The Producers Perspective


Reprinted with permission of Jol Dantzig

Cheap Trick with producer Richie Zito on the left and Epic Records VP Don Grierson on the right, shown here on the cover of Music Connection Magazine. Interviews with both Zito and Grierson are also included.

The Producer’s Perspective - Interview with Richie Zito

This interview with producer Richie Zito is the second major article about 12-string basses published in this number of Hamer Tone. Often overlooked due to the presence of the article about the creation of the first Hamer 12-string bass, the Zito interview is every bit as relevant and in some ways even more important - it gives insight into why 12-string basses aren’t more prevalent in studio recordings. The bottom line: When you’re looking for a producer, find one who is open to exploring uncharted territory with the 12-string bass.

Understanding the perspective of the producer is essential to the career of a recording artist. Where do they get their ideas and why do they make the decisions they do? We’ve interviewed Richie Zito to offer some insight into the producer’s point of view and provide another angle on the creation of great rock ‘n roll.

Richie Zito began his career as a guitar player doing session work, and eventually winding up as a guitarist in Elton John’s band. After a number of years and several albums, Zito decided to leave Elton and try his hand at producing. His wealth of experience had prepared him well for the move. His credits include The Cult, White Lion, Eddie Money, Heart, Bad English, and Cheap Trick’s Lap of Luxury, which includes the number one single, “The Flame”.

As a guitarist, Richie Zito brings to the mixing desk both the knowledge of a producer and the creativity of an artist.

Do you find that having been a working musician, you have a better angle on producing?

Unbelievably so. I think that having a musical background and having been on the other side of the glass gives you a better rapport with the musicians. You know exactly what they’re going through when They’re doing their thing. In addition, by being a musician, we all speak the language fluently. The lines of communication are unbelievable. You aren’t stuck with non-musical terminology to achieve a musical outcome. Instead of saying “Gee, something’s wrong”, you can say, “Why don’t you make that a C chord instead of an A minor.”

Have you ever had the urge to run out in the studio, grab the instrument and and say “No, this”?

Quite often. I do it all the time, actually. Because I’m a guitar player by trade, I have a fair knowledge of what they can and should do.

It definitely helps to be able to say “Try it like this” and really demonstrate it, even if it might be a feeble attempt. The other benefit is that it gives the musician a little more respect for you. So when you say something, they take it that much more seriously.

You just finished producing a record for Gary Hoey and his band Heavy Bones. Gary is considered a virtuoso guitar player. Was it difficult, in a band setting, to integrate that sort of balls-out guitar with catchy songs?

Not with him, because he’s a really gifted guy. He’s got a lot of things I really respect. He has the chops, the discipline, and the ability to execute the complicated and simple parts that a session musician can do, but he has the attitude and fire of an artist. He has a lot of things in one package, which is kind of rare, I think. he made my job easy.

How do you choose which guitars and which amps to use for particular parts?

Well, experience has taught me a lot. Many late nights going through guitars. First of all, being a player, I know quite a bit going in. I have a fairly good idea of what amps and what guitars produce what sounds, and what certain combinations produce. Although a lot of technology has been integrated into what we do, the old stuff that set the foundation is just as important today.

When you pick up a certain type of guitar, you naturally fall into a type of playing that suits that instrument’s timbre and the way it feels. Does that figure into the way you decide on certain instruments?

Absolutely. You know what the relationship between the musician and the instrument is going to be if it’s a single coil pickup guitar. Not only do you know the type of thing he’s going to play, but you can tell the kind of thing he’s going to warm up on when you’re getting the sound.

Do you have a set idea on how instruments can be used, and do you break the rules?

I don’t think I necessarily break the rules, but I try to modify typical techniques to get a slightly different result. For example, instead of doubling a 6-string acoustic with a 12-string acoustic, I’ll take off the low strings on a 12-string acoustic and double it with just the high strings to get a kind of similar sound that images a little differently if you split the left and right. That way you don’t get the gang up of the low strings against the high strings.

You recorded the 12-string bass on Cheap Trick’s Lap of Luxury. Was that your first experience working with the 12-string bass?

We have a running joke with that album. Every time we went to do a song, no matter whether it was a ballad or a rock song, Tom Petersson would immediately start with the 12-string bass. I would try to talk him out of it because I had never heard of it before. By the next album, every time he would reach for a 4-string bass, I would try to talk him into the 12-string. but if you know Tom Petersson, you’re not going to be surprised by that story.

That was my first experience with the 12-string bass. “Wrong Side of Love” is the best example of it because that’s where it’s most exposed. We really had fun with it without having to worry about trying to fit it in. It’s a big instrument in terms of the sonic space it takes up.

There’s a lot of times on Budokan where he’s just playing with the drums and it sounds like there’s a rhythm guitarist.

Well that’s the thing. That’s the reason they love it. When they’re playing live and Rick’s playing a solo and Tom’s playing bass, it’s a lot fuller that it otherwise would be. but on “Wrong Side of Love” it was a different situation. It was more of a feature situation.

Because there were three different outputs on the bass, we had one going to a direct to get a cleaner, full warm sound, and one going to a Trace Elliott, to get a similar sound, while pushing some air. The third we had through a Hiwatt, which Tom really liked. He dialed off a lot of the low end and made it really distorted.Most of the album we did with those three variables, blending them to where they sounded right.

Did you find it challenging trying to fit the 12-string bass into tracks where it’s working with other instruments?

It’s challenging because you can’t use as much of the Hiwatt. You’re sharing territory and you have to compromise. It takes up a lot more area than a bass traditionally takes up - it really creeps into other areas where guitars and other instruments live.

Did you have to approach it less like a bass and more like another instrument altogether?

I think I tried to approach it as two instruments at once. Like a combination of a bass and a low distorted guitar.

Are you planning any more projects with a 12-string bass?

Well, the next band I’, working with is Enuff Z’Nuff. Another band influenced by Cheap Trick. Chip Z’Nuff uses a 12-string bass. I obviously have a soft spot in my heart for that kind of music. Chip is a very musical, melodic-oriented bass player, I think it’s going to be fun.