ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, MARCH 16, 2006
By Steve Newton
Although Rez may be the finest guitar-based instrumental-rock CD ever to come out of Vancouver, the original meeting of the duo behind it was rather inauspicious. Guitarist Scotty Hall and drummer-keyboardist Phil Robertson hooked up when Hall attended a rehearsal for Idle Eyes, the blatantly commercial ’80s pop-rock act known for the hit “Tokyo Rose”.
As Hall explains during a chat at a coffee shop on Main Street across from Neptoon Records, his workplace for 25 years, the band’s management was looking for a heavier-sounding guitarist at the time and he fit the bill. But more rewarding for Hall than his affiliation with that Juno Award-winning group was his introduction to then-Idle Eyes drummer Robertson. “I was immediately blown away by him,” recalls Hall, “and I have been ever since.”
According to Robertson, the feeling is mutual. There is a bond between the two Rezmen as they, in the company of Chapman Stick player Fergus Marsh (violinist Hugh’s brother), cover uplifting numbers by Stevie Wonder (“Overjoyed”) and Indian guitarist Nitin Sawhney (“Immigrant”). The other eight tracks on Rez (seewww.e-rez.net/) are world-class originals that often bring to mind the adventurous jazz-rock stylings of Jeff Beck.
“I have to own up to that influence for sure,” notes Hall, “I’ve been a big fan of Jeff’s ever since I can remember. I stayed up late a lotta nights workin’ on guitar records, going, ‘Shit, I’ll never be able to do that!’ And not just him. I was a Hendrix fan, too.”
Hall displays an abundance of taste and feel throughout Rez, and when it comes time to show off his chops he delivers some flashy neck-tapping on the fiery closer, “Hurricane”. It’s not a technique he picked up from the usual suspect, Eddie Van Halen, though. In the early ’70s Hall learned that trick firsthand from Harvey “The Snake” Mandel when Mandel was opening for Ike and Tina Turner at the Cave.
“I just walked backstage and no one said a word,” remembers Hall of that teenage encounter. “When I saw Harvey, the first thing he said was ‘Do you have some smoke?’ So we hung out and I asked him, ‘Hey, think I could try your guitar?’ So I started playing one of his songs–wrong–and he goes, ‘Here, kid. Here. This is how it goes.’ He started doing this finger-tapping stuff, and I went, ‘Wow, that’s cool!’ After that I rushed home to my guitar and stole everything that I could remember.”
Rez was recorded over the course of two years at Robertson’s home studio, Crawlspace, and surprisingly, Hall never went into the sessions with prearranged solos.
“I knew the chord changes really well,” he explains, “but that was it. It was almost a little game I was playing with myself, like, ‘Okay, nope, you’re not workin’ out nothin’, you’re gonna go in and you’re gonna play it.’ I really love that spontaneity thing, and I’ve always noticed as a session player that the more you labour on things, the worse it gets.”
As in-demand musicians for hire, Hall and Robertson have worked on hundreds of album projects, and they’ve both done sessions for video games as well. Hall is most proud of his guitar tracks on the racecar game Need for Speed, while Robertson points to his drumming on some “smokin’ material” for an NBA promotional video that was seen around the world.
“As a session player you gotta wear a lot of hats,” says Hall, “so with Rez we really wanted to do somethin’ that represented us personalitywise as players. We just wanted to go out on a limb and do it.”
Although the release of Rez was cause for celebration, right after it hit the CD shelves Hall discovered he is suffering from esophageal cancer. Last month, a benefit concert for Hall at the Yale Hotel, where Robertson performed alongside some of the top session musicians in town, raised roughly $15,000 to help Hall in his battle.
“It was so ironic that just when we finished the project I got diagnosed,” he relates. “But hey, I’m gonna fight it as hard as I can, that’s all I can say.”
True to that positive and determined vibe, the Hall-Robertson team has already recorded three tracks for another Rez album. “The stuff that we’re workin’ on now is slightly more jazzy,” explains Robertson, before Hall injects with a hearty chuckle: “Nothing that a Hiwatt couldn’t take care of, though!”