Talking Heads Producer Recalls Recording Wrong Guitarist
Veteran producer Steve Lillywhite recalled the moment a case of mistaken identity resulted in Talking Heads starting to record an album track with someone who turned out to be a messenger.
The incident took place in 1988 when the Rolling Stones and U2 collaborator was working on Talking Heads’ final album, Naked.
“We had a nice budget for recording, so we all went to Paris, all had nice apartments in Paris, would go to work,” Lillywhite said during a keynote interview at Canadian Music Week (via Billboard). “The reason we went to Paris is we wanted to use a lot of African influence. There's a lot of great African musicians in Paris all from Ivory Coast, the French-speaking countries, so communication was a little bit of a problem, part of the story.
“One day we were very excited because towards the end of the session we heard that we were going to get this fucking great guitar player," Lillywhite continued. "This was the guy everyone recommended to us. Now, all the sessions started at 10 in the morning. So, 10 in the morning this guy hadn't come, five past 10, this African guy walked in and we said, ‘You guitarist? You play guitar?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, yeah, I play guitar.’ So we said, ‘Where's your guitar?’ He said, ‘Don't have it.’”
Instead of questioning him further, they furnished him with an instrument, sat him down and got to work on the album’s opening track, “Blind." “We started the song and he started playing. He had a riff – literally this is a true story – 20 minutes later, this guy comes and says, ‘Hi guys, I'm so sorry I'm late.’ And we went, who is [the guy we’re working with]? It was a messenger. It was a messenger that had brought a cassette of yet another musician. So, we had to say to the great guy, ‘I’m really sorry but this guy is here.’”
The story had another twist, Lillywhite added. “The songs had chord changes, but this guy … he was playing this riff, but every time the chord changed, he wouldn't change his notes. He would just play the same riff. We said, ‘Change the riff,’ and he said, ‘No, no, no, you take out.’”
Lillywhite also spoke of Talking Heads frontman David Byrne’s Scottish parents. “You think of him as being the archetype New Yorker, but his parents … still have the most broadest Scottish accent and you can just imagine David going to school, being so embarrassed," he said. "I met his parents and I couldn't understand them. You know some Scottish accents are like, ‘Howya doin’?’ and his parents were just like that. They hadn't lost their accent. Of course, he became American because he was so embarrassed, I think. We're all embarrassed.”