right in with no additional reverb or FX (though we did include ‘verb to match what else was going on in the song).
Given the fact that the vox was done remotely and there was going to be no way of providing direction, it was amazing how well her track fit. I had given some very general instructions. Mirror me on the pre-chorus & chorus. Use Lia’s BGVox track as a guide for how to sing the verses and “transition” sections, where there was room for call & response, echoing, and improv.
She nailed it. She mirrored me & Lia in the pre-choruses & choruses with some tasteful harmony. Then, using Lia’s track as a guide, she both mirrored some of Lia’s parts and ad-libs (the parts she “felt”, she said) and then did some self-designed parts & improv where she danced in between Lia’s voice (& mine).
When Joey & I first layered in all the voices, we were pretty blown away by how they meshed. Of course, we did some of our usual nip & tuck to tell the story the way we thought it should be told. In consideration of the 2 distinct voices in the BGVox “package”, we came up with the following “groundrules” for story-telling in a mix …
· Gail’s voice would be the primary voice of the BGVox “package” when mirroring my lead vox
· We imagined GAIL’S voice as “the more mature” ghost-like voice (“voices calling”) who “knew things”, whereas LIA’s was imagined as “the younger, mermaid-like” ghost-ish voice, often wailing out in isolation & loneliness
· When their 2 voices were out in the open together (without my lead vox), Gail’s would be mixed as primary and Lia’s would be secondary, almost acting as an icing ‘verb, EXCEPT …
· … WHEN Lia’s voice was either alone or performing something special in the “package”, her voice would get bumped up to equal Gail’s
We comped it this way and sent the files to Mario McNulty for final mixing. He kept in mind these notes and plenty others that I sent along, as usual.
I’m thrilled with the HELP production. And every time I hear it, I get goosebumps from Gail’s voice and the overall vibe we all created. I’m also filled with pride and the special feeling of connection … through Mario’s involvement and, especially, Gail’s … to a childhood hero of mine … Bowie, whose music and cultural fearlessness set me on a path of musical & artistic creation that I continue to pursue today. Fearlessly!