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Billy Price has lots of help to keep him staying 'Strong'

| Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 7:50 p.m.
David Aschkenas
Billy Price

The production of Billy Price's new album, “Strong,” took place in the halls of academia and suburban Pittsburgh, with an assist from the great state of Rhode Island.

“It was ridiculously complicated,” Price says with a laugh.

The end result is another superb effort, the constant being Price himself, his soul ministrations still peerless at the age of 63.

The release party for “Strong” is 9 p.m. June 21 at Club Cafe, South Side.

“Strong,” Price's first album in four years, grooves and purrs like a new sports car. How it got to that point is a primer for how modern recording technology can effectively be used to create music that sounds organic and of one piece, but is the result of many hands in different locales:

• A studio at Carnegie Mellon University's school of music. Eric DeFade, the sax player in Price's band, directs the jazz program at CMU, and enlisted a fellow professor in charge of the studio, Riccardo Schultz, for help. Schultz, in turn, gave students in the program the opportunity to work on the record.

“That's why there are so many (20) engineers, Price says with a laugh. “Anybody who touched the controls got a credit.”

• Electric Tommyland Studio in Fox Chapel. The studio is run by Tom Walsh, a kidney surgeon, with an assist from Jack Gauthier, a Rhode Island resident who is Duke Robillard's manager and has mastered the guitarist's albums for the Blue Note label. Walsh and Gauthier recorded the horn section and engineered and mixed the recording at Electric Tommyland.

“At this point, I don't know whether I'll ever do anything without those guys because they are so great,” Price says. “I think the sound on this is tremendous.”

• The Belle Vernon home of Price's keyboard player, Jimmy Britton. It was here that the keyboard and guitar tracks (by Steve DeLach) were finished.

With so many moveable parts, how did the album end up sounding like it was recorded in one room?

“It's like a big software project,” says Price, who began working on “Strong” late last year. “If you have the basic bass and drums, you can build everything on top of that.”

The best production teams in the world fail if an album's song are substandard. As is his habit, Price starts off with a killer track, Roosevelt Sykes' “Drivin' Wheel” — the Al Green version, according to the singer.

“I like the first song to set the stage for everything else that follows,” Price says.

“Strong” also includes the Clay Hammond tune “Part Time Love,” which was covered by B.B. King, Isaac Hayes, Otis Rush and Johnnie Taylor, and two songs Price wrote with Fred Chappellier, the French guitarist who collaborated with Price on the album “Nightwork.”

But the bulk of the material was written by Britton and Price.

“Jimmy's incredibly prolific,” Price says. “He sent me 50 tracks, and I could write songs just from those tracks ... for the rest of my life.”

Tying everything together is Price, whose vocals on “Strong” evoke memories of the late 1970s and early '80s, when he was backed by the Keystone Rhythm Band. Those vocals proved to be far simpler to pull together than the rest of the album.

“I really did everything basically in one take on one night,” says Price, noting he was having voice problems at the time. “One night, I had a pretty good voice at Tom's (Walsh) place, and I said, let's just do it. I did very little overdubbing. So, basically, what you have is one night's performance.”

Rege Behe is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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