A&M chapter twelve

There I was, actually engineering on a KISS record.  Garth as head engineer and Eddie Kramer of Hendrix fame producing.  So what if I was flying in explosions and applause, eventually I recorded Paul’s lead vocal for Detroit Rock City.  I used an SM58 and encouraged Mr. Stanley to go handheld in an effort to preserve context and vibe.  KISS Alive III………see, there’s no such thing as live records anymore.

KISS records had long since become low budget productions in the interest of maximizing profit.  Gene and Paul may very well be rock icons, but they are businessmen first and foremost and they never pretend to apologize for that.  Therefore, respect.

Real live records were pretty much before my time and probably yours.  Johnny Cash, “Live in Folsom Prison” circa 1968.

I ran into Paul Stanley a few months ago at the 7-11.  It’s right next door you know.  He looked at me while we stood in line and I told him quietly that I’d engineered some of his vocals for Kiss Alive III, he smiled and said something about there being no such thing as live records anymore.  I wished him a goodnight.  Nice guy.

The clerk behind the counter had no idea.

Eddie Kramer is an entirely different story.  I’ll do my best to be succinct; as I typed that, I knew it to be a lie.

His ego was a blimp.  His talent was a cherry tomato water balloon fashioned from an extra small prophylactic.  His integrity was larval and his personality was heartburn.  A loathsome man who kept whispering in my ear about mixing unreleased Hendrix tracks.  I can just imagine him doing the same thing to every up and coming engineer he’d ever been in a control room with over the last two decades.  A sociopath with tendencies latent I can only guess at.  An egomaniacal asshole.  A man I’d swing on today if he said hello to me in a mall.

I’d like to put a very fine point on this.  Eddie Kramer is, if he’s still alive, a shitty, stupid and callow human.  The kind of man my father would call a “shitass” and then find reason to beat the crap out of.  A miserable and misanthropic little prick with no idea what everyone in his life thinks of him because he can’t be bothered.  He had no business inside a studio like A&M.  He, of all people I encountered in that environment for over eight years, had the shallowest of reasons to be inside that place.  A bullshit legacy that was far more about luck than talent.  Right place at the right time and absent a modicum of ability nonetheless.

From the guy who took care of the giant saltwater aquarium to Buddy the piano tuner.  From the runners to Shelly Yakus, no single person ever entered that monolithic front door with less integrity, less character or less credibility than Eddie Kramer, music’s most odoriferous charlatan.

The scene:

Here I am engineering for Garth and Eddie on a goddamn live KISS record.  I lied to Paul Stanley before we did the Detroit Rock City vocal by telling him I couldn’t remember the lyrics.   In order to “punch” or drop in and out of record by the millisecond for a vocal on an analog machine, you had to know the lyrics and melody or at least have a map because you did it live and in the moment.  Not at all like today.  He graciously wrote them out for me.  Somewhere I still have them.  Yep Sean, they’re still yours unless I end up homeless.

By the way, Gene and Paul, exceptionally nice guys.  Bright, clever, very funny and about as anti-asshole as  rockstars can be.  I thoroughly enjoyed working with them.  That it was fun, is no understatement.

I knew what sort of animal Eddie was by that point.  We learned far more than engineering in a place like A&M.  He was hapless without knowing it.  No skill, no acumen, no ear and completely clueless about the then contemporary technology.  His assistants and engineers spent considerable time each day after he left cleaning up his boneheaded mistakes and fixing his retarded, ill advised contributions to whatever project he had a hand in.  The comedy is that his ears were of such cheap and tawdry tin, he’d arrive the next day and never hear the difference.  He never suspected a thing.  Talk about an ego.

Eddi Kramer made his living taking credit for what everyone around him did to keep him from looking the fool he was.  Look under narcissist in the dictionary.  Guess who’s pictured.

I was smart enough to play along.  I curried favor, did the best job I could and even pretended to be excited about mixing his lost Hendrix tracks with him.  I knew he was a douchebag of the highest possible order.  In a place like A&M, you became accustomed to wizards and sorcerers.  The best of the best.  Eddie Kramer could not qualify for girl scout in that arena.

Look under hack.

I’d come to the studio on one of my precious days off to ensure the transfer of tapes, notes, documentation and gear from Studio C to the Mix Room went smoothly.  I was there to answer any questions and assist in any way I could.  I had done this for one reason.  Garth Richardson.

After a few hours and double and triple checking that all track sheets and documentation were in the right boxes and everything was as organized and idiot proof as I could make it……..dark clouds eclipsed the sun.

Luther Vandross and his engineer Ray Bardani were doing vocals and mixing across the hall in Studio D.  For some reason they were there in The Mix Room that afternoon.  Luther was a very nice and gentle man and so was his Engineer/producer Ray.  I had huge respect for Ray, he was a wizard.  Luther always brought a couple real video arcade games with him.  Runners and techs played them until dawn.  More often than not drunk or high or both.

I have stories about Luther but that’s another day.

Of course, Gene and Paul were there too.

I was about to leave when Eddie asked me to throw up a quarter inch reel on an ATR and find something he remembered as being funny.  All humor and light, he was attempting to entertain the assembled.  I wasn’t familiar with the reel he was asking for but more than happy to do my part for Eddie’s burlesque.

It took me a minute but I located the reel he was asking for and threaded it.  The map in the box wasn’t very clear and I wondered if he wasn’t sure what he was looking for.  A few minutes of trying to locate what he wanted and I started to sweat.

He started by saying things like there was a rookie in the room.  He laughed and suggested I read the label on the front of the box.  He went on to announce there was an idiot at the controls.  He wondered aloud what was to be expected from a simple “teaboy”.

I told him I wasn’t sure what he was looking for and it didn’t appear to be on this reel.

It was then he abruptly shoved me aside spitting words like asshole and fucker.

For the record, I’m not a violent guy.  I haven’t been in a fistfight since my early twenties.

I stood behind him with no choice but to feel and look foolish.  He began to stab at the controls maniacally, cursing and yelling ever louder.  A child’s tantrum building.  He started to stomp and scream.  Somewhere in the course of his volcano erupting, I saw that he’d reset the tape counter in the middle of the reel.  The sketchy map was now useless.  He pounded the machine in shrill frustration, stepped back and demanded I find what he was looking for all while calling me names and insulting me.

The room was silent.  Nobody looking anywhere but down.  Like an elevator after someone had farted.  Without saying anything and realizing what he’d done, I stepped to the machine and began to rewind the reel to the top so I could reset the counter.  It was then he exploded.

“It’s not at the beginning you fucking amateur!”

To be honest, I don’t remember what he said or rather, screamed after that.  It’s all a blur.  I can tell you it was the absolute worst, most invective, vituperative vitriol that had ever been directed at me in my entire life.

Stunned.

Surreal.

I was looking around for who he was talking to.  This pathetically ponytailed halitosis of a human was looking and screaming at me.  Ferocious indignation swarmed in my chest like furious bees.  My fists balled into hammers.  A career ending paroxysm was coming like a locomotive.  Fight or flight and my brain had seized on pounding this little limey shit in front of me into bloody unconsciousness.

I was going to hit him.  I was going to bash his fucking brains in.  I was going to kick his petite and lifeless body over and over.

And there was a hand on my shoulder.  “Mikey”, he said softly.  I turned slowly and there stood Garth.  He wrinkled his nose a little and pushed his glasses up.  “Mikey”, he said again and tilted his head to the left, towards the door to the hall.  He followed me out and I turned to him.  I was beside myself with anger and humiliation.  I tried to talk but there were no words.  With his hands at his sides he said to me, “Forget it, you didn’t do anything wrong.  Don’t worry about it.  Go back to Studio C and wait for me.”

I waived my arms and my mouth was open.  “Go”, he said.

Not a short walk between Mix and C and a lot longer on that day.  I sat in the rolling chair behind the console and shook with rage while my eyes leaked tears.  No one had ever spoken to me like that in my life.  I’d never been so embarrassed.  I’d nearly shit myself in desperate confusion.

I had my head in my hands, elbows on the console when I heard Garth enter the machine room behind me.  He asked if I was okay.  I don’t think I answered.  The entire time he spoke to me, I don’t believe I said a word.  I have to paraphrase what he said.  He assured me it was no big deal.  He told me an idiot like Eddie Kramer would never go to my superiors and make trouble for me because he was far too spineless and had a chronic reputation for the kind of behavior I’d just been on the receiving end of.  He told me that in the unlikely event Kramer attempted any such thing, that he, Garth, would intervene on my behalf and promised I had nothing to worry about.

His advice to me was to go home, or maybe a bar, and forget it ever happened.  The only thing anyone in that room anyone would remember about today he said, was just how big of an asshole and a child Eddie Kramer was.  You are a pro he said.  You didn’t hit him.  Walk it off.

Twice his size, I could have killed him before anyone pulled me away.

Mark Harvey joked with me about it the next day.  Told me no one else needed to know about it and reminded me that Eddie Kramer’s reputation proceeded him.  And that was pretty much it.

When Eddie and I passed each other in the hall in the days and weeks following, he wouldn’t even look at me.  Coward.

Thank you Garth.  You were and still are I’m sure, one of the best ones.  A good man indeed.

Drinks for my friends.

9 Responses to “A&M chapter twelve”

  • David Lee 3:

    Brilliant

  • admin:

    Thanks man.

  • datdermuhbuttuk:

    Sheezus. Good stuff.

  • admin:

    Allright then.

  • sqb:

    Well, that sure beats my little happy humorous Eddie Kramer story….

    I knew he was a dick, but Jesus!

  • admin:

    Thanks for reading Barney 🙂

  • Teresa:

    Wow…no words can express the sadness and disappointment you felt from so many years ago. He was definately a jerk, however, thankfully what goes around, comes around…

    When your book gets published, all those in the studio that afternoon will appreciate you being so open and honest about a tough situation and how you handled it. Maybe even some will learn by your amazing example and the standards you set. I can only imagine the will power you must have shown to all of those involved.

    I really need to catch up…you have some of the most unique and interesting stories!

    Love, T.

  • admin:

    I think the point is I handled it the way I did because of a much smarter and wiser man. He deserves any and all credit.

    Thanks though 🙂

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