How things change, and yet the past lives on – sometimes in the most surprising ways. When fourteen-year-old Al Vertucci began singing with a group of friends in Brooklyn, he had no idea that one day he would be painstakingly reassembling the sounds of their voices – using tools that would have seemed like science fiction back in 1963, when the original recordings were made.
The Sessions were a doo wop group who sang a cappella (without instrumental accompaniment). They practiced regularly at the corner of 23rd Street and Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, where a huge archway amplified their sound. They sang almost every night, even in the winter when the music making kept them warm. In time they began to attract crowds and, to their delight, a small crowd of girls became regular fans.
[Photo of archway or photo of band here]
In 1963 the group scraped together enough money for some recording time at Ultrasonic Studios on Long Island. They laid down four tracks: Over The Rainbow, When I Fall in Love, Look To The Rainbow (from the play Finnian’s Rainbow), and one original tune called For Her. Each member of The Sessions received acetate masters of the songs.
Time passed, the young group went their separate ways, and that was the end of the story. Almost.
[photo of disk here]
The Education of Al Vertucci
Al Vertucci, who sang second tenor with The Sessions, got his start in music early. His father had a guitar and an old Webcor tape recorder and young Al would watch him play. “I used to sing harmony with him on some country songs. That’s what started me off,” he recalled. “Then I met these guys up the block who were singers. We started practicing together in that archway. That’s how The Sessions began.”
The Sessions included lead singer George Mesecke, baritone Harvey Bird, Joey Parisi, who sang bass, first tenor Walter Agaczinski, and Vertucci. After their brief career, George, Joey and Al went on to play in another band. “Joey was a drummer already, but George and myself started learning to play guitar as well as sing. We were inspired by The Beatles and their ability to combine instruments and great harmonies, so our music just gravitated in that direction.”
Vertucci later joined a band called The Tea Company which signed with Mercury Records and received radio airplay in the late 1960s. Ultimately he moved into radio as a broadcaster. “I didn’t know what it was like on the other side of the microphone, but I loved it and I ended up in radio for the next 35 years. So I’ve been on both sides, the entertainment side and the broadcasting side.”
More recently, [from year? to year?] Vertucci had a gig working on the morning show on WCBS FM in New York with the legendary Harry Harrison. Each day, after the show had ended, he went to the station’s production studio where he captured old vinyl records into Adobe Audition. In Audition, he created clean new masters for playing on air.
“We were an oldies station and not much of that music was on CDs,” Vertucci recalls, “so I took all those crackly old 45s and LP albums and got in there to de-hiss them and get rid of all the click and pops. I got really good at it.”
Al’s first experience with audio software had been with Sonic Solutions, one of the first audio applications on the Mac in the 1980s. Then he found Cool Edit Pro, the forerunner of today’s Adobe Audition. He was so impressed that he bought a copy for himself as well as for his radio station. “With Cool Edit, I was able to really, really zoom in on the WAV file and actually view a click in milliseconds – and delete it, just like that,” he reflects. “My musical skills helped me out. For example, I discovered that it worked best to take a piece out right on a beat because; it was less noticeable.”
Time Capsule from the Past
In recent years Vertucci reconnected with his old bandmates from The Sessions and made a remarkable discovery: George Mesecke, his old lead singer, still had his old acetaterecords. “I asked him to send them to me. I told him I could get all the clicks and pops cleaned up and burn new CDs for everyone.”
The venerable old disks arrived at his studio last [month?], 47 years after the original recording. Acetates were like disposable records: a tin disk with a thin lacquer coating into which the grooves were cut. They were used as reference records, or for short-run broadcast content, such as commercials. “The problem with acetates is that they deteriorate very quickly, you can get maybe 10 plays out of them before you start to notice the sound going bad. Obviously, George had played it a lot more than that” says Vertucci.
As soon as Vertucci received the acetates, he copied the audio into Audition and got down to work. In successive passes, he carefully removed the rumble, clicks, pops, and hiss. “It was a real blast from the past to hear our young voices, coming cleaner and cleaner as I worked on the files. It was a revelation: I never thought I would ever hear that music again.”
“Then I got an idea,” he smiles. “Remember these were a capella songs, with no accompaniment? Well I got to wondering what they would have sounded like if they were produced with a band.”
Remastering The Sessions
“I kind of crossed the line: I couldn’t help myself,” he laughs. “I’m a musician, too. I had the tracks in Audition already, so all I had to do, I thought, was start adding the instruments.”
But it wasn’t going to be as quite easy as that. Since the group didn’t use instruments, they weren’t always completely on key. “Before we started a song, the baritone guy would sing the bass note and – ‘da-da-da’ – we just hit the root third and fifth: That’s how we got our starting notes. Most of the recordings were pretty close to key and we sounded pretty good. However, we did veer subtly off key. As soon as you try to add instruments in a recording, it becomes really noticeable.”
To start the process, Vertucci recorded a sustained keyboard track and used that as reference to gauge shifts in key. “I had to basically get into each eight bars, sometimes even smaller sections, and correct them in Audition against the keyboard track.” It was painstaking work and it took a few weeks to get the pitch right in each of the four songs.
It was the same problem with the tempo. Playing without percussion, or even a click track (if that even existed in 1963!), the speed also fluctuated. “I tried playing the drums against one track and I’m thinking, ‘wow, this thing is speeding up, it’s slowing down, it’s speeding up.’ After everything was pitch corrected, I had to tempo correct each song. I split the clips into multitrack and sped this part up slightly, slow another one down, and so on, without affecting the pitch. There’s no way I could have done this without Audition. The tools in this program are just fantastic.”
Once the vocals had been massaged into shape, Vertucci could finally start adding the intruments. So he went into the studio with Adobe Audition and where he added bass, guitar, piano, synthesizer, and drum tracks.
“It took a while, but I was amazed at the way these things came out after 50 years of being all but forgotten. It’s amazing what you can do with this software. I’m recording another song I wrote about 40 years ago right now. I’ve been using Audition since it was Cool Edit and I have been a beta tester for most of that time, but I am still discovering new things it can do.”
[Embed video of The Sesssion restored song here]
Al Vertucci was a member of The Sessions in 1963. He has been a Creative Cloud user since 2012. He uses Adobe Audition every day and also loves working with Photoshop, Illustrator, Premier and After Effects. “Creative Cloud make everything so easy. If you need something, you log on, download it and it’s there, ready to go. No serial numbers, no hassles. Couldn’t be easier!”