What Was ‘Losst’ is Now ‘Founnd’: A New Harry Nilsson Album (Part 2)
Continued from Part One …
Though a number of posthumous releases followed Nilsson’s death (including several CDs’ worth of previously unreleased session material), Harry’s final project remained unfinished and largely unheard. Nearly a quarter century would pass before Hudson – with the support and cooperation of Nilsson’s estate, Hudson and Grammy-winning label Omnivore Recordings – dug out the old tapes and began work to bring the album to completion. “I know that Brad Rosenberger at Omnivore had been interested in releasing it for some years now,” says Kiefo Nilsson, the fifth of Harry and Una’s six children and a musician himself. He says that he and his family “always wanted it to happen, but sometimes you just have to wait for the right opportunity.”
The source tapes were something of a mishmash, Hudson explains. The original pre-demo recordings came from as many as 100 cassette tapes. “I must have 48 of them laying around somewhere,” he says. Sessions in Chicago took place in a studio typically used for television and radio commercials. Taking advantage of donated studio time, Hudson and Nilsson were grateful for what they had: three studio musicians whose identities are now lost to time. “I didn’t know any of them,” Hudson says. “We weren’t paying them.”
And he didn’t know anything about the studio owners, either. “Being a man who doesn’t trust the industry, I always, always get mixes of everything,” he says. And it’s a good thing that Hudson had his own copy of the session tapes. “Thank God I did that,” he says. “Because for some reason, the masters went missing. And the guy who lost the masters went AWOL.” So Hudson’s “Marky Tapes” (as he calls them) would eventually serve as the basis for what would become Losst and Founnd.
As Hudson writes in the liner notes for the new album released in November 2019 by Omnivore Recordings, “as soon as the project was a ‘go,’ most of [Nilsson’s] pals came and helped.” That list of musicians would include Jim Keltner, Klaus Voormann, Van Dyke Parks and Jimmy Webb.
For his part, Keltner played real drums to replace the drum machine tracks. Throughout the modern-day session, renowned session musician Jim Cox replaced the dated Yamaha DX-7 keyboard parts with proper brass and string arrangements. And at the suggestion of one of Nilsson’s old friends, Hudson brought in a bassist to replace the producer’s own bass playing on the original tapes. He recalls Jim Keltner asking, “Why don’t we try to get Kiefo Nilsson?”
Berklee-trained Kiefo had already established himself as a formidable musician. He recalls how he first connected with Keltner, a longtime musical associate of Harry Nilsson. “I had met Jim a year or two prior, at my brother’s wedding. We talked about music; he heard a bit of my story, how I had played bass with Glen Campbell.” Impressed, Keltner said he would try to get Kiefo on a session. The way things worked out, that session would be for work on recordings the bassist’s father had begun decades earlier. “He was really a champion for me,” Kiefo says.
And Hudson found Kiefo to be the perfect addition to the project. “He came down to the studio looking exactly like Harry. He put on the bass and he started playing. I looked over at Jim Keltner and said, ‘We’ve got him!’ He was great.” The young Nilsson was well-versed in his late father’s music, so he had a sense of what was needed on the tracks. “He knew what to play and when not to play,” Hudson says.
Kiefo was only eight when his dad passed away, but even at that young age he had a sense of Harry Nilsson’s celebrity status. “We had memorabilia around the house, and occasionally stuff like, ‘Oh, we’re going to a party at Ringo Starr’s house’ would happen,” he says. But he notes that among his childhood peers, his father was an unknown. “And that was true even after he passed,” Kiefo says. “He wasn’t someone who people of my generation necessarily knew about.”
The bassist believes his dad would have been happy with the finished Losst and Founnd project, and pleased at his involvement. “I think he would definitely enjoy [the album]. It’s big and loud and exciting, and it’s got a lot of energy behind it. And I think he would have been happy that I got to play on it. I would like to think that if he was around, he would have proposed something like that himself.”
And Kiefo Nilsson believes that the current-day additions to the basic recordings strengthen the end product, bringing it closer to his father’s original vision. “At the end of the day, if you remove all the [new] elements, that core of it is still carrying all of the material,” he says. “I’d like to think that he would be happy with that because it translates his songs in an appealing way.”