Masterclass: Roger Mayer

27 February, 2017

Grammy-nominated sound engineer, Roger Mayer has spent over 50 years mastering the tones and sounds of some of the world’s biggest artists, including Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, The Who, The Isley Brothers, Bob Marley and Jeff Beck (to name a few). A true innovator, Roger is perhaps best known for inventing the iconic Voodoo-Vibe and Octavia guitar effects pedals – the latter was used by Hendrix on a host of historic recordings, including Purple Haze, Little Wing and Machine Gun.

Keen to learn more about his illustrious career in music, we invited Roger back to BIMM Brighton for a masterclass with our very own Damien Morris (Head of Guitar) and Matt Hodson (Head of Music Production).

Inspiring and insightful, Roger spoke openly about his impressive body of work and shared details of his magnum opus, the Octavia. The legendary engineer even revealed how Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page had deemed it ‘too full on’ – the irony was certainly not lost on our students!

“I created the Octavia pedal in 1967. I showed it to Jimmy Page, but he said it was too ‘full on’ for him. It wasn’t until Jimi Hendrix used it that it really came into its own’,” he revealed.

We later learned more about the custom synthesiser he co-built for Stevie Wonder, which features on many of the pianist’s most acclaimed albums, ‘Music of my Mind’, ‘Talking Book’ and ‘Innervisions’, which was recorded at Hendrix’s NYC studio, Electric Lady Studios.

“Stevie was a fantastic guy. To keep things interesting in the studio he would work on 3-4 songs in the same session and would choose the best tracks to continue with as the process continued,” he told the audience, before sharing stories of his time in Jamaica.

It was here that he began working with reggae’s prodigal son, Bob Marley. Roger played an integral role in launching Bob Marley and The Wailers’ career, bringing them to an international audience and rebuilding the band’s guitars from scratch to ensure they sounded immaculate and in tune. Recalling his work with the late reggae superstar, Roger said:

“I asked Bob what he wanted from me and he said ‘make me sound international’- that album was ‘Exodus’!”

After impressing the crowd with a gamut of rock and roll anecdotes, Roger turned his attention to the mechanics of the studio, being experienced enough to make executive decisions and the differences between recording now and recording in the 60s and 70s.

“Back then you had the pressure of having to play your part correctly for three minutes. Unlike today, when you were recording a performance, you couldn’t go back and fix things later. No amount of re-engineering will add emotion to a song,” he revealed.

Following the session, we caught up with BA2 Songwriting student Harvey Dent to get his feelings on what was a most inspirational masterclass.

“It’s not often that you experience the presence of someone who was ‘in the room’ for so many significant records. Roger Mayer clearly wasn’t just dropping names. Everything he said regarding the vibe and ‘vision’ of his records was potent and profound,” he told BIMM.

As sound engineers go, Roger Mayer is a true living legend, and it was our pleasure to welcome him back to BIMM!

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