In the cramped quarters of the Los Angeles studio chosen by Ringo Starr for the making of Vertical Man there was a magical atmosphere that oozes through to the listener, says Dean Grakal, a lyricist who co-wrote most of its 13 songs.
"Ringo is one of those special people who makes you feel good about yourself. You could see it on everyone's face as they were drawn into the excitement of making the album," Grakal said.
"The room had such great vibes. I know everyone talks about good vibe this and good vibes that, but something magical happened there that you cannot put your finger on. It was such a great feeling to be a part of it. When Alanis (Morissette) came into the room, she said she had never felt such happiness in a place before," Grakal continued.
Vertical Man was recorded in musician and lyricist Mark Hudson's office on Santa Monica Boulevard. Hudson's office share the building with a Thai restaurant, a ticket agent, an optometrist and graphic artist and some other small offices.
The recording sessions sometimes disturbed the neighbors, who were good-natured about it most of the time, Grakal said. They worked out an arrangement with the guy next door not to lay down drum tracks on certain days so he could make phone calls in peace. And the footsteps heard at the end of "Mindfield" come from the Thai restaurant owner coming up the stairs to ask for quiet during the dinner hour.
"She had a restaurant full of people who were trying to eat, and we could be heard through the floor. She was not pleased," Grakal said with a laugh.
Grakal, along with Ringo, Hudson and Steve Dudas wrote "One," "What in the ...World," "Mindfield," "King of Broken Hearts," "Vertical Man," "La De Da," "I'll Be Fine Anywhere," "and "Puppet." He also co-wrote "I Was Walkin'" with Ringo and Hudson.
Grakal is the son of Ringo's long-time attorney, Bruce Grakal, and has known the former Beatle for about 25 years. Grakal, now in his mid-30s, grew up in Los Angeles and received a degree in political science from the University of Southern California.
He initially considered a career as an entertainment lawyer, like his father. He also was in a band and had wanted to be a song writer. He said he settled on wanting to be a lyricist after hearing a song he had written performed by Hudson on a demo tape. It was Hudson's significant other, Barbara Vander Linde, who introduced him to the world of Rock `N' Roll. Through them, he has had the opportunity to work with Ringo, Rod Steward, Carol King, and Joe Crocker.
"Ringo is the biggest star I've ever worked with," Grakal said. "And Vertical Man is the first time I've ever been able to a complete album rather than just a song or two."
Grakal and Hudson first began work on the album at Ringo's house in Los Angeles, but soon moved to Hudson's office/studio.
Grakal said he, Ringo, Hudson and Dudas would sit around working on the lyrics, tune and drums. As they found something they liked, they'd call out "Write that down, Dean." and he'd respond, "I'm writing. I'm writing."
What was great about working with Ringo, Grakal said, is that "he's just an ordinary average everyday kind of guy. He never made any demands or insisted on special treatment. He was just there to have fun, and that made it fun for everyone."
There was a steady stream of visitors to the studio, and most of them wanted their pictures taken sitting at Ringo's drum kit. Grakal used a disposable box cameras to shoot pictures of the band rehearsing and the visitors. At the height of the work, he was making almost daily trips to the one-hour film developing service down the street.
"The guy at the camera store was kind of a part of our work vicariously. He would sometimes comment on what was going on, and even threw in a free roll of film one time," Grakal said.
In addition to Alanis Morissette, other contributors included Steven Tyler, Joe Walsh, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Steve Cropper, Jim Cox, Scott Gordon, Ozzy Osbourne, Scott Weiland, Brian Wilson, Dave Gibbs, and Timothy B. Schmit.
"One of the great things about this experience," Grakal said, "was that I got to work with all my idols. It has been the highlight of my career."