I’ve always loved the piece “Big Log” (a trucker term for a long drive) by Robert Plant from his “The Principle of Moments” album (1983). The second I heard Robby Blunt’s incredible clean guitar hook I was smitten - this was in an era of where most rock guitarists were using massive amounts of overdrive and distortion at every opportunity.
The groove of the piece is based around a loop from the TR-808 drum machine loop. Plant said, “So we had that great tremulous thing going on, and I needed to soften it up a bit. So we turned on a TR-808 drum machine – what would we do without the hand claps on the TR-808? For me, I thought, ‘This is so shite! This sound!” I said - it turned out pretty good after all.
When doing a cover song there are several approaches to it - do something completely different, do something exactly the same or do something “not the same”. I chose “not the same”... but close. I was too much a fan of the production of the song to not try to reproduce a lot of the parts and production bits I loved. Robby Blunt’s Fender Stratocaster interludes were mandatory. The drum loop was easy to recreate using some sounds from Spectrasonic’s Stylus RMS drum machine library. The synthesizer and “string parts” I performed using sounds from Omnisphere II synthesizer. The guitars on the recording are my American Standard Fender Stratocaster (Robby Blunt parts) and a Fender Ultra Telecaster (Robert Plant vocals). I used the Blue Cat Axiom as the guitar and bass amp (thanks Bo Astrup).
The original bass guitar in the song is mixed pretty low, but is just perfect - subtle, but amazing. Paul Martinez’s bass line is slinky, seductive and was a challenge to figure out. It percolates and is an integral part of the charm of the composition. I did some of my own interpretations in places, but for the most part, I tried to convey his vibe.
In conclusion, doing a cover like this is very rewarding. From an ear training side it’s a great exercise - especially when learning multiple instrument parts. The juxtaposition of the super synthetic drum machine groove and “organic” guitar hook is sheer genius - hat’s off to production team on the original version. The guitars were pretty straight forward as well as the keyboard/synthesizer elements. The bass guitar and the vocal melody were the most challenging - accurate sheet music for these parts simply do not exist. It’s all about ear training. The other side is mixing these elements together.