Monday, March 31, 2014

Dream session becomes 'Real' for Laith Al-Saadi

Laith Al-Saadi records at Ocean Way Studio. (Photo by Barry Holmes)
Every musician has envisioned a dream session, where he jams with his all-time favorites.
For blues musician Laith Al-Saadi, his dream became a reality when he recorded his new EP “Real” in Los Angeles.
Producer Jeffrey Weber saw the Ann Arbor native performing at an L.A. club and was impressed by Al-Saadi’s songwriting and performing talent.
“He said he wanted to do a record with me,” said Al-Saadi, who performs Friday at the Magic Bag in Ferndale. “I got done with the gig at 2 a.m. and had to leave at 5 a.m. to fly back to Michigan. When I got back that morning, I already had an email and two phone messages from him, so I knew he was serious.”
Weber suggested recording the session live to two track and Al-Saadi loved the plan.
“I was excited by that idea and totally up for it. There’s not enough music recorded without a net these days. I asked him ‘who can I ask to be on the record?’ and he said to ask whoever I wanted, and that the worst they can say is no.”
Al-Saadi ended up with a backup band of legendary session musicians.
Bassist Lee Sklar has performed on over 2,000 recordings, and has worked with James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Neil Diamond, Hall & Oates, and Linda Ronstadt.
Drummer Jim Keltner has worked with John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Carly Simon, Barbra Streisand, and the Traveling Wilburys. He played on Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” and George Harrison’s “The Concert for Bangladesh.”
Organist Larry Goldings has worked with many jazz artists and pop musicians including Tracy Chapman, Walter Becker, Leon Russell, John Mayer and Norah Jones.
The horn section included jazz saxophonist Tom Scott, who has recorded with such diverse artists as George Harrison, The Grateful Dead, Barbra Streisand, Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, the Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, Whitney Houston, and Frank Sinatra.
Baritone saxophonist Brandon Fields, trombonist Nick Lane, and trumpeter Lee Thornburg also have impressive credentials.
“I didn’t go to the Paul McCartney level, but I picked the studio cats whose records I love, and everyone said yes,” Al-Saadi said.
Al-Saadi’s parents did not listen to rock ‘n’ roll music in their home. His mother preferred classical and spiritual music and his father, who is Iraqi, listened to Arabic music. Laith was exposed to classic rock ‘n’ roll by two older sisters.
“I started listening more when I started playing guitar and discovering music on my own,” he said. “I learned more about the individual performers, and these guys played on so many records I loved.”
Knowing he only had one day to work with these great artists in famous Ocean Way Studios in Hollywood put pressure on the 36-year-old singer-guitarist.
“It was really exciting and scary at the same time,” Al-Saadi said. “Knowing these guys so well, I was not worried about their ability to get it, but it was still intimidating because they had never heard my music before.”
According to Al-Saadi, the first take was the initial time the musicians heard the song. Most cuts were finalized between 2-6 takes, he said. There was no mixing, editing or overdubbing.
“It was a really fun, interesting experience and the guys had a blast. They don’t get to record like that often enough.
“In the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, it was normal to cut a song several times in order to get a good take. The improvisational nature of blues and jazz was an influence on the record as well. I really wanted to capture the music of the moment and the right treatment captured the right vibes for the tunes.”
Weber was impressed.
“Laith is the real deal,” Weber said in a release. “He has jaw-dropping technique and an evocative vocal character that captures the unbridled passion of his lyrics. He made a believer out of every one of us.”
The session was scheduled for four songs, but the group ended up knocking out six — five originals and a cover of The Band’s “Ophelia,” as a tribute to the late Levon Helm.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of The Band,” Al-Saadi said. “Levon Helm passed away in 2012. I wanted to dedicate the album to his memory and the song ‘Ophelia’ is a fitting tribute.”
Jimmy Vivino, best known as the leader of the house band for late night talk show host Conan O’Brien, played resophonic guitar on “Real.”
“Jimmy Vivino was so generous,” Al-Saadi said. “The producer asked him to rearrange his schedule to record one song that I needed resophonic guitar on called ‘Complete Disgrace.’ (Vivino) said, ‘If Laith wants anything else, I’ll do it for free,’ and he ended up playing on the whole record.”
Vivino, who is scheduled to perform with The Beatles tribute band The Fab Faux on Saturday at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, will join Al-Saadi for the concert at the Magic Bag on Friday. Also performing will be bassist David Stearns and drummer Mark Damian.
The Magic Bag show is sure to revive memories of the “dream” recording session for Al-Saadi.
“It was intimidating, but I was in ‘go mode’ all day,” Al-Saadi said. “We had so short a time and I knew the recording was on the line. They were consummate professionals and incredibly nice.
“It was so much fun to make. I love it as a testament to that moment in time.”

LEARNING TO LOVE THE BLUES
Like many musicians, Al-Saadi started playing as a teenager, learning to play guitar so he could accompany himself on tunes by The Beatles.
It only took about 6 months before he started playing the blues.
“It always has appealed to me,” he said. “It’s the visceral and emotional quality of it.
“I always gravitated to Ray Charles and Louie Armstrong and a lot of musicians with a blues influence, before I really got into the blues. It is one of the most expressive musical forms out there in this country and the common denominator for all types of music I like – jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, bluesgrass and most forms of American roots music.”


For more on Laith Al-Saadi, click laithmusic.com.

To send info to JB Blues, please email Joe.Ballor@dailytribune.com

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