The Solo / Quartet Experiment

 Jim Pickett

 This title seems strange because, either it's a solo, duet, trio, or quartet, isn't it?  Well actually, the answer is 'not always.'  I recently ran across a tape from many years ago where I had recorded my singing (solo) where I sang all four parts (quartet).  The tape was not an original copy, I have no idea where that one ended up, but it's a cassette tape copy (1 78"/sec) made from a reel to reel tape (7 1/2"/ sec).    The quality is not particularly good but it did bring back some old memories and reminded me of some of my earlier day activities.  The reel to reel tape, recorded at the faster speed, should have had a lot better fidelity, if I still had it.  I call it a "Solo / Quartet Experiment" since it is obviously one person singing a quartet.  I remember having some fun back then by playing it for several friends and asking them if they could tell which part I was singing.  Only Bro. Bill Henry, the pastor who had married Gloria and me, said, "They're all you."  I don't know if he actually picked up on that or that he just knew me well enough to know I'd try to do something goofy like this.  Nevertheless, he was the only one who recognized my singing all four parts.


Back in the summer of 1965, when I seemed to have lots of spare time, I decided to try an experiment with some microphones, a couple of tape recorders, and an old audio mixer.  I had sung in an informal gospel quartet and loved gospel music, especially Southern Gospel quartet music.  I was not the first to try this, i.e., singing several parts and blending the results together.   Patti Page, from Claremore, Oklahoma, had done several songs where she sang along with herself --- what would probably be referred to today as "laying down tracks."  Even before Patti Page, Les Paul and Mary Ford had done multiple songs where Mary harmonized with herself and Les played several layers of music on his guitar.   I just thought it would be interesting to try this ..... it was never intended to be good, only to be different. 

The equipment I used was primitive at best:  a mono tape recorded borrowed from the school where I taught, a Heath stereo tape recorder that I had built the year before from a kit, an Electrovoice 664 dynamic microphone, also borrowed from my school, and assorted other bits and pieces.  I used a passive audio mixer that someone had thrown away while I happened to be nearby.  The 1/4" recording tape used was purchased from Radio Shack and was probably the cheapest brand that they sold. 

The songs in the menu below represent my attempts at "Solo/Quartet" singing.  Please note in the paragraphs above that I said, "it was never intended to be good, only to be different,"  and different it certainly is.


Song Title Run time
  To Jesus Every Day


  Victory In Jesus


   Beneath the Cross of Jesus 1:32
   Church In the Wildwood 2:01
   Face to Face 2:01
   I'm Redeemed 1:57
   On the Jerico Road 1:15
   Shall I Crucify My Savior? 1:57
   So Send I You 2:29
   Face to Face - (2nd Run) 2:56
   The Haven of Rest 3:18
   There's Room At the Cross 2:03
   Try Jesus, Man of Galilee 3:30


The system I used was to first record the melody line by singing lead and recording this on recorder 1.  When that was completed, I took that tape, placed it on the recorder 2 and mixed the output of that recorder with the microphone into the primary recorder 1.  I added the high tenor as the second "track" and once that was complete, this tape with two parts was placed on the recorder 2 where the duet track was mixed with the microphone as I sang the bass line.  Finally, the tape with the three parts was placed back on recorder 2 and mixed with the microphone as I sang the baritone line.  Each time another track was laid down, the attendant hum and noises were added to the final tape.  I should also mention that, at that time, I considered myself to be a 1st or high tenor so the departure to other ranges, particularly the bass range, was quite a stretch.  Again remember I said,  "it was never intended to be good, only to be different,"

A good recording session engineer would have spent lots more time on each song.  Any time there was any sort of error, a good audio engineer would have stopped and started the song again, and done this for as many times it took to get it right and perfect.  I didn't do that and there were almost no "do-overs."  I did do the song Face to Face a second time, just to use what I had learned from the previous activities.  You might not be able to tell much difference, however.  Actually, the first song I tried was "To Jesus Every Day" and I only recorded the first verse in the four parts, just to see how it worked and sounded.  I liked the results well enough to go back and add the other verses to that song plus to add quite a few more songs to the list.  When I added to that first verse, I had things set up differently and you can hear the differences in the recording sessions between the first verse and the others.

When you sing in an actual quartet, you can see and hear the others in the group and that helps you to start and stop exactly together.  This isn't possible when you're singing with yourself and the way I got around this was to listen to the "others in the group" with headphones that I wore.  That way I could often hear lip openings and know when to sync with the others in the group.

I spent probably a week on this project so it's probably easy to tell that it was not an involved project.  When I play the songs now, I hear several places where I was 'sharp' (not meaning good sharp) but they stand on their own.   It's been 40 plus years since I did these so I don't plan to go back and make any corrections.

After I had completed my gospel quartet sessions, I decided to try some Barbershop Quartet tunes.  There aren't many for I was beginning to tire of the recording experiment and wanted to move on to other of my goofy projects.  Still, here are four attempts at singing Barbershop Quartet music without a striped vest and handlebar moustache.


Song Title Run time
   I Had a Dream Dear


    Down By the River Side


    I Want a Girl, Just Like the Girl That Married Dear Old Dad 1:08
    I've Been Workin' On the Railroad 0:59


I hope you can get some degree of enjoyment in listening to these songs.

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