Monday, 28 September 2015

Eirik Wangberg's biography


Eirik Wangberg with his biography. Photo: © Roger Stormo
"My first meeting with Eirik was remarkable, and it took place during the late 60's. One day when John Lennon and I visited with Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys while they were recording, Brian and I ended up sharing the piano bench an playing our new songs, with John, Beach Boys, Van Dyke Parks and Eirik as an audience." - from Paul McCartney's introduction in the biography of Eirik "the Norwegian" Wangberg.

Friday we attended a press lunch to launch the biography of Eirik Wangberg, written with his collaborator Stein Slettebak Wangen. Eirik who? Perhaps you know him better as Eirik the Norwegian, which is the name he goes under on the cover of "Ram", where Eirik is listed as mixing engineer.

"Ram" credit
This book is bound not to get the attention it truly deserves, because it is published in Norwegian. But it contains some fantastic stories from Wangberg's career, and a few are Beatles related. Eirik Wangberg was born in 1944 in England, but grew up in Oslo, Norway. He started out in the music business as the bass player for one of the earliest rock groups in Norway, "The Cool Cats", who recorded a demo in EMI studios in Abbey Road as early as in 1960, Eirik is only sixteen and it's two years before the Beatles arrive at the same studios.

In 1964, Wangberg moved to California to study, but is soon captured by the recording industry, where he starts to work as a recording, mastering and mixing engineer and producer until he moves back to Norway in 1980. During his time in California, Wangberg is involved in the recording and or mixing of several well known recordings and hits, like stereo mixing records like The Turtles' "Happy Together", Scott McKenzie's "San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)" and the soundtrack to "Monterey Pop".

In 1967, Wangberg finds himself in Sound Recorders Studio in Hollywood, one of many studios Brian Wilson decided to utilise for the recording and mixing of The Beach Boys' upcoming album, "Smile". Having already recorded the song "Vegetables" with Wangberg first as second engineer and later on in control of the engineering, the Beach Boys, Van Dyke Parks and Wangberg are there to put the songs together to make a coherent album when John Lennon and Paul McCartney stop by, together with Derek Taylor.  After having congratulated John and Paul on the success of their latest single, "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever", Wangberg plays back "Vegetables" for the guests from England. After having harvested compliments for the song, Wangberg, still not sure about who is who of John and Paul, witnesses an encounter where Paul and Brian are both sitting at the piano, playing each other's new songs. "Sgt. Pepper" is still not released, so Paul starts by playing and performing "Fixing A Hole". Brian counters by playing and singing "Heroes and villains", and Paul answers with "Lovely Rita". Wangberg can still rewind Paul's solo version in his mind, he writes. Brian performs "Surf's up", before the party breaks up, John and Paul leave and "Smile" is shelved indefinitely... until 2011!

This visit by John and Paul is not documented in Beatles history. In April 1967, Paul spent a week in USA with his assistant, Mal Evans - not John. During his time in LA, Paul did visit Brian and The Beach Boys in their recording studio (April 10, 1967) without Mal, and the story goes that Paul partly co-produced "Vegetables" with Brian, chewing a bit of celery during the proceedings, and also played "She's Leaving Home" to Brian on the studio piano. It's tricky to work John Lennon into the story here, but Paul gives credence to the tale in his introduction to the book. I believe more research should ensue.

Wangberg's book: The photo on the front cover was taken before McCartney's concert in Drammenshallen in 1989.
Another chapter in Wangberg's book is from 1968, when George Harrison is in town and shows up with the "White album" tapes. Unhappy with Capitol's mastering job, George wants it remastered by the studio where Wangberg is working. Wangberg's business partner Armin Steiner is busy mastering the double album anew, assisted by Carl Frisk. The upcoming single, "Hey Jude" and "Revolution" is also part of the package they perform their work on, and Wangberg sits in to listen, leaving Harrison waiting.

This visit by George is somewhat documented. In the December 1968 issue of The Beatles Monthly Book, Mal Evans related how George was so upset by the cut he heard at Capitol that he took all day re-equalizing it so it sounded like it should. As detailed in page 270 of Bruce Spizer's book "The Beatles Swan Song" George Harrison did not approve of the original mastering job done by Capitol on "The White Album" As was often the practice at the time, Capitol's engineers had run the sound signal through a limiter and compressed the volume range of the recording by cutting back the high volume peaks and bringing up the low passages. Harrison insisted that the album be remastered. This took place under his supervision at Sound Recorders Studio on Yucca Street, which was located around the corner from the Capitol Tower.

The book is jumping back and forth through Wangberg's exciting adventures and is a fun read. Anecdotes aplenty about celebrities like the Beach Boys, Paul McCartney, Diana Ross, Mamas & Papas, The Jackson Five, Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta and a host of renowned studio musicians. Of course, there's a huge section devoted to Paul and Linda McCartney's "Ram", the most important album of Wangberg's career. There are plans to have it translated into English. Wangberg is currently putting together a 2CD of music of his own, which he wrote and recorded during the sixties and seventies.

3 comments:

Unknown said...

Either Macca's memory is off, or he's fabricating, but we know that McCartney came in April of '67, by himself (to meet with Jane Asher, who was touring the USA) and that's when he was to have met with Brian. (obviously he couldn't have done it before then, as he was recording "Pepper"....and since Pepper was released in the beginning of June, that doesn't exactly give a big wide window for Lennon to have jetted off to Los Angeles, undetected for all these years).

Also, no mention of him playing "She's Leaving Home" (which is the song Brian Wilson remembers McCartney playing him).

Even within his own story, it seems highly unlikely that Brian and McCartney would have gotten into "swapping songs", with John Lennon sitting on the sidelines, doing nothing.....Lennon could get irked by McCartney's piano playing and showboating, and I can't see him sitting through "Lovely Rita" solo piano, especially when he's got "A Day In The Life" in his back pocket.

All these years, Derek Taylor and McCartney only mentioned "Vegetables", and all these years, Wilson has only mentioned "She's Leaving Home". Sorry, but I believe that memories are, at best, fuzzy. And we KNOW McCartney's not above rewriting history, or throwing in a mention of his old friend "John", lest we forget Paul's association with him!

In all photographs from this trip, McCartney is alone. He's alone with Jack Cassady and Paul Kantner in the San Francisco picture that has surfaced, he's alone with Jane Asher in many photos.

Obviously Macca is a friend, otherwise he wouldn't have bothered writing the Introduction. But Lennon was most likely tripping with George and Ringo in Weybridge, not sitting on the sidelines while McCartney and Wilson had a pissing contest. Does anyone buy this story?

Roger Stormo said...

Wangberg vividly recalls McCartney's solo rendition of "Lovely Rita" from this visit. Like you say, Wilson recalls Paul playing "She's Leaving Home". I think John's presence is a mistake, but since Wangberg wasn't familiar with Lennon and McCartney, he goes on to say that when he bid them farewell at the end of their visit, he called Paul John and the other person Paul, it's likely that it was someone, perhaps called John, who accompanied Paul to the session. Both McCartney and Wangberg identifies this other person as John Lennon, but this is likely to have been someone else, since he just sits there passively, listening to Brian and Paul alternating at the piano. We know that Paul and Mal was visiting John and Michelle Phillips of The Mamas And The Papas, and then left Mal with the Philipses and went to see the Beach Boys in the studio. Could it be that he just left Mal with Michelle, whereas John Philips came along with Paul? This theory is contradicted by the fact that Wangberg also worked with the Mamas and the Papas later on, and even visited John Philips in Bel Air, producing a jingle in Philips' home studio. So it remains a mystery. I have no problem believing Wangberg's story, except that John Lennon doesn't belong in the picture. Paul may indeed have played the songs Wangberg recalls, as well as the song Wilson recalled.

Unknown said...

Paul is likely conflating memories of this trip with his May 1968 visit to New York with Lennon, their only joint visit to the US without the other Beatles.