When 14-year-old Al Vertucci began singing with a group of friends in Brooklyn, he had no idea that 50 years later he would meticulously reassemble the sounds of their voices using Adobe Audition CC — a tool that would have seemed like science fiction back when the original recordings were pressed onto acetate discs.
The Sessions was an amateur doo-wop group that sang a cappella melodies (without instrumental accompaniment). Consisting of lead singer George Mesecke, baritone Harvey Bird, bass Joey Parisi, first tenor Walter Agaczinski, and second tenor Al Vertucci, The Sessions practiced regularly at the corner of 23rd Street and 4th Avenue in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, where an archway at the entrance of an apartment house amplified their sound. They sang almost every night, even in winter. To their delight, they began to attract a crowd. A small group of girls even became regular fans.
In 1963 the group scraped together enough money to book some recording time at Ultra-Sonic Studios on Long Island. They laid down four tracks and each band member received an acetate master of the recording session (see at right.)
Time passed, the young group went their separate ways, and that was the end of the story.
When Al reconnected with his old group recently, he learned that George, the group’s lead singer, still had the acetate records. Al told George he could clean up the audio and burn new CDs for everyone.
Acetates were like disposable records: a tin disc with a thin lacquer coating into which the grooves were cut. They were used as reference records or for short-run broadcast content, such as commercials. As Al put it, "The problem with acetates is that they deteriorate very quickly. You can get maybe 10 plays out of them before you start to notice the sound going bad. Obviously, George had played his a lot more than that."
As soon as Al received the acetates, he copied the audio into Adobe Audition and got to work (see Video 1). In successive passes, he carefully removed the rumble, clicks, pops, and hiss. "It was a real blast from the past to hear our young voices, coming cleaner and cleaner as I worked on the files. It was a revelation: I never thought I would ever hear that music again," Al remembered.
Video 1. Capture the original recording
Then he got an idea: he wondered what the a capella songs would sound like if they were produced with musical accompaniment — like a real band.
After his stint with The Sessions, George, Joey, and Al went on to play in another band, called The Missing Links. They got a recording contract with Amy-Mala-Bell Records in 1966 and recorded a couple of original songs. He joined another band, The Tea Company, which signed with Mercury Records and received radio airplay in the late 1960s. Al finally moved into radio as a broadcaster. "I didn't know what it was like on the other side of the microphone, but I loved it and I ended up in radio for the next 35 years,” he told me.
From 1988 to 2003, Al had a gig working on the morning show on WCBS-FM in New York with legendary American radio personality Harry Harrison.
"We were an oldies station and not much of that music was on CDs," Al recalled. Each day, after the show ended, he went to the station's production studio where he captured old vinyl records from the studio’s library into Cool Edit Pro, the forerunner of today’s Adobe Audition. He created clean new masters for playing on air. "I got really good at it."
So good that Al now owns and runs SAV Sound Studios, a full-service producing and recording studio in Monument, Colorado.
At first Al thought he just needed to add the instruments to the tracks that were already in Adobe Audition. But it wasn’t as easy as that. Since The Sessions didn’t use instruments, they weren’t always completely on key.
As he explained it to me, "Before we started a song, the baritone guy would sing the bass note and — 'da-da-da' — we just hit the root third and fifth. That's how we got our starting notes. Most of the recordings were pretty close to key and we sounded pretty good. However, we did veer subtly off-key. As soon as you try to add instruments in a recording, it becomes really noticeable."
To start the process, Al recorded a sustained keyboard track and used that as reference to gauge shifts in key (see Video 2). "I had to basically get into each eight bars, sometimes even smaller sections, and correct them in Audition against the keyboard track," he said. It was painstaking work and it took him a few weeks to get the pitch right in each of the four songs (see Video 3).
Video 2. Add markers to assist with key and tempo corrections
Video 3. Make timing and pitch corrections
The tempo was no different. Singing without any percussion, or even a metronome, the group’s speed fluctuated. Al described the process: "I tried playing the drums against one track and I'm thinking, 'Wow, this thing is speeding up, it's slowing down, it's speeding up.' After everything was pitch-corrected, I had to tempo-correct each song. I split the clips into multiple tracks and sped this part up slightly, slowed another one down, and so on, without affecting the pitch."
Once he massaged the vocals into shape, he finally started adding the instruments. He went into the studio and recorded his own bass, guitar, piano, synthesizer, hand clap, and drum tracks (see Video 4).
Video 4. Review additional instrumentation and rhythm tracks
Although it took him a while, Al was amazed at the way everything came out after 50 years of being all but forgotten. The rest of the band was also impressed. "The guys started crying," he said.
Al is now recording another song he wrote about 40 years ago and using Audition to give it life.