How Robert Fripp Recorded the Guitar Line on David Bowie's "Heroes"

How Robert Fripp Recorded the Guitar Line on David Bowie's

We've been thinking about Bowie a lot here lately, but there's one thing I discovered during all of the recent tributes that I still want to share: how Tony Visconti recorded Robert Fripp's famous guitar part on "Heroes."

I found this nugget of recording wisdom while listening to the Bowie tribute episode of the Sound Opinions podcast.

Around minute 32, Visconti starts talking about recording "Heroes" in Berlin with Bowie and Brian Eno. He says:

Well "Heroes" was written a couple of weeks before Fripp came down. We recorded the backing track, and it's one of the few times that David actually played piano live. Eno was in the control room with me. We really didn't know what we had. There were no lyrics yet. It was not called "Heroes." It wasn't called anything.

Finally we got something that sounded like, "this could a verse, this could be a chorus," and by that time we needed to do the guitar work. Fripp was available only one weekend. So he came to Berlin, brought his guitar, no amplifier. He recorded his guitar in the studio. We had to play the track very very loud because he was relying on the feedback from the studio monitors. So it was deafening working with him.

Whereas everyone thinks it's an ebow, this magical guitar gadget called an ebow. In fact it wasn't an ebow, it was just the feedback–Fripp playing this "dah uhhhh dahh uhhh" that beautiful motif. And Fripp recorded a second time without hearing the first one. It was a little bit more cohesive, but still quite wasn't right, and he said, "Let me do it again. Just give me another track. I'll do it again." And we silenced the first two tracks and he did a third pass, which was really great. He nailed it. And then I had the bright idea: I said, "Look let me just hear what it sounds like with the other two tracks. You never know."

We played it, all three tracks together, and you know, I must reiterate Fripp did not hear the other two tracks when he was doing the third one so he had no way of being in sync. But he was strangely in sync. And all his little out-of-tune wiggles suddenly worked with the other previously recorded guitars. It seemed to tune up. It got a quality that none of us anticipated. It was this dreamy, wailing quality, almost crying sound in the background. And we were just flabbergasted.

I have to point out, like Marc Bolan, David doesn't like to spend a lot of time in the studio either. He really does believe in the Zen moments. You know the accidents, to him, are more important than finessing something. And I totally agree with him.

So we all looked at each other. It was just Fripp, myself, and Brian Eno in the studio, and David, of course. We just looked at each other and we just couldn't believe our luck, how beautiful it sounded and how well it worked out.

Update: Tape Op magazine shared this article on their Facebook page where Nik Far added this video of Tony Visconti discussing the recording process for "Heroes." Check it out...




Lee McAlilly
Lee McAlilly

Author

Founder of Original Fuzz. Nashville, TN.



19 Responses

JAMES
JAMES

March 09, 2016

TONY we would love to hear more about other songs you made with david, in the same way how there were made

Johnny
Johnny

March 05, 2016

Jimmy Page had been doing triple distance micro phoning on his guitar playing for years. It’s amazing that they did it on David’s voice. Brilliant.

Stead
Stead

February 28, 2016

Carrying on from Vic’s post re Fripp recording from the moment he arrived at Hansa (at Eno’s suggestion). Fripp flew in from NYC for just one day (I know, artistic licence) – not a weekend as TV recalls – as he was producing Peter Gabriel II + Daryl Hall Sacred Songs at the time (+ sure it’s well documented but RCA didn’t release the brilliant DHSS until 1980 as they thought it would ruin his career).

Bel
Bel

February 26, 2016

Fabulous! The layers in this song are really celestial! It just makes me miss David even more! One of his best collaborations! Thank you for the background of the making of “Heroes”!

Jimmy
Jimmy

February 26, 2016

No wonder it sounds so rich and has character. God I love the way they recorded this song.

Danny Mead
Danny Mead

February 25, 2016

OUTSTANDING.

Alex
Alex

February 23, 2016

Brilliant idea gating the distance mics, and also to have someone that can play with it so well, What a take!

Keith magoo
Keith magoo

February 23, 2016

Fripp Eno Bowie Visconti.

Say no more.

G. Harrison
G. Harrison

February 21, 2016

well done, Lee. songs with unique back stories are the ones I appreciate most.

Ian Stephenson
Ian Stephenson

February 21, 2016

If you listen to Robert Fripp’s session work with, say, Brian Eno, Peter Hammill and Blondie, he has a way of lifting the music up to sublime heights. ’It’s rock, Jim – but not as we know it!’

Bart Santorelli
Bart Santorelli

February 20, 2016

How Awesome…Thanks for taking the time !!

Clarke Blacker
Clarke Blacker

February 20, 2016

It just goes to show that Robert Fripp is one of the most accomplished and often underappreciated guitarists around. He is a genius with an intuitive feel and sensitivity that transcends the instrument.

NotNico
NotNico

February 20, 2016

Yo, is/was that a common technique, with the gated mics adding room sound controlled by the vocalist’s volume? It’s really brilliant!

Tony Morris
Tony Morris

February 20, 2016

Wow. Just wow.

Thanks for posting this. Absolutely fascinating.

Cheers

Vic
Vic

February 19, 2016

Actually, on top of all this, Fripp told me that Eno called him into Berlin to play on the Bowie album. Robert arrives, guitar case in hand, sits down, Eno rolls the tape and just nods at Robert to play, Fripp didn’t even know what key it was in,

Anyway, a few years later I went with him to CBGB’s where he was sitting in with BLondie, who were good friends, He told me they were going to do “Heroes” as one of the encores, and he had to stop and work out what he had done on the record, as it was all so intuitive, he couldn’t remember, But when they did come out for the encore and started “Heroes” Fripp had the exact same Cosmic Laser sound you hear on the Bowie record, even though Viscounti seems to show it was a layering of a number of parts,

Dfactor
Dfactor

February 19, 2016

Love Bowie, love Visconti’s storytelliing. He’s David’s best PR guy. Amazing that they met in the late 1960s!

C Twomey
C Twomey

February 19, 2016

good story. Fripp was always very intuitive as a session player, especially with Eno around. From the what-if angle – Bowie had invited Michael Rother to those sessions but Rother didn’t want to play r&r anymore – it would have been a completely different thing if he had. Fripp lets loose in a more rockin’ way on Beauty And The Beast & Joe The Lion, which Adrian Belew handled well on the Stage tour.

Nik Farr
Nik Farr

February 19, 2016

Thanks for adding the video to an already-great post. This recording is monumental, peeling back the layers leaves me even more in awe than I already was.

Marc DeSisto
Marc DeSisto

February 19, 2016

Great story. Good ole feedback

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