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In the meantime, Gene was deeply involved with another band, the Wygals, without actually quitting but leaving him less time to devote to The dBs, and a period began in mid-85 where the only dBs activities were making demos of new songs and a handful of gigs. Peter continued playing solo shows.
Early in 1986 Albert Grossman died of a heart attack on a transatlantic flight. He left no will, and his empire was tied up in court for a couple of years. This created a situation where The dBs (and others, notably NRBQ) were signed to an inactive label whose owner had deceased and left no provision who could make decisions on behalf of the label.
A court battle ensued. Widow Sally Grossman would eventually win control, but without the ability to make a record for Bearsville or anyone else, in 1985-86 the band could not record and could earn money only through gigging.
This low-profile period lasted through most of 1986. But behind the scenes, I.R.S. Records was interested in signing the band throughout this time, and in fact the deal was negotiated simultaneously (and secretly) with the effort to extract themselves from the Bearsville mess, so that once the latter was done the I.R.S. contract was signed immediately.
In the spring of 1987 recording sessions for I.R.S. began at Quadrasonic Studio just off Times Square. Producer Greg Edward was agreed upon after the label rejected the preference of the band to produce themselves.
Gene made clear before the sessions began that he was leaving the group after recording the album to become a full-time member of the Wygals, of whose records he was also producer. It was an amicable split, and in fact the Wygals subsequently opened for The dBs on some shows that fall.
Strings on several songs were played by Lisa Germano (then violinist with John Mellencamp) and Jane Scarpantoni (cellist on more records than can be listed here). Syd Straw sang a duet with Peter on "Never Before and Never Again." Jeremy Smith, of Hunters and Collectors (another I.R.S. band produced by Edward), added French horn to "Looked at the Sun Too Long." Eric "Roscoe" Ambel (then of the Del-Lords) played lap steel on "Home for the Holidays."
For the first time, The dBs recorded a studio version of a non-original song: "Feel Alright" was by Cargoe, a Memphis band who shared the Ardent label with Big Star. This track appears on the CD but was not on the LP, then still the most popular format.
Upon completion of recording, Peter moved from New York to Los Angeles. He made a solo tour of this trip, and driving a 1964 Rambler cross-country made for an interesting angle (as did sponsorship by Jiffy Lube, who presumably kept the Rambler humming). He and the car made it, and the mixing sessions were in L.A. in June, preceded by a quick tracking session at Rumbo Recorders in the Valley at which Benmont Tench (who Peter had met years before at prep school, now of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) added organ to "Change with the Changing Times" and synthesizer to "I Lie."
The mix studio, Can-Am, was where Van Dyke Parks recorded piano on "Working for Somebody Else" and synthesizer on "Never Before and Never Again." Parks was originally approached about writing a string chart for "Never Before and Never Again," but budgetary constraints prevented that from coming to pass.
Recording and mixing all proceeded smoothly perhaps too much so. The band thought the album, while well enough recorded and full of good songs, didnt pack as much wallop as it should have. Attempts to turn amps up loud enough to get the right tone were met with resistance by Edward, who also eschewed real acoustic guitars in favor of ersatz-sounding solid-body acoustic-electrics. But all such doubts were outweighed at the time by eagerness to have a record out.
Peter came up with the title The Sound of Music. At least one advance flyer appeared with the deleted, which was done (without informing the band) in a craven decision by some lawyer that maybe the title was a violation of copyright, which it wasnt, but that bit of underhandedness was nipped in the bud. (Details on the album cover are available in the Multimedia section of The dBs Online.)
Jeff had moved back to New Orleans about the same time Peter moved to L.A., and with Will remaining in New York The dBs were now a tricoastal band.
New Orleans had in the past few years become more or less the home away from home for The dBs: every Mardi Gras for four years, demo sessions there, and bassist, manager and soundman from there. The Big Easy now became the de facto base of operations.
Auditions to replace Gene had been held unsuccessfully in New York in the spring. The next plan was to hire Eddie Muñoz, formerly of the Plimsouls, on guitar, and Louisiana boy Harold Kelt on keyboards. This lineup commenced rehearsals in New Orleans in July, and played a show at Jimmys. Muñoz didnt work out and, with album release and tour looming, Kelt continued on both keys and guitar.