Splice or Error?

In his In The Midnight Hour episode, Andrew Hickey tells a great story about the recording of Mustang Sally.  While the tape was rewinding after recording in one take, the capstan flew of the recorder, shredding the tape into fragments and sending them flying all over the room.  The volatile Wilson Pickett was about to explode, when Tom Dowd told everyone to calm down and take a 30-minute break.  Dowd then spliced the fragments, a total of 40 splices, an average of one every three or four seconds.  Hickey plays a 30-second sample containing the only possible splice he can hear (it’s at 2:22) but thinks it’s more likely a drumming error.  Nah, that’s a splice.

I can’t hear the other 39.  Tom Dowd was a badass.

6 Replies to “Splice or Error?”

  1. Agree at 2:22. Sounds splicey.

    But so many questions: if the capstan comes off the recorder, why is the tape cut into 40 different fragments?

    Doesn’t it just kinda unspool and tangle and twist a bit like when one of my old Maxell 90’s encountered a glitchy cassette player?
    Isn’t it odd that one splice is completely noticeable but another few dozen are utterly seamless?

    I found the story in a magazine called “Rock Cellar” where Spooner Oldham tells that exact tale. Surely a musician would never embellish, right?

    No dispute that Dowd is the ultimate badass.
    Much like Wilson Pickett’s guitarist!

    1. Cassette players were different beasts. Unless you shelled out for a good one (or had a good one and never cleaned it), capstans or pinchrollers tended to get stuck while the sprockets kept spinning happily along. Your music would garble, then stop, and you’d discover that your tape was now a blob of spaghetti. Then you’d either toss it, or if it wasn’t too far gone, spool it in with a pencil or screwdriver and hope your entire Black Sabbath tape didn’t sound like it was being played underwater.

      Cassettes were a pain in the ass. The recent nostalgia for them seems to be driven by the young, who never had to live with the fucking things. Is there a word for nostalgia for something you never had?

      But I digress. Unlike cassette players, studio decks had two capstans, one on either side of the tape heads. Equipment that expensive had separate motors for the capstans. I imagine that if one flew off, the tape would be exposed to whatever was driving the capstan (a spindle attached to the motor?). The other capstan would cause the tape to continuously feed into whatever was shredding it until someone had time to react and shut it off.

      I other words, I don’t know.

      You might be on to something: the fact that we only hear one splice might be that there aren’t really forty of them. Memory is tricky, and sometimes a good story’s a good story. On the other hand, good splices are often inaudible.

      1. Anemoia. That’s the word I found after scouring the internet for a word that described such a feeling. Invented by writer John Koenig, anemoia is defined as nostalgia for a time you’ve never known. I’d say that pretty aptly describes that sense of wistful nostalgia I’ve felt ever since I was in my early teens.

        Source here.

  2. Was Pickett the artist who would threaten to take you outside and whip your ass if he didn’t like what you were playing?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *