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Waddy Wachtel: Creating “Werewolves of London”
by: Nina Correa 2008
Warren Zevon and Waddy Wachtel met in Los Angeles when Warren was the pianist and mucisal director for the Everly Brothers in 1972.
Waddy: One of the first gigs I got out of L.A. [after moving here from New York] was playing guitar for the Everly Brothers and Warren was the bandleader, so I actually had to audition for him.
Waddy got the gig and played guitar with the Everly’s on their album Stories We Could Tell, went on their 1972 tour and appeared with them on a few television shows. When the Everly’s split up in 1973 Jackson Browne was instrumental in getting Warren to sign a publishing deal with David Geffen's Companion Music, but Warren went off on his own for a few years.
Waddy released his own single in 1973, “You’re the One” backed with “Love You Should Keep” on Anthem records, writing all the music and lyrics as well as playing all the instruments with Keith Olsen producing. As demand for Waddy’s guitar talents on recording sessions increased, he found himself involved with many artists both in the studio and touring.
Warren came back to L. A. at the encouragement of Jackson and recorded his first album Warren Zevon in 1976 with Jackson producing. Waddy and Warren were reunited when Warren and Jackson asked him and other top-notch musicians David Lindley, Bob Glaub, Larry Zack and Gary Mallaber to play on the album. The album also featured Jackson Browne, J.D. Souther, Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Phil Everly, Bonnie Raitt, Carl Wilson, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks on background vocals.
While recording the Warren Zevon album, “Werewolves of London” had its birth in the minds of Warren, Waddy and long time friend Leroy Marinell. Leroy (Roy) Marinell and Waddy had been friends and played in local clubs earlier, getting paid whatever was put in the hat.
Waddy: We wrote the song one afternoon. I remember going by Roy's house one afternoon on my way into town to do some sessions, and Warren was there, and he says , “Waddy, it's great you're here! Phil Everly gave me a great title for a song. We're going to write a song called ‘Werewolves of London.‘ “ I said, “ ‘Werewolves of London?’ Okay.” Now, Roy had been sitting around for months with this little guitar figure, and we never could do anything with it. I said to Warren, “ ‘Werewolves of London?’ You mean like, ‘ow-ooooo’?” Warren says, “Yeah, yeah!” I said, “That's easy. Roy, play that lick of yours.” And he started playing it. I had just gotten back from England so I had all these lyrics in my head, so I just spit out that whole first verse. Warren says, “That's great!” I said, “Really? Okay, fine. There's your first verse. You write the rest. I've gotta go into town.” And then they worked on the rest of it.
I didn't know Jackson before I worked on Warren's album. The funny thing is, after that record came out, I went on the road with Linda [Ronstadt] to Europe, and some interviewer over there said, “I want to ask you about Warren Zevon's record.” “Oh, okay.” This is one of my virgin interviews, and I was ready to blab away. “What did you think of Jackson's production?” And I said, “Well, you know, being there as much as I was and watching the whole process, I think Jackson maybe had his hands too full, and he didn't really know what to do some of the time; it was a little out of control, and he didn't know how to handle it.” I'm figuring, “Oh well, I'm way the hell over here in France; no one is going to read this.”
I swear, the day I got home from the trip - my jacket was still on - and the phone rings, and it's Jackson. “Hey Jackson, how ya doin' man?” “I'm doin' fine, Waddy. I read your interview.” “Huh? What?” “I read your interview. So I had my hands too full, and I didn't know what I was doing, huh?” “Uh, yeah. That's what I said.” He says, “You're absolutely right. That's why I'm calling you. I want you to do the next record with me.” I said, “What are you talking about? You don't even know me.” He says, “Waddy, believe me, I know you better than a lot of people right now. I know where I stand with you, and I really think you and I together could get Warren corralled to do this record,” because Warren was really pretty wild back then. So that's how I got my first major production gig.
It was all new to me so I felt like I was walking on eggshells a bit. And that's when I met [engineer] Greg Ladanyi. I'd seen him around the Sound Factory, but we'd never really worked together. And the three of us ended up being this pretty good team making that album.
Waddy and Jackson went into the studio to co-produce Warren’s next album, Excitable Boy, with some of the best L. A. session musicians: Waddy Wachtel, Bob Glaub, Lee Sklar, Russ Kunkel, Jeff Porcaro and Rick Marotta. The background singers included Jackson Browne, J. D. Souther, Jennifer Warnes, Linda Ronstadt, Waddy Wachtel, Kenny Edwards, Jorge Calderon and Karla Bonoff.
But cutting the basics for "Werewolves of London" was unusually problematic.
Waddy: We were doing a lot of the record with Russ Kunkel and Bob Glaub, but when we got to “Werewolves,” we tried it with them, and it just didn't sound right. We got a decent track, but there was something lacking in it. It didn't sound stupid enough; it sounded cute. Jackson was saying, “It's really good!” and Warren and I were saying, “No, man, it's too cute. It's got to be...heavy.” So we proceeded to try five or six bands after that - Russ and Lee Sklar, Jeff Porcaro and Bob Glaub, Jeff Porcaro and Lee Sklar, Michael Botts on drums, Gary Mallaber on drums, both with different bass players - and it just wasn't working. It was getting depressing. Then, and I can't remember whose idea it was, someone mentioned Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, and I flashed, “That's it! That's who can play this fuckin’ song!”
So I called them, because I'd been working with Stevie and Lindsey. They came down, we set 'em up, and we did a take, and then we did a second take. After the second take, I looked at Jackson and said, “That was pretty good, wasn't it?” “Yeah, that was pretty good, but Mick doesn't quite have it yet.” Mick says, “Yeah, we don't have it yet; let's keep going.” Well, we kept going until 6 in the morning! I remember at about 5 in the morning saying to Mick, “I think we're done!” and Mick looks at me with that crazy look he gets in his eyes and sort of whispers, “We're never done, Waddy!” I thought, “Shit, we've got a wild one here!” So we put in another hour, and at about 7 in the morning, we were up to about take 59, and I looked at Jackson and said, “Hey Jackson, take two was pretty good, wasn't it?” He said, “Yeah, let's hear take two.” We listened to take two, and I said, “Gentlemen, thank you very much!”
I sent everyone away, 'cause I really wanted to work up a great [guitar] solo. I got my sound set up, got a nice bottle of vodka. I said to Dennis Kirk [who helped engineer], “Okay, run the tape!” The solo came up; I played it. I looked at Dennis, I played it back and said, “That's it!” I didn't even get to open the vodka! Then I put a harmony on it, and it was finished. The solo took as long as it takes to hear it.
It ended up taking nine months to complete the sessions for Excitable Boy since Jackson was busy touring. Warren went on a binge and Waddy kept plugging away on sessions for other artists. Before the final tracks for “Werewolves of London” were ready for mixing, Warren decided it still needed some work.
Waddy: Warren wasn't happy with one of the last lines. “I've gotta have one more line, Waddy!” “Okay, Warren, you're the guy!” So I'm on the road, and I get this call: “Waddy, it's Warren. I've got the last line - ‘I saw a werewolf drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic's, and his hair was perfect.’ “ “That's it?” “That's it!” “Okay, Warren. Whatever you say!” And strange as it was, it was the right line. That's Warren. [laughing]"
Ladanyi: "Part of what I learned from David Hassinger is that you're kind of mixing as you go along, from the birth of the recording. So it's not like the mix is going to be some great revelation usually. Waddy and Jackson let me do my thing with the sound and the EQ and the effects and the reverb and the placement, and then they would be very involved with the balance of instruments, and they helped with the rides. We didn't have computers back then, so we needed hands on the board to move faders."
Excitable Boy was released in the spring of 1978, and Asylum chose "Werewolves of London" as the single.
Waddy: "Warren and I were completely insulted! “What's wrong with these people?!” And sure enough, it became the biggest hit Warren ever had.
"Excitable Boy" 1978
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