Dennis Scott Productions
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Songs From the Neighborhood-The Music of Mister Rogers

Songs From the Neighborhood-The Music of Mister Rogers
A musical tribute featuring
Amy Grant, BJ Thomas, Bobby Caldwell, CeCe Winans, Crystal Gayle, Donna Summer, John Pizzarelli, Jon Secada, Maureen McGovern, Ricky Skaggs, Roberta Flack, and Toni Rose

The Inside Story of "the little album that could..."
From the album's producer, Dennis Scott

For the past number of years I have specialized in the field of children's music and entertainment - producing and composing for video, recordings and television (please see attached resume). I won a Grammy for my Sesame Street album ("Sesame Country") which featured the Muppets performing with guest artists such as Loretta Lynn, Glen Campbell, Tanya Tucker, and Crystal Gayle. It was creatively rewarding but logistically difficult to pull together. In some ways it prepared me for the task of producing the Mister Rogers album which embodies the performances of 12 different artists.

The inspiration for the project was taken directly from Mister Rogers. I was watching television and his show (which still airs nationally on PBS) came on. He sang a cool little song that I was not familiar with. That caused me to wonder if he was the composer of all the songs on his show. After doing some research, I learned that not only was Fred Rogers a Presbyterian minister but a studied musician who did, indeed, write all the songs on his show. When I found out that his tunes had never been covered by any major recording acts, that clinched it. It seemed like an idea that was too good to be true.

Crystal Gayle and Dennis
Crystal Gayle and Dennis
I believed that I could create new and interesting arrangements of Fred's songs that would put them in a whole new musical light. While the numbers he sang on the air worked perfectly within the context of his TV show, I felt that they could stand on their own as adult friendly songs done in various musical genres.

What lay ahead were two years of uphill battles and an album that almost didn't make it into production. One label offered to put up the recording monies provided we used edgier acts such as Nine Inch Nails. I declined their offer knowing that such artists would not have been acceptable to the Mister Rogers organization. Despite many obstacles and rejections, independent funding was found for the project through a long time associate of mine, Joseph Porrello, and a Florida based company Memory Lane Syndication.

The first step was to get permission to use Fred's songs. That had to come from Family Communications Inc. who still run Mister Rogers' company. They were quite hesitant at first. These songs are sacred to Mister Rogers' audience and it was FCI's mandate that the integrity of his music be preserved. It took months of letters and phone calls before they agreed to let me proceed. I assured them that Fred's songs were in good hands, but I think they may have said okay just so I would leave them alone.

The months that followed consisted of a flurry of phone calls to every major recording act in the industry. Most of the requests had to go through the artists' managers or what I describe as "the black hole." Packages were lost or misplaced, phone calls were unreturned and often ignored. A similar scenario occurred when I contacted record companies. Although everyone agreed it was a great idea, no one wanted to be the first to commit.

Dennis and Amy Grant
Dennis and Amy Grant
The artists who ultimately came on board understood the importance of Mister Rogers' work. The song selection process required that I narrow two hundred of Fred Rogers' songs down to a handful and then give each artist an opportunity to choose their favorite. BJ Thomas was the first to make his preference known with "It's Such A Good Feeling" - the closing theme to Mister Rogers' show. While all this was going on, each of the artist's labels had to be contacted to request permission for the artist to appear as a guest of the Miser Rogers tribute.

All but one of the music tracks were recorded at my own ProTools based studio in Nashville. We ran an HD system with a Mackie D8B Digital board. The studio is housed in an above ground basement of my home. A view of the surrounding woods helps create a tranquil environment for making music. Musicians and singers have commented what a good "feeling" the studio has. It really helps put the talent at ease.

The facility consists of a large control room, three iso booths, a kitchen, and my office - all of which are wired for sound (except the bathroom). Making use of every available space, some racked equipment is housed in a wall that opens up into a closet under the stairs. The closet also doubles as a booth for a guitar amp.

CeCe Winans and Dennis
CeCe Winans and Dennis
My approach was to record the basic tracks at my studio with live drums, guitar, bass, and keys. The first session included seven songs including Rogers' closing theme, "It's Such a Good Feeling" to be sung by BJ Thomas. I included two session singers to lay down scratch vocals for each of the songs so that the musicians had something to play off of. The players on that initial session were Craig Nelson, Tony Mora, Tom Wild, and Jeff Lisenby with arrangements by myself, Jeffrey Steinberg, and New York vibraphonist - Ian Finkel.

The microphones of choice included AKG's C-12 for some lead vocals as well as 414's and ADK's Tube Transducer Area 51. Some tracks were routed through a Focusrite ISA 215 pre-amp, a Tube Tech LCA 2B Compressor before hitting ProTools.

Nine challenging months of coordinating songs and scheduling artists followed. Donna Summer, Amy Grant, Crystal Gayle, BJ Thomas, and Jon Secada came to my studio to record their lead vocals. Several different arrangements were submitted to Donna Summer before she hit upon one she liked. She requested that we keep it as far away from a "disco" feel as possible. It was down to the wire and we were tweaking the sequence until the last possible moment before her arrival at the studio.

As in any project, there were some nerve wracking moments. The night before our first tracking session we still didn't have a key for Amy Grant's song. Fortunately she called from LA at about 10:30 pm and we settled upon a key in time before the session.

Dennis and Donna Summer
Dennis and Donna Summer
More sessions and overdubs followed. Jon Secada recorded his rendition of "Won't You Be My Neighbor' in both English and Spanish (the Latin version did not make it on to the final master). His song, in my opinion, turned out to be the feel good tune of the album. The basic track was upbeat with a pop-swing reggae influenced feel. Everyone smiled during the playback. Later on, Jon recorded eight tracks of himself doing harmonies and doubling each of his parts to create a thick vocal wall of sound.

John Pizzarelli, Roberta Flack, Maureen McGovern, and Bobby Caldwell recorded in New York. The day that Maureen sang, Quad Studios was having big time technical difficulties with mics going down and cue systems failing. Maureen, however, is a singing machine and gave the same impeccable performance every time.

Songstress Roberta Flack was the last to come on board. She really wanted to record "Won't You Be My Neighbor" but it had already been cut by Jon Secada. Roberta was so enthusiastic about that particular song, we agreed to try it as a ballad - the result was an intimate interpretation of Rogers' best known song. She confirmed that a great song is one that can and should be recordable in a variety of styles.

Other album highlights include a powerhouse performance by CeCe Winans on "Then Your Heart Is Full Of Love" a solid big band arrangement of "What Do You Do With the Mad That You Feel" with Jon Pizzarelli doing an inspired scat-guitar solo, a touching rendition of "It's You I Like" by Amy Grant, and an R&B favored "Sometimes" with a great vocal performance by Bobby Caldwell. Unless you were told beforehand, you would never guess that some of these were Mister Rogers compositions. I wrote the last song on the album, "Thank You For Being You" in tribute to Fred. All of the guest artists are featured and, although they were recorded separately, as an ensemble they reflect the sentiment of the recording.

BJ Thomas and Dennis
BJ Thomas and Dennis
After the album was completed, it was most gratifying to get a heartfelt message from Joanne Rogers (Fred's wife) saying how much she loved the album and that "Fred would have loved it as well."

There were pressures to deliver the product soon and with a very tight deadline. The mix engineer was Nashville's own Gary Dales who also cut some of the tracks. Mixing on Yamaha NS-10's and referencing the mix on Genelec 1031 A's. Ironically, after working fast and furious, the label took three more weeks sorting through the album's liner notes. If we had only known, we could have remixed the album two more times...

Recording was finally completed in June 2005. Video footage was filmed during the recordings which is included in a bonus DVD outlining how the album was made and including interviews with the artists: Amy Grant, B.J. Thomas, Bobby Caldwell, CeCe Winans, Crystal Gayle, Donna Summer, John Pizzarelli, Jon Secada, Maureen McGovern, Ricky Skaggs, Toni Rose, and Roberta Flack.

The album received a Grammy at this year's awards for Best Musical Album for Children. But check it out. This is a recording for adult ears as well.



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