In theaters now is Not Fade Away, David Chase’s first post-Sopranos project. And just as Chase was meticulous on every point on his groundbreaking HBO series – from plot to locations to music – he gave the same attention to detail to every aspect of his latest project.
The film centers around a group of New Jersey friends who were inspired to start a band (“The Twylight Zones”) after seeing The Rolling Stones on television in 1964. Chase returned to his bullpen of Sopranos talent, hiring James Gandolfini for a support role and Little Steven Van Zandt as his Music Supervisor. Van Zandt taught the actors in the film (who weren’t musicians) to play their instruments, and then to play together as a band. He went so far as to track down Andy White – the man who played drums on The Beatles’ “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You” to teach proper era-appropriate drumming technique to one of the actors.
But when it came to getting the gear right, Van Zandt turned to his friend Andy Babiuk, who is something of an expert in the musical instruments and equipment of the early ’60s. He owns a vintage instrument store in Rochester, New York, called Andy Babiuk’s Fab Gear, and for a while, Van Zandt was calling him with a number of vague questions. Babiuk tells CBS Local that he got one call from the E Street Band guitarist asking lots of questions about specific makes and models.
“He said, ‘Hypothetically speaking, in 1962, would a band in New Jersey be using a Gretch Country Gentleman guitar?’ I told him, ‘Not really, because The Beatles hadn’t hit yet. Back then, Country Gentlemen were mainly used in country music. And it was a very expensive guitar.’ So I said, ‘Why are you asking me?’ He said, ‘Aaah, I’ll call you later and tell you why.’”
“So he called me later and says, ‘David Chase is working on this film, and he needs some information and technical stuff, and I told him you know all about it, so he wants to talk to you.’ So I met with David and we went over a bunch of stuff. He had my book, Beatles Gear.” That book, as the title infers, is all about the specific gear that the Beatles used on all of their recordings. It proved that Babiuk was more than just a hobbyist — he’s one of the foremost experts in the field. ”He wanted the characters to talk about their equipment in the film, and for it to be period-correct.” So he was hired to help out with the dialog. But it soon snowballed into a bigger job.
“A few months later, I got another call from Little Steven and he says, ‘We need you on set. Tomorrow!’” They needed his help to track down the equipment that they needed to keep the film credible. So he signed on as Associate Music Supervisor and Technical Consultant on the film. But, he reports that his eye for detail didn’t necessarily make him many friends in the props department.
The set designers sent him photos of a studio in Manhattan filled with vintage equipment. The problem was, it was the wrong vintage. “I was like, ‘No, man, this is vintage ‘70s stuff. You need vintage ‘60s stuff.’” For one scene, Babiuk found two vintage reel-to-reel tape machines, but their VU meters weren’t working. His solution: ”We jerry-rigged them: I had a prop guy behind them with a little nine-volt battery listening to the music and touching the battery to the wire to make the VU meters move with the music.” Without the meters jumping, it would look fake (to those with an eye for detail, anyway).
Babiuk has worked with Van Zandt on another recent project: The Rascals‘ reunion concerts. He tells CBS Local that he had to track down a specific organ for frontman Felix Cavaliere for the shows. ”Steven called me and said, ‘I need a Hammond B-3 organ. And I need it yesterday!’ In this day and age, you can get a Hammond sound out of a keyboard, but for Steven… well, he wanted the real thing!”
The two began their friendship a little over a decade ago. Van Zandt was a fan of Babiuk’s band, The Chesterfield Kings, and hired them to play a party. “We were in the midst of recording an album at the time, and he asked to hear some of the tapes. Next thing I knew, he was in Rochester, taking over the project, helping to produce it. He’s a really cool guy.” Van Zandt soon signed the group to his record label, Wicked Cool, and also got the band a cameo on The Sopranos, where Babiuk gave Chase a copy of Beatles Gear.
Speaking of that book, the sequel of sorts, Rolling Stones Gear (which he had been working on before his involvement with Not Fade Away) will be out next year. You can pre-order the book here.
– Brian Ives, CBS Local