I’ve lived in Cleveland, Phoenix, Washington, D.C., and now twice in Nashville, but the city I spent the biggest chunk of time in is Los Angeles. I lived there from 1976 to 1994, which in great part set me up for careers in audio recording, publishing and education. I got my love of music from my dad, who would sing around the house and was always playing records. He wasn’t the feely touchy type, and in my kid-head, I believed I could have a better connection with him if I was excellent at something musical.
So I took up guitar at 11, and through high school I played in many bands and, because I could read music, in the pit orchestras for drama department productions at ASU. I studied music theory through the Berklee correspondence course, explored George Russell’s Lydian Chromatic Concept, corresponded and took lessons from Berklee’s William Leavitt, Howard Roberts, Joe Pass, and plumbed as many local brains as I could find. Once I got to college, I flew through my theory classes and quickly wrung everything I could out of the desert. L.A. was close, and always somewhere I knew I’d be.
Los Angeles offers more than you’d ever need to “make it” in a career in the audio and visual arts—if you don’t give up. I supported my music habit with many day gigs, along with playing guitar, sometimes seven nights a week. I worked in a hotel as a bellhop, as a messenger/dispatcher, as an assistant dress buyer at Mode O’ Day (really!), and put on a tool belt to build three recording studios around town. You might think that the day jobs were a drag, but that’s where I met some of the coolest people, who whether they knew it or not, were mentoring me.
As a messenger, I picked up comedian Don Rickles’ standard poodles, Joker and Clown, two male dogs that barely fit in my 1978 Honda Civic. They humped each other all the way to the vet, providing comedic relief at stoplights along Rodeo Drive. I made deliveries to voice-over genius Mel Blanc, musicians Verdine White and Johnny Rivers, met actor Tony Curtis, dropped papers to actor Carroll O’Connor, movie mogul Ted Fields, and film cans at Tom Laughlin’s house. I took legal papers to the home of billionaire and media maven Jerry Perenchio, who literally opened the cookie jar on his counter and pulled out a wad of cash that he handed to me as a tip. I delivered to film composer Michael Small, who was in town writing the score for The Postman Always Rings Twice in a room overlooking the beach in Santa Monica. After that delivery, I did some research on his work, and as luck had it, was dispatched to Small a second time where I was able to sit at the piano with him and ask him questions about the score of Parallax View. All this interaction proved over and over that this is where I needed to stay for as long as it took.
Film music, composition and songwriting were early interests as I sought my path in music. I studied arranging and composition with Albert Harris and Dick Grove, and songwriting with Jack Segal, who held invite-only songwriting workshops. I studied lyric writing with Molly-Ann Leiken and Phyllis Molinary, networking all the while with other writers.
But it was building studios that got me centered and finally on the right track. I was hired by studio and gear designer Eduardo Fayad and built two rooms, including Lighthouse Recorders in the Valley. It’s there I got my first staff gig assisting engineer Terry Christian and producer Michael Omartian, who were working on Stephen Bishop’s Bowling in Paris. That was 1988, and just yesterday I went to a Vandy football game with Michael, Terry and engineer Steve Marcantonio. Relationships that started 26 years ago, plus a new one—I love it.
At the Lighthouse I got to work with the top names in music: Quincy Jones, David Foster, Humberto Gatica, Mick Guzauski, Burt Bacharach, John Fogerty, Natalie Cole, Whitney Houston, George Duke, Erik Zobler, Ray Charles, Kenny G., Steve Lukather, Michael Landau, Jeff Porcaro, Nathan East, J. R. Robinson, Jerry Hey and many more. I was in heaven. One night, I was alone at the studio waiting for David Foster, who was dropping by to do some work. He handed me the keys to his Jag and asked me to get a reel of 2-inch out of the trunk. On three tracks was a direct dupe of Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable master recording. We sat there and listened to the isolated tracks. David pointed out the leakage of the orchestra on Nat’s vocal track, which was all done live to three tracks, as many early records were. Hearing Nat soloed was delicious.
I never wanted to leave L.A.; only the 1994 Northridge earthquake unseated me. I didn’t know it then, but it was time to go. I ended up building new careers based on my L.A. experiences, which I continue to use every day in my interaction with readers, students, artists, musicians and everyone else. Randy Newman said it best: I Love L.A.