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It’s All About the Music for the Sweetwater All Stars

Saturday January 13, 2018. 12:00 PM , from Sweetwater inSync
The Sweetwater story is one that’s based on passion. Passion for customer service. Passion for excellence. Passion for gear. Passion for giving back. But at its heart, Sweetwater is rooted in a lifelong passion for music. Music has always played a primary role in Sweetwater Founder and President Chuck Surack’s life, and it plays a similar role for everyone who works at the company. There are probably more musicians, more home studios, more recording and live projects, and more bands associated with the employees of Sweetwater than nearly any company on Earth. So it’s no surprise that one of those bands, the Sweetwater All Stars — whose leader is Chuck Surack himself — has just announced the release of their debut album. The album, the eponymous The Sweetwater All Stars, will drop on January 12, 2018, and features a cast and crew drawn from the Sweetwater family playing some of their favorite R&B and soul songs, as well as classic songs reinterpreted as fresh R&B productions.
Let’s Put a Band Together!

One of two popular bands featuring the talents of Surack, the 9-piece Sweetwater All Stars band has been gigging in the Fort Wayne area for several years. The genesis of the band reaches back to a casual big band that Chuck put together for fun to play some of the music from his large collection of big band charts. The core of that band, saxophonist Surack and bassist (and Sweetwater Studios’ Vice President of Operations) Mark Hornsby, realized they shared a love for classic, horn-driven R&B and soul music. They started recruiting like-minded musicians from the Sweetwater family, and the Sweetwater All Stars were born.
The band quickly began gigging and today maintains a busy schedule with a monthly residency at a local club, appearances at the many festivals held in Fort Wayne annually, an annual concert/jam session held at Sweetwater’s GearFest, and gigs at a wide range of charity and community events. The popular Sweetwater All Stars have opened for soul favorites Tower of Power and the Isley Brothers, headlined Fort Wayne’s massive week-long Three Rivers Festival, and more. Myriad “name” artists have sat in with the All Stars, including Eric Johnson, Robben Ford, Carl Verheyen, Chad Wackerman, Dweezil Zappa, Larry Dunn, Jennifer Batten, Andy Timmons, Steve Stevens, Queen Cora, Jordan Rudess, and dozens more.
Like-minded Individuals
The musicians and vocalists in the Sweetwater All Stars all share a common bond in their love for music. Eleven artists comprise the band, all of whom have decades of experience as professional musicians, vocalists, producers, engineers, composers, and arrangers. Like hundreds of other employees at Sweetwater, their passion for music and their shared backgrounds and experience as pros in the music industry drew them to the company, where they put their talents and expertise to work in service of millions of customers, and where they revel in creating music together.

The heartbeat of the band is the rhythm section, whose core is drawn from the Muscle Shoals–style in-house band of musicians residing in Sweetwater Studios. World-renowned drummer and Sweetwater video personality Nick D’Virgilio holds down the groove and provides vocals. Nick gets low-end assistance from two alternating bass players: Mark Hornsby and longtime Nashville stalwart, and now Sweetwater Studios producer/engineer/bass player, Dave Martin. Sweetwater Studios’ Grammy and Dove Award–winning keyboardist/arranger/producer Phil Naish, alternating with Jeff Gastineau, drives the keyboard chair. Popular Sweetwater video personality Don Carr draws on his nearly 25 years of experience as a Nashville session guitarist and touring musician with the Oak Ridge Boys in his dual role as the band’s music director and guitarist.
Filling out the sound of the Sweetwater All Stars is the horn section, consisting of Chuck Surack on saxophone, Sweetwater’s Brett Kelsey on trumpet, and Nashville’s John Hinchey (who utilizes his skills as go-to horn arranger for Sweetwater Studios and does the arrangements for the All Stars) on trombone, alternating with Marcus Farr. Out front, vocalist/guitarist Bob Bailey (who heads up the Sweetwater Academy and leads the company’s annual GearFest event) and vocalist Kat Bowser (vocal instructor at the Sweetwater Academy and session vocalist for Sweetwater Studios, whose credits include tours with Oleta Adams, Jon Secada, and Sam Moore — and who is legendary for her Janis Joplin tribute shows) deliver authentic performances loaded with pure R&B heart and soul.

Special guests on the album include several Nashville A-list session horn players, as well as Musicians Hall of Fame inductee Jim Horn (Diana Ross, Linda Ronstadt, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, the Rolling Stones, and three of the Beatles, among countless others) on baritone and bass saxophones.
Recording — Old School
The album, featuring 10 songs, was tracked and mixed by Mark Hornsby and his team of talented engineers and support staff at Sweetwater Studios. The tracks were recorded with an old-school approach. The rhythm section tracked live in Sweetwater Studios Studio A, which features a gorgeous-sounding live room with two isolation booths and a world-class control room loaded with best-of-the-best gear. Just two ribbon mics were used to capture the drums: a stereo overhead and a kick mic. Including the bass, keys, and guitar, each song used a total of just eight tracks for the rhythm section. Horns were recorded to six tracks, entirely with warm-sounding ribbon mics for a vintage flavor. Add in a few more tracks for vocals, backing vocals, and solos, and almost every song came in at 20 or fewer total tracks — nearly unheard-of in this day and age where hundreds of tracks per song is not unusual.

This holds true to the goal of The Sweetwater All Stars album project, which was to avoid over-producing the songs and “constructing” parts with piecemeal editing after the fact. The goal was to record a smoking-hot R&B team playing music, just as they do live onstage. This made the recording process fast and easy, and it made post production just as easy. It’s a cliché to say that you could simply push up the faders and hear the mix, but that’s the case with this album. The idea was to capture performances with all the energy and excitement of a live show.
Greater Than the Sum of the Parts
While any of the musicians in the Sweetwater All Stars has the talent and credentials to perform on the biggest stages in the world, it’s when they come together as a band that the maxim “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts” comes true. The band often plays to sold-out crowds for up to 3-hour-long shows, filled with high-energy, groove-driven, soul-soaked performances. With the release of The Sweetwater All Stars album, the band has brought that infectious live vibe to the studio, delivering all the passion they display in their shows. The project represents not just a vision for a powerful R&B horn band, not just stellar performances from a great lineup of musicians, but a true love for music captured into charged recordings of 10 exciting songs.

The Sweetwater All Stars album is available as a physical CD and as 16-bit/44.1kHz full-bandwidth WAV file downloads from Downloads will also be available from the iTunes store and Amazon.
The post It’s All About the Music for the Sweetwater All Stars appeared first on inSync.
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