MODERN RECORDING & MUSIC
VOL. 6 NO. 2
RICK MAROTTA & WADDY WACHTEL OF RONIN
Profile: Dan Dugmore, Rick Morotta, Waddy Wachtel, Stanley Sheldon of Ronin
By Marty Basch
Both Waddy Wachtel and Rick Marotta have been established musicians for some time doing sessions work with artists Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor and Jackson Browne. They've formed Ronin, their own band with Dan Dugmore and Stanley Sheldon, and have a debut album on the Mercury label.
Wachtel is also a noted producer, having lent his talents to Warren Zevon's Excitable Boy album. Modern Recording & Music spoke with Wachtel and Marotta to find out about their past session work and the recording of their "live" studio record.
Modern Recording & Music: Waddy, what first got you interested in playing the guitar?
Waddy Wachtel: When I was real young I just happnened to see one on television. That's what started it. I'm talking real young. That's when I was 5 years old. I started playing when I was 9.
From age 6 to 9 I badgered my father about it until he bought me one. He bought me a little Kumica guitar. It was the most beautiful thing I ever saw.
MR&M: Rick, why did you choose the drums?
Rick Marotta: I didn't start playing 'til I had gone to college for about a year. A friend of mine went away to the army and he left me his drums to hold on to until he got out. That's what started me and that's why I had those drums. They were a blue Gretsch set. Junk. They had calfskin heads on them that must have been ten or fifteen years old. The guy never changed the heads in his life and you couldn't have broken them unless you had run a truck into the drumset.
MR&M: Did you have anything to do with music before that?
Rick Marotta: My father was a dancer, my mother was a dancer. [As he starts to do a Jonny Cash imitation] and "my boy's gonna be a dancer too," God damn it.
MR&M: What were your first experiences like in the recording studio?
Rick Marotta: Mine were pretty weird because I had just started playing. David Spinozza, whom I was playing with at the time, had actually got me started playing. David brought me to these sessions where I think Clyde Otis was the producer. They were R&B sessions.
The first sessions I did were on the radio. I remember going home and listening to WLIB about 3 weeks later and the song was on the radio. So right away I got this feeling like, I've got to go and do this again. What a feeling jogging down the street and hearing yourself play the drums on the radio. So that was it. It was all R&B stuff the first year or two. Black rhythm and blues records.
MR&M: Waddy, how did you go from your first guitar at age 9 to Linda Ronstadt's Simple Dreams?
Waddy Wachtel: Briefly, from age 9 to 20, I lived in New York. Then I moved to Los Angeles and started trying to get into studio work. I was with these country kind of things and "folk people." Things just started leading around until I met Lou Adler who liked my playing. Adler played with Carole King and turned me on to meeting Linda and Peter Asher.
MR&R: Peter Asher. Why did you choose him as your producer for Ronin's album?
Waddy Wachtel: He is the best producer I've ever worked for.
MR&R: What makes him the best?
Waddy Wachtel: He facilitates a [form of] communication that is very necessary to make a record happen: conversation. Peter makes a session happen or takes it away. He's real fine at communicating with the musicians, with the engineers and with the artists.
MR&M: Did you use any special techniques for his album?
Waddy Wachtel: We recorded it digitally; 32-track 3M digital.
MR&M: Why digital over analog?
Waddy Wachtel: Because we A/B'd them by playing a number of bars on both then comparing. In comparison, the digital was amazingly brighter. However, I said I liked the warmth of the analog. Peter said, "Yeah, but I think the digital sounds exactly the way it sounds in the studio." So Rick went out there and played straight time and we A/B'd what was on the digital tape to the "live" Rick playing in the studio at the same time. There was no difference.
Rick Marotta: It really ended up with, "If you could do that with the drums, it might be worthwhile."
MR&M: What kind of drums do you use now?
Rick Marotta: I just got a new set of Yamaha's from Japan. Took them out of the box today. The bass drum head is missing. I can't find it. I've got two different snare drums and two bass drums. I'm using Yamaha drums.
The drums I've been using all these years, until now, have been two Pearl concert toms, an 8" and a 10". You can only get them with one head.
MR&M: What kinds of heads are they?
Rick Marotta: Well, I put Remo Ambassadors on top, but I drilled holes in the side and put Castors in the bottom heads so I have top and bottom heads on the small drums. Now Yamaha does that, and I did that with all my small drums-put all the heads on the bottoms of the 8" and the 10". Then I have a 13" and a 16" floor tom. So I only use the four and a 22" bass drum with Ambassadors. Once in a while I'll put on a hydraulic head.
MR&M: Rick, you do some of the background vocals. How do you place the vocal mics so sound from the drums doesn't leak into the vocals?
Rick Marotta: On stage, I've never given that a second thought. I haven't done that much background singing-except in this band. The more it [the drum sound] leaks into that [vocal] mic, as far as I'm concerned, the better it would be.
Waddy Wachtel: We like the leakage. You see, we cut our album "live" and . . .
Rick Marotta: I leaked into Waddy's vocal mic so much that we had to figure out a way in which his voice could be heard over the drums.
Waddy Wachtel: At one point on one song, we had to Keypex the leakage out because it was too much. That was on "America, The Beautiful."
MR&M: Whose idea was it to use the U.C.L.A. Men's Chorus on it?
Waddy Wachtel: It was Peter's idea to get a choir on that album.
Rick Marotta: We wanted to get the Marines.
Waddy Wachtel: Yeah, when Peter said a choir, we said let's get the Marine Choir; but we didn't think they were about to come and play for a bunch of little guys. So Peter suggested U.C.L.A.
MR&M: How bit was the chorus?
Waddy Wachtel: Eleven.
MR&M: So it was no problem fitting them all in the studio?
Waddy Wachtel: No. It was a pretty big session, a funny night. It was an overdub. They weren't there when we cut the basics.
Rick Marotta: That's one of the only overdubs.
MR&M: The album took seventeen days to record. Why did you prefer to do it "live" versus laying down individual tracks?
Waddy Wachtel: 'Cause it's better to sound like a band if you're a band. We wanted it to sound just like we do on stage.
MR&M: Rick, what kind of mics do you use for the drum?
Rick Marotta: Now this is where you've got me. I have an [Sony] ECM-50 inside my snare which we mix with the mic on the outside of the drum. It seems to be working very well. The one on the outside, which I like most is a Shure 57, I think.
MR&M: What about the studio?
Rick Marotta: Every studio is different. For our record we changed sometimes for different songs. That, Val [Garay, the engineer] would know. I paid very little attention to that.
Waddy Wachtel: We used a couple of Neumann 67s up in the sky for overheads on his kit. I don't know what we were using on the kick.
MR&M: What guitars do you now own, Waddy?
Waddy Wachtel: I own a J-200 Gibson acoustic which travels in my room with me. I use a '58 Les Paul, a '55 Telecaster, and '56 Stratocaster and I also use a '63 Strat, but Dugmore [Dan Dugmore, who plays guitar and pedal steel for Ronin] uses it.
MR&M: Tell me about the pick-ups and amps.
Waddy Wachtel: Straight stock. All my instruments are completely stock. I don't f--- with them. They're all just the way they came.
MR&M: Could we talk about your sound system?
Waddy Wachtel: We're at the mercy of clubs.
Rick Marotta: At this point, we don't have our own sound system, so we have to go with what they give us every night. If we did our own tour the way Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor do, we would know.
MR&M: Is that a hassle for you?
Rick Marotta: It would be except for the fact that our sound man Graham Holmes has proved to be amazingly good.
Waddy Wachtel: He rewires the systems.
MR&M: So bascially his show with the sound?
Rick Marotta: Yup. He really makes me worry very little.
Waddy Wachtel: He's got everything covered.
MR&M: Both of you have been in the studios for most of your careers, a technical environment. How does the studio compare to "live" performances?
Waddy Wachtel: We really like to play on stages. I mean . . . we like them both.
Rick Marotta: I think it's more stimulating to play on stage. You're feeding off the people visually. When they like it, you put out more. In the studio it's very . . .
Waddy Wachtel: Clinical.
Rick Marotta: Yes. And it's a call to perform. It's like doing a porn film. O.K., perform. But, on stage if you're having a real hard night, you just really can't get it up, can't get it going. We've had a couple of those.
MR&M: Do either of you feel you have any individualized techniques that stick out?
Waddy Wachtel: I make a helluva cheeseburger. Like I said, I run a chord into an amp and play stock. I don't use effects.
Rick Marotta: I think my drums sound a little different than most. Considering the smallness of my drums, they sound real big. That's because of the head combination I told you about, and tuning them real loose.
Waddy Wachtel: And I crack the hell out of the volume so it sounds real loud.
Rick Marotta: I think the sounds are real unique, but a lot of it is touch. Guitarist Hugh McCracken has a certain touch that you can't duplicate. Waddy has a certain touch. They could switch guitars; Waddy's guitar would sound like Hughie's; Hughie's guitar would sound like Waddy's. When they play, there is a certain thing that the effect is more in here [Rick points to his left wrist] that makes the sound unique.
MR&M: Waddy, you co-produced Warren Zevon's Excitable Boy album. Was he an easy guy to work with?
Waddy Wachtel: It was an interesting project. It was tough and took about a year.
MR&M: How did you land that job?
Waddy Wachtel: I got into that job because one time when I was in Europe, someone was interviewing me about Warren's first album, and I went ahead and said I thought Jackson Browne had his hands a little too full and didn't really know what he was doing. When I returned home, I get this phone call from Jackson. He said, "So I didn't know what I was doing, huh?" I said, "What?" He said, "I had my hands too full." I said, "Well yeah." He says, "do you want to produce the next one with me?" I said, "Hey man, you've got to be kidding me. You don't even know me." He says, "Yes I do, and I want you to help me." That is how I became a producer.
It took a little while for the three of us to settle into each other, but it was great. Jackson could stay in the booth and I would be out there with the band making sure the tracks sounded the way I wanted them to. Jackson could hear them in the booth.
My function in the Zevon sessions was to fill the space and perpetuate the communication. Communication, that's the ticket. Me and Jackson, it was up to us.
MR&M: Going back to what you said before about Asher and communication, why do you think he is able to communicate so well? What is it that's there?
Waddy Wachtel: Just experience, just a relaxed nature and knowledge. Knowing. You've got to know what you want. I know what I want to play, Rick knows what he wants to play and Peter knows what he wants to hear.
I remember one morning we sat around eating for like three hours-eating. Just eating and going crazy. Nobody could stop eating. Then we went out and did "Here Comes The Runner" in one take.
MR&M: You really did that in only one take?
Waddy Wachtel: Oh yeah. Most of the songs are one take. But it went like this: Three hours of eating, we went in, did one take, and Peter said, "Thank you. Lunch break."
MR&M: How's it feel to be produced instead of producing?
Waddy Wachtel: It feels great. We were thinking of producing the album ourselves, one day we were at a meeting and Peter said, "If you need a producer, I'm available." We thought about it.
It took a lot of weight off of us to be able to just go in as artists, instead of going in, telling the engineer it has to sound right, getting all that stuff straight, and then going out and pretending you're relaxed enough to play.
MR&M: How did the group Ronin get together?
Rick Moratta: Well, I worked with Stanley Sheldon [bass] on the Frampton tour several years ago. It was a good feeling playing with Stanley, and subsequently we worked with Ronstadt. Waddy and Dugmore talked a lot about putting a band together. Waddy and I had first talked about it, but Dan was . . .
Waddy Wachtel: The most obvious choice for guitar player.
Rick Moratta: Yeah, so I suggested we try Stanley Sheldon.
Waddy Wachtel: We flewe to Switzerland to do a three week tour with Warren Zevon, and we had no bass player. Rick said, "I know this guy."
Rick Moratta: We called him and then he flew in the next morning and we were off. It really was a helluva tour. That's how we got together.
MR&M: Do you think with this tour [June, 1980] you'll be able to break away from the stereotype of studio musicians that's been applied to you?
Waddy Wachtel: This will give the people the chance to decide whether they want to stereotype us as studio musicians or whether they'll accept a new band. So this is a chance for us to be an entity that performs and entertains.
MR&M: Could you predict what is the future for Ronin?
Waddy Wachtel: Lots of stages and lots of performing. We're gonna keep going, keep writing songs, recording them and playing for people. And makes lots of money, somehow.
Rick Moratta: Yeah. We're gonna stick with this. We'll do studio work again if we ever want to do somebody's record work that we like. I do jingles in New York and I like that and don't want to kiss that stuff goodbye. We just want to tour this band and sell a lot of records, become millionaires and take it easy.
Thanks to blackcat for the transcription and submission.