The Making of 'Machine Head'
by Roger Glover
(from 'Machine Head and Others', B. Feldman & Co. Ltd., 1972)
It is difficult to explain how Machine Head was made without first explaining how it nearly wasn't made.
The original conception of the album was to get as close to a natural sound from all the instruments as possible. 'Live' recordings, although obviously losing some technical quality, nearly always seemed to us to have so much more vitality and excitement. This is partly due to the presence of an audience, which brings out an idefinable spark in the musician which doesn't exist playing in a 'cold' studio, and partly due to the natural acoustics in which the music is recorded.
Although we were aware of this some time ago, it really became apparent one day during the making of the Fireball album. Ian Paice was walking around carrying his snare drum and hitting it. As he walked from the studio area into the corridor on his way to the control room in the old De Lane Lea studios, Kingsway, he noticed the change in sound of his snare drum. It was so dramatic that he called us all in and demonstrated the difference between the quiet 'toc' of the drum in the soundproofed, padded and baffled studio, and the resounding crash of the drum in the corridor, bringing out the full range of sound . . . the real sound, exciting and loud!
From that point to the end of the making of Fireball, Ian set his drums up in the corridor, greatly inconveniencing everybody, but getting such a good sound that we all forgave him.
For Machine Head we wanted to take this approach one stage further, and as it was impossible for all of us to play in the corridor outside the control room, we decided to record the album on stage, using the natural acoustics of the surroundings. In other words, make a studio album under live conditions almost like a live album without the audience.
Various places came under consideration, but finally we chose the Casino at Montreux. We had worked there several times before and liked the acoustics. A very good friend of ours, Claude Nobs, promised to set the whole thing up for us. Claude is the Director of the Tourist Office and as such has a great deal of influence in the running of the Casino. In return for organising the details of our stay in Montreux, and allowing us the use of the Casino for nearly a month, we were going to do one concert for Claude towards the end of our stay. Also, we thought it would be a good idea to record the whole thing and possibly get a live album as well as the projected 'studio' album we were about to make.
The recording would be made with the Rolling Stones Mobile Unit, which is quite simply a 16-track studio perched on the back of a lorry and painted with camouflage colours, for reasons best known to the Stones.
Early in December we flew into Montreux from London, bringing all kinds of wives, girlfriends, babies, managers, and Mr. and Mrs. Martin Birch, our favourite engineer and his wife. Our road managers arrived by road from London with all our equipment in the back of a 5 ton truck. The Rolling Stones Mobile Unit arrived after having driven from France, and with it came Jeremy and Nick.
Claude met us on our arrival and announced that Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention were playing an afternoon concert in the Casino the day before we were due to start, and we were invited. Not wishing to confuse our equipment with Zappa's, our roadies decided not to unload that day but to leave it till the next morning. That decision was possibly the best thing that happened to us in a long time.
The Mothers were roughly two hours into their set when a fire broke out. Later it was discovered that the fire was started by a man with a flare gun, who escaped in the confusion. The music ground to a halt as people started quietly panicking in an orderly fashion. Frank Zappa's parting shot before he fled the stage was "Ah, Arthur Brown in person". Within a few short minutes the place was an inferno. Miraculously nobody was seriously hurt. Claude worked like a demon organising the audience out of the building and directing what scanty fire-fighting equipment was available.
It took seven hours to burn itself out. Finally it became just a smouldering black ruin, leaving a trail of human problems to be sorted out. Claude of course suffered a great deal, losing not only a costly amount of hi-fi equipment, but a building whose name had become synonymous with his own, certainly to anyone in the music business. Zappa lost all his equipment - guitars, drums and encore, and we lost the reason for us being there in the first instance.
Claude, forgetting his own problems, started working to find us a new place. The next day we moved into an old concert hall and started recording that evening. We had finished one backing track, later to be called "Smoke On The Water", when the police informed us that we could no longer stay there because we were making too much noise.
'Swiss time was running out', as the song goes, and it took us another two days before we found ourselves another studio. This time it was the ground floor corridor of the Grand Hotel, which was closed for the winter.
In a day it was transformed from a cold, dim, musty corridor into some semblance of a studio. An industrial heater, some red lights, and matresses from the beds stacked up over the windows made it reasonably comfortable. the important thing it retained, however, was the lack of padding and sound-proofing so that the sound from our instruments was unstifled and crashed around the bare walls and the tiled floor.
We started working each day at about 2 in the afternoon and usually finished in time for breakfast. Apart from the occaisional trip up to the surrounding mountains for a break and some fresh air, we worked continuously, and very enjoyably, for about three weeks until all the tracks on the album and a 'B' side were completed.
'The Making of Machine Head' was used as a foreword to the songbook "Machine Head and Others" published in 1972. It contains the chords, lyrics and melody lines for all the album tracks, plus 'When A Blind Man Cries', 'Black Night' and 'Strange Kind Of Woman'. I'm sure it's long since gone out of print!
Zappa's reference to Arthur Brown will be understood by all those familiar with the latter's 60's hit 'Fire' ("I am the god of hell fire and I bring you FIRE!"), which Brown used to sing whilst setting his head on fire.
Further enquiries and writs for infringement of copyright should be directed to Ian Jackson.