Lou Hemsey

It was 1971, and George Pincus of Gil Music Publishing called me into his office and asked me to listen to a new group that had come his way and was looking for a publishing deal.  I was George’s free-lance on staff record Arranger-Producer; Lou Hemsey.  I was young then, we all were.

When I sat down to listen, there in front of me was the group called “Meadow”.  Walker Daniels, Chris Van Cleave, and Laura Branigan.  They began to sing a number of their songs and I was immediately intrigued by the writing.  Chris and Walker wrote the material, both together and separately, but each had a unique style for what was going on in the business at that time.  Naturally, Laura, had a big voice capable of such a wide range of emotion; a talent not really shown to it’s capability by her subsequent pop success a few years later.

So the audition was over and George asked me, “What do you think?”  I was impressed, again, the writing was so unique, substantive, emotional and also truly quirky in a hip/creative sort of way.  Each member had their own creative strength, and yet, they layered over each other perfectly.

Next step, we set up a “LIVE AUDITION” at Paramount records, then based in NY, with the president of the label, Tony Martell, in his outer office. Tony was known for his excellent ears, we did three or four songs, and he signed the group.  First up, was a single with Laura’s big lead torch vocal: “Here I Am.”  That track was recorded with two others; “Cane and Able,” and “Something Borrowed-Something Blues.”  We tracked those three songs live with everybody, except the vocal overdubs naturally, at National-Edison Studios in New York City, with Frank Kulaga doing the engineering.

Now, I had to come up with a unique production approach for the album.  I decided, and the group all agreed, to combine some orchestral instruments into the arrangements which seem to blend perfectly to the intelligent song writing of Chris and Walker.  This, for me, was the key.  Humbly, I guess you could say I was in good company without really knowing it at the time, as that was the same production/arranging approach George Martin took with the fabulous Britts, The Beatles.

After the singles sessions, the Album, “The Friend Ship.” was recorded in its entirety at Opal recording (right next to Studio 54 in NYC), with Steve Jerome doing the tracking.  The best guys were with us on that album as well as the single session; super creatives like Jerry Friedman on electric guitar, and Ricky Marotta on drums.

Of all the work I have done, and it’s quite a lot, nobody cared more about the art and music than those three artists.  They were a dream to work with.  Every idea I put forth, that might have been out of their initial comfort zone, was embraced whole heartedly.  Some we kept, some we discarded.  But it truly was a wonderful collaboration. The beauty for me was, and I trust for them as well, that the newness and uniqueness of the collaboration, kept raising the passion level, so to speak. 

The album titled “The Friend Ship,” was truly a blend of alternative (at the time), pop, calm acid, a touch of Folk, and classical fusion.  Unfortunately, I believe the album was a bit ahead of its time, which is a good thing, if the label got it.  I believe Paramount was a bit at a loss as to what to do.  They never really “worked” the album, more or less just released it, and there were quite a few singles on it in my opinion.

Unfortunately, for us, we were also caught in a bad time for the label, as a boat load of money and attention from Paramount was going to a Broadway show they had recently invested in quite heavily.  This great, creative force of an album, sort of got lost in the shuffle; something I understand, but sadly for everyone, we never got heard, really. Songs like “Vanity Fair", "Artist", "Everything I’ve Known”,  “When You Were Young", "Lawless Lady", "Cane and Able", and the commercial “See How They Run,” aka “Three Blind Mice,”  really said something.  Again, that was the essence of their writing. 

Vocally, both Chris and Walker had unique voices, although Chris was the real singer of the two men.  Walker’s voice was unique, in a character way.  And naturally Laura’s voice was big, powerful, and had an extreme wide range of emotion.  Most notably, my favorite Laura Branigan vocal line, that we worked on performance wise, was in one of the few songs the group did not write titled: “The Lawless Lady.”  If you get a chance to hear the line “I’ll Mend Your Lonely Love Life,” you will hear what I mean, as to nuances and expression that were never really heard after she left the group and went solo. Then check out Chris Van Cleave’s, powerful, emotional vocal on, “Everything I’ve Known”:  you feel every lyric.  And then Walker Daniel’s rose to his singing level with his quirky Tim Burton type vocal on “Vanity Fair.”

Sadly, as some of you know, both Walker Daniels and Laura Branigan are not with us; both dying way too young.  Nevertheless, the most prolific and creative member of the group is still creating and performing, as well as acting and teaching.  My true creative colleague, Chris Van Cleave.

Oh, and one last thing, while Laura sang lead on a track called, “Artist”, this was written by Chris.  And for all those who create, this truly is a masterpiece of emotion for all who do.  In many ways, the essence of that song, is what Meadow is really about.

If you can find it, I believe the album still is out there for sale.

Louis Hemsey
Meadow / “The Friend Ship”
Paramount Records / 1972