HOUSE OF WONDER
Your October 2007 [30th Anniversary Special] issue is a keeper. History — I love it!
Back in the summer of 1977, I was a drummer touring with a rehash of Blues Image. I've been recording and writing ever since. Here are some obscure thoughts that the articles in that issue dredged up.
It was 1973; I can't remember the month. Bob Kenson, the lead singer for our band, Burnt Toast, connected with a fellow classmate from Los Altos High School in Hacienda Heights, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles. The classmate was Gary Olazabal (aka Gary O), who was working at the Record Plant in L.A. and had been the tape operator on the hit Stevie Wonder album Innervisions. Gary went on to work with Stevie as his personal engineer for years. Gary invited the band over to record at night so that he could sharpen his recording chops.
From the way the Record Plant was described to me, I thought that it literally was a manufacturing facility where records were pressed. I envisioned Gary packing records into cardboard cartons. I was wrong.
Late one night, we pulled into the parking lot of a dingy industrial building, walked past the reception desk and into the control room of Studio B at the Record Plant. My jaw dropped as I glanced at the massive API console and the 24-track 3M recorder. I then gazed into the studio where I saw a silhouette of a grand piano, and beyond that I saw sliding glass doors — the typical aluminum sliding doors you see in houses.
There sat TONTO, The Original New Timbral Orchestra, a custom synthesizer designed by Malcolm Cecil and Bob Margouleff. I'm told that Stevie had been using it since [recording] Music of My Mind through Innervisons at that time.
I was told that Studio B had been configured specifically for Stevie Wonder. The studio was not very large, as I recall. I used to have many pictures from those days, but alas, I have lost them over time. I only have the memories and some melancholy as I recall the indelible images cast back then. There was truly romance in the recording process back then.
PERFORMANCE IS KEY
I'm a singer/songwriter and voice-over artist in New York City. I'm just putting my home studio together and Mix continues to be a valuable resource for me.
I wanted to say thanks for doing the piece in “Classic Tracks” on the Traveling Wilburys' “Handle With Care” (November 2007). Learning about the gear that was used and the way in which it was used — old, ear-aligned tape machines, blankets on the walls, tape marks on the floor and those five guys in a semicircle in a kitchen around just a couple of mics — was not only inspiring, but it made me think of what my drummer and co-producer, Graham Hawthorne, said to me when I was setting up my studio and what should be tattooed to the forehead of any artist shelling out his/her own money to put a room together: “A great performance in front of a mediocre signal chain will always blow away a mediocre performance in front of a great signal chain!”
MISSING PERSONS DEPARTMENT
Where is Daniel Lanois on your list (“30 People Who Shaped Sound,” October 2007)? He took ambience beyond [Brian] Eno because of his great knowledge as a writer and arranger, and made Emmylou Harris' and Bob Dylan's best records of the last 20 years. Where is Phil Spector? Where is Jeff Lynne, who shaped the sound of George Harrison, the Traveling Wilburys and Tom Petty through the '80s and '90s?
AND WHAT ABOUT…?
I'm sure the editorial board is bound to get a metric buttload of music snobs chiming in their two cents' worth, but I thought it odd to exclude Frank Zappa from the list of “30 People Who Shaped Sound.” If everyone agonized for months about it, how could Frank Zappa have been excluded, yet Dr. Dre made it? (No stab at Dre; I think he's worthy.) I know I'm part of a small and vociferous group of Zappa fiends, but come on!
I forgive you nonetheless. You included Elliot Scheiner.
IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WAS LES
The man who shaped sound was Les Paul! Without him we would not have multitrack recording or the electric guitar. He should always be recognized first in any list attributing anything about recording or sound, even if it's 211 years later.
That's my opinion, anyway.
THOSE WERE THE DAYS
I wanted to drop you a note to thank Blair Jackson for the mention in your fabulous article (“New York '77,” October 2007).
Thanks for reminding me of Bob Liftin, who introduced me to the concept of sync SMPTE timecode — rather than 60-cycle — phase lock. Your piece was so on the money that there was this feeling of friendly competition and respect for those trailblazing engineers like Phil Ramone and Tom Dowd, who was still working at Atlantic up on 60th and Broadway, Jay Messina and Shelly Yakus at Record Plant, and, of course, Eddie Kramer at Electric Lady.
These masters recorded timeless pieces of music. Phil had mixed Elton John's 11-17-70 live for WNEW. Tom, among his many accomplishments, had produced the Allman Brothers Band's At Fillmore East. [Jimmy] Iovine was working with [Bruce] Springsteen, and Bob Ezrin [with] Alice Cooper. Kramer, besides KISS, was producing and engineering Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones.
I've been in Los Angeles for so long now that I'd nearly forgotten that incredible period in New York City's recording history. New York City was the place to be. I'm very grateful to have been part of such a rich time.
Again, thanks for capturing the spirit of the time. I look forward to your next piece.
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