Ib Ottesen came to Thailand as a 21-year-old trainee to be a merchant marine officer. But having arrived Bangkok, he took leave and instead made a living for himself playing guitar and singing songs mostly by e.g. John Denver and Johnny Cash every night at a bar called Cloud 9 in Patpong.
“For four hours every night, just me. That was hard work, but I was not the one to be complaining. I was paid 200 baht a night,” Ib Ottesen told ScandAsia a few years ago.
Since then, Ib Ottesen has come far and is today a major developer of residential apartments in Pattaya.
Recently, Ib Ottesen’s past as a music performer took a new turn when he was given the once-in-lifetime opportunity to go on a music recording trip to the music mecca of Nashville, U.S.A!
It all began when Ib visited Denmark in the summer of 2014 and there stumbled upon a good old friend from the early 1970’s, the well-known Danish singer-songwriter Peter Vesth, who had continued on his musical path and become very successful. Peter has recorded a total of 50 albums, and had numerous Dansktop-hits. In the early days Ib and Peter had played music together.
Peter invited Ib and his wife Kannikar out for dinner and they played some of their respective new songs to each other, which immediately prompted Peter to suggest that Ib should join him for recordings of those songs in Nashville, where he would go the following year!
Initialy, Ib had turned down the idea thinking that his songs were not intended for any others than his wife and their little dog (who Ib says hides under the bed when he starts playing). But eventually he changed his mind.
In the following, Ib Ottesen shares this unique experience with ScandAsia’s readers:
Recording in Nashville was definitely not something that ever entered my mind. That summer we kept in touch though, and Peter would often bring up the Nashville subject, asking me to seriously reconsider.
However, after returning to Thailand, Kannikar eventually convinced me to go.
”Why not,” she said. “You should go, you have written some good songs, and it could be fun.”
Back in Denmark for Christmas, I met up with Peter again. He took it on himself to fix the dates in September, book the studio and the A-team musicians. Peter had by then recorded 11 albums in Nashville over a 20-year period at the same studio, so arrangements were safe in his hands.
While September still felt a long way off it was soon rapidly approaching, and I was starting to have creeping second thoughts. I had played a very small part in the Danish music scene in the early 70’es. I had even tried to make a name for myself in the Bars in Bangkok’s Patpong road in 1973. That was when you could still park a car in Patpong, before guitar players gave way for go-go dancers, and the audience was mostly American soldiers on R&R from the Vietnam War, and the hostesses wore long black or red evening gowns. However that was now a very long time ago.
Peter left for the US in early September, taking a group of 20 people from his fan club ‘VESTHVENNERNE’ on this trip, first stop New York, to retrace the footsteps of a young Bob Dylan. Then on to Nashville, where they toured the famous music strip, Grand Ole Opry, the Nashville Country Hall of Fame, the newly opened Johnny Cash museum etc.
The Peter Vesth fan club group returned to Denmark on 15th September, and I arrived at the Hilton Garden Inn Nashville with butterflies in my stomach late in the afternoon on the 16th, and met up with Peter.
Nashville is the undisputable Capital of Country and western music. Arriving in the airport you are met with guitars hanging from the ceiling and C&W bands playing in the airport restaurants from morning till late. Down at the city center bars with live bands are lining Broadway left and right playing nearly around the clock. Not many are paid a salary, but rely solely on the tips bucket being passed around very frequently. They all have CD recordings for sale to the audience. Most of them are dressed Nashville style in Cowboy hats and Leather boots. Nearly everyone you meet in Nashville, from a bar waitresses to the taxi drivers, introduce themselves as working at least part time in the music industry. One taxi driver showed me pictures of him touring Denmark as a drummer with a well-known heavy metal band called King Diamond. It is kind of like Los Angeles, where everyone is a sort of part time actor while still flipping hamburgers in the local diner.
Next morning after breakfast, a taxi took us to the County Q recording studio, where we met up with the Danish accordion virtuoso Kristian Rusbjerg, who was also going to record an album with mostly Peter Vesth compositions. Eventually Kristian also ended up playing accordion on one of my songs.
I had never been in a recording studio before, and had not much idea what to expect. However, I could not stop myself from spending some time lingering over the decoration in the reception room. Lining the walls were framed gold CD’s and thank you letters from various famous artists like Randy Travis, George Strait among others, who had recorded their hits at the studio. I felt quite small in a huge and new world.
I had in advance mailed demo recordings including lyrics of the songs I had decided to record. However, this first day, I was just there to get acquainted with Paul Scholten, the Studio owner, the musicians and sound engineers, and to observe how Peter’s recording session was progressing.
What you do in Nashville is that you book the studio for one or two sessions. First session is from 10 am till 1 pm. Second session is from 2 pm till 5 pm. The Recording Studio will book the Studio musicians whom are mostly working freelance. Bookings must be done well in advance if you want to book specific musicians.
The A-team, which Peter had booked for us, had played on several of his previous recordings. So he knew each of them well. They were quite old, and they really knew their stuff. They had all been on the road with several famous artists, and could tell many funny stories from their tours with celebrities like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson among others. Maybe too old for the rigorous tour schedules, they had now settled in Nashville and made a living out of being studio musicians. They were very professional. They all arrived early at the studio, and had their instruments ready, tuned, with new strings when the session started.
I was scheduled to start the next day. But having seen now how the recording was done, and the laid back attitude of all involved, the butterflies in my stomach had now completely disappeared, and I was ready and eager to get started.
Next morning Peter was at the breakfast table.
“So, how are you doing’ are you ready to give it a go?” was his way of saying good morning.
“Ready and eager,” I said, “I can’t wait, let’s do it!”
At the studio, Paul, who also was to be my drummer and co-producer, gathered everyone in the sound engineers big room equipped with sofas, chairs and coffee. A demo of my song to be recorded would be played while Paul would make what is called the Nashville Number System Chart for each of the musicians. In Nashville they don’t use the chords C-D-E-F-G-A-B etc. Instead they use this customized system, which is a method of transcribing music by denoting the scale degree on which a chord is built. So effectively in the key of C would be.
C=1,D=2, E=3, F=4, G=5, A=6, B=7. In the key of B♭, the numbers would be B♭=1, C=2, D=3, E♭=4, F=5, G=6, A=7
The musicians, having heard my song only once, and armed with this chart would then each go into a small sound proof room with a big glass window, and I would go into my own little room. We would all be connected through headphones.
Setting it up this way, meant, that if anyone would make a mistake, only this particular instrument or song line would need to be tracked again.
Tracking is essentially the process of recording songs. The name comes from the fact that each instrument is recorded individually and given its own “track” in the mix,
I was pretty amazed, that they were able to play my songs just armed with this number chart, and the specific tempo. The solo instruments would do some additional adjusting, Paul would come with some special sound effects, and I would do the singing 2-3 times, and basically that was pretty much how each song was made. The engineer could then mix from 2-3 takes, to get the best result.
On average one song would take close to 1 hour to do. So after two full days of a total of twelve quite exhausting hours, I had completed the thirteen songs that I had chosen for this album.
I had booked another 3-hour session on the third day to add choir and harmony vocals to my album. I was blessed with having two outstanding singer-songwriters in their own right to be my choir. Julie Burton and Jess Leary. I had met Jess Leary in Denmark the previous year, where she toured with Peter on his Grand Christmas tour. Jess had written a Number 1 hit called ‘Where the Green Grass Grows’ for the American country and Western artist Tim McGraw, so I was in really good company.
I had chosen three songs for each of them, which I felt would match each of their distinctive vocals. They had obviously done this kind of work often before, and did not need much guidance. A few takes, and they had elevated my songs to a whole new level.
My album was finished by now. Nothing more I could do, though I still had to spend a lot of time with the Sound engineers doing the mixing and mastering. Mixing is the process of blending all the individual tracks in a recording to create a version of the song that sounds as good as possible. Mastering is the process of turning a collection of songs into an album and combining them to create a final master for manufacturing. Or – it’s making your music sound the best it can be.
It is quite amazing, sitting next to the sound engineer with your headphones on, listening to how Nashville can transform the simple music you’ve made at home in your bedroom in Pattaya into, in my own humble opinion, quite fantastic soundtracks. It was definitely worth the experience and effort, but also the considerable expense to work with some of the best musicians in the industry!
Two days later I picked up my finished album on a 32 GB memory stick. All of my effort and at times anxiety stashed neatly in this little stick was a little difficult to comprehend.
The whole trip was quite an extraordinary experience, and I am grateful to Peter for being persistent and making this possible and in the end quite easy; to all the brilliant musicians and sound engineers, who did their utmost to make this album sound better than I had imagined; to Paul for all his musical ideas; and to “Ace” for always being there, when we needed a driver.
I will forever be indebted to Jess Leary for arranging the unforgettable Melanie evening, and to my wife Kannikar for her always valuable input and suggestions. Even my little dog seems to enjoy the music.