1996 Dallas Observer Music Awards

Album Producer
North Texas appears to be the latest Happy Hour of Talent luring thirsty A&R reps from major labels all over America. But for every CD or demo that drew the attention of some A&R schlub, there had to be a producer behind the scenes to get the sound right, adjusting the knobs, salvaging the unsalvageable. So who are these people--these George Martins of the Metroplex--and what is it exactly that they're doing?

"A producer, simply expressed, has the ultimate responsibility for the sound of a record," says Keith Rust, the long-time house producer at Crystal Clear Sound. Rust has worked with Mildred, the Toadies, Funland, and Buck Jones, and he's also a member of an elite group of area producer-engineers that includes the diehard studio guys like Dragon Street Records' Patrick Keel, Planet Dallas' Rick Rooney, RSVP Productions' David Castell, and Crystal Clear's Terence Slemmons.

But equally prodigious behind a mixing board are musician-producers like Brutal Juice's Sam McCall, Ugly Mus-tard's Mike Daane, Brave Combo's Carl Finch, and Mark Griffin (better known as MC 900 Ft Jesus).

To produce a band means trying to climb inside its head and decipher its thoughts; a producer can just as equally wreck the perfect as he can keep the Titanic from going under. Such is a hydra-headed chore that changes with each artist--making sure the group is comfortable and understands the difference between recording in a studio and performing live.

The producer ultimately must assist in finalizing a song selection for the project; head up preproduction, during which songs are arranged and parts rehearsed; and baby-sit, keeping egos in check while keeping the strippers and drugs out of the booth.

Castell, who has produced Course of Empire, Fever in the Funkhouse, and Dave Abbruzzese's Green Romance Orchestra, likens record producing to film directing: "Depending on the situation and the personalities involved, you might find a very minimalist, hands-off approach, or someone who's a technical and instrumental wizard who ends up doing everything for the band except the vocals," he says.

Of course, each producer utilizes different methods and equipment. Musicians like McCall and Daane literally operate out of makeshift studios in the guest bedrooms of their homes. They both started producing tapes for their own bands and garnered reputations among their peers for capturing live sounds and raw emotion.

McCall, who has produced Baboon and Slobberbone in addition to his own band Brutal Juice, laughs: "I attribute it all to ignorance and blind stupidity. I know what I want it to sound like, and somehow I find a way to get the sound. If I have to burn up a few tweeters along the way, so be it."

--R.K.

Live Music Venue
The Arcadia Theatre has started booking shows again, but that's a specious pronouncement when the bills feature Nazareth and April Wine; and what's so disturbing about that isn't that someone would think these bands are worth booking, but that someone might actually show up and pay money to hear this shit. Here's proof Dallas doesn't need more midsized venues--long a consideration around these parts--but better audiences to fill them. After all, when Jethro Tull sells out the Bronco Bowl in a day, and Lou Reed can't fill half the 3,000-seat venue, you begin looking for the other signs of the Apocalypse.

The reopening of the Bronco Bowl in January was a welcome occasion, and the venue made an auspicious splash with Reed and Bruce Springsteen right off the bat; the Oasis show should play even better, so suited are the Fabber Four to a venue that's big enough for them to shoot off a canon and small enough to allow the audience to smell the smoke. The Bronco Bowl harbors many great memories for the local-born, but there's nothing like the promise of better shows tomorrow.

The Bronco Bowl's presence in town won't hurt Deep Ellum Live, which can host shows too big for Trees--which still has the best sound in town, and the worst damned bathrooms, even without the graffiti--and the ones too small for the Bronco Bowl. (The Bomb Factory and Dallas Music Complex are, on the other hand, giant fuck-yous to their audiences, uncomfortable even to life-sentence prison inmates.)

But for my money and yours, the 80-plus-years-old Sons of Hermann Hall is still the best bet--all hardwood and cheap beer, the sort of dance hall-cum-bar they take for granted in the Hill Country. A German fraternal hall that can comfortably host everyone--Junior Brown, Ronnie Dawson, Wilco, Son Volt, Joe Ely, and even Cafe Noir--the Sons is a mother of a concert hall.

--R.W.

Radio Program That Features Local Music
When I hear local-radio programming directors fighting over who made the Nixons or Deep Blue Something, I know I made the right decision when I put that CD player in the truck. You boys want to fight it out over Jackopierce? Let us know when you're done. Not that local radio exposure isn't crucial or even a good thing--Funland landed three different songs on KDGE-FM (94.5), KEGL-FM(97.1), and KTXQ-FM(102.1) at one time--but how about playing the good stuff every now and then? Oh, wait. This is radio. Forget it.

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