You’re the new kid in town, the young gunslinger, the sh*t-hot guitarist du jour. You’ve been called up to play the solo on Mr X’s new single. He’s had two number ones this year already. The money is good but the stakes are high.
You buzz the front door of the studio just off Portobello Road in West London and get let in. They know you well here – you’ve done various sessions before. The pretty receptionist greets you warmly as you carry your three guitars past her into the recording area.
The star producer – who contacted you about the session personally, ringing you at home – greets you first. He’s jacked up on adrenalin, in your face and full of enthusiasm, his specs almost clouding over with excitement. He’s saying how he’s your greatest fan and how excited he is to work with you. There’s no sign of the singer or any of the band yet.
After a cup of tea, he ushers you into the ‘live’ area. You notice that your favoured amp is already set up. A thin, nervy character appears – the engineer. The producer introduces you and promptly disappears into the control room. As you chat about technical matters with the increasingly shifty engineer, you notice the star producer light up his first spliff of the day.
You get a passable sound. The engineer mumbles a lot and strokes his chin, then proceeds to f*ck about for an hour with different mics and leads. Does he know what he’s doing? You’re losing your mojo fast.
You’ve heard a very rough, umixed version of the track with the hole where your solo is going to go. It’s fairly standard stuff, a nice groove with a cute melody and neat key change that you’ve got to watch out for in the middle. You’ve worked out a few little things here and there but will leave the rest to chance.
Are they going to give you one or two passes at it, or are they going to make you play 20 takes and then comp the best bits? You can never tell. You peer into the control room. That guy with the crazy hair and thousand-yard stare – is that the singer? Then you notice the singer’s famous manager – what’s he doing lollygagging in there?
They run the track a few times and you try a few passes. It sounds OK, though no one gives you any direction, and the producer and engineer are frequently having ‘chats’. The paranoia starts.
On your third run-through, you play an absolutely blinding solo. The best you can do. Your ideas are flowing. You’re ‘in the zone’. All your woodshedding has paid off. All those crappy gigs for crappy money were worth it, and all of those expensive guitar lessons. That time when Mr Mills said to you, ‘You’ll never make it as a musician – try something sensible, like accounting.’ Well, he’ll hear your solo on the radio when the song gets to number one and wish he’d never said that.
You grin up at the control room, happy with your day’s work. ‘Sounds great, mate. OK, stand by. We’re going to record one now’, comes the weary voice over the talkback device.
B*st*rds. And so begins another session…
Next time: We count down the greatest guitar solos of the 1980s.