Raccoon Stories

By Peter M. Zoernig

 

Chapter Four

 

The Recording Of Rainbow Warrior

 

 

I wish that I could say that my friend Raccoon was always a joy to be around, and always a positive influence in my life. Those who knew him well will know what I am talking about when I say that there were times when he could be impossible to deal with. The recording of Rainbow Warrior was a true test of my patience, and I really only finished the project out of love for the music, for Raccoon, and because I said I would. Itís impossible to tell the story truthfully without referring to some of Raccoonís less admirable qualities so those who donít care to hear about them are advised to skip over this part.

 

It all began, of course, with the White Horse Ranch recordings, which were a good start, but I knew they could be improved upon. For one thing, having extra players just for the hell of it was not the best way to present the music. To me the music sounded the best just as Raccoon played it by himself so I fired myself as second guitar player. I also elected to dispense with superfluous overdubs and playing loud through amplifiers as weíd done at WHR. We commenced recording at my place on a ten acre spot in The Ozarks of Missouri. We did sort of a dry run to make recordings for copyright purposes, which was still done reel-to-reel but acoustic unamplified, solo Raccoon. (These recordings will be available on the website as time permits.) I felt they were an improvement on the White Horse Recordings, but I still felt that they werenít quite professional recordings, but they were really for copyright purposes anyway, and to use as a demo.

 

I was somewhat intimidated by the technical aspects of recording so I enrolled in a six-week program at The Recording Workshop in Ohio, where I learned the basics of music recording and production, and met Chuck Speed and John Opal. They had a foot in the door of the new digital recording technology, with a couple of Schoeps microphones and a Sony PCM 501 digital processor. This concept of digital recording evolved into DAT within a few years. At that time the signal was recorded on a video recorder linked with the PCM 501 machine. It was brand new technology, previously available only to very high end studios. I myself had an eight track reel to reel with DBX noise reduction, which prior to the advent of digital, was state of the art.

 

We decided to start with the equipment I had, so Raccoon showed up in Missouri, with a friend whose name I could probably remember if I had good reason to, but who had a fairly nasty vibe to him. I donít remember much about him except that he had close cropped, badly trimmed hair, beady, shifty, eyes, and he had a thing about playing with knives. He almost never said anything; he just kept playing with his knives and looking around curiously at nothing in particular.

 

Amidst this charming atmosphere, Raccoon somehow contrived to stab himself rather severely, playing with one of his buddyís knives, directly on his fingering hand. Recording an album was impossible; it would take weeks or months for his left hand to heal. Raccoon and his peculiar companion left. To be fair the guy never did anything really bad, or even offensive, really, but it just seemed like he was trying to give me the creeps, and it was working. So Raccoon and his bugged out buddy split, and I was just beginning to get a little frustrated with Raccoon.

 

I was still in touch with Chuck and John from recording school, and when they heard weíd had a snafu with the planned project, they proposed that I come to South Carolina where Chuck had a line on a lakeside cottage and he and John were looking to get some experience using their new equipment. So we arranged to meet in South Carolina on the specific date Chuck had suggested, and when his friend had given him access to the cabin. I thought it was great, state of the art equipment, beautiful setting, etc.

 

When I showed up on the date I was expected, I saw Raccoonís motorcycle at Chuckís place, with some contraption built out of a chair and three milk crates duct-taped together to form a giant luggage rack. It looked like some bag lady had joined The Hellís Angels. Chuck came out first and he looked a little nervous. I guess I hadnít really explained Raccoonís unique personality to Chuck, but Iíd figured it would work out when they heard the music. That was when I found out Raccoon had shown up a week early, which might have gone over okay at my place, but apparently before I even got there Raccoon had ruffled a few feathers. To this day I have no idea what transpired during that week, but when I got there Raccoon was on a drinking binge. He was drinking straight vodka and pretty much acting like an ass. In South Carolina, to make a long story short, Raccoon embarrassed me and offended my friends and though we really tried, there was no recording done on that occasion that was worth saving. I had arranged for him to be recorded with state of the art equipment, and he insisted on getting in a tin shower stall to record his music. We tried to humor him, but it sounded even worse being recorded digital because it made it even more crystalline clear that what we had was a drunk in a shower stall. I donít recall the specifics of the conversation, but I remember all of us together at one point where I declared the project to be a failure.

 

I just didnít want to even put my name on what we had produced. Our time at the cabin was up, and the guy who owned it needed it for other purposes. I felt like Raccoon had worn out his welcome in South Carolina, and I wanted to exit as gracefully as possible, without pushing it to the point that Chuck asked us to leave. Whatever it was, the whole vibe was wrong, the recording sounded awful compared to what I had in mind, and I pretty much shut down the show, as producer, letting Raccoon know that however talented he may be, he pretty much screwed up that situation all by himself. I also told Chuck and John that they had done everything right and nothing wrong and in spite of it our project was a failure.

 

To my surprise, John Opal proposed that we have one more go at it, which we did, up in Washington, Pennsylvania where his family had a great place out in the country with a huge barn. This time Raccoon cleaned up his act more or less, and in fairly short order we recorded the entirety of Rainbow Warrior. It still wasnít quite as magical as certain live performances Iíve seen where Raccoon mesmerized a whole group of people, but it was a good, very clean document of some beautiful songs, and I am proud of it, and glad that I had the patience to hang in there and make it happen. It is honestly hard to help someone who seems determined to sabotage the project youíre helping them with. I arranged for the duplication and the graphics, etc, using a company called Resolution which was among the best available and digital editing by Dr. Toby Mountain, a pioneer in the field and a guy who did similar work for among others, Frank Zappa. I had intended to design the cover myself, having a background in art, but frankly my patience was gone, and I jobbed it out with a nice enough result using a drawing of a raccoon digging in the garbage by the light of the moon, done by Waneta Bright, a talented local artist back in Missouri.

 

I had done all of this and had just received about 200 of the tapes, (CDs hadnít hit yet) and I was thinking maybe all the trouble was worth it, when I got a call from Raccoon. Heíd gotten drunk, parked his van too close to a bonfire, and burned up his van, along with most of the tapes. I really canít describe how I felt when he told me that. He had done so much to make it impossible to bring that project to fruition, and I had gotten it done anyway, with some above and beyond the call of duty help from my friends Chuck Speed and John Opal. It just seemed unbelievable that within one week he could manage to burn up a project that I had been helping him develop for months and years. I was beyond pissed off- literally just deflated, empty. Thereís no point in it, but sometimes I wonder what would have happened if Raccoon hadnít burned those tapes up? Who might have gotten a hold of one of those tapes, and been able to open another doorway to share the music with many, many more people? Well, life happens. Thatís how it worked out.

 

About five years later when CDs had become the standard, I decided to re-do the project in CD form. This time I put the Raccoon drawing on the CD itself, and a photo my father Robert Zoernig took of Raccoon on the cover. We had both tapes and CDs made, Raccoon actually destroyed none of them to my knowledge, no disasters were involved, Raccoonís manager Judy helped pay for it. Finally the album Rainbow Warrior was at least getting out and about in the world a bit. I had mixed feelings about telling the story because I love Raccoon and I love the music, but that album came very close to never happening because Raccoon was being a problem child, really pushing his luck.

 

I know that there are quite a few people who have gotten those songs in their blood from playing that CD, people who never met Raccoon. There are other people who did meet Raccoon and hear him play, and have enjoyed the CD as the next best thing to live Raccoon. Hopefully there are many others who have never even heard this music yet who will enjoy the music in the future. I was really thinking of those people when I decided to follow through and finish the project even though working with Raccoon was one disaster after another and a supreme test of my patience. I have no regrets, I remained solid friends with Raccoon through all of these ups and downs, and Iím glad that the music, at least, is still alive even if he is not. And that is the four page version of the story of recording Rainbow Warrior with Raccoon.