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Garth Makes A Milk Run

Garth had already finished up his organ tracks earlier that day, but when I saw the headlights slowly meandering up to the barn, I knew it was him. The silhouette of a ball cap rose up from the steering wheel. Otherwise, the car looked to be driving itself. He sat behind the wheel like he sits behind a Lowrey organ - head down, knuckles up, and eyes fixed barely six inches in front of his chest. Yeah, it was Garth.

I was the only one out front when he got there. Hot-boxing a cigarette in between harmony takes, probably pacing as I hummed the next vocal part. It took him a spell to make it from the car to the porch, and by that time, Justin had come down to make sure that I was still upright. Garth gave him a slow nod and smile, said something about a "saxophone on a wheel" and made his way inside and to the couch. My wife, Julie, was seated at one end, listening to playbacks and open-air harmonies. Old Honey Boy took a seat to her right, and dozed off on her shoulder for the next few vocal takes. "I think we've got it" Justin shouted from the console. And with that, Garth was on his feet and standing just outside the vocal booth. "You got a twenty spot?" he asked. "I told Maud I'd stop for milk on my way home".

I went to hand him the twenty, but he had already moved beyond that thought and into mixing. "Can you pan those organ parts left and right?" he asked Justin. "I want to hear them both back simultaneously before you make the comp" he explained. So Justin brought in both organ tracks, panning them left and right for some separation. And then he muted everything else.

The sounds coming from those studio monitors were other-worldly. It was like Walt Disney's Fantasia had come to life as a Hammond B3 track. One side would swoop and dive while the other churned over what seemed to be the underbelly of the sea. There was pixie dust scattered over a carnival full of circus freaks, rolling across a carpet of cotton candy. It was like the ice cream truck had just pulled up to high church on Ash Wednesday. No one else in the room could make sense of the two tracks, but Garth knew exactly what he was going for. "There" he would point right. "Now before the root hits again, bring that left track back in". He was juggling that symphony in real time. And within the next ten minutes, we had a flawless organ comp in the can.

After listening to that final playback, I put a twist on one and we all headed out the front door. We smoked as we talked about ancient Hindu vocal techniques, and halfway through his sermon, Garth started toward the car. "You want this twenty?" I asked. "No" he responded. "No one needs milk at this hour". And with that, one of the greatest musical wizards in history slumped back over his steering wheel, and slowly made his way back up the driveway and out of sight.

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