A week ago, Black Messiah producer and engineer Ben Kane treated us to one of seemingly countless tales that chronicled the creation of D’Angelo‘s long-awaited third studio album, reciting the origins of the album’s country-funk anthem “The Door.” Today the chronicles continue with yet another account from behind-the-boards, delving into the time and space traversed in creating the buoyant “Sugah Daddy” jam, which is available for you to read down below.
If you’re taken by the story and want to invest in music’s future, we encourage you to donate what you can to Kane’s Kickstarter campaign for the completion of his state-of-the-art Brooklyn studio, Electric Garden. The incentives are copious, including studio time, seminars, extremely rare test-pressings and even tickets to intimate performances from the likes of Chris Dave, The Vanguard, Emily King, Chris Turner and more, all hosted at the new hub. Scroll on to read the secret history of D’Angelo’s “Sugah Daddy” below and tune in next week for a new installment.
In early 2008, we closed the doors to Hydra Studios SF and set up shop in a historic studio called The Plant in Sausalito, known for classic Sly and The Family Stone, Grateful Dead, Stevie Wonder, and for Prince’s first album. A three month run at The Plant yielded an early basis for “Aint That Easy,” created primarily on D’s MPC and keyboards, which we had set up in a room that was initially built for Sly Stone called “The Pit.” Sly recorded portions of “There’s a Riot Going On” in this room, which originally had a recording console set into a ten-foot concrete pit that could be surrounded on all sides by musicians. By the time we worked there the pit itself was gone, but Sly’s vibe lingered in the air and some of it must have seeped into the framework for “Ain’t,” as well as some other gems that we churned out there. Though The Plant quickly became a place we never wanted to leave, we were soon informed that their long-brewing financial troubles had come to a head, and we would be forced to move to another studio.
That summer, I got a call to head out to LA for what we thought would be two weeks of collaboration with Raphael Saadiq at his Blakeslee Studios in Burbank. The collaboration didn’t happen as I suspect the label had hoped (save for a few fun jam sessions), but by the time we had rented at least three tape machines and settled into not one but two separate recording rooms, our two-week stint at Blakeslee quickly transformed into well over half a year. It’s been well documented how time takes on a unique character in the world of D’angelo, and our insistence on sticking with analog recording due to its sonic benefits can indeed add to the time a session will take (you have to rewind for starters). With that said, our setup with two rooms across the hall from each other allowed us to work at a faster pace where progress could be made on two fronts, and any tape transfers or preparation I had to do would not impact the timing.
Working with D’angelo can be disorienting at times—while working every night of the week, and often jumping rapidly from song to song, at the end of a six-month run it could be hard to recount exactly what had been accomplished. It felt like pushing an array of boulders up a mountain, and you have no idea where the top of the mountain is: long periods of steady incremental changes, punctuated by bursts of rapid progress, usually as a new song entered the picture.
One such burst from the Blakeslee Studios run involved Pino Palladino, D’s long-time bass player, and James Gadson, the legendary drummer of Bill Withers and Charles Wright fame. The three of them quickly got to jamming in the tiny “live room.” An undeniable piano and bass groove quickly emerged. Gadson, who had been using standard drum sticks, set them down and patted out a rhythm on his lap as he worked out the groove. I caught D’s eyes, and with a nod and a grimace I knew it was time to move my mic to capture the funky lap drumming…it was there to stay. In maybe two takes, and less than an hour later, the three musicians had created a 10-minute jam that would form the basis of “Sugah Daddy,” which at the time we referred to simply as “Gadson funky.”