Jeff Blackwell Archives Music History with his StudioLive
[Jeff Blackwell is the lucky guy who was recently bestowed an incredible collection of lost recordings from the Old South Jamboree from 1973 to 1976.The recordings include performances from many local Louisiana acts of the era, but the Old South Jamboree’s roster also included true luminaries of country music, including: George Jones, Buck Owens, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Ernest Tubb, and Porter Wagoner. Jeff took on the daunting task of archiving these 16 reels of history to the digital world, and his PreSonus StudioLive 16.4.2 had a hand in it! I called Jeff and got the word from the horse’s mouth on this once-in-a-lifetime story. WBRZ recently aired a piece on this tale as well, embedded below—note StudioLive front-and-center in the video—but I HAD to talk to Jeff about some of the nittier, grittier details of this fascinating project.]
Hey Jeff! First, can I get some background on yourself and your work in audio?
Jeff: “I was a DJ at WYNK-FM back in the day—they are still on the air today. Back then, we used to sign on at 5 a.m. and sign off at midnight, it wasn’t a 24-hour station. We’d turn the transmitter on every morning before the show. They would pay me 45 cents an hour plus all the records I could eat!”
How did you come across the tapes?
Jeff: “Well, Going back in time… back in the 70s, WYNK would broadcast the shows from the Old South Jamboree every Saturday night. There were a few shows like that back in the day, like Louisana Hayride, which goes back to the 50s. That’s where Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, all the old greats got their start to the music biz. Anyhow, another guy who worked at WYNK, Page Dew, knew a guy who had been recording these Old South Jamboree shows at home on a consumer reel-to-reel deck—a total of about sixteen reels.”
How was the condition and quality of the original recordings?
Jeff: “Well, most were quarter-track recorded at 1 7/8 ips. Doesn’t provide a heckuva lot of bandwidth! When quality is at stake, faster tape speed is preferred to create more bandwidth, but that didn’t happen here. Not only did I have limited bandwidth to work with, but these songs were recorded off the air from a mono FM radio broadcast. Next, add that the band was recorded with only three mics, and their signal was being transmitted by a Marti transmitter (used for remote broadcasts back in the day), sent to an FM station, and then recorded by a listener at home at only 1 7/8 ips!”
“So, It was a really challenge to get quality out of that source. But when you hear it, it puts you in a very different frame of mind. It takes a listener back to a different era, when one speaker getting music out of the air was enough, regardless of how it sounded! When I heard the first reel I was transported back in time.”
Any way we can track down the guy who provided the tapes? Are there any more?
Jeff: “He’s long gone. I talked to Page, who lives in Colorado, and asked him that. He said that this guy and these tapes are dated from early 1973 to 1976. He said it was an old listener, and apparently someone at the station gave him the reels to record these shows—tape was six or seven bucks per reel back then.”
What hardware did you use to transfer and restore the recordings?
Jeff: “I used the StudioLive 164.2’sEQ on these recordings because I really love the Fat Channel. I was first on the list when I heard the StudioLive was coming out. Once I got my hands on it I was like ‘Cool!’ It’s my main console, everything goes through it to get into the computer.”
“My wife found the reel-to-reel I used, a Pioneer quad, at a garage sale. Got it for 50 bucks. The material recorded at 1 7/8 ips would only play at 3 ¾ ips on this tape machine, so it was still twice as fast as real time. Of course I couldn’t EQ that, so I had to pitch it down in software and then run it through the StudioLive. There were 3 reels recorded at 7.5 ips that I could process through the StudioLive directly before taking it to software for fine-tuning, pitch correction, and noise reduction.”
Will the recordings be made publicly available? Or is releasing all these old songs form these artists a licensing nightmare?
Jeff: “Exactly. Contracts were looser back then. I gotta tell ya, over 90-95 percent of this music was performed by local artists. Some are way out of tune, some can’t hit notes, and of course the mix was awful by today’s standards. I need to be careful about the copyright issues. Several friends of mine have asked for copies, there were a couple of artists who were pretty popular in the day who are now gone, singing some of their hits.”
Thanks, Jeff. Anything else to add about the StudioLive?
Jeff: “I don’t use it as a typical recording or musician-guy. Most of my use has been for advertising and corporate events. I learned early on that if I was gonna work with bands, I had to work with no budgets and weird hours! I figured that wasn’t for me.”
“Since I’ve had the StudioLive, I’ve recorded Scott Innes, whose voice credits include Scooby Doo and Shaggy, who lives in Baton Rouge. I’ve also done quite a bit of work with Warner Bros. using the StudioLive.”
“Another thing I use it for is the Louisiana State Medical Society Annual House Delegates meeting. I use the StudioLive’s noise gates on their mics—it’s a big live room, and there’s a lot of interaction going on. So, I don’t have to worry about running gain on my mics. I love it. It has that finesse I need to mute a mic when not in use, but when the person starts talking it breaks the gate… good to go! I also rent a StudioLive 24.4.2 for the annual Acadian Ambulance Service Paramedic of the Year award program. More like a theatrical event with lots of wireless mics, skits and over 80 sound cues!”