Bill Schnee interview (engineer of the Jacksons Live album)

Fuzball

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Thanks to Richard Lecocq for this interview! (source: MJStreet)



The Jacksons’ Live album turns 40! This double album is the only one the Jackson brothers ever released to reflect their showmanship on stage. Though the Triumph Tour was short and only took place in the US, it is considered as one of the group’s landmark projects. The show included special effects by Doug Henning, and the seltlist is an incredible mix between the group’s best songs and Michael’s hits from his Off the Wall album. Bill Schnee was there to mix the Live album as we know it today. As he releases his book, Chairman at the Board, he remembers the making of this set, and shares some of his memories on the road with The Jacksons.

You are releasing your book Chairman at the Board. Could you pitch the concept of this book to us? What is the backstory of this project?
I’ve always loved telling stories, and I’m very fortunate to have had an incredible career for over 50 years. People were always telling me I should write a book, but I wasn’t interested because it seemed too self-serving. Then a few years ago, three different people in four weeks suggested it, and the third person said something that ‘rang a bell’ in me. He said that the record business as we know it was born in the 50s, grew up in the 60s, and peaked in the 70s and the early 80s. It was a short time, a very iconic time, never to be repeated again … and you were there. The “you were there’ is what hit me because I realized I could tell stories that had nothing to do with me that I just heard about.

The Jacksons Triumph Tour took place in Summer ’81 and the Live double album was released in November the same year. If I am correct you also opened your recording studio in 1981. Was the Live album mixed there? If yes, was it one of the first projects to be mixed in your studio?
My studio opened in July of ’81 with David Foster making the Chicago 16 album. I left soon thereafter to do the Jackson’s Live album. The live album was mixed at Studio 55 in Hollywood on a Neve recording console.

When did you get involved in this project? Did the group ask for you or were you recommended by the label?
Freddy DeMann, the group’s manager called me and asked if I was interested in doing the project. I gave him an immediate yes, and we met at a restaurant to discuss the details.

Is the recording a mix between different shows?
The manager and I decided it would be best to record a series of shows in the middle of the tour when everyone was at the top of their game. I picked a group of shows in the northeast because the cities were close enough so the recording truck could pack up after a show and make it to the next city in time to set up.
I don’t know how many dates there were, but I do know the list on Wikipedia is wrong, because there was a show in Nashville – I believe the day after the NYC dates. I went to the show with my friends in Nashville. When we started listening to the different concerts, MJ asked me to turn his vocal off. I told him he should listen to them because most of them were great. But he said no … that they had to be perfect. I dropped out of the project for the overdubs for personal reasons, and jumped back in for the mix.

Were some parts re-recorded in the studio (vocals, overdubs…) ?
They did do some fixes in post production. I believe some guitars, all of the background vocals, and some of Michael’s vocals were re-done.

This album was released at the time when listening to music was all about getting a proper Hi-Fi system at home – and experiencing the music with an audiophile approach. This album is mixed in a way that the sound is spectacular and makes your imagination work (what is happening on stage when we hear these special effects etc…). So, when mixing the album, what was your ambition? More than a recording of a live show, did you and the group try to produce an immersive soundtrack of it?
I only wanted to make a great representation of how they sounded on the tour. Live albums live or die with the artist’s performance at their shows. There actually are no special effects.

Some musicians of this tour like Bill Wolfer and Jonathan Moffett told us how difficult it was to keep the groove going as the group wanted them to play the songs fast. So when it came to mixing, was it hard to maintain this groovy and rich sound with amazing bass frequencies?
That’s funny how you’ve said the musicians were being pushed to play the songs so fast. I didn’t know this at all. But when I heard the album 30 years later after not hearing it all those years, I was surprised at how fast all the tempos are.

As a glimpse of your work with Michael and his brothers, would you like to share a moment that our readers can read in full in your book?
One of my favorite chapters in my book is about the Jacksons. There’s a cool tie back to meeting Michael ten years earlier. The recording truck had a camera pointed at the stage so I could see who was doing what. The first few nights of recording, I would literally forget to be mixing because I was totally mesmerized by watching Michael as he danced all around while singing near perfect vocals. Absolutely amazing!

The Jacksons’ Live album is the only one the brothers released (Motown released a live album from a tour in Japan, but that was not a worldwide release). What was their motivation and ambition when they started to work on this project? It sounds like a fabulous testament of their showmanship as a group.
My guess is everyone knew that after the release of Off The Wall, Michael was going to go on his own and the group might not stay together much longer. Funny enough, a couple of years later, they all came to my studio and worked on their last single as a group, “State of Shock” (I believe) just before they did the Victory Tour.

To you, as a sound engineer, what is the main difference between a studio album and live album mixing projects?
The biggest difference if dealing with the acoustics of the hall where the artist is performing. Most venues do not have the best acoustics for recording music. Every venue on the tour was a 20,000 seater, and those all sound somewhat similar.

Sequencing: how hard was it to sequence the songs, taking into account that back then the set was to be pressed on a 2LP sets? For example, the Jackson 5 medley is split up between two sides, with “I’ll Be There” being the first track of side 3 and leading to “Rock With You”? Were some songs left off and not included?
They came up with the running order, and the only problem was the division between the four sides, and that’s why we had to split the medley up on two sides. I don’t remember if any songs were left off.

Can you confirm that during the Live album sessions, Michael went to record some vocals for Joe King Carrasco on a track for one of his albums?
I have no idea.

When you look back at this project, what are your instant thoughts and memories ?
The first thing I think of is how absolutely incredible a talent Michael showed himself to be. No one that I know of has been able to do what he was doing – near perfect vocals while dancing like a fool! Most all of the other acts that dance use pre-recorded vocals played from a computer. The other thing I think of was I got to live like a rockstar! Of course everything was first class and I traveled with the band – on the bus! I got used to entering and exiting hotels through the kitchens because their fans in every city somehow always knew where they were staying and would be there waiting.

Last question: in this digital age, listening to music has become a different experience from what it used to be in the 80’s. Do you believe in His Res masters available on premium streaming and online platforms? Or, in some cases, do you still believe listening from a physical source properly mastered is unmatchable?
The HiRez streaming companies do sound a bit better than the other Mp3 streamers. But, they don’t compare to a higher quality digital source (96k or 192k). I started Bravura Records for the purpose of recording live to 24/192 with proprietary recording equipment, and the results are stupendous!

Interview by Richard Lecocq
 
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Fuzball

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this is interesting

They did do some fixes in post production. I believe some guitars, all of the background vocals, and some of Michael’s vocals were re-done.
 

dethorro

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Fuzball;4319096 said:
Thanks to Richard Lecocq for this interview! (source: MJStreet)

Were some parts re-recorded in the studio (vocals, overdubs…) ?
They did do some fixes in post production. I believe some guitars, all of the background vocals, and some of Michael’s vocals were re-done.

Interview by Richard Lecocq

This isn't surprising tbh. Some vocals sound way too perfect to have been live when you think about the fact that they were also dancing. Even Queen re-recorded vocals for live releases.
 
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Themidwestcowboy

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This isn't surprising tbh. Some vocals sound way too perfect to have been live when you think about the fact that they were also dancing. Even Queen re-recorded vocals for live releases.

I believe MJ's vocals on Rock With You were overdubs. Maybe not all but at the beginning of the verses. It sounds waay to perfect and MJ has never sung that song that perfectly live. Not even on the Destiny Tour.
 

dethorro

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I believe MJ's vocals on Rock With You were overdubs. Maybe not all but at the beginning of the verses. It sounds waay to perfect and MJ has never sung that song that perfectly live. Not even on the Destiny Tour.

That's what I mean...WDAN also. When you listen to the snippets in the Off The Wall doc, it doesn't sound as clean.
 

zinniabooklover

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Currently deeply immersed in Triumph tour. Looking for more info about the shows. Found this thread with this Bill Schnee interview. Great stuff.

From the interview at the top of the thread, two quotes in particular I like are:

As a glimpse of your work with Michael and his brothers, would you like to share a moment that our readers can read in full in your book?
One of my favorite chapters in my book is about the Jacksons. There’s a cool tie back to meeting Michael ten years earlier. The recording truck had a camera pointed at the stage so I could see who was doing what. The first few nights of recording, I would literally forget to be mixing because I was totally mesmerized by watching Michael as he danced all around while singing near perfect vocals. Absolutely amazing!

When you look back at this project, what are your instant thoughts and memories ?

The first thing I think of is how absolutely incredible a talent Michael showed himself to be. No one that I know of has been able to do what he was doing – near perfect vocals while dancing like a fool! Most all of the other acts that dance use pre-recorded vocals played from a computer.

(emphasis added)

Thanks to Richard Lecocq for this interview! (source: MJStreet)
 

filmandmusic

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@zinniabooklover

Lol you highlighted the exact same stuff I wanted to do!
What you may not know is that on early dates they also performed "walk right now" but apart from a snippet that performance has not leaked yet.
 

zinniabooklover

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@zinniabooklover

Lol you highlighted the exact same stuff I wanted to do!
What you may not know is that on early dates they also performed "walk right now" but apart from a snippet that performance has not leaked yet.
It's taking me a while to get through this Triumph performance. It's so awesome I keep on having to take breaks. I was doing that for BWT 1987 but didn't expect to have to do it for this, as well.

I will look out for that snippet.
 

zinniabooklover

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Trying to find a home for this. Placing it here in the absence of any better ideas.
 

zinniabooklover

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@zinniabooklover

Lol you highlighted the exact same stuff I wanted to do!
What you may not know is that on early dates they also performed "walk right now" but apart from a snippet that performance has not leaked yet.
omg, those snippets! Just listened to them. Just wow!

I don't know this song. The Jacksons were up against my punk bands. No competition. But now? I need to know more. I need to listen to this song in full. This whole Triumph thing is freaking me out.
 

filmandmusic

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Just listened to the album version. I don't know what to say. 😶‍🌫️

Except:

"I say, ooh, ooh"
It is one of many forgotten hitsingles. It very occasionally gets airplay where I live, it reached top 20 in a couple of European countries. In the US it was mainly a dancefloor smash but it didn’t really crossover to the pop charts.
 

zinniabooklover

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It is one of many forgotten hitsingles. It very occasionally gets airplay where I live, it reached top 20 in a couple of European countries. In the US it was mainly a dancefloor smash but it didn’t really crossover to the pop charts.
Oh, I haven't even got around to thinking about stuff like that. I'll have to see if it charted in the UK.

I still at the stage where I'm thinking, 'where have you been all my life, Walk Right Now? Why have I had to wait until now to encounter you?'

It's all wtf? What. The. Actual. And other suchlike 'mind blown to pieces' type of thoughts.

If you hadn't mentioned this song I wouldn't have known about it. J5 live in Mexico blew my mind. Triumph (live show) is currently systematically destroying me. But this? This is whole other level.

I am 😲
 

zinniabooklover

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It is one of many forgotten hitsingles. It very occasionally gets airplay where I live, it reached top 20 in a couple of European countries. In the US it was mainly a dancefloor smash but it didn’t really crossover to the pop charts.
Just checked. Apparently got to No. 7 in the UK. I don't remember this song AT ALL. If it got to no. 7 it was prob on TOTP.

None of this is making sense to me. Seriously hacked off.

Sidenote - was slightly amused to see Michael Boddicker was involved in WRN. Of all the '7 Songs 7 Stories' interviews that Brad Sundberg did, the Michael Boddicker one was the only one I didn't like.
 

zinniabooklover

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Lol you highlighted the exact same stuff I wanted to do!
What you may not know is that on early dates they also performed "walk right now" but apart from a snippet that performance has not leaked yet.
1 - "Why did they cut out Walk right now been looking for a live version everywhere but can't seem to find it and now I was so close ahhh" (from YT)

2 - "And you never will find not in this life time but you know who has the full copy is Jackie jackson I am very close friend of him I was over his place 15 years ago and he has a full copy of this show that's how I saw walk right now it was amazing performance" (from YT)

Just found this in the comments on YT (working my way through the Memphis show). No idea if it's true. Could just be someone blowing smoke. But, ngl, my first reaction was, 'Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaatttt!!!!!!!!'

Because, just imagine?
 
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filmandmusic

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Yeah you have to take things with a grain of salt though sometimes it is all true. I saw MJ's drummer Jonathan Moffett commenting on an MJ video on YouTube once lol. I'm always perplexed to see a celebrity posting something on YouTube I always figured this was only for the common people like you and me 😂
 

DuranDuran

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Yeah you have to take things with a grain of salt though sometimes it is all true. I saw MJ's drummer Jonathan Moffett commenting on an MJ video on YouTube once lol. I'm always perplexed to see a celebrity posting something on YouTube I always figured this was only for the common people like you and me 😂
Some singers & musicians have responded to people who make music reaction videos on Youtube or posted the videos on their sites or Facebook pages. One reactor Jamel aka Jamal was invited backstage at a concert by Christopher Cross and was even an MC at an Ambrosia (1970s era light rock band) concert. On the Silk Sonic remake of Love's Train, a member of Con Funk Shun (who did the original in the 1980s) left a comment.
 

zinniabooklover

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Some singers & musicians have responded to people who make music reaction videos on Youtube or posted the videos on their sites or Facebook pages. One reactor Jamel aka Jamal was invited backstage at a concert by Christopher Cross and was even an MC at an Ambrosia (1970s era light rock band) concert. On the Silk Sonic remake of Love's Train, a member of Con Funk Shun (who did the original in the 1980s) left a comment.
I love Jamel aka Jamal. He's fab. I don't watch him as much as I used to, not enough time, but he's so entertaining. The only downside, because he loves Michael's music and knows it so well, he can't do any Michael reactions.
 

zinniabooklover

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Yeah you have to take things with a grain of salt though sometimes it is all true. I saw MJ's drummer Jonathan Moffett commenting on an MJ video on YouTube once lol. I'm always perplexed to see a celebrity posting something on YouTube I always figured this was only for the common people like you and me 😂
Yes to all of this but my reaction was more about the possible existence of a full show that has WRN in it. I want to see that. I know it likely won't happen. I'm just venting.

The person who was claiming to be a friend of Jackie Jackson. That's not the bit that got me all fired up, it was them claiming to have seen this awesome performance of WRN, that's what got me all steamed up.

"I want everything and I want it NOW" (lyrics by Cyndi Lauper)

I have the song on heavy rotation now but seeing a live performance would be awesome. I am still bewildered by how come I don't remember the song. It was in the UK charts for about 11 weeks and peaked at no.7. That means a decent amount of radio airplay. It's a mystery. Otoh, at least I have it now.

Anyway, I will now calm down. :D
 

zinniabooklover

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Bumping this one again just because I'm so into all things Triumph. I love this interview.
 

staywild23

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I went to the show with my friends in Nashville. When we started listening to the different concerts, MJ asked me to turn his vocal off. I told him he should listen to them because most of them were great. But he said no … that they had to be perfect. I dropped out of the project for the overdubs for personal reasons, and jumped back in for the mix.
The first few nights of recording, I would literally forget to be mixing because I was totally mesmerized by watching Michael as he danced all around while singing near perfect vocals. Absolutely amazing!
The first thing I think of is how absolutely incredible a talent Michael showed himself to be. No one that I know of has been able to do what he was doing – near perfect vocals while dancing like a fool! Most all of the other acts that dance use pre-recorded vocals played from a computer.
@zinniabooklover great interview!!! All of these bits stuck out to me.

The first part because it's just crazy how ingrained his perfectionism was all throughout his career. Even when he was in top shape vocally, it didn't meet his standards!

Then I love the second two quotes here because they just demonstrate his absolute genius and monster talent!!! I love reading this kind of stuff about him. I can't get enough of it!
 

zinniabooklover

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@zinniabooklover great interview!!! All of these bits stuck out to me.

The first part because it's just crazy how ingrained his perfectionism was all throughout his career. Even when he was in top shape vocally, it didn't meet his standards!

Then I love the second two quotes here because they just demonstrate his absolute genius and monster talent!!! I love reading this kind of stuff about him. I can't get enough of it!
OK, you get the prize. Or you would if I could be bothered to organise one, lol. I'm too hot. It's boiling hot today. I can't cope.

Anyway. The 2nd and 3rd quotes are the key ones. The 2nd quote is the main one you were supposed to find and the 3rd quote was the bonus one which I didn't even mention in an attempt to make this a bit more interesting.

The first quote - typical Michael, eh? What can you do with perfectionist geniuses?

I do love this little interview. So short but so informative.
 
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