This article was originally published on April 15, 2016 in #Issue 18.
The year was 1985, and Duran Duran were at the pinnacle of their fledgling career, having topped the pop charts with the James Bond theme, A View to a Kill, and having performed at The Live Aid benefit concert to millions of people around the world. What an accomplishment for five young musicians out of Birmingham, England, who were unaware of the mass hysteria of “Duranie mayhem” they would stir up. The Fab Five reached their goal of conquering the music industry within a five-year time frame, but also vanished just as quickly, because 1985 would mark the last time the original lineup played together until the reunion era in the early 2000’s. Little did we know, the cracks in the pavement were way deeper than ever perceived. In late 84-85, the Duran camp split into two factions, which would result in the Arcadia and The Power Station projects. Both groups were formed as a creative outlet distanced far away from the confines and stresses of the Duran hit machine. John and Andy dabbled in the more gritty hard rock sound, whereas Simon, Nick and Roger opted to experiment with the more polished and slick avant-garde/esoteric genre – resulting in more top ten smash singles to add to the existing (and ever so expanding) hit list.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I attempted to put three of my favorite swatch watches onto one wrist, threw on a green Benetton rugby top, and spritzed my hair out until it felt like a layer of cement was weighing down my 12-year-old dome. Now bear in mind, both fashion and music back in those days went hand-in-hand, so getting all “dolled up” to purchase any Duran Duran release was a normal spectacle, never taken too lightly. I had my mom drop me off at the local mall as I entered Record World in search of the Holy Grail. Within seconds, I spotted it in all its glory, just waiting for me in solitude, positioned above the Thompson Twin’s Here’s to Future Days album. As I looked in awe at the $5.99 price point, my grubby little paws couldn’t resist grasping the vinyl sleeve in all of its geometric perfection, reading the back cover credits until the song titles and track listing duration times were memorized verbatim. I handed the cashier my money, and then proceeded home with nothing less than a smile and sparkle in my eye. So Red the Rose would remain on my Radio Shack Realistic turntable for months afterwards, practically wearing down the record player’s needle from over usage. Arcadia has stood the test of time in regard to strong song writing, and how the execution of that strong songwriting held up 30 years later. The songs, performances, and catchy vocal hooks speak for themselves. So, without further ado, ladies and gents, let me introduce to you the rhythm section team who held it all together, Mr. Mark Egan and Mr. Roger Taylor:
JB – First off, Mark, let me just say how much I thoroughly enjoyed (and still do) your playing and contribution to this masterpiece of a recording. All Music Guide Review went as far as calling So Red the Rose the best album Duran Duran never made; quite a bold statement, indeed. What are your thoughts and highlight moments when reflecting back on the entire recording experience with the Duran boys?
ME – Thanks, Joe, for inviting me to speak about my work with the Arcadia recording project, and my gear. I have many great memories from the making of the Arcadia recordings. Overall, my highlight moments focus mostly on how creative the project was in general and how it bridged both a pop and experimental genre. All of the musicians were brought in specifically for the styles and sensibilities that they could add to the music. The basic tracks were recorded during a six-week period in the spring of 1985 in Paris, France at Grand Armée Studio.
JB – Alex Sadkin has been cited as the person who originally got you involved with the Arcadia project. Would you agree that accepting his invitation positively changed the course of your session career within the pop music world? I ask this because prior to Arcadia you were known for your jazz fusion chops performing with Pat Metheny and David Sanborn, just to name a few. Were you aware of Duran Duran’s catalog before signing on with Arcadia, and were you at all apprehensive saying “yes” to Alex?
ME – The great producer, Alex Sadkin, was a good friend and responsible for recommending me to Simon Le Bon and Nick Rhodes for the Arcadia project. I had known Alex for many years, since the early 1970’s, during my time in Miami. Alex started as an assistant engineer at Criteria Studios and I recorded sessions with him during that time. He would have late night sessions while the studio was available and we would go in with Hiram Bullock (guitar), Clifford Carter (keyboards) and Billy Bowker (drums) to record songs that we had been playing while performing in a group with Phyllis Hyman. Alex and I had an immediate connection, since he was a sax player and had played in a group with Jaco Pastorius in the Ft. Lauderdale area called the Los Olas Brass. A few years later, after I had moved to New York in 1976, I was back at Criteria studios in Miami recording with the David Sanborn Band and Alex was the engineer for the project. Since then, he had been recording and producing for Island records and had recorded Peter Tosh from Jamaica. His producing career was taking off. Going fast forward to 1984-85, I was at a recording session in NYC at Right Track studios recording a session in another room and Alex was there recording and producing Foreigner and the huge hit, I Want to Know What Love Is. I met Alex in the lounge and we reconnected. Since I had last been in touch with him, he had recorded with Simply Red and Duran Duran. He asked me if I would be interested in recording a special project with Nick, Simon and Roger, and of course I said “yes;” and that is how I became connected to the Arcadia project. Prior to the Arcadia record, I was very active on the New York session scene, recording all styles of music, including rock, movie sound tracks, commercials, jazz and avant guard sessions. I had recorded with Vickie Sue Robinson, David Sanborn, Gil Evans, Michael Franks and a wide range of artists. Recording with Arcadia did bring much more visibility on a worldwide pop level, and my session work continued to grow. I was very aware of Duran Duran’s repertoire as I was listening to a wide spectrum of music and enjoy many styles of song writing and playing. I wasn’t apprehensive at all, but was excited to be asked to be a part of such a huge pop, rock, experimental project.
JB – Let’s talk about the songwriting and creative process. Was it true Simon and Nick had some rough pre-production demos and roughs you listened to before mapping out chord charts for song sections and parts? How much involvement did you have with the songwriting/arranging, and how much material was actually recorded that remains unheard collecting dust in the Capitol record vaults?
ME – Nick and Simon had some rough demo ideas that they had been working on. They basically consisted of a drum groove with a synth keyboard comping part and Simon had some of the lyrics completed. The songs were in their formative stage, but they were good starting points for us to get a basic idea of the general feel. For the most part, there weren’t any bass lines that were “hook” type of lines, but mostly supportive of the keyboard ideas. They were mostly snippets of ideas that we pieced together. Both Nick and Simon had clear conceptual ideas that inspired us to come up with our interpretations of what we thought they were looking for. We all had a lot of involvement with the arrangements of the songs. Simon provided the lyrics and Nick had a lot of input with the direction of the arrangements and keyboards, as well. None of the bass parts were written, and I created parts that were inspired by playing the basic grooves from the demos.
The way that the sessions evolved was: I usually arrived with the engineer Larry Alexander, and producer Alex Sadkin in the late morning, along with the rest of the supporting musicians. As the sessions progressed, the start times when Nick and Simon arrived became later and later, since we were playing way into the wee hours of the mornings. It was during these late night jams that we would create the basic arrangements of the songs and sometimes complete takes in one form or another. When we would arrive the next morning with Alex and Larry, we would review the bass parts from the night before, and I would record entire alternate bass parts to present to Nick and Simon when they arrived in the late afternoon as possible choices. I sometimes recorded four or five completely different styled bass tracks to choose from. This proved to be a great way to work, since I could take time with Alex trying many bass line ideas and really perfect the parts. Later, Nick and Simon would then listen to what we had done and choose parts that they liked. I would then piece together a master part and work on that. As I mentioned, we recorded for six weeks and the tape machine was running most of the time. As a result, I know that there are a lot of jams that are in the vault from all of the experimentation that went down.
JB – Both Roger Taylor and Steve Jordan are credited for drumming duties. Did it take some adjusting getting acclimated to Roger’s four on the floor pop/rock approach, and Steve’s New York City session driven playing? What were some differences rhythmically speaking in both drummers that forced you to alter your technique or feel?
ME – Both Roger and Steve were a joy to play with. They come from different backgrounds and are very different players, but both have really strong grooves. Steve and I had played and recorded a lot from our experiences in the studios in New York, as well as the many live dates that we played together. We were in the David Sanborn Band together as the Original 24th Street Band. I had just met Roger at the Arcadia sessions and we immediately clicked. Steve Jordan comes from more of an R&B background, as do I, so those sensibilities felt really at home for me with a really elastic rhythm feel. Roger is coming from more of a rock back-beat sensibility, and it was really fantastic laying in bass lines to his groove. Actually, both drummers made me feel totally at home, musically.
JB – When I think of the 1985 version of Simon Le Bon and Nick Rhodes, I do not envision an extensive musical vernacular when trying to convey their concepts and ideas. This is by no means a slight; just an observation, considering they came from polar opposite musical backgrounds than yourself, who was a seasoned musician holding a music degree. Was there a key music director or leader who took over the reigns, or was it more a collaborative effort from beginning to end?
ME – Nick, Simon and Alex Sadkin were the driving forces in this project. Alex brought me into this project because he knew my background as a multidirectional player. Simon and Nick were very open about making this a very creative project, and different from Duran Duran. They had the extreme pop success with Duran Duran and wanted to branch out and do something more open and creative in a different way. When you look at the lineup of musicians, from Herbie Hancock, David Gilmore, Sting to Steve Jordan and myself, it’s obvious that they were open to breaking boundaries. I realized while we were working that Simon and Nick are very creative conceptualists.
JB – Did the band track live together in one room, or was it a layering process starting from the ground up, over-dubbing as you went along?
ME – Most of the tracks started by all of us playing together in one room. We would usually listen to a very basic demo, scratch out some chords and then start jamming. This would evolve into a song form and groove, and then we would jam on those forms until the song took shape. We were all in one room at Grand Armée Studio, in Paris. I remember Nick would have his keyboard rig set up in the control room and the rest of us would be scattered around the main studio room with headphones. We would overdub and fix things later. The main focus was to come up with the groove for the song and get as much information on tape as possible. Some of the vocals were first takes, while on other songs, Simon was still completing the lyrics and would be inspired by the performances.
JB – Although I love every song on the record, The Promise and Lady Ice immediately come to mind as my “go-to” Mark Egan bass lines that really jump out at you. Why don’t we take a look at Lady Ice? This particular song is a true testament to Simon Le Bon’s genius at singing ultra-catchy melodies and hooks. The verse sections possess this moody “air-like” quality, without a true rhythmic pulse. Did you have to rely solely on Simon’s vocal inflections to guide your part? The chorus sections incorporate a backbeat and very hip upper-register vibrato slides; what was the impetus for you coming up with such an unusual, yet extremely interesting, line?
ME – Lady Ice is a great song and was very creative to record. My bass parts were totally inspired by Simon’s vocals and Steve’s drumming. If you notice, a lot of my bass fills work around the vocal parts. I also play many colors in the open sections with harmonics and the last notes of the song are harmonics. I remember very vividly recording this song. The only way you can make a creative recording like this is to let the musicians loose to do their own thing, and Simon and Nick let us go. On the choruses, there was room for slides around the basic groove bass line, and I tried to find the spaces that I could use the fretless slides. I was inspired to play the parts that you hear and was given free reign.
JB – Was there a specific track that you felt truly captured your ability as a fretless player? Were there any takes you wished you could have re-recorded, or were you happy with the overall end result? I am sure hearing Election Day (which became a top 10 hit) on the radio must have been surreal?
ME – I feel that all of the tracks really captured my fretless playing, and I’m happy with the overall result. I spent a lot of time combing through my parts and making them the best that I could for that point in time. I also played my 1964 fretted Fender Jazz Bass on the song Goodbye Is Forever. That entire bass part was played on the low E string using a palm muting technique with my right hand. In general, I was inspired by the entire ensemble and especially the drummers, Steve Jordan and Roger Taylor, and the direction from Simon and Nick. It was a thrill hearing Election Day as a top 10 hit. I really love this record in its entirety and feel that it’s a great melding of pop and experimental music.
JB – This year marks the 40th anniversary of Pedulla basses, a company you have had a long lasting relationship with over the years. Your signature model has been re-issued, but with some modern features that weren’t available in the original. Give us a detailed account of the alterations, and how did you initially get introduced to Michael Pedulla’s basses?
ME – I first met Michael Pedulla in 1976 while I was with the Pat Metheny Group. I had my 1964 Jazz Bass, that I had made fretless, and I needed to have a finish put on the neck; Michael helped with that. Since then, we have worked closely with designing fretless basses. I bought my first fretless Buzz bass from him in 1981, which is the bass on the Arcadia record, as well as many other recordings, including my group Elements that I co-lead with Danny Gottlieb and hit records with Sophie B Hawkins (Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover) Mark Cohen, (Walking in Memphis), Joan Osborn (Relish).
The new 40th Anniversary signature bass is a culmination of all the ideas from Michael’s design, along with input from players like myself, Tim Landers, David Budda, Ric Ferrabracci and Doug Johns. The 40th Anniversary bass is a 5-string with 19mm string spacing and has a body shape similar to the original MVP. The new features include a thinner neck from front to back, a streamlined heal where the neck meets the body and a treble horn cut slightly lower for accessibility. This allows for more room for the left hand to reach around the fingerboard. This limited edition has greater than AAAAA flame maple body, ebony fingerboard, Pedulla’s Bartolini pickups and electronics, a bone nut and a finger ramp. The electronics have a midrange boost, which is great for adding extra presence and punch. It can be ordered fretted or fretless with choice of hardware color (black, chrome or gold) and in any current Pedulla finish color.
JB – Now it’s time to plug yourself and any upcoming projects in the near by future. What lies on the horizon for you in 2016, and where can fans get up-to-date information regarding your whereabouts?
ME – Things have been busy for me, and I’m just about to release a new fretless bass instructional series on Bass Guru, which is a website for iPad and iOS that is an excellent teaching platform. I focused on beginner and intermediate lessons. My schedule is very busy, so much so that I don’t have time to teach on an individual level, so it was great to be able to reach a lot of players and hopefully give back some information. I’ll be recording a new project with drummer Karl Latham and guitarist Vic Jusris in 2016. It’s Karl’s project that we’ll be featured on playing jam versions of top hits in the ‘60s and ‘70s. At the moment, I’m composing music for a new solo project, which I hope to release on my independent record label, Wavetone Records, in the fall of 2016. My last two records have been trios with drummer Danny Gottlieb and pianist Mitch Forman, and this project will be a larger ensemble with some exotic percussionists in a more experimental vein. Another group that I’m a member of, Desired Constellations, will be performing in Munich, Germany for an event by car maker BMW. Our CD called Constellations was nominated in a blindfold voting, and the CD features the music of Bjork in an instrumental, experimental format. The group is Ryan Carniaux (trumpet), Karl Latham (drums) and Nick Rolf (keyboards). The music sounds like Miles Davis meets Bjork. I’m still very active with my Wavetone label, which was started in 1993 and we have twenty five titles in our catalog. Most of them are my solo records, as well as the group Elements and artists, Joe Beck, Jeff Ciampa, and Jeff Laibson.
Fans can get up to date information from my website www.markegan.com.
JB – A special thanks to you, as well, Roger. Your solid metronomic drumming over the years has been an inspiration and influence on players such as myself. Anyway, let’s get down to business. After Duran Duran finished touring commitments for Seven and the Ragged Tiger back in 1984, the band went on a brief hiatus that extended into 1985. There were splinters developing internally, resulting in the side projects Arcadia and The Power Station, which in a way kept you caught in the middle, having contributed musically to both parties. Looking back now with a fresh perspective, was it overwhelming taking sides, was there any pressure from Simon and Nick to join Arcadia, and were you at all surprised by the mega success of both projects?
RT – Yes, Joe. I have described it as being caught in the middle of two ships sailing in different directions and trying to keep one foot on each vessel. There was no pressure to be involved in either project, but I naturally gravitated towards Arcadia purely because The Power Station had become a US-based project and already had the mighty Tony Thompson from Chic on board. They say that part of being a musician is “just showing up,” and I “just showed up” in Paris on a gloomy Monday afternoon wearing a particularly silly hat, set up my kit and started playing. I wasn’t surprised by the success of the projects as everyone was still extremely driven and on a creative high at that point.
JB – Please discuss the beginning stages of Arcadia’s inception. Who was the mastermind behind the formation of Arcadia, when did the initial writing sessions commence, and were you involved with the creative process, too, or just the recording side of things? I ask this because you are credited as a song writer for six out of the nine tracks on the album.
RT – I recall Arcadia being a bit of a reaction to the The Power Station being formed … and I don’t think anyone wanted to sit around “twiddling thumbs” until John and Andy decided to come back. Like many creative forces, it was in some ways driven by friction and reactiveness. It was very much led by Nick and Simon, but I feel I was definitely very much part of the overall creative process, too.
JB – This was your first time venturing out on your own without John Taylor as your rhythm mate. Please explain your frame of mind at this point, and had you ever heard Mark Egan’s playing prior to the recording sessions? I know speaking from experience as a bass player, it’s not that easy jumping in “cold turkey” with someone new as your rhythm partner. Especially after having played with the same guy for 6-7 years, straight.
RT – Ha … yes, it was a bit tricky. John and I pretty well grew up together as musicians, and although I had played with a few bass players prior to joining Duran Duran, all my best work had been with JT. But Mark Egan was such a talented, free-flowing musician, and played with such grace and humility, that he made it very easy for me. I’d never heard of him before, but I have to say that he really blew me away. The song The Promise is my favorite rhythm track on the album.
JB – What was the reasoning behind Steve Jordan’s drumming on the track Lady Ice, and not yourself? Were your recording commitments already fulfilled at this point?
RT – Steve was actually in Paris jamming with the Rolling Stones, and we invited him to come over and sit in with us. The Arcadia project was all about being “free” and shedding the chains of the previous few years, and anyone that visited the studio seemed to end up playing on the album … including Grace Jones, Sting, Herbie Hancock and David Gilmour, to name but a few! I have to say that Steve did an amazing job on Lady Ice and played something so extraordinary that I couldn’t ever have imagined playing myself.
JB – I noticed in recent years you have incorporated Election Day into Duran’s set list when performing live. That must be a real treat, being able to revisit a song you were never able to perform back in the ‘80s? Are there any adjustments you need to make regarding your technique/programming or approach to this particular song within the live context?
RT – Yes, it’s been great pulling that one out of the bag and, no, I just play it exactly as I recorded it on my acoustic drum kit (with Simmons Drums overdubbed.) The main thing that I remember from that particular session is that the late and great producer Alex Sadkin was such a perfectionist that I had to keep re-recording the drum track to get exactly the right feel. After about 20 takes, my hands started to bleed profusely all over the kit … talk about suffering for your art! We achieved something really special in the end, though.
JB – It’s been 30 years (which is inconceivable to me) since the release of So Red the Rose. Are you proud of the body of work that you Simon and Nick created, and will Election Day or other Arcadia singles ever see the light of day once Duran hits the road again?
RT – I’m very proud of this album; I used to call it “Dark Side of the Duran.” I think that it’s something that has really stood the test of time and we are sure to be playing more from the album over the coming years.
JB – I know that the band is touring in support of the new album, Paper Gods, which has become a mega hit, charting the top 10 position on the album charts once again after 22 years. What are your plans with Duran Duran going into 2016?
RT – Well, it’s all about taking the album to the world now … so I guess it’s touring and more touring!
Fans can get up date information from our website www.DuranDuran.com.