My 1990s session work, AKA 'Whitney and me ...'
It’s a long time since I have thought about the session work I did in London in the early 1990s. I was reminded of it all recently, so I did some web research. I enjoyed some of it so much I thought I would share.
In the early ‘90s, DJs needed long dance remixes on 12 inch vinyl. Some of the most surprising and cool remix sessions I was involved in were for producer and Dave Stewart collaborator John Waddell. We would be sent copies of the original 2 inch master tapes, or sometimes just the vocals. John and master-programmer Simon Duffy would then program new, often entirely rewritten bass and drums, with John on guitar. They would then call me in, usually late at night, to add keyboards and strings, what John once called the ‘classy stuff’. There would almost always be a Juno 106 pad, an S-1000, a Kurzweil piano sampler, a Moog bass line and sampled orchestral sounds from my E-mu Proteus 2. I remember the strings being surprisingly lifelike for the time, and also an amazing tam-tam sample.
Imagine the feeling when my phone rings, and John asks, ‘How would you like to play on a Whitney Houston song?’ Initially in shock, I thought it was some kind of joke, but within 4 hours there we were in the studio, playing back the 2 inch tapes, listening to track after track of perfectly tuned, creative, inspired Whitney vocals, and thinking to ourselves, slightly daunted, ‘OMG this is such an honor’.
Initially the task was a simple remix of one song from her third album, ‘I’m Your Baby tonight’. They wanted something ‘tough’ but mainstream, less 80s and twinkly than her earlier stuff. Our 1991 mix of ‘I Belong to You’ was eventually such a success that it became the 7 inch single (UK Mix) in the UK. This Youtube video is of the extended mix. Apologies for the highly distracting(!) vaguely homo-erotic images that accompany the music here.
The 7-inch track really starts with verse 1 at around 2 minutes 10 on this version. You can hear my Proteus string lines on the chorus from 4 minutes 19, and into the bridge that follows. To my glee, we had the budget to hire a real Hammond B3 with the Leslie speakers for the organ break down from 5 mins 20. I also wrote the clavinet lines at 5 mins 40. Nearly 20 years on, the expansiveness of the breakdown and sheer length of the track seems very self-indulgent, but those were the conventions of the time.
Arista liked what we did so much that a few weeks later they offered us a second song from that album, ‘My Name Is Not Susan’. Here, I was doing pads and keyboards, and was on live piano in the brief solo you hear at 2 mins 17, and more fully at 4 mins 21.
Reflecting on the experience nearly 20 years on, I am struck by its sheer randomness. I also feel massive pride, in the light of what happened to Whitney’s voice later in her career. We never met Whitney, sadly, but how great it was to be briefly in her musical shadow at the moment when her vocal powers were at their absolute peak.
I’ve enjoyed coming back to other highlights of this studio work, including this kooky, itchy boogaloo version of ‘Lovesick’ by ‘90s hip-hop duo Gang Starr. I was on piano.
Here too is our remix of Monie Love’s classic ‘It’s a Shame (My Sister)’, using a sample of Sister Sledge's 1979 hit ‘He's the Greatest Dancer’. Check out my clav line in verse 2 at around 1 minute.
I also played on remixes of several classic house tracks by diva ‘Adeva’, produced originally of course by Frankie Knuckles, and I was also on original songs by several less famous Chrysalis/Arista UK pop vocalists of the time, including Danielle Gaha, now Danielle DeAndrea.