Other challenges awaited the kid engineer. An album project was begun, with a band —not to be named here— discovered by a staff person at Mercury. In the first few minutes it became clear that “the band couldn’t play”, meaning that the group was not capable of performing well in the studio. Too out of tune, or too stiff, or too sloppy for rock n' roll. Sounds oxymoronic, right? But it did happen sometimes, even with good bands. Although they could fire it up onstage, technically, as players for recording, they pretty much sucked. But they had great songs!
So it was suggested that some ringers should be hired to play the band’s songs for them. Usually the original members of a group would resent being replaced like this, but it was fairly common practice— even with famous, established acts like the Beach Boys. However, on the positive side, if they could get over the insult, it would be an excellent opportunity for the kids to gain some knowledge from observing more skillful players. And I knew just the guys.
Steve, Steve, Bruce, and Huey had played on demo recordings I had made for Lon and Derek Van Eaton and a few other projects at Mercury. Super funny and fun to work with— more like a real band than the older guys that usually got hired for this kind of work (and charged as much as triple union scale). Real pros, but younger and much cheaper! The producer loved them, mostly for this latter quality, but who cared? The guys were happy to get work at union rates.
So we got started, and polished off lots of tracks in rapid order. The ringers played brilliantly, and soon everyone became pals. After each session tax forms were filled out and releases signed, everything legit and by the book. And every night after the musicians had said their goodbyes and headed home, I watched with interest as my boss, the producer, efficiently tore all the forms into little pieces and let them fall into the trash can.