THE BELLE ISLE RATS
America's Kings of the Odd Song
“How would you guys like to come and record in a big studio for free?” That’s what our best bud, Steve, asked us one day back in 1981. Steve was learning to be a recording engineer at Pampa Studios in Warren, Michigan. His bosses told him that he could bring in any musicians he wanted during the studios down time in order to learn his new craft. What a great deal! Tom & I get to record for free and Steve gains valuable experience engineering a recording session. Naturally, we jumped at the chance. Up until this time, our musical experiences had consisted of jamming Rush and Led Zeppelin tunes in Tom’s living room and playing some unspeakably lame gigs around Detroit. But now ... a whole new opportunity awaited. This was particularly exciting for me, as I have been obsessed with music and recording for as long as I can remember. Ever since I was a kid, I would walk around imagining songs in my head, and now for the first time, I could actually realize one! Tom was also very excited at the chance to play in a big studio with a “huge” drum sound. It was all we could think about.
The first Belle Isle Rats pre-production meeting occurred at a restaurant at 12 Mile Road and Hoover in Warren in June of 1981. During and after the meal, we discussed various aspects of the session. How many songs to record? How to incorporate all the studio's instruments (piano, vibes, organ etc)? The best way to record a belch? How to mic the drums? These and many more details were hashed out. Back at home, I spent hours working out the arrangement, then Tom and I spent many more hours in his living room rehearsing for the session. “How cool this is gonna sound when we get in the studio,” we said over and over again. When the night of the session finally arrived, we were prepared.
And man was it fun. Pampa Recording Studio shared a building with a bowling alley, Pampa Lanes on Van Dyke Road in Warren, Michigan. The bowling alley is still there today but the studio is no longer. Bob Seger actually recorded several of his hits there. Tom and I had recorded in studios twice before, but not like this one. This was a REAL studio. With a huge room, great mics, big mixing console, separate drum and isolation rooms as well as a fine collection of instruments. They had a concert grand piano, a B3 organ, tubular bells, a xylophone, marimba ... everything. And we used all of it. I remember being really impressed with Steve. He had only been at this recording thing for a few months but already he knew and took control of the studio like a seasoned pro. He knew not only how to run the huge 24 channel board and what mics to use, but he also had the “psychology” down, making Tom & I feel totally comfortable and in a creative space the whole time. We were as excited as could be.
The first task, after we had finished setting up and micing the drums, was to lay the basic track. Tom and I both felt really cool in the studio with our headphones on, ready to record. We did the basic track for “You Make Me Sick/Barf on My Shoes” in two takes. After recording the basic track, it was time for Tom to sing the first song “You Make Me Sick.” Now please understand that Tom is a horrible singer. It’s not so much that his pitch and phrasing blow (trust me, they do) but just the very tone of his voice elicits complaints and grimaces from those unfortunate enough to hear him wail. So naturally, he was the perfect choice to sing for a Belle Isle Rats project. One of my favorite enduring memories of that first session was Steve, myself and my then-girlfriend Pam all ducking our heads below the recording console when Tom started “singing”. It was the funniest thing we’d heard in a long time.
After Toms “vocal” I started doing overdubs. I added: my vocal on “Barf On My Shoes”, background vocals on “You Make Me Sick”, bass, taurus bass pedals, handclaps, synths, piano, B3, xylophone, guitar solos and we even added a few seconds of “Dr. Strangeove” in the instrumental section, as well as stupid noises, a fart we recorded on our Florida trip, and Steve doing his now semi-famous jive speech. The guitars were all recorded thru a tiny Yamaha amp with one 8 inch speaker. But Steve was able to get a surprisingly powerful sound out of such a little amp. The recording session was pure joy from start to finish and when we finally got the mix back, we listened to it over and over again, marveling at the sound and that we actually created it!
That was July of 1981. Fast forward to today.
I have been living in LA since 1982 and Tom now lives in Walla Walla, Washington. Since 1995, however, Tom has been making a summer trip out here every year. And every other year, we did a music project of some sort together in my studio. From 95 to 99, we did “The Suites”. From 02 to 04 we did the “Saloka Sings” series. But in June of 2005, something monumental happened. I bought a set of drums. Well that was all the catalyst we needed to resurrect the Belle Isle Rats. Since 2005 we have recorded over 60 odd, adventure-filled and hilarious tunes, presented here on this site in all their glory!
Will there be more Belle Isle Rats music to come? Yes. As long as we're above ground, 'cause ... you know ... it's fun.
Some guys get together over the summer to golf or fish.
We get together to record stupid tunes!