Pathway could have been made for Link Wray. When the great man first stepped through the door in November 1989 to cut an album for Ace Records, it already had quite a reputation as a no-nonsense, 8-track rock’n’roll studio. Built at the end of the 60s it came into its own after being discovered by Dave Edmunds in the mid-70s, becoming a favourite recording location for pioneering new labels like Chiswick and Stiff.
Not much larger than the average domestic lounge, with wall-to-wall white acoustic tiles and a control room so small that there was barely room for the engineer, Pathway had a lot in common with the legendary three-track shack out in the woods where Link had cut some of his most famous instrumentals back in the old days.
The idea was to get back to basics and try to capture some of the essential guts of those classic recordings, but generally with new material, avoiding the trap of just re-cutting former hits. In the event Link was confident that all he needed was a drummer, and so the Pathway sessions wound up featuring just two people – Link and Headcoats drummer and multi-instrumentalist Bruce Brand. During the course of a week’s recording, they cut enough material for two albums, “Apache” and “Wild Side Of The City Lights”, both released in 1990. The lack of a full band meant that a fair amount of overdubbing was necessary, building the tracks up piece by piece.
Something which added a certain amount of spontaneity to the proceedings was that, according to Bruce, Link arrived with more a set of song titles than actual songs, so that much of it was made up as the sessions progressed. There was also the question of how things should sound. As Bruce recalls: “I was trying to be as authentic as possible. It was stacked against us because a) it wasn’t a full band and b) he actually wanted some of it to sound modern, which is understandable up to a point because it’s now and it’s not 1958, but he did want us to do some disco stuff and I said ‘You’re more likely to alienate the people who do like you rather than get the kids involved’, which was his idea. He wanted to do disco to appeal to the kids but this was 1989 and disco had died when?”
Link may have wanted to capture the spirit of disco, Bruce was looking for authenticity, and squeezed into Pathway’s tiny control room attempting to somehow capture it all on tape, was the engineer, who according to Bruce, was somewhat new to all this, having been a commodities broker in New Zealand. : “I thought, ‘Right, we’re here to do a Link Wray session, in Pathway, with a commodities broker from New Zealand who’s also a jazz-funk drummer…’”
An unlikely combination, perhaps, but they succeeded in capturing some of Link’s best performances since his Swan-label heyday.
By Max Décharné