Repo Man Theme Recording Session with Iggy Pop
3-15-1983 Repo Man Theme Recording Session with Iggy Pop
The incredible tracking session
Iggy Pop was coming in to Cherokee. He'd been hired to write the theme song for a movie called "Repo Man". I didn't know what it was about but Steve Hirsch, the assistant engineer, asked me to be his assistant. It would be my first time actually working on a session, and I jumped at the chance.
We began setting up with the engineer, Bev Jones, and the musicians started to arrive. Clem Burk from Blondie arrived to Play Drums. Then Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols and Nigel Harrisson of Blondie arrived. I couldn't believe I was going to be involved in this. Iggy arrived. He came up to me and said, "Hi I'm Jim, nice to meet you". Then he started talking with the band. He asked the guys to play some chords (I was watching this as I plugged in mics and helped build a plywood wall around the drum kit). He said, "no I really don't like that, try something else". Steve Jones came up with a guitar run that Iggy appeared to like. At that moment I realized Iggy hadn't written the song yet, and we were going record it in about 20 minutes (later Tony Sales told me that Iggy always worked this way, and had written all the songs on Lust For Life 1 minute before they were recorded). Steve ran through the soon to be famous lick again. This time Iggy nodded his approval. "Okay thats great, now I need something for the chorus."Steve quickly came up with another part that Iggy liked.
By the time we had the mics working, Iggy and the boys had come up with all the musical sections for the song. Iggy was scribbling in his notebook and telling the guys what the actual verse chorus structure of the song would be. Bev Jones was quickly dialing up the sounds while the song was rehearsed in the studio. By the time band had the song structure finalized, Bev was ready to record.
Iggy took his place behind a wall of goboes to sing a guide vocal for the band. He was still scribbling furously to come up with lyrics (by this time he had several Pages of potential lyrics). The band recorded a great take. I figured, "that's got to be the track," but Iggy wanted a couple of changes, so they recorded a second take. Once again it was great. At the end of take two they spontaneously broke into "I'm a Man". When they finally stopped, everyone looked at Iggy who said, "well I think thats good enough unless somebody has a problem with it". Nobody did.
While we broke down the instruments and repositioned the vocal mic, Iggy's coke dealer arrived. When the man left, Iggy was in posession of 2 grams of coke. He laid it out on the producers Table. Everyone waited in anticipation of Iggy giving each of us a line. Instead, and to the utter shock of everyone in the room, Iggy quickly scratched the coke into 2 giant lines the size of Cuban cigars and snorted all of it in two huge sniggs. Then he went out to the mic and stated to sing. Normally Cocain does not cause a person to slurr but apparently the amount Iggy had snorted was so huge that his ablilty to enunciate quickly degraded. After 10 more minutes of increasingly slurred speech, Bev politely suggested that everyone was tired and we should continue the next evening in studio 2. Iggy slurred in agreement and it was a wrap.
Vocals and my nearly causing a catastrope with a Space Echo and Fender Champ
The next evening, I got there before everyone else because I had a plan to impress Iggy. I had heard that the vocal on "Lust For Life" was recorded through a Space Echo and a Fender Champ (an urban legend?). I wanted to make sure we got the same sound on Repo Man so, without first consulting Bev Jones, I dug up a Space Echo and a Fender Champ and brought them up to studio 2. Iggy arrived soon after with his wife Sachi. I proudly explained to him that I knew about the Lust for Life setup and had it ready in the booth. Iggy was totally excited about that and ready for lots of distortion on his voice. Bev Jones arrived and Iggy excitedly told him about the setup. I realized by the look on Bevs face that I'd just totally screwed up and put him in a very bad position. Now Bev was stuck with Iggy wanting to record his voice through an old Fender Champ and a Space Echo. Bev knew this was probably going to sound like shit, but if he didn't agree to it he might offend Iggy. Bev, being a very cool character, calmy suggested that we put up a good Neumann for Iggy, move the Champ to the bathroom, and route the vocal back to the Space Echo/Champ through an aux send. Iggy consulted with Sachi, and she agreed that it was probably a good idea. Bev gave me a look, then told me to put the Champ in the bathroom and run a cable to it through tie lines. As Bev got a rough mix up Iggy went into the booth and started tweaking the space echo as he practiced the song. Bev got a great sound on the direct mic on track 22. He recorded the "Bathroom Champ" on track 23. It sounded very "Lust for Life." Bev shot me another look, then patiently explained to me that it was always a good idea to record the effect on a separate track so you weren't stuck with it later. Iggy looked up and announced that he was happy with the sound of the space echo. Bev hit record and they cut a single take of the new vocal. I noticed that he'd only changed a line from the previous night. "I'll make you eat till you vomit", had become, "I'll turn you into a toadstool." When the take was finished, Iggy came into the booth to listen and get Sachi's opinion. They decided a couple of lines need to be punched in. He returned to the booth and the 2 questionable lines were repaired. Bev then started to mix the song. He worked on it for an hour or so, and then turned to Iggy. Iggy and Sachi confered and made some suggestions. When the final tweaks had been completed we printed the mix to tape. At the end, the "I'm a Man" jam started to play, but there was no vocal. We realized we hadn't recorded a new vocal, so Bev suggested that we bounce the reference vocal onto the final track, matching level and EQ and sending it to the Champ. We tried it and it sounded great, so a second mix was printed with the I'm a Man bit included. Iggy thanked everyone for their help. Everybody said goodby and Iggy and Sachi headed for home, with Bev leaving shortly thereafter. Steve Hirsch thanked me for helping. Then he split leaving me to break down and clean up alone. I figured it was a small price to pay for the experience.
When I went into the booth, I discovered that Iggy had left the notebook. My buddy Darren Chadwick had now arrived to help me break down. I already had the notebook in my hand, but he was dying to get it. I could see his tongue hanging out, but I wasn't about to give it to him. Darren decided to play his ace. His wife is the well known performance artist and songwriter, Janine Brooks. I'd respected and admired Janine for years, and Darren knew it. He said to me, "we've got to give it to Janine. She's an artist. She's the only one of us who can properly utilize this treasure". He knew I wouldn't be able to resist that. He was right! I handed him the notebook.
Flash forward to 2007
Darren and Janine now have 3 wonderful children, George, Henery, and Hazel. They were encouraging the kids to play and write songs from the time they were in diapers. Today, in their teens, Hazel is a fantastic actress/singer and George and Henery have a band called My Stupid Brother. George and Henery are the best teenage songwriters I've ever heard (and I've heard a lot of them). MSB's musicianship is incredible, they win every battle of the bands contest they enter. They also have a huge following in Northern California.
As for the notebook, well it's in a drawer somewhere collecting dust. I'd love to have it framed and on the wall in my studio, but Janine won't let me have it (something about it being a legacy item for the kids).
Maybe if I'm lucky she'll find it someday and let me borrow it for 5 minutes to make a photocopy!
Chas Ferry Producer, Rock Talk Records