A Beautiful Joe Recording
Another article by Peter North, in his handlebar moustache years! Also, what the hell ever happened to Julian Austin? After playing for a year or two and amassing a repertoire that included everything from Emmylou Harris to the Velvet Underground, Beautiful Joe was going to record a CD. Well, actually we were going to record a collection of our cover tunes as pre-production for the actual recording session, which might happen in Nashville. Neil MacGonigill had suggested using legendary Nashville based producer Brian Ahern, another industry outsider with whom he had struck up a friendship. Brian had produced all of Anne Murray’s early hits, was married and divorced to Emmylou and is a Canadian. It was decided that we would record in a bar somewhere in Calgary. Brian brought with him fellow Canadian Miles Wilkinson to mix the front of house and an engineer from Tennessee named Mark Lambert.
We set up in a bar on MacLeod Trail called Bullshooters (It’s now either a Chinese Restaurant or a vacant space). Brian and Mark set up in the basement. Brian procured a tank of oxygen which he could take a huff from if he felt his energy was getting low. We were each given note pads to take notes about our performances. At first, it didn’t go so well. We weren’t the polished kind of Nashville act he was used to working with. As we went on, the initial fear of not being good enough, coupled with nervous energy and a rising confidence, produced some pretty good takes. By the end of it, we were all pretty happy but a little perplexed that we didn’t do more of our own stuff.
The end result was a mixed bag. We liked our performances, but were less than thrilled by the production. We all wanted to do our own material. The other issue was that Beautiful Joe didn’t really have a band leader. Just little things like who introduces the band, who sang the most songs, which guitar plays lead. Tim and I liked to just call tunes and play off the audience, but Jane liked to have a set list and know what exactly was going to happen next. Danny played what we referred to as lead bass. Ross could be a loose cannon. I had the annoying habit of bringing in new songs, rehearsing them, but then never playing them and then springing them on the band when they least expected it (actually, I kind of still do that.Sorry guys!). I thought that the best solution would be more rehearsal and structure, but often we would just end up in heated discussions and rehearsals that never really got started. I also felt a bit at odds with the roots rock material that we were doing. My musical tastes were all over the place. I wanted to play jazz and blues and psychedelic rock. I didn’t listen too much to Guy Clark, Emmylou Harris, The Replacements and the Clash. I thought we should replace Danny with Kit Johnson, who brought the kind of work ethic that was more common in Toronto, and played a simpler style of bass. It wasn’t quite the same. These factors all contributed to the demise of Beautiful Joe. There were a lot of hurt feelings, but we’re all still good friends and get together to do the occasional reunion show. We still have that certain “je ne sais quoi” The vocal blend between Jane,Tim and I has a certain magic, and we can really cook on the rockers. You can hear the Beautiful Joe vocal sound on my first CD, particularly the duet between Jane and I on “Too Bad For Me”