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Tears Are Not Enough Print-ready version

Northern Lights for Africa

by Jim Vallance
October 2004
Original article: PDF

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I first encountered David Foster in Edmonton in 1970. I was 18 years old, playing drums in a three-piece lounge band at Mah's Chinese Restaurant, hardly a prestigious gig. David was playing at the elegant Embers Club with the Tommy Banks Orchestra ... the hottest band in the country!

Our gig at Mah's ended each night at 11:30. We'd drop our instruments and run down the street so we could catch the last set at The Embers. Tommy Banks and his band were amazing. They performed flawless, energetic covers of "Chicago" and "Blood Sweat And Tears". Foster was a skinny 21-year-old kid who played piano, organ and trombone ... all extremely well. He was the stand-out musician in a stand-out band. I was an instant fan.

A year later I was back in Vancouver, just starting to break into the studio scene as a session drummer. By this time David had also moved to Vancouver, and I did a few recordings sessions with him before he permanently relocated to Los Angeles. After that he was unstoppable, working with "Earth Wind And Fire", "Chicago", Barbara Streisand, Boz Scaggs, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, and countless others.

Fifteen years later, in 1985, David returned to Vancouver for a short time. He and his wife Rebecca bought a house in the neighbourhood where Bryan Adams and I lived, but we didn't see much of them.

One day I ran into David in the lobby of Little Mountain Sound Studios, where he was producing an album for The Payolas. He approached me in a panic.

"You have a home studio, right?". I replied that I did. Visibly excited, David told me he'd just got off the phone with Quincy Jones. Quincy had just finished recording a Michael Jackson/Lionel Ritchie song for African famine relief called "We Are The World". He played the song for David over the phone, then the asked David if he could write a Canadian song for Africa.

"We Are The World" was written in response to Bob Geldoff's song, "Do They Know It's Christmas", recorded and released the year before (1984). Geldoff's song raised millions of dollars, and had already made a significant difference to those suffering from drought and famine in Africa. Quincy hoped that the U.S. and Canadian songs might make a difference too.

David had a melody, borrowed from a song he'd been working on, and he had a title, "Tears Are Not Enough". Twenty years later I finally heard the story behind the "title":

Paul Hyde and Bob Rock were in the studio with Foster the day that Quincy Jones called. Several weeks earlier they'd written a song called "Tears Are Not Enough", and after the call from Quincy they played their song for David, thinking it might be suitable for the Famine Relief recording.

"So, what do you think?", they asked.

"Nice title", David replied.

The Rock/Hyde song wasn't used, but the title was.

The next morning (Friday, February 1, 1985) David arrived at my house. He played me his melody on the piano, a pretty ballad with an clever, circular, modulating chord progression. He also told me about Paul and Bob's title, "Tears Are Not Enough", which I thought was excellent.

We started recording the music track right away. The lyrics could wait until later.

Using his Emulator synthesizer David laid down a piano, followed by a Moog bass, then a bell sound. I added drums and percussion. An hour or two later we had a "basic track". It was intended to be a quick "demo" recording, but it worked so well that we ended up using it for the final "master" recording.

Then we started working on the lyrics:

We can close the distance
Only we can make the difference
Don't you know that tears are not enough?

It was a good start, but David had to rush away for a session with The Payolas, promising to return the following day. I continued working on the lyrics, while my wife Rachel starting writing the French lyric (c'est l'amour qui nous rassemble, d'ici a l'autre bout du monde) -- after all, it was a Canadian song for Africa!

The next day Bryan Adams hurried over to help. He looked at the lyrics I'd written and immediately suggested an improvement: "How about 'we can BRIDGE the distance'?", he asked. It was perfect, and with that we were off and running.

Bryan and I finished the lyric later that evening. Then Bryan and Rachel recorded the vocals which would serve as a "guide track" for the singers who would eventually be involved. The demo was completed at 4:00 a.m. the next morning. David Foster was delighted with the results.

David enlisted Bryan's manager, Bruce Allen, to help assemble a roster of performers. Bruce is well-respected and well-connected in the music industry, and in quick succession Joni Mitchell and Neil Young agreed to participate, followed by Kim Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot. Burton Cummings came on board, and so did Geddy Lee and Corey Hart.

Comedians John Candy and Catherine O'Hara offered their services, along with legendary jazz pianist Oscar Peterson and David Letterman's Canadian sidekick Paul Shaffer. Dan Hill, Jane Sibbery, Sylvia Tyson, Robert Charlebois ... the list of participants grew by the hour.

Only someone with Bruce Allen's stature and clout could have pulled all these people together on such short notice. It was remarkable to witness.

I suggested we record the vocals at Manta Studios in Toronto, where I'd done Bryan Adams' first album (and also Barney Bentall, Lisa Dal Bello and Cano). The room was big enough to accommodate a large group, and I also knew that audio engineer Hayward Parrott could handle the complex task of recording 18 soloists ... plus a chorus of forty-four! Michael Godin (A&M Records) contacted Manta owner Andy Hermant, who generously donated the studio.

On Saturday (February 9, 1985) we flew to Toronto to prepare for the mammoth recording session planned for the following day.

During the four-hour flight from Vancouver to Toronto I reviewed the lyric sheet with David Foster, Bryan Adams and Mike Reno. We talked about who should sing which line.

We decided we'd start with Canadian legend Gordon Lightfoot ("As everyday goes by ..."), then move to Burton Cummings ("How can we close our eyes ..."), then to Anne Murray, Joni Mitchell, and so on (for the complete list, click here).

The session took place on Sunday, February 10. It was a cold, windy day, and the ground was covered in snow. Regardless, hundreds of fans gathered outside Manta Studios to watch the "stars" arrive.

Gordon Lightfoot drove himself to the studio in an old pick-up truck. Neil Young and Joni Mitchell arrived by taxi with Neil's manager, Elliot Roberts. Platinum Blonde arrived in a white stretch limousine.

Just as Quincy Jones had done in Los Angeles, David posted a sign at the entry to the studio that said, "Leave your egos at the door". Everyone gave 200%, and at the end of the day we had the makings of a magical record.

The funniest moment of the day happened during Neil Young's performance. He'd sung his line once or twice already, but Foster still wasn't happy and asked Neil to try it one more time. When Neil asked why, David told him he was out of tune.

"But that's my sound, man", Neil shot back, good naturedly.

For me, one of the highlights was sitting on the studio floor, a few feet from Joni Mitchell, while she carved graceful lines in the air with her hands as she sang.

Joni later spoke to writer Iain Blair about the recording experience: "I know it sounds ridiculous, but I was literally starving when we did the session 'cause my yoga teacher had sent me to a psychic dietician who had diagnosed a lot of food allergies. I was hardly allowed to eat anything, so by the time I arrived with an apple and a rice patty, my poor stomach was making all these strange noises. The engineer says he can't record 'cause he's picking up some weird rumbling sound coming from my direction. And it was all pretty ironic, considering the subject matter!"

For me, another special moment was meeting Richard Manuel, singer and pianist for "The Band". In fact, Joni and "The Band" are two of my biggest musical influences, and I was in "fan heaven" hearing them sing lyrics I'd written a few days before!

After completing the vocal session in Toronto, David and I flew back to Vancouver and booked time at Pinewood Studios and Little Mountain Sound where more musicians were added to the track, including Loverboy's Doug Johnson and Paul Dean, who contributed keyboards and guitar.

Steven Denroche, a member of the Vancouver Symphony, played French Horn. Like the session in Toronto, there was a film crew present, collecting footage for a planned documentary and music video.

It took less than 15 minutes for Steven to record his French Horn part. When he was done, David thought it would sound good if the part was doubled.

David asked Steven to play a single note on his horn, and hold it for about 10 seconds. David recorded the note into his "Emulator" (photo above), after which he was able to play a perfect French Horn sound on the keyboard.

Using the Emulator, David quickly doubled the "real" French Horn with the "sampled" sound. He thanked Steven for donating his time, and sent him on his way.

A few weeks later I visited the film suite in Toronto to view a rough cut of the documentary, and I found David overseeing the editing.

When it got to the French Horn part I noticed they'd deleted most of the footage of Steven playing, but had kept the part where David records Steven's long note and doubles the real horn.

In the finished film it appears as if Steven contributed nothing more than a single note, with David doing all the rest. I told David I thought it was cruel to fabricate a scene at Steven's expense, particularly after Steven had donated his time to the project. David thought the humour of the "one note" French Horn performance outweighed any concerns over humiliating the musician, and he left it in.

As newspaper magnate William Randolph Heart once said, "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story".

One important Canadian artist was unable to attend the Toronto recording session.

Bruce Cockburn was touring in Europe. Bernie Finkelstein (Bruce's manager) wondered if there might be a way that Bruce could record his vocal at a studio in Germany and have it edited into the mix at a later date.

It was a nice idea, but to meet our deadline Bruce's contribution would have to be filmed and recorded sometime in the next 48 hours. Without really "thinking it through", I volunteered to fly to Germany!

The good news is, Air Canada provided a free ticket. The bad news is, there were no direct fights -- so I had to fly from Vancouver to Toronto, Toronto to London, London to Frankfurt, and Frankfurt to Hamburg ... a 44-hour round-trip.

I arrived in Hamburg just in time to catch Bruce's performance at a club on Tuesday evening. Bruce is a gifted musician, and his performance was rivetting. I met him backstage, for the first time, after the show.

I'd brought a cassette recording of the song, which Bruce hadn't heard yet. But before I could even play the tape for him, Bruce dropped a bomb. He said he still hadn't decided if he wanted to participate on the project!

Bernie Finkelstein, is one of the nicest people in the Canadian music industry, but either he didn't know, or he neglected to tell me that Bruce hadn't made up his mind yet -- and I'd just spent 22 hours on a #%$&@ airplane!

In my sleep-deprived, jet-lagged stupor, my first reaction was to reached across the table and grab Bruce by the throat with both hands. I'm joking, of course, but I did use every ounce of diplomacy I could muster. I told Bruce how magical the session in Toronto had been ... how it was truly a special project, and that everyone was looking forward to his involvement, which was true!

Bruce eventually came around, and he agreed to meet me at a Hamburg recording studio the following morning. It took less than an hour to complete Bruce's audio and video recording. He did a splendid job ... thoroughly professional. Then it was back to the airport for the 22-hour return flight to Vancouver (via Frankfurt, London and Toronto).

I met the film editor at the airport in Toronto and hand-delivered the canister containing the Cockburn film footage. Then I got back on the plane and flew to Vancouver.

The next morning I flew to Los Angeles to deliver Bruce's audio track. Foster and his assistant Chris Earthy met me at the airport. We rushed over to Kenny Roger's "Lion Share" studio on Melrose where, literally at the last minute, Cockburn's vocal was edited into the audio mix that engineer Humberto Gatica had nearly completed (all of this travel could have been avoided if digital audio and email had existed in 1985!).

"Tears Are Not Enough" reached #1 on the Canadian charts and raised more than $3-million for African famine relief.

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