The Casher effects

Posted: January 18, 2015 in fz related interview, zappa, zappology
Ecco-Fonic flyer front

Ecco-Fonic flyer front

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Del Casher is a gifted guitarist and a proficient sound engineer who gave a unique and influential contribution to electronic guitar effects innovation between the end of the 50s and the end of the 60s. As a musician, but also as an engineer, now and in those years he is been working in Hollywood both for the music (Phil Spector, Frank Sinatra, The Three Suns) and for the movies and TV industries (Vic Mizzy soundtracks, Elvis Presley, Gene Autry’s ‘Melody Ranch’ TV show).

Between September and October 1966 Casher (or Kacher, as he was known until the early sixties) played guitar for The Mothers of Invention too and, thanks the Zappa Vault archivists, a tasty nugget from that era recently emerged: Freak Chouflée, probably from an October 1966 live performance.

This blog contacted Del right away and he was so kind and willing to recall stories from the sixties and to share some historical audio documents that vividly show the sound innovations that he brought to music and his skills as a guitarist.

To proceed in a chronological order, a right beginning would be the Ecco-Fonic, the Electronic Echo Chamber engineered by Del Casher for Fender in 1959. He recalls:

I was an expert with recording techniques since I was 16 living in Indiana. I had my own radio show and was overdubbing guitars and speeding up tapes like Les Paul to get the upper range of the guitars. That was when I came up with the Ecco-Fonic echo idea.

Ecoo-Fonic flyer reverse

Ecoo-Fonic flyer reverse

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It was a portable variable-delay control that enabled the guitar player to operate live on the echo effect. Del shared two demonstration tracks produced for Fender (Caravan and Limehouse Blues):

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The Fender Electronic Echo Chamber record

The Fender Electronic Echo Chamber record

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Del remarks that:

The Fender echo was really the Ecco-Fonic, only in solid state than tubes, as a license deal. It was short lived because guitar players did not understand the record heads needed cleaning after many hours of use. But the Fender echo was my design with the rotating flywheel drum and the tape wrapped around to give stability for tape travel. Echo plex and others had flutter problems but the Ecco-Fonic was stable.

Frank Zappa would have been (and probably was) amazed!

Meanwhile, his career and collaborations was growing, consequently his schedule became busier every year (go to bio and articles sections at delcasher.com for more details). Later in 1966 Del Casher and Frank Zappa first met at Casher garage studio to record Space Boy.

Here it is, via YouTube:

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Del recalls that in 1966 Van Dyke Parks was playing keyboards for the Mothers of Invention and suggested Frank Zappa to contact him for a studio audio production with actress Florence Marly. At that time Zappa discussed with Parks about some technical issue to solve in his own studio, and the latter recommended his friend Del Casher for this session Zappa had to produce for Marly while she was involved in the film Queen of Blood (directed by Curtis Harrington). Whether it was intended for the soundtrack of such a movie is questionable (see the Space Boy IINK article for more details).

To complete the picture, it is worth to mention that a short promo film/music video was released in 1973 for Space Boy and can be seen annually at the Ohio Sci-Fi Marathon.

Del tells how they first produce the vocal and guitar tracks with a large use of his Ecco-Fonic that gave the needed spacey sound. Later Zappa asked to play and record a drums track to be overdubbed, Del arranged for it and remarks how the Zappa first take was already rhythmically precise and fit to the piece. Frank as a drummer was a surprise for Del!

Here started a two month collaboration that brought Del to play guitar with the Mothers at the Shrine, the Whiskey-a-go-go and at the University of Santa Barbara in 1966.

Freak Chouflée briefly documents such a collaboration and here is what Del reports about his contacts with Joe’s Garage concerning this and other recordings.

Joe’s Garage call me several times in the past, they were trying to identify whether it was me playing guitar with Frank on some recordings they played for me on the telephone. The reason I can identify my playing was that I used my Stratocaster for a few of these performances, than I took my Gretsch duo jet solid body guitar (it looks like a Les Paul guitar except it is all black) and converted to an electric twelve string. In fact I asked the technician who worked here in Hollywood for Barney Kessel to convert my duo jet that way. In that picture where you see me with Frank with my golf cap and my glasses, I’m playing my Gretsch duo jet twelve string at the Whiskey-a-go-go. The reason why I did that was I needed it for studio twelve string recordings with groups such as The Birds, but also by working with Frank I was inspired to try to find a new voice for the guitar. Because my twelve string sounded different than Frank’s guitar, so people could spot what I sounded like. I sounded terribly different because it was a twelve string, and I could play real fast on it. Moreover, I was considering all the guitar players on stage at that time, all sounded the same! So I was thinking how could I make the guitar have a voice of my own that would be different? That was when I started thinking about the wah-wah pedal, something that could change the frequency of the guitar, so that it made it special from all the guitar players.

In early 1967 Del Casher re-designed for VOX their Mid-Range Boost Switch as a foot pedal unit “that enabled a player to re-shape his guitar tone into wild, undreamed of new capabilities” (see Johnny Whiteside, “He put the ‘wah’ in rock ‘n’ roll“, Glendale News-Press, December 2, 2011)

And here is the Wah-Wah Pedal Demo Del produced for Vox. In his words:

My original record of the 1967 Vox wah wah pedal and the first to record with it at Universal Pictures for Vic Mizzy of Addams family music fame.

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Going back to his 1966 collaboration with Zappa, Casher also recalls:

A few months before Frank died I met him in an agent’s office. We talked about how much fun we had and he suggested to call him. He wanted to give me the video of the David Susskind Freak out show for ABC TV we did at TTG studios in Hollywood.
I thanked him but was working on a film and the next thing I knew he was gone!
It really was a shock.
I never got to see our performance. David Susskind was a very conservative man, he had this talk show where he would interview famous political figures and discuss the politics of the day. He was very eclectic, he covered a variety of topics in his tv shows, but it was all done in a very conservative way. When I heard that Frank Zappa was invited to show what freaking out looks like I WAS freaked out! So Frank arranged to us to go to TTG studios in Hollywood. Frank brought his rhythm section, probably his original rhythm section. Frank and I brought guitars and I think there was a percussion player with us. We went into a recording studio and started jamming, playing all kind of wild things, Frank had this smoke machine come up, so the studio was fill full of smoke and we were jamming and kept playing an playing, that was crazy and certainly different than what I would normally ever do. And it was a segment into the David Susskind TV show, the jam was broadcasted on ABC television.

 

Del is now working as usual in Hollywood and he is available to travel US and Europe to perform with his guitar, also to show how he conceived his effects to make the voice of his instrument sound better and unique, being his guitar sound research one of the most distinctive elements in his career.

Again thank you Del Casher for sharing your memories and historic audio documentation!

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