Interview with David Bendeth - Remastering for ELV1S 30 #1 Hits Will Astound You

By: Richard Sanders
Source: BMG Australia
June 19, 2002

ELV1S 30 #1 Hits CDFollowing is a Richard Sanders interview with David Bendeth, who is on the remastering team for ELV1S 30 #1 Hits. This interview is being circulated by BMG/RCA to its various territories. It explains some of the work that has gone into optimizing the sound for this special release. Graceland/EPE has had the opportunity to hear the new mixes and approve the recordings. They are astounding. The new mixes don't change Elvis and his musicians'work, but they showcase that work in a way that makes the most of their brilliance when listened to on today's audio equipment. Most fans are familiar with the stories of Elvis' frustrations at times with hearing record releases that were different from what he approved as he left the studio. After 'Oh, my God', one of our first comments upon hearing these new mixes was to say that these are so true to Elvis' orginal vision, the rich, full sound he and his collaborators created. A very good example is 'Burning Love' - J.D. & The Stamps aren't buried in the mix anymore. You think you've heard these recordings a million times. But, in some ways, you haven't really heard them even once.

And now the interview with David Bendeth:

1. RS - David, please give me the background on the team that is currently working on this project.

DB - The key four people who are working on this project are Ray Bardani, myself, Ted Jensen and George Marino. Ray Bardani's background is as an engineer and mixer. He's worked for many years in the New York area for such artists as Luther Vandross, David Bowie and Prince - just to name a few. George Marino and Ted Jensen are partners in a company called Sterling Sound, which is a mastering lab in NY. In my opinion they do some of the best mastering work in the world. They have worked on artists from Metallica to Bob Marley and were a huge and integral part of what we did.

2. RS - What were some of the challenges regarding the original tapes and applying the new sound - which we'll describe in a minute?

DB - The biggest and hardest hurdle to overcome would be finding the right chain of equalization and compression and experimenting to the point to where we got everything finely tuned. One of the hardest things was not making it sound phony or fake. We had to keep the integrity of all of the tapes and panning the tapes of all the music left and right is the same, but I'd say the BIGGEST challenge was keeping it true to sounding like Elvis.

3. RS - It's my understanding that you worked from the original masters. This is the first time these masters have been touched, can you speak of any difficulties you may have encountered when dealing with those types of masters?

DB - Obviously they are very, VERY dainty. Some of these tapes are over 40 years old. They came from Iron Mountain, which is a place we store all of our studio tapes. Some of these boxes hadn't been opened in 45 years. Some boxes were moldy but luckily the tapes that were contained inside were not. One of the difficult challenges was getting the tape onto a 3-Track tape machine (there are only 3 of these machines in the world) and transferring them over to digital. The biggest problem with that was the tape machine constantly overheating. We also had a problem with the leaders between the songs breaking. In one situation we had to bake the tapes because oxide was falling to the floor and we had to grab it quickly and bake the reel in the oven. Each tape had a different stage of deterioration, but we were luckily able to get to the one path where we could bring everything over to the digital side so we would be able to work on them. Every tape was done once.

4. RS - Going back chronologically, how many songs were recorded in Mono or Stereo or 2-tracks, 3-tracks, 4-track, - 24- tracks?

DB - Obviously, the first 9 or 12 songs on the record were recorded in Mono in which you can't mix, those can only be mastered, which was done by Ted Jensen. The years of 1956-61 were all Mono recordings. 3-Track recordings took place between 1961-66, then 8-Tracks, then songs like In the Ghetto and then we had Burning Love which was recorded in 16-Track . There was one song recorded in 24-Track.

5. RS- In trying to come up with a contemporary sound, what was your main objective?

DB- The main objective was to be able to take an Elvis record for the first time and be able to play it on your stereo system at home, - your computer system at home, -or your car and have it be heard at the same contemporary caliber of any record you could buy in the store today. We want the songs to sonically contain the full dynamic range of bass and treble. To have full dynamic range is to have all of the tones hitting your ear at the same time and having the level also be competitive to every other record that's out in the market right now. That process alone kind of gives you a new sound.

6. RS- Are there any anecdotes that you would like to relate as far as times that you were in the studio? - the hours... any craziness- unusual happenings in the studio..?

DB - There certainly were some weird moments. There were times when there was an incredible frustration in trying to get the sound that we were looking for. We were trying to imagine what Elvis Presley would have liked and it's impossible to do that because he is not in the room. Certain times with certain things when we were just about to give up and quit late at night - we would suddenly try one thing and everything else would just come together. It felt like there was a different force at work other than us. I don't even believe in that kind of stuff at all, but in this situation I did. There was one situation where we had to grab horns and piano from the original and EQ them and put them back on our tapes. (we were told that the tapes with those horns were lost) The only way we were able to do it was because they were turned to the right side and if it had been anywhere else but there - we wouldn't have been able to do it. Never been able to mix those 2 songs. One of them being Suspicious Minds, which was a huge song. We were able to pull it off and I really think - I was sitting there listening one day and for some reason I turned it over to the right side and heard the horns almost by themselves and went BINGO! It's almost like somebody led me there. It was certainly very strange. I just think somebody was definitely watching over us while we were doing his project. I'm convinced because it was so hard to do, and at certain times things just kind of came together in a very interesting way.

7. RS - Have any other outside producers or musicians come into the studio an commented on what you are doing?

DB - We had some people from R.E.M here on Thursday and they were very excited to hear this. They said that they thought it was great and they had never heard anything like it before. Today we have Luther Vandross who's upstairs, he's going to come down as a friend and just give us some comments. Obviously we want to get any feedback we can. We have Arif Mardin coming in next week to have a listen - just people who want to drop by. It's great to have so many great artists come by who just want to hear Elvis Presley sing. Not to mention all of the people from our company who've come by which is also very encouraging.

8. RS- At one time you defined this process as an archaeological dig. What are some of the things that you've unearthed during this process?

DB - One of the things that we found was just some humor around the music and the recording of the music. It was certainly exciting to hear Elvis chuckle and laugh and say little comments at the end of things. We were able to make things that were said under his breath much louder and it was great to see that Elvis had a great sense of humor as professional as he was. It was great to hear him joke about stuff that he was doing. In Suspicious Minds we heard him say 'Sing the song, sing the song, man', and that was great to hear. In fact, we can't listen to the song anymore with our hearing that in our head - even though it's not on the record anymore it's burned in our heads. To hear him commenting to his band mates about certain things-. We got a real inside look at a human being that was VERY talented.

9. From listening to all the recordings, did you gain any insight into how he recorded and can you comment on that?

DB- Yeah, basically he - according to the drummer DJ Fontana - came in and kicked the GoBo's over (go betweens) which are the things that separate the singer from the band. That was the first thing he'd do, so that the band and him could be in one room. He would do a take an he would play the whole song all the way through and it would have to be perfect! All the vocals, musicians had to play perfectly and the engineer would actually have to fade it perfectly. If one person screwed up any one of those things - the whole song would be ruined. We learned that back in the day the musicianship and vocal abilities were SENSATIONAL and nothing short of OUTRAGEOUS. Not that many artists could actually pull that off and have one complete take become the record. It would be a lot cheaper if we could do it that way. That was one thing that constantly amazed us and I think every time we would hear a great song and we realized it was in one take - it was even better after we had listened to it.

10. RS - So Elvis never did any overdubs?

DB - Later on in his career when there was multi-track in songs like Suspicious Minds. He did one background vocal on Suspicious Minds, but other than that , everything was LIVE.

11. RS- Did you get a chance to talk to any other members of his band?

DB - So far I've just talked to DJ Fontana who told us that Elvis told him what to play - how to play fills and beats. Elvis produced the sessions and the only other guy that would be in the studio - besides Elvis kind of producing - was a guy with a timer. When he raised his hand you knew you had 20 seconds to end the song. They did this because a lot of the songs were used in movies and Elvis had 2 minutes and 32 seconds to do the song. It was interesting to hear that they cut songs like that because it's almost like the guy was watching over them but didn't have anything to do with the music at all. Elvis was the producer and he really knew what he wanted.

12. RS - What was your opinion of Elvis before you started on this project?

DB - My opinion was that he was a talented singer certainly, but I really wasn't a big Elvis fan. My parents played Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra. I think they were on the other side - I guess that kind of rock-n-roll was something that they steered away from. I didn't really have a full appreciation of the man and his music at all. Getting this up close and personal to an artist is something that has really humbled me musically and certainly just witnessing the incredible musicianship and singing ability. Today you just don't hear things like that. The ability to listen to the tracks that closely is intense. I've listened to so many records in my career and I've never been this close to almost greatness - to genius before. So my opinion of Elvis Presley was - I wish my parents would've played him for me earlier!

12a. RS - And now obviously a newfound respect?

DB - ABSOLUTELY! A newfound respect and great anticipation for this record coming out because everybody at RCA has worked so hard on making this a great project and it's really great to be part of such a team working on this.

13. RS- How do you think the Elvis purists will react to this new sound?

DB - When we started the project I said to Ray Bardani (my partner) 'we're going to get crucified'. There are some people who think 'if it ain't broke don't fix it'. I guess there are a lot of people that are hard liners that may not like this - but my feeling is that it's better - it's a better product. Our company has been known for delivering the best possible product we can. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and my feeling is that we're giving the people the best possible product we can and I'm very proud of what we've done. I know you can't make everybody happy, so the people that don't like the new sound of Elvis will have to listen to their old records.

14. RS - Have you had any Elvis fans come in and listen yet?

DB - We have! We had some die-hard Elvis fans that have gotten extremely excited by this new sound and LOVE it! The best thing about it for me is that the Elvis fans will get to hear things they've never heard before. I've heard things like, 'I never knew there was a guitar in this song' and sure enough there was, it was just so low that you could barely hear it. 'I thought that was a piano' 'I can't believe that was there' - It is great to see people re-discover Elvis. Even more important, I think there are a lot of young kids that have never heard Elvis and I thing this record will really be appealing to them because it's sonically comparable to the things they are used to hearing on the radio. When you get into the later years with Burning Love, Suspicious Minds, and In The Ghetto, it certainly doesn't sound that much different than a modern artist. I think being able to turn on younger kids to Elvis Presley is going to be a huge part of this record. Their parents being able to play this record for them and say 'Listen to this! - this is not your regular old music.' It has the excitement of everything else they are listening to.

15. RS - What did you find to be the easiest and most difficult tracks to work on?

DB - Good question! Some of the songs - because Elvis belted it out so loud - had a little bit of distortion on them and we fought those tracks pretty hard. They didn't come back like everything else did. They made us work twice as hard to get them to 'sit down'. I would say Can't Help Falling In Love was really hard to work on. Just the power of his voice - somebody didn't quite check the tape machine as well as they should have on that one. We detected a little bit of a flutter on his voice on that one. As a result, we really had to work hard on that song to make it what it is and we are really proud of that. Burning Love on the other hand, we had more tracks to work with and once we went to multi-track it was like our world opened up and Ray and I were so excited to be able to mix multiple tracks so I would have to say Burning Love was the most exciting track to work on as far as the multi-tracks go.

16. RS - What are some of the other records that you have worked on?

DB - Nothing like this. As an A&R person I have worked with The Crash Test Dummies and Cowboy Junkies, Vertical Horizon, Bruce Hornsby, SR-71 and a lot of new and up and coming acts. I would have to say out of all the acts that I have worked on, this is certainly the most important and someone said at a meeting the other night, 'David, RCA gave you the franchise with this artist'. I feel very honored to have been able to work on this.

17. RS - If you had to sum up this experience in one word, what would that be?

DB - WOW - you know I could expand on that - it's very strange - usually I wake up and go to the office - but lately I've been coming straight to the studio and working all day and listening to what's considered to be the best artist that's ever lived and I am absolutely honored to be able to say that I've worked on this. I think a lot of people at RCA at the end of this project will feel the same way, that they are lucky to be a part of this record. It is a very important record and a pivotal record in the history and the future of our company.

18. RS- Have you had an opportunity to play any of the tracks for The Elvis Estate?

DB - I haven't personally but I understand that Joe DiMuro did and apparently Jose Maria Camara did and the reaction - from what I hear - they were yelling on a cell phone to me - I am assuming that they loved it. I would've loved to have been in the room, but right now I am happy to be locked away until this project is done. One day I'd like to meet some of the people from The Estate - just to shake their hands.

Buy ELV1S 30 #1 Hits CD

- Interview With David Bendeth Producer of the ELV1S 30 #1 Hits
- Interview with David Bendeth & Ray Bardani

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