L.A. Grapevine

A look at the life of the owner of The Village Studios’ Geordie Hormel; in the studio with the Fresno band Mardo

I hate to lead off this column with sad news, but the gentleman involved deserves top billing. On Sunday, February 12, 2006, The Village's founder, Geordie Hormel, 77, passed away surrounded by family at his home in Paradise Valley. “He was a wealthy man, yet very modest, and existed in the world purely on his intelligence and talent,” says Village CEO Jeff Greenberg. “He takes little credit for his work; he didn't really want people to be aware of all that he'd done.” Hormel founded The Village in 1967 as a place to record his own music, something he excelled at despite no formal training. He had the makings of a child prodigy, banging away at the piano at age three. By the time he turned six, when his parents decided he was old enough for lessons, he had already taught himself how to play songs by Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman and others by ear.

Jeff Greenberg (left) and Geordi Hormel

Ignoring his parents' wishes for him to continue the family business (the Hormel meat-packing business, makers of canned mystery meat SPAM), he continued to pursue music as a profession. In the late '50s through the '60s, Hormel composed music for about half (by his own rough guess) of all filmed TV shows, including The Fugitive, Lassie, Naked City, Rin Tin Tin, Wanted Dead or Alive, Ozzie & Harriet and The Untouchables. He recorded about 300 songs and wrote about 100. A club called The Most in New York City booked him to play piano for two weeks in 1962. He stayed for a year without a day off. He even played the White House once.

Hormel accomplished all of this before he discovered a 22,000-square-foot space in Los Angeles, the Masonic Temple, purchased the building for $125,000 and converted it into his own recording studio. Before long, musician friends such as Donald Fagen and Walter Becker had seen the place and asked if they could record there, too. So with an inaugural Steely Dan album, The Village Recorder became one of the first independently owned recording studios in the U.S. and would go on to become one of the most successful, with credits including Fleetwood Mac's Tusk, Supertramp's Breakfast In America, the Rolling Stones' Goats Head Soup, the Walk the Line and Elizabethtown soundtracks, and the new Dixie Chicks album.

Hormel opened The Village as a 24-track studio at a time when most in the industry were still getting used to 16-track. He continued to serve as a visionary in music and its related technology, including playing a key role in bringing Fairlight to the U.S. markets. He stayed behind the scenes in The Village's operation, giving artists the space to do their work.

Hormel's spirit and philosophies remain intact at The Village, and the studio will proceed as usual. His daughter, Julie Hormel, says, “The Village is an amazing facility. We are very proud of it and there will be no changes in its operation.”

Les Pierce has produced, engineered and/or played on a number of jazz, R&B and pop albums. His ongoing work with Take 6 has earned him a Grammy and a Dove Award, and his credits include projects for Manhattan Transfer, Earth Wind & Fire, Rashsaan Patterson and Patti LaBelle, among others. He also composed the theme song for TV series Jimmy Kimmel Live and America's Next Top Model. So when I heard that Mardo — an indie muscle car-rock band led by Fresno, Calif. — bred brothers Aron and Robert Mardo (short for Marderosian) — had teamed with Pierce to record their second full-length CD (he also worked with them on their debut), it seemed like such an unusual combination, I had to ask: What's the connection?

First off, they have a mutual friend in Jimmy Kimmel music director Cleto Escovedo, who introduced Pierce to the group. Second, they had a mutual love of all things vintage: Through the years, the Mardo brothers have assembled an impressive vintage instrument collection, and were on their way to gathering vintage recording equipment when Pierce came on board. And third, well, Pierce has broad tastes; he's into the Stones and Incubus, and he can call up his rock chops from his earlier musician days.

Intrigued by their multiple talents (Robert Mardo plays drums and guitars and Aron Mardo plays keys and bass; both sing), Pierce took on the band as a producer. Their first album together, a self-titled effort released last year on House of Restitution Records, sold 30,000 copies with no major-label support or distribution. With this album, tentatively scheduled for release this month, Pierce and crew upped the ante. As with their debut, they recorded mostly at Pierce's home studio, the same site where he composes for TV. The band had the “T Rex meets AC/DC” thing down, but Pierce helped them combine the LA-2As and 1176s that they liked with the right instrument. He caught it all on his Pro Tools|HD rig, using a combination of RØDE, Neumann and AKG mics. When they were really pressed for time (Pierce would often have to jet across town for a Mardo session during a break from another gig), they recorded in the duo's mother's bedroom.

At press time, Pierce is working on some of the mixes for the album; Tom Lord-Alge has signed on to mix at least one. Pierce says that when Lord-Alge heard the roughs, he thought they were established musicians who had formed a new group, not a new band and a new group. “He was blown away,” says Pierce. “We sent him one song [to mix], and he got it back to us in a couple of days!” This time, Pierce was blown away. “We've really stepped up with this record, and it's exciting to see that more people are becoming aware of the band.”

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