Session Log - The Angelheaded Hipster - Part 4: Hal Willner
April marks the first anniversary of Hal Willner’s passing—the producer who brought us AngelHeaded Hipster: The Music of Marc Bolan and T. Rex. Hal tragically died of Covid 19 complications just one day after his 64th birthday, and this series on the making of Hipster is a testimony to the work Hal and I did on it. I had the chance to work with Hal on many sessions, albums, concerts and tours during the last ten years of his life, and I was fortunate to call him my friend. We were kindred spirits who saw eye to eye on how music should be recorded, mixed, enjoyed, and revered. A bottomless fountain of knowledge, Hal was an eclectic listener and lover of music. Tom Waits described him as a “crafty treasure seeker and archeologist of forgotten islands in popular culture.”
Despite being two peas in a pod when it came to organically conjuring beautiful music, we were opposites when it came to how we planned for things. I tend to be organized and plan for everything; Hal loved spontaneity and thrived in a bit of chaos. In sessions, he’d add musicians and instruments, introduce new ideas at the last minute, and he’d often invite multiple artists to a session to see who would show up and what could happen. Sometimes they’d collaborate; other times, they would watch each other in awe and offer support from the control room. Once, he put together a U2 session in New Orleans on a 72-hour notice. Trombone Shorty was invited to participate, giving us the only U2 song ever to have a trombone solo! Another time he called me from Los Angeles (I was in New York) less than 48 hours before booking a session with Nick Cave, and also inviting Maria McKee to the studio. We ended up recording two sessions with the same rhythm section in the same studio on the same day. On another session in New York, he called Joan Jett, Lucinda Williams and Beth Orton, and we ended up tracking three songs with them on the same day with the same backing band.