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Roadbook Print-ready version

by Manu Katche
Cherche Midi
October 17, 2013

Excerpts from the book "Manu Katché: Road book"

pp.97 - 99: Joni Mitchell et les toiles de Miles | JM and Miles's canvases

I met JM at Bath, at Peter [Gabriel]'s house. Her husband at the time, Larry Klein, was producing the lead singer of the Cars [Benjamin Orr]'s solo album [The Lace, 1986]. Joni was about to start a score for an American film and naturally enough asked me if I wanted to do the drumming for it. I leapt at the chance! We started recording the first piece for the filmscore, My Secret Place, on the spot in Bath. She explained in detail the scene that we were going to be illustrating in the song. We spent a couple of days working on it, but then I had to go back to France and she was going back to the States, so we agreed to meet up a few months later in LA to finish the song.

[1987?] A magnificent stretch limo is waiting for me at LAX, and off I go to the [Ocean Way] studio. I've hardly arrived and already I'm sound checking my drums. I have to admit, after a flight of 11 hours or so, my energy is flagging, but Larry Klein's schedule is so tight I do as I'm told. We hang about the studio and listen to a few mockups - in the delay between the Bath recording and now the filmscore has become Joni's new album. We eat out near the studio and Joni tells me I'll be sleeping in the guest apartment of her Malibu house. She gives me the keys and asks me to do a quick tour of the premises once I get there to make sure everything's ok.

After a fairly long drive I manage to find the house, check the premises as asked, and go to take up residence in the guest house. There on the ground floor are huge canvases turned to the wall. Curiosity gets the better of me and I turn a few round to admire them. I knew Joni painted but I'd never seen her work. I'm very impressed and I turn a few more round to admire her work - but some of those canvases have a totally different vibe from the rest, and I realise they're actually by . . . Miles Davis! I'm amazed, and I almost panic at the thought that I've unwittingly been made guardian of these works. On the way to bed I decide I'll have to find somewhere else to sleep because this place is just too much responsibility for me.

Next day I tell Joni that the daily commute is a bit long and it would be easier if I was in a hotel near the studio, and she suggests I just stay with them at Bel-Air. I don't mention my feelings about the canvases.

We carry on working every day and everything goes well. Every evening, after each session, Joni clearly explains the next days' tracks, commenting mostly on the texts. I need her explanations as my very basic English isn't up to the language level of her songs. She asks me to do backing vocals on one song: she likes the sound of my voice and thinks my accent will sound cute! I agree so the mics are set up, and I discover there are to be four singers: Joni, a vocalist, Willie Nelson, and me! The session starts, voice levels are checked, we put on our headphones, and we're ready. While everyone sings over the chorus as the song is played, I step back a bit and sing very softly. After the take, as we listen to the playback, Joni looks at me with a big smile and says she'd love to hear my voice. I realise I won't get away with pretending... We go back for another take. I check my voice level, but this time everybody's listening to me - and singing with Joni and Willie Nelson beside you isn't the easiest thing in the world... Oh, and I forgot to mention that during our background vocals session I see David Crosby coming into the studio booth, popping in to see Joni. Talk about pressure!

pp.103 - 105: Prince me fait signe | Prince's gesture to me

While I'm in LA recording Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm, I learn that Joni Mitchell is a great friend of Prince's. One night she tells me, 'Sheila E is celebrating her birthday in two days' time, and Larry Klein and me are invited to the party. Wanna come?' I leap at the chance.

Two days later we're on our way to downtown LA - no fancy hotel, no red carpet, but garage units done up for the evening. When we get out of the car, Prince opens the door, dressed in a really classy crimson pyjama suit. He doesn't say hi, he just nods without a word, hugs Joni and shakes Larry's hand and mine.

[During the party] Sheila E gets on stage and starts drumming, and is joined by [Mambo king] Tito Puente, the world-class timbales player, with Prince on guitar then on Hammond organ. Joni asks me, 'You want to get on the stage and do some drumming?' No way - I'm too impressed by what I'm hearing. Prince moves to the drum kit - he's as natural on the drums as he is on guitar or keyboards. The guy is just too talented! Cuban music morphs into funk, then into rock, then salsa. There's a Cuban brass section, playing with Prince, Sheila E, Tito Puente. Suddenly we hear a piano solo. The pianist is hidden by the Cubans. They move out of the way - it's Herbie Hancock! I nearly pass out...

. . . Joni suggests we go home, as we're recording the next day. She and Larry take their leave of Prince. I turn to him to say goodbye - he stares at me, raises his two arms and starts air-drumming, then at the end of his virtual drum solo gives me the thumbs-up. That was his message to me - without uttering one word all night.

I still sometimes wonder if I actually lived this or dreamt it.

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