- Frank Gryner
Our Dirty Little White Boy is All Grown Up
Secrets of the Masters: Foreigner's "Dirty Little White Boy"
By Frank Gryner (originally published in Premier Guitar)
I consider it a privilege just to be able to hear the raw multi tracks of some of rock ‘n roll’s most famous recordings, so being a part of the engineering team whose job it is to recreate these classic mixes for use in Jammit software is beyond exhilarating. “Dirty White Boy” by Foreigner is one of many classic rock songs featured in Jammit, and I thought it would be worth relaying some of the thoughts I had while working with the multi-tracks of this historic recording.
This SMPTE synced, 48 track session –using both master and slave 2” analog tapes-- would have been state of the art in the spring of 1979. With even then legendary producer Roy Thomas Baker (Queen, Journey) at the helm, “Dirty White Boy” not only kicked off Foreigner’s classic record “Head Games”, but was the album’s biggest hit peaking at #12 on the Billboard singles chart.
Geoff Workman engineered this song at Atlantic Records Studios in New York City. He went on to record with bands like Twisted Sister and Mötley Crüe—, who both share the sonic common denominator of the raw, biting mid-range presence that exists in this Foreigner song. For the time, this was certainly a departure from the typically round, fat tones of an exiting disco era.
The heart of “Dirty White Boy’s” sound emanates from its rhythm guitars. Relatively thin or almost brittle sounding by today’s standard, these guitars consist of one take that was cut live with the bed tracks and an overdubbed double with the same tone. Lou Gramm’s vocal was a treat to hear on its own. It was clearly recorded with only evidence of one poor punch in or edit seam in the third verse. This album was Rick Willis’ debut with Foreigner and his bass was well represented with two tracks of amp and one DI from his performance. The drums on this song were typical of an “in between 70’s and 80’s era” kit sound that rebelled against the warm, pillowy thud of years prior yet a precursor to the over-blown gated reverb and sample triggering that soon followed. The snare definitely possesses an edgy, aggressive quality and is the center of the overall kit’s presence. Balancing the individual drum elements and gating the hat bleed out of the snare track was half the battle in replicating this presentation.
Missing in Action
It’s always interesting to hear outtakes or tracks that were muted and consequently not included into the final mix that we’re all accustomed to hearing. This Foreigner song has several lead guitar moments that, for whatever reason, did not go the distance. Mick Jones’ Jimmy Page-like omissions on this song would have been muted on the console during the final mix as they shared a track with the solo and other lead lines that did make their way into music history. There were also ten bars—a revolution of an additional end chorus—that were edited out of the final arrangement. This would have occurred via tape edit on the final 2-track master.
Dirty White Boy, like many 70’s era mixes, basically sounds like the sum of its parts. The raw, unmixed tracks do resemble the sound of the final original mix. The challenge is to get as close to the overall tonality of the original without having the actual console and outboard gear that were used to create it in the first place. Short of having a time machine to go back and request that RTB and Workman print stems during the mix session, all of us Jammit engineers go to extraordinary lengths to re-create these mixes with accuracy, reverence, and the love that these classic tracks deserve.
Basically we take the digitized tracks of the original master multi-track tapes, painstakingly replicate the original mix, and then format this mix with the unique capability to rebalance the guitar track in relation to the rest of the instruments. The end-user can essentially isolate this track (and hear all of its nuances) or remove it entirely from the mix in order to play their own part.
It’s like rock ‘n roll archeology listening to these Foreigner tracks, Richie Blackmore’s isolated guitars and Glen Buxton’s searing leads on “I’m Eighteen “. The best part is that the users of Jammit software will get this experience anywhere they take their iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. We have a lot of classic and current bands set for release on this platform, so musicians and music enthusiasts can look forward to choosing from a wide variety of songs to suit their playing style and musical tastes.