Cape's Bruce Zimmerman goes into studio to record first album

Friday, June 18, 2004

Musicians Bruce Zimmerman, Gary Nunnally and Brad Graham are gathered together in a section of Ken Keller's IBS recording studio in Cape Girardeau, concentrating on the track of "Tobacco Road" that was recorded minutes earlier.

While drummer Nunnally allows his body to rock back and forth and a smile to occasionally escape from his lips, the expressions on the faces of bassist Graham and vocalist and guitarist Zimmerman do not reveal much.

"What do you think?" Keller asks after the last notes of the song fade away.

"Keep it," Zimmerman says quietly.

The others nod their agreement and after getting in that smoke or drink of water, they move back into the inner sanctums of the studio to give Gershwin's "Summertime" a try.

While the three musicians are usually found performing on stage as the Bruce Zimmerman Band, for the last four months they have been in and out of Keller's studio recording tracks for Zimmerman's first album.

Zimmerman said people have been after him to record his own album for some time, but he did not feel ready until now.

"I never really changed my attitude about playing." Zimmerman said. "It's been the same since I was 9 years old. I guess that's why I've never put out a record until now. It wasn't a priority. My priority was to play live. For the first time it's become something that's important to me."

In addition to the rhythm section of Zimmerman, Nunnally and Graham, there have been visits from guest musicians like Cape Girardeau native Kent Goodson, keyboardist for country legend George Jones.

"The cool thing about Bruce is that you never know who he's going to bring over to record," said Keller, who is acting as an engineer rather than a producer on this paticular album.

Goodson recorded four tracks while he was at IBS, even though initially he was only going to record one track. Keller said Goodson's keyboard playing turned the tracks into totally different songs. "Any time you record a world-class musician, it sounds a little different. There's a sparkle added," he said.

So far, about 10 tracks have been recorded for Zimmerman's album and Keller said the process has going smoothly, which does not surprise him. "Everybody likes Bruce," he said.

Zimmerman has praise to offer Keller as well.

"Kenny's been great. He's come up with some really good ideas," Zimmerman said.

Keller has been running IBS out of his house since he moved to Cape Girardeau from Colorado about three years ago. Since then he has worked with at least 150 musicians, by his estimates, including previous sessions with Zimmerman when the musician played on tracks for local musician Les Lindy.

For Zimmerman's first album, Keller said he wants to capture the sound of Zimmerman's live performances that have made him a musical fixture in Cape Girardeau.

Zimmerman performs with The Water Street Blues Band every Thursday and Sunday at Port Cape and has regular shows at Broussard's. Both are venues he has been playing for over a decade.

Although he considers himself first and foremost a live musician, Zimmerman said he has been enjoying the recording process, so much so that he hopes to record enough tracks to release two albums.

The music Zimmerman has been recording does not abandon the blues sound he is known for, but includes country and Cajun influences. Keller said the songs, half covers and half original material, are a mix of blues, funk and rhythm and blues.

Zimmerman's cover of Gershwin's "Summertime," for example, has a mix of blues, jazz and even funk.

With Graham's hypnotic-sounding bass notes and Zimmerman's low-key wail, the song starts off sounding dreamy and is then punctuated by the sharp drumming of Nunnally.

Keller called Nunnally and Graham seasoned musicians who, like Zimmerman, have been easy to work with and who both bring their own strengths to the songs.

"Brad's a monster from the old school, he's just so damn solid," Keller said of Graham. As for Nunnally, Keller said, "he plays more of a funk beat, which gives everything a different flare."

While Graham and Nunnally have put in their share of hard work in the studio, Graham said the album is Zimmerman's project and he gets the final say.

Keller also allows Zimmerman to have the final say in the recording process. "Being the engineer, I try to envision what his vision is," Keller said. "That's the way I like it, the artist should have final say."

Almost all the tracks that have been recorded have started with the rhythm section of Zimmerman, Nunnally and Graham. Other instruments are then added and Keller tools around with the mix.

"After the rhythm track, it's all just layers. It's really trial by error," Keller said.

How well that trial and error will work out can be decided by the public when the album is completed, probably this fall, according to Zimmerman.

It will then be available at Zimmerman's shows and through a Web site that is currently under construction.

335-6611, extension 182

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