The Way We Was
“Making It The Hard Way”
It was the fall of 1987, The Kendall Wall Band was four years old with a successful house gig, new markets opening up and a reputation as the go to group to back blues musicians traveling without bands. Rising to the next level and becoming a recording act was in the cards. This was the pre-digital age, vinyl reined supreme and the independent recording industry was just getting started. There was no financial backing and recording grants weren`t on our radar. The punk rockers and new wave bands had caught my attention, not with their music but by the way they promoted themselves and released their own recordings. KWB decided that one way or another we were going to record and see where it would take us. Band members began writing songs and the search started to find an affordable studio.
The performing group at the time featured Cash Wall drums/vocals, Jeff Baker harmonica/vocals, Richard Smyth guitar/vocals and myself on bass/vocals. Teddy Leonard was Richard`s sub and filling in so much that we decided he should be part of the recording band. Martin Alex Aucoin would be added to the sessions to play organ and piano. Larry Bodner, saxophone and Duncan McBain drums came in later as support musicians.
Our live show, during this period was reflective of our roots. A straight up blues band with composition taking us in new directions. The songwriting stayed true to our blues background but also opened up to modern R&B, gospel and blues rock.
We found a 16 track, analog recording studio located in the Weston area of Toronto.
Cheap rates, with the bonus of a grand piano and a Hammond organ made the studio attractive but the love affair didn`t last. The owner/engineer had no idea how to record blues and our lack of production experience led to a difficult working environment. Inconsistent mic techniques, less then stellar head phone mixes and attempts to overdub more then a 16 track studio could efficiently accommodate created more then a few frustrating moments. The only one having a good time was Jeff Baker. It was his first recording project and he was thrilled to hear his harmonica through the playbacks and headphones.
In spite of numerous problems we forged ahead, determined to make it work by laying down tracks for 10 songs. Won`t You Stay, If She Was Mine, You Got A Way, All Dressed Up, The Walleye Strut and Terrified were the original songs, Just One More Time, Poor Tarzan, If Walls Could Talk and I Don't Know the covers.
Early in the sessions I brought in some records by B.B.King, Little Walter and Muddy Waters to play for the engineer. I hoped that if he listened to our influences it might make it easier for him to get the sound we were looking for. We put the vinyl on a record player and half way through the 2nd side he looked at me and said “It`s all distorted, why do you want to sound like that?”. It was an uphill battle but I figured if we could get every good idea on tape we could save it in the mixing process.
The first mix was done by the engineer before we could get to the studio to do one with him. I think he wanted to get rid of us. I`m sure the adventure was as hard for him as it was for us. His mix was really off the mark so I decided to take the tapes elsewhere. We moved the mixing sessions to a reputable downtown studio but being financially challenged once again led to bad decisions. We took the cheapest time slot with the lowest paid and least experienced engineer in the roster. This meant going to the studio after my gigs, arriving around 2am with fatigued ears and not much energy. No other band members took part, some of them probably had day jobs at the time.
Although I knew we had laid down some great music, the final mix was unprofessional and substandard. We were out of money and decided it was time to cut our losses. Cash designed a modest but professional looking insert and label so we could manufacture cassettes. We didn`t master the recording, another mistake and put together what amounted to a substandard eight song demo. A few of our loyal fans bought copies to help us recoup some of the investment and it became part of our promotional package. This was pre internet, websites, mp3`s and downloads. You stuffed your demo, bio and photo into a folder for mailing to promoters, bookers and media. We sent the demo to one record company and of course they passed. The original 16 track recording tape went into a drawer and stayed there for 25 years.
The Kendall Wall Band continued into the early 90`s. The Blues Matinee at the Black Swan was very successful, we continued to write songs, play original music and book interesting gigs. Mike McDonald included KWB in a live recording project which provided a second demo. Another tape joined the studio sessions in the drawer.
By the middle of 1993 the band was over, first Jeff Baker, then Cash Wall decided they wanted out of the music business. I continued working the Blues Matinee with different musicians and band names for a couple of years, finally deciding that without Jeff, Cash and The Kendall Wall Band the magic was gone.
In 1995 I rejoined The Downchild Blues Band for the second time, started my own band and developed a lucrative parallel career as a freelance musician. The Kendall Wall Band story should end here but it doesn`t.
The memories of the Kendall Wall days were always good. It was a fantastic experience. To this day people tell me about the good times they had at the Swan or other places we played. My only regret was that we hadn`t represented ourselves properly with good recordings. As time moved on my knowledge and experience in record production increased. The digital era was upon us and although I prefer the sound of tape and vinyl I realized that with the aid of new technology we might be able to rescue the “almost lost” Kendall Wall recordings and fix something we hadn`t done correctly first time around.
Moving forward with my life and music is important, going back to something from the past needed a strong reason. That came when we lost Cash Wall in 2009. I was going through some memorabilia from our days together , thinking about him and listening to the old recordings. I knew then that I had to release KWB music and do it right. This would mean going back to the original multi track tape, transferring it to digital, editing, remixing and mastering to prepare for a world wide release.
It was going to get complicated so I decided to only work on the studio recordings. Finding someone with the exact model tape machine that was used in the 80`s was the first hurtle but eventually I connected with Lee Rogers who owns a Ampex 16 track machine and all the digital equipment needed to do the transfer. The tape to digital session was not without it`s own challenges. The tape bias needed to be adjusted on every song to compensate for the erratic and unorthodox way the original recordings were done.
The next stop was Loud Mouse Studios where the now digital recording was handed over in a hard drive to the extremely talented and patient recording engineer L.Stu Young. I've done a lot of work with Stu over the years and knew that he would be able to make the old recordings sound the way I've always heard them in my head. It was time for him to work some magic. To sit at the back of the control room, listening to each song take shape and find new life was incredible. The final mix is world class, with superb mastering by Andy Krehm at Silverbirch Productions. Glenn Kimberley`s artwork used logo`s ,colour and photos taken from the band`s archives to create the package.
This recording is close to my heart. It represents a part of my life that was important to my Blues journey. It needed to be produced and released correctly so the history of The Kendall Wall Band can be preserved and protected with the respect it deserves. It`s also a fitting tribute to Cash Wall, an American musician who chose Canada as his home for years, sharing his talent and friendship with many. I`m proud of The Way We Was, The Kendall Wall Band finally made it to the finish line.
Written by Gary Kendall
released January 14, 2022
Martin Alex Aucoin-piano/organ
Larry Bodner-tenor saxophon