The quest for Zen Bow -final episode

Where were we? Sorry, it took me a minute to get to this one… Ah, yes : John Stroher at Penguin recording. Had the tape machine not been defective at the first studio I went to, I would have probably regretted it, as nobody seemed to have used it for a while…

The second I met John Stroher, though, I knew. For once, all the meager research I had been able to gather about the art of tape restoring sounded more than familiar to his ears: he was an expert at it. Restoring reels, to John, is far from being the annoying chore performed on outdated, space-consuming machinery it seemed to be for the other studios : it’s his life. That’s what he has always done -he even came up, after many years of meticulous trial-and-error procedures, with his own secret to baking the reels so they deliver their well-kept secrets in an optimal way (takes two days, but they’re worth it). Once I pushed the door of his Japanese-Zen-style home in the heart of LA’s tough area called Highland Park, I knew I had arrived. Impression‘s journey was reaching its end. What finished convincing me was the half-dozen reel tapes piled up on his desk (sorry for being a looky-loo… Remember I’m a journalist, right?) : vintage Motown reels, late 80s Def jam ones, all waiting to be resurrected.

The next few days felt like a dream. Before you go through this process, you have no clue how raw the straight studio recording sounds, pre-mix. I got really worried. That made the dudes laugh, a little bit. They tried to reassure me, sounding almost like, I don’t know, obstetricians talking to a chain-smoking dad-to-be at the maternity? “It’s OK, Seb. The tape’s in excellent shape, it was well-stored and taken care of.” Maybe, but why is that keyboard line running through the WHOLE tune? Why is it sounding so messy? Why is Zen Bow’s voice so loud? Why this and that?

I did underestimate the power of two pairs of classically-trained ears, I suppose. Two days later, John and Chris Doremus had done it. The vocal, the dub, one surprise cut. In the end, Impression sounded exactly like it did right before Zen Bow shipped it to the pressing plant in 1986.

This saga could go on and on, next came the whole adventure consistng of finding a pressing plant, distributors. But, hey, this is not Business Weekly over here, right? And there are more intersting things to post. For instance, as the Impression reissue will ship in two weeks, I thought it’d be nice if next posts were Zen Bow’s and Linell’s self-biography. so, that is coming. Hold tight!

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