Interview with Engineer David Baker

Notes from the late David Baker on recording vocalist Phoebe Snow for Will & Rainbow's Harmony

We had a chance to talk to the late, great David Baker regarding the behind-the-scenes look at how Phoebe Snow recorded her vocals for Will Boulware’s album, Harmony.

David Baker is the brilliant engineer who recorded Autumn Leaves by The Great Jazz Trio, Lonnie Plaxico Group Live at Jazz Standard, Harmony by Will & Rainbow, and It's Prime Time by Joe Farnsworth, all for 441 Records. Throughout the 40 years of his career, Mr. Baker recorded over 2,000 recordings and is responsible for starting the careers of many musicians, artists & audio engineers. Mr. Baker earned a Grammy Award for recording I Remember Miles by Shirley Horn, an artist he had worked with for many years. Sadly, he passed away on July 14, 2004, only days after he told me the following story about Phoebe Snow in the studio.

There was a big sense of anticipation prior to the arrival of Phoebe Snow because everyone was excited about her participation in the project. David and the producers wanted to make sure that Phoebe Snow felt comfortable in the session and to let her know that recording crew as well as the musicians were all thinking of her and wishing her well as a sign of respect. After thinking about how to convey these thoughts, they came up with idea of putting up a poster of “Phoebe Snow,” not unlike what is shown below.

“Phoebe Snow” was a symbol of the road created by the advertising department of Delaware Lackawanna & Western Railroad. This railroad ran along 998 miles of track between Hoboken, N.J. and Buffalo, N.Y. in the 1850s. In the ad, Phoebe traveled in white because Lackawanna burned relatively clean burning anthracite, or hard coal, instead of the more sooty-burning bituminous, or soft coal. A series of postcards featuring Phoebe Snow, accompanied by a poem written by legion of contributors, were published.

This poster was hung in the vocal booth where Phoebe Snow was going to sing. She was tickled to see the poster there. All the tracks that feature Phoebe Snow were recorded with all members of the band playing together. Phoebe came in and recorded the tracks in a single take. What you hear on the album is what was sung in each take. After listening to the playback of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”, Steve Gadd, who had played with her in the past, commented, “that’s why I started playing music.” Everybody was extremely impressed and amazed at Phoebe’s “chops” and her professionalism. Before everyone could get over the performance, she had already left the building.