The Making of an Album: Isaac Freeman's Beautiful Stars

Record producer and Penn State professor Jerry Zolten worked with the Fairfield Four's Isaac "Dickie" Freeman on Beautiful Stars, Freeman's first solo album, from inspiration to final cut. Zolten answers some questions about the creative process.

man sitting with his guitar and his dog
James Collins

At home: Jerry Zolten, writer, teacher, record-producer, collector, musician, dog owner

Q: When did you and Dickie start working on his solo album?

A: A: We started making recordings while we were on tour (with the Fairfield Four in 2000 and 2001). I took my portable tape recorder with me and we would sit in one of the hotel rooms after concerts and make the recordings. So any one of these recordings could have been made as far away as California or as close as York, PA. I wasn't trying to get great sound. We were trying to figure out the keys and he was just singing stuff.

Q: What guitar were you using?

A: My little Gibson. It's a pre-WWII guitar.

Q: How did you choose the songs?

A: I tried to throw questions at him to help him conjure up memories of his past. I'd say, 'Dickie, what's the first song you remember from church? What's the first song you sang on your own?' Sometime he'd just start singing it. It would just come out of him. Ultimately, we recorded 30 some songs, and picked 11 of them for the album.

album cover featuring man singing with eyes closed
James Collins

Isaac Freeman's first solo album

Q: How did you go from these hotel tapes to the studio to the finished album?

A: I burned the hotel tapes to CD and sent them to the musicians prior to the recording sessions. When we got to Nashville to record, they all had an idea about how each song would go. In the studio, we just did it all at once. The songs were not double-tracked—except for some of the background vocals—so it gives it a live sound.

Q: What was Dickie's reaction to the final album?

A: Dickie was so emotional about it. The day we finished recording the album, I was driving him to his house and he asked me to pull over. This was something he never thought was possible. He'd been in the music business for years. He'd been ripped off. He'd been lied to. Cheated. The idea that he would be able to go into the studio and call the shots and pick the songs and have the whole thing delivered to him was incredibly moving for him. He just never thought it would happen.

Jerry Zolten, Ph.D. is associate professor of speech communications at Penn State Altoona; jjz1@psu.edu. His book, Great God A'mighty! The Dixie Hummingbirds, was published by Oxford University Press in 2003.

Last Updated November 14, 2004