Grammy-nominated recording engineer Dave Rideau sat recently with producer Kevin "The Caveman" Shirley at his aptly named studio, The Cave, located in Malibu, California.
In the interview for Solid State Logic, Shirley opens up about his career and his recording methods, including working on Led Zeppelin's digital-era releases and discs from current supergroup Black Country Communion.
The resulting 39-minute interview has been published in three parts on YouTube.
In part 1, Shirley tells Los Angeles-based Rideau about having worked on the Led Zeppelin 2-DVD video compilation and the live CD set, How the West Was Won, both of which were released in 2003.
Shirley, who had engineered the 2000 live album by Jimmy Page and the Black Crowes, says he had some rough moments with Page while the live Led Zeppelin releases were in preparation.
"I got to the studio and it was like, well, there's a room full of old tapes, going back from 1968 to 1980. And we're going to do something with them and it was like, 'What are we going to do with them?' And Jimmy Page, at that point, was like, 'Well, I want to be in New Orleans in eight weeks' time to see my son, so we need to do something in eight weeks.'
"And I looked at them, and I opened up the first tape which was, like, a 1968 [sic] recording of the Royal Albert Hall, and the tape was falling apart. I said, 'We gotta bake these tapes.'
"And he was furious. He was like, 'Why do you have to bake the tapes?' And I'm, like, 'Well, there's oxide and tape and glue, and it's coming off, and storing in moldy old England, it'll do that to you.' And he was livid.
"And we finally had to bake the stuff, had to bake everything and transfer everything. So that, alone, took us about three or four weeks to get done. So we started off on the wrong foot."It's a theme that would carry into the second video:
"When we worked at Sound West, and Jimmy would be upstairs, and he'd come downstairs and say, 'What you doing?' And I'd say, 'Well, I'm just working on this thing over here, I just repaired this one guitar thing.'
"He's like, 'Don't you dare! Let me hear it.'
"And then I would play it to him. He goes, 'Let me hear how it was.' Then I'd play it back to him. He'd say, 'Let's hear what you did to it.' And then he'd listen back. He'd go, 'I'm
going upstairs to smoke.'
"And then he goes, 'I don't wanna know, I don't wanna know. If it sounds better, that's good, but I don't wanna know.'"Repairs? On Jimmy Page's guitar work? Surely not? Well, yes, and call me Shirley:
"There's one obvious one in the Zeppelin DVD where, that great fanfare that marks the end of the solo in 'Stairway to Heaven.' He goes up high and he does that fanfare right at the end of the solo.
"If you watch that performance on the DVD, which I think is from Earl's Court, the high string breaks, and so he has to go and play the fanfare down an octave ... I have taken the liberty of pinching the fanfare from another performance and putting it on there. So if you look you can see that it's played an octave down, but sounds an octave up."Shirley confirms, too, that there is much more unused Led Zeppelin material sitting in the vault. Not all of it, however, is useable:
"I got to the studio and it was like, 'Well, there's room full of old tapes, going back from 1968 to 1980 ... And by the time we started looking at it, it really wasn't that much. There was some really shaky performances, and there was a lot of drug use going on in the band in the '70s. So there were performances that really weren't good at all.""The Caveman" didn't work just with Led Zeppelin. He was instrumental in putting together "these guys called Black Country Communion." Shirley shares the story of "crafting" their first album:
"I booked the studio down the road, and we just booked two days, and I had everyone come into the studio ... Shangri-La, just down the road here. And they came in for two days, and ... Joe and Glenn had written nuggets of ideas, so we cut it all in bits and pieces ... And then, they all went away, and in the evenings I cut it all up together when I was working on an Iron Maiden album in the Bahamas and I had time to spare. I put the headphones on and my laptop and I edited it all up, and that's how this [debut] record came about ...
"It's interesting… to see like 10,000 reviews that [say] you can hear that these guys are all playing live. Well, they are playing live. It's just, they weren't playing quite as you hear."The third part is more technical, but still a fascinating watch.