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Zeppelin's live sets: a whole lotta mixing


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Author(s):Christopher Walsh.

For fans of Led Zeppelin and the Black Crowes, the 1999 pairing of the former's guitarist/producer Jimmy Page with the Crowes was a dream come true. The three-guitar lineup presented a more accurate interpretation of Zeppelin's heavily overdubbed studio tracks in a live context than ever before, while Crowes vocalist Chris Robinson and drummer Steve Gorman re-created their Zeppelin counterparts' contributions with astonishing accuracy.

For engineer/producer Kevin Shirley, a dream was also unfolding in the fall of 1999. Shirley--who had recorded and produced the Black Crowes' 1999 release "By Your Side" at Avatar Studios in New York--was tapped to record the Crowes/Page performances in Los Angeles, which spawned the "Live at the Greek" set.

That series of events led to SARM West Studios in London, where in the summer of 2002 Shirley remixed the live recordings that appear on Led Zeppelin's recently released two-disc "DVD" and three-CD set titled "How the West Was Won."

"I think that all the beautiful work that

did in overdubbing on those records in a sense disguised what he really is capable of doing," Shirley says. "When I finally got to listen to all these parts, this is a guy who plays like nobody else I've ever seen, and I've seen a few guitar players. He just plays parts that are designed for two and three guitars."

Original multitrack recordings were transferred to a purpose-built Pro Tools HD system, Shirley explains.

"It was as state-of-the-art as you could get. We did everything at 96k. You can imagine the huge amount of computer drives--we had 16 three-hour shows transferred."

Mixing on a Solid State Logic 9000 J Series console--"my favorite," he notes--Shirley created 5.1-channel mixes for the DVD. Sources ranged from London's Royal Albert Hall in 1970 to the Knebworth Festival, 28 miles north of London, in 1979.

One challenge, Shirley notes, was to faithfully convey the group in each setting.

"One thing I like to do in my role as engineer--and when I'm a producer--is not to encroach on the sound of the band at all. In terms of mixing, I like to use outboard equipment, but I try not to make it sound like you can really hear it. I like it to sound as natural as possible, which is not very easy to do.

"Knebworth was actually quite difficult to mix: That was a 24-track recording, but it was pretty much a flat, live recording, like most of them are done these days, where you just have microphones sent to tape. That one really took a lot of work.

"I very much wanted to adhere to the same stage setup that they always played with," Shirley continues. "They always played with Jimmy on Bonzo's [drummer John Bonham] left, and [bassist] John [Paul Jones] was always on Bonzo's right. I tried to keep that aspect. In the 5.1 stuff, there's a lot more panning, especially on 'Dazed and Confused,' to create the sense of surrealism that's in [Page's] playing."

Shirley mixed back into Pro Tools using 96k converters. Interestingly, while he intended to use an Ampex ATR half-inch tape machine for the stereo mixes, he ultimately opted for the Pro Tools HD mixes.

"I did format an old ATR, and we started mixing the stereo mixes, and it sounded great," he recalls. "And I went between them, and I've got to tell you, the digital sounded fantastic. The HD sounded so amazing, in fact, we printed all the stereo mixes on tape but didn't even bother taking them. We had so much editing and compiling to do anyway; without Pro Tools, that would have been a real logistics nightmare."

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