Recordings from paradise
25 Nov 2013
- Written by CHRIS KATON / Photos by ROB KAUFMAN
GREG CRITCHLEY’S CAREER AS A SONGWRITER, PRODUCER AND INSTRUMENTALIST INCLUDES COLLABORATION WITH A WHO’S WHO OF THE MODERN MUSIC SCENE.
Consider this; as a professional drummer, Greg Critchley played alongside some of the greatest percussionists of his age; including, Neil Peart of Rush, John Bonham of Led Zeppelin and Phil Collins of Genesis. He has shared a stage with Aerosmith and The Who.
In his 30s Critchley tired of the touring lifestyle and turned his focus toward studio drumming then worked on projects with some of Nashville’s biggest stars. In his 40s he moved to Los Angeles, where his work as a songwriter and production engineer earned him industry accolades for Disney productions High School Musical One, High School Musical Two and Hanna Montana.
Today Greg is 50 and is continuing his journey on Hilton Head Island. He has a casual demeanor of a person comfortable in their own skin.
We are sipping coffee, relaxing at The Sound, his state-of-the-art production studio and he’s sharing the story of his journey from a small town outside of Toronto, Ontario.
His office includes a giant electronic mixing board and a window looking into a custom-designed sound studio.
Inside, artists have access to his 1968 Ludwig drum kit and a $15,000 Telefunken microphone that is arguably the top choice of any singer worldwide. A miniature baby grand piano is present.
“I’d vacationed on Hilton Head for 25 years so I knew I liked it here, I just wasn’t sure I could work from here,” Greg said. Advancement in digital technology include ISDM wiring that allows for artists to collaborate in real-time from the studio on Hilton Head to New York or Los Angeles.
“I told myself I’d give it three months, but I liked it and things seemed to be working out pretty good, so I gave it another two months, then I signed a six-month lease. Before long I knew that if I was going to be here, I was going to need a studio like the one I’d had in L.A. and “The Sound” was born.”
Greg talks of capturing and recording sound in terms of warm and cold. “When I’m in the studio I can control the flutter of errant sound waves that turn a sound flat and cold. I’m looking to capture rich, thick sounds that tell a story.”
“By my late 20s, early 30s I was getting tired of the touring lifestyle, so I changed my focus from a life on the road to one in the studio,” he said.
Greg was selected to join the house band at the Orbit Room in Toronto, where he partnered with hall of fame guitarist Alex Lifeson of Rush. The relationship led to collaborative studio projects with country music stars Clay Aiken, Keith Urban, Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, the Dixie Chicks and Jo Dee Messina.
A favorite stage memory is captured in photograph in his office of him playing the drums with Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson of Rush.
“You’ve got to understand that growing up in Toronto and being a kid who played drums, all I dreamed about was one day being good enough to sit in and play with Neil Peart,” Critchley said. “I was fascinated by him as a kid.”
In high school Critchley’s parents allowed Greg and his older brother Rob to transform their basement into a practice studio where the band played nearly every day. “We played so much that we actually got pretty good,” Critchley said.
He shared a story of the band learning to play Rush songs, and then inviting Neil’s younger sister over to the house to watch them play. “I don’t know if Neil ever knew that or not. If so, he never said anything and I’ve never asked him.”
“It went further than him being a great drummer. We were both from Niagara and my mom was his teacher in school. There was that sense that if he came from there and made it that maybe I could too.”
Gesturing again toward the photograph of playing Neil Peart’s drum set, Greg said, “When I finally had the chance to play with him I was so excited I didn’t sleep for three days.”
After achieving musical success in Canada, Greg turned his sights toward Los Angeles where he sought to pursue a lifelong passion for songwriting and sound production.
“Early on I played as a touring drummer, then a session drummer and this was just the next step in the creative process,” Critchley said. “That first six or eight months I was in L.A. I was so busy I didn’t even unpack my drums,” he said. “It was an amazing time.
His work on High School Musical One, High School Musical Two and Hanna Montana earned threetimes platinum status, selling over 15 million copies and receiving two Billboard Awards, two Emmy Awards, two American Music Awards and a Teen Choice Award.
“I have every intention of continuing my working relationships with Disney and Nickelodeon, but my focus is going to be helping get new talented musicians their start,” Critchley said.
Earlier this year Critchley forged a relationship with local musician John Cranford, the lead singer of the popular local band Cranford Hollow, who was looking to take his Lowcountry Stomp on the road. By all accounts the first completed project was a rousing success. Critchley worked with the band to help write songs and produce their second CD.
The band universally agreed that they enjoyed the experience of recording a professionally mixed album in their own backyard.
“This is our home,” Cranford said. “It was amazing to have the chance to collaborate with so many local artists, friends of ours that have helped us and supported us along the way. It was our way of saying thanks and would never have been possible if Greg wasn’t here.”
Recording on the island allowed musicians Scott Evans, Adam Gardner, Martin Lesch, Jon Miller and John Wilkins to perform as special guests on various songs. “The entire studio, from the microphones to the drum set to the mixing boards and the entire support team is all first class,” Cranford said. “There’s no way we could have done what we did without their help.”
Critchley recently returned from Los Angeles where he had meetings with Disney Studios and Nickelodeon. In addition to Cranford Hollow, he is promoting new music from Heather Stewart and said that he’s always searching for new talent to expand his collaborations with artists across the country.