The story behind the sound of Augusta

Augusta

It's one of sports most recognisable anthems, but do you know its background? Michael Cunningham looks into the history of Dave Loggins' Masters piece 'Augusta'

by Michael Cunningham

This memorable composition will infuse your soul with the warmth of spring and the feeling, that for many, signals golf season is about to begin. ‘Augusta’ is the iconic music of the Masters of which musician Dave Loggins, second cousin to Kenny composed both the song and lyrics. It has become one of sports most notable refrains.

Well it’s springtime in the valley
On Magnolia Lane
It’s the Augusta National
And the Master of the game

Dave is best known for his hit ‘Please Come to Boston’ and venerated by his peers for his composing skills. He fashioned the words for ‘Augusta’ while attending the 1981 tournament and described how the beauty of the course overwhelmed him.

He recalled the lyrics came to him on the 440-yard par-4 14th hole, Chinese Fir. The eighth most difficult hole at Augusta, and the only hole without a bunker, it has been the setting of many incredible displays of shot execution.

As a spectator, Loggins was introduced to Frank Chirkinian, the respected producer of CBS Sports. Chirkinian had been looking at developing a theme song for his treasured sporting event while Dave had been imagining a sound that could reflect his experience. The stars were aligned!

This concept and lyrics are rightfully Dave’s as he was one of the most accomplished songwriters in the early ’80s, but the sound became more than just one man, and includes Norbert Putnam, who Kris Kristofferson said, “is the most gifted, clear-eyed, unpretentious artist I have ever met”. Musician, arranger and producer, Norbert is an original Muscle Shoal’s Fame Studio member and has worked with the likes of Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Linda Ronstadt and Ray Charles.

Norbert remembers receiving a call from Dave, following his meeting with Chirkinian asking if he could record at Norbert’s Bennett House Studio in Franklin Tennessee. Dave would ‘put down the song’ on guitar and Norbert would provide the bass for harmony.

“What’s your budget?” asked Norbert.

“$1,000 dollars!” Dave replied.

As they were arranging what they thought was a track ready to send to Chirkinian, Mike Hanna, music director for Dan Fogelberg and Donna Summer, paid a chance visit to the studio. “He was watching the two of us and said he could really hear a two bar piano sound going into Dave’s guitar part. On a seven-foot Yamaha piano, in a few minutes, he composed the intro. It was perfect,” Norbert recalls.

In an hour the music was completed and sounded great…

Norbert opened a bottle of wine to celebrate and at that moment Hanna said: “I’ve been thinking about this and I really think it needs a string quartet. We can improve the sound even more and a string section would be the way.”

However there was no budget. As coincidences go a symphony was recording next door and an offer was made to the conductor to borrow four classical string musicians. For an investment of fifty dollars each for thirty minutes of their time, Mike, Norbert and Dave emptied their pockets to pay for the quartet.

“Television was recorded in mono in those days. It wasn’t any fun as there were no right or left channels,” said Putnam. Vocals and harmony were then completed and the track was delivered to Chirkinian, who then said, “Let’s use it without the vocals as I want it to also be a backing track in and out of the commercials.” “Backing track with no melody in the first verse! So what you hear is just Dave doing the finger picking and I slide in with the bass and the quartet comes in and it is just a lovely little piece of background music.”

Mike and Norbert never received a royalty and Norbert believes Dave receives a small amount every year. All of the rights to the music belong to The Masters Tournament and not to CBS.

Norbert has recently completed his first book, ‘Music Lessons’. Mike is in Las Vegas performing and Dave is planning to update some of the words to ‘Augusta.’

It’s the music of inspiration that evokes a sense of anticipation for the four days of rivalry and friendship, played out on a masterful landscape on which the world’s leading golfers vie for the coveted green jacket.

Augusta is the collaboration of three respected musicians, who for very little money and for two of them minimal recognition, created one of the world’s most memorable sports anthems.

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