producer, guitarist, founder of Windham Hill Records
The Grammy Award Winning CD "Returning"
RETURNING was an opportunity to capture my career as I hope it will be remembered.
These are new recordings of my favorite pieces spanning 35 years of music writing.
Listening now to the early versions of these pieces, I hear a kid who was scared to death in the studio and just trying to get through the session without major blunders. Over years of performing these pieces they've evolved nuance that was invisible to me then.
The recording technology of the mid 1970s when most of these pieces were originally recorded was relatively primitive and the new recordings reveal a richness that was only hinted at before. Even the guitars I play today are from another world of sonic range and possibility. I honestly had to make this record for myself‚ the Grammy award only proved to me that it had worked for others as well.
Will's latest CD, RETURNING, is available at Amazon.com or download it from the iTunes Music Store.
The dates are when the song was originally composed. These are all new recordings (2004) on RETURNING.
notes about Returning
RETURNING is a collection of new recordings of my favorite guitar solos over 35 years of composing. The first question I suppose I need to answer for myself (and then for you) is why I'm doing a record like RETURNING 30 years after my career began.
In 1975 I was working as a general contractor and had a building company called Windham Hill Builders. I had played some guitar for theater productions at Stanford University and played in stairwells and various places around Stanford that offered some natural reverberation. As the result, a number of people had heard my music despite the fact that I'd never played a paying gig in my life. It was this group of friends and informal fans who got together and collected about $ 300 in five dollar bills to send me into a recording studio. I picked a studio out of the phone book named Mantra Studios (it was the 70s after all!) I walked into that room and made a record I called THE SEARCH FOR THE TURTLE'S NAVEL in two afternoons. Around that recording I created a record label I called Windham Hill Records. I promise you I had no idea of what was to become of me or Windham Hill.
The songs I recorded in those two afternoons (and the music I recorded for much of my early career) hopefully revealed some good composition and it was clear that people related to the pieces emotionally in very gratifying ways. But the kid who recorded them was basically scared to death. Just being in a studio was intimidating and my heart was pumping enough adrenaline through my system to fuel an Arnold Schwartzneger's movie. Listening back to these pieces now I hear myself trying to get the notes in the right order and avoid any terrible mistakes, but I don't hear any of the nuance and ebb and flow that the pieces reveal when I perform them today. My ambition in performance is to be emotionally connected to every note I play; I know that sounds like a canned statement, but I swear it's the truth. I've played pieces like THE BRICKLAYER'S BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER and THE IMPENDING DEATH OF THE VIRGIN SPIRIT literally thousands of times, but kick myself if I ever leave the stage feeling as if I haven't felt the emotion of the songs or had the sense that I was discovering them for the first time. Today these pieces move as they wish and I pretty much follow. Their tempo varies all over the place. They range from almost bombastic to impossibly quiet. I move my hand toward the sound hole to soften the notes and move back to the bridge to give them edge. All these variables change with each performance. I never know if the bridge of a song is going to be loud or soft, whether it will speed up or slow down. It is exactly this emotional connection that I wanted to feel in these recordings: it was the living, breathing ebb and flow I've come to know exists in these pieces that I wanted to capture in these recordings. And it was precisely the lack of it in my earlier recordings that I wanted to improve upon. When you're 55 you begin to think of what will be left behind when you're gone and I knew I wanted these songs to be left behind in a way that more completely reflected my knowledge of them and what they were meant to be.
There are a few technical issues that are significant in the recordings for RETURNING as well. For my first and second albums I was recording onto half inch tape at seven and a half inches of tape per second. That way you use less tape and spend less money. You also get an inferior sound. At bit later I graduated to fifteen inches per second, but it wasn't until much later that I heard the difference between that and thirty inches per second on a STUDER tape machine. It was a learning curve and I was at the bottom of it. The early recordings sometimes sound like music boxes to me: sweet, but tiny and offering very little of the range of the guitar or its richness.
In those days we were recording in an analogue medium and my early recordings didn't employ anything very sophisticated in the way of noise filtering. Some of the very intimate passages I record today would simply have disappeared in a world of tape hiss that would have masked my notes. Today I'm recording in my own Imaginary Road Studios in Windham County, Vermont on utterly state of the art digital equipment (for audiophiles I wish to note that I chose to run the digital master through analogue heads while mastering with Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering to warm the sound). Just one of the four modified Neumann mics I am recording into today is worth more than the recording budget of my first four records combined; they're that sophisticated, that good and that important. There are other contrasts, but just these two make all the difference in the world to the sound of RETURNING. It all brings me closer to what I hear as I sit alone and play; touching the sound as it literally moves through my body as well as my ears. I guess I am trying to find a sound that lets you hear what I hear. That too is why I wanted to record RETURNING.
Any discussion of the difference between the early recordings and those on this new collection also needs to include the guitars themselves. My first recordings were made with good off-the-rack production guitars. I didn't even know that guitars existed that were made my hand. Today I am playing instruments made for me by the most talented guitar builders on earth. The sound that comes from one of my Froggy Bottom guitars by Michael Millard and Andy Mueller is simply unique and irreplaceable. My favorite instrument on earth was damaged after a concert and it took well over a year to have it properly repaired. I feared that it might return to me compromised in some way. I had held off recording RETURNING until the repair was done and much of my hope for this record hung in the balance when I played the first few notes on the guitar. I played for a few minutes and literally wept to have this friend returned to me: a friend that produces sound richer than I've ever experienced from any guitar I've ever touched.
These are the reasons I recorded RETURNING.