Archive for the ‘Making Records’ Category

Your money or your life

This weeks assignment in my advanced memoir & autobiography class:  “…you are encouraged to find meaning in other sounds, and to convey that meaning largely by describing the sounds themselves.”

Where do I begin?  I can be lulled to sleep by the sound of heels clicking in a mall or chalk on a chalkboard.  Water trickling, ice clinking, waves lapping, rocks tumbling or bacon frying all hypnotize me.  A tiny fraction for example.  I played the drums for years.  I was never very good but my kit always sounded better than everyone else’s.  Once I understood that my passion for music had so much to do with the sound of it as opposed to melody and lyrics and not that I didn’t have a profound appreciation for those things, I plotted a course to become an audio engineer.

I knew I knew.

I did just that.

It’s a huge subject for me.  What I’ve come to realize is that it’s not merely sound that stirs me so vehemently.  It’s all my senses.  I can’t know that I’m different in this way, but I suspect it.  I’m so easily overwhelmed by what I observe.  I love to cook.  It occurs to me to be enjoyed by the same part of my brain that was so rewarded by mixing records.  It’s all about the combination of flavors and textures.  My repertoire is not extensive but what I do, I do well.  I try to pair my efforts with an appropriate wine.  Sometimes the wine is complimentary and sometimes it represents a ballast or contrast.

Smokey old vine Zinfandel with homemade pizza, sauvignon blanc with an arugula and asiago salad  or port with Stilton bleu cheese for example.  I taste each dish and its oenophilic accompaniment in my head before I begin.  I never cook with a recipe.  I gather all the flavors ahead of time and commence to combining them.  I’m not opposed to recipes, it’s just that they don’t often look like they taste like what I imagine in my head.  My approach confounds my mother somewhat.  She’s an excellent cook but doesn’t always understand my seat of the pants approach.  I can taste it ahead of time or I wouldn’t be able to prepare it.  I can see the meal complete with the soft focus f-stop photography of a food magazine.  I almost always plate it myself.

When I read or write, it’s a movie in my head.  I see it, smell it, hear it and taste it.  The best records I ever made I could hear almost complete in my head within the very first days of recording them.

It occurs to me that this assignment is meant to be about the senses in general and with obvious reason directs focus to one in particular.  I can’t separate them however.  I’ve no idea whether this makes me somehow different or unusual.  There is no way for me to ever know because I simply cannot climb into someone else’s head.  Most of my friends are artists of one kind or another.  I think it’s because they see and interpret things with the same degree of awe that I do. I believe everyone one does to one degree or another, it’s just impossible to measure or quantify.

Dude, it’s so subjective.

The distinguishing characteristic of humans from all other species is without a doubt, art.

Imagination is the purest and most important sense and I know I’m intimate with it.  For me it is fundamentally intrinsic.  I see it in my head.  I can feel it and touch it.  I can’t help that it is my prevailing impetus.  Without my hyperactive imagination, I would be blind.  I was in analysis for a time and my therapist told me I was hyper vigilant and commented often on the noise she was sure I experienced in my head.  I would rather die than have it somehow revoked.  I imagine that were it to disappear, I would go gentle into that good night.

Drinks for my friends.

Naked Wrestling in the Garden class 4 I think (A&M)

Mike,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             This is the most passionate, elegant rant I’ve read in a long time.                                                                                                                                                                                                The use of language is awesome.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Bob

I reckon back and forth.  Between today and yesterday.  I wish I could work in a record store again.  Those were the days.  Time keeps on slippin, slippin, slippin into today.

Remember vinyl records?  Polyvinyl chloride.  I remember scraping at the shrink wrap and peeling it away.  The smell of the ink and the black plastic disc that flooded my sinuses when I opened an album I’d bought and most likely peddled home hanging from my handlebars in a loose plastic bag.  The package.  The liner notes.  Who produced and who engineered.  Where and when it was recorded.  Who played what.  Listening to it and following along with the lyrics.  Listening to it.  Hard.  Listening to it really hard.  Busting with pubescent adolescent concentration.  I heard it.  I listened to it.  Couldn’t get it out of my head for days.

My brain was on fire.  Music set my brain on fire.  Melodies informed my day and tones haunted my waking and sleeping.  Magical.  No other word works here.  Magical.

Joe Walsh “The Smoker You Drink The Player You Get” which includes the single “Rocky Mountain Way“, featuring the just invented Talk Box later loaned to Peter Frampton for “Do You Feel Like We Do?” on “Frampton Comes Alive”; I think still the best selling live album of all time.

I worked in my hometown record store when CDs first hit the market.  Remember the long boxes?  They said digital was perfect but it wasn’t.  It sucked.  Third order harmonic distortion was the fuckery artifact of digital.  Analog trends towards even order harmonic distortion.  Complimentary to the octave either up or down.  In tune you see.  Odd, or third order harmonic distortion is dissonant and therefore unpleasant.  Not natural.  It was loud though.  Signal to noise was through the roof.  “Pachelbel’s Canon“.  I kept smoking the system in the record store I worked in.  I’d put it on at the end of the night and forget about it and the canons at the climax would arc the system and there was the smell of ozone while I vacuumed in silence.

Back then they didn’t have four year programs for audio engineering so I moved from Carson City Nevada to Atlanta Georgia to attend an art school with an audio engineering program.

I shot a documentary about the licorice pizza.  How it was made on down to the cost of materials.  I walked with a perfect 4.0 and received the outstanding graduate award. I’d barely begun to understand how records were made.  Records begat  CD’s and digital took over so completely there is no longer even a tangible product to hold in the hand today.  Recorded music is now the epitome of disposable.  For most, it is dispensed from a device the size of an individual package of sugar free gum with thin wires leading to buds inserted in ears.  No lifting the needle, rewinding or physically manipulating anything but buttons so diminutive that they disappear beneath our thumbs and fingers for instant gratification.

For our part, We never fired a sample (a bit of pre-recorded digital to replace an analog sound), We always recorded and mixed to analog tape and never entered the digital domain until it was time to master the record.  We would physically cut the 1/2 inch master together with razor blades and translucent blue tape.  Totally old school even back then.  On every record we ever made you heard what the band played.  Honest and exciting recordings, mistakes and all with the warmth and vibe and zero digital manhandling.  We joined the band.  Alex and I.  The “we” is me and Al and the band.  I taught Al to engineer and Al taught me to produce.  Al used to explain to others that I grew up listening to the sound of records and he grew up listening to songs.

We no longer afford this form of art the attention it deserves.  Matters not it’s the latest pop catering to the lowest common denominator of societal taste or a grand and inspired performance of a historied classical opus.

The once ubiquitous record store and the culture that enveloped so many of us, has vanished completely.  At least compact discs were a tangible product.  A package.  The Tower Record chain, with it’s full to overflowing shelves and it’s flagship Sunset Boulevard store vanished with a whisper some three or four years ago.  It breaks my heart.  I adored the perfume and pulse of my neighborhood record store.  The frenetic atmosphere and the snobby clerks.  That I’d produced and engineered a record in the top ten that would go on to sell 3.5 million copies at the time would earn me nothing more than a long look I’m sure.  I never mentioned it.  I would only ask after the latest Primus or Queens of The Stone Age or Lucinda Williams with humility for example.

I never could find that one ridiculously cool recording of Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue and American In Paris I’d worshiped on vinyl.

I was grateful that the first record I ever made was released on vinyl.  A punk record but that still sold some one hundred thousand copies.

I own a stereo that I spent nearly a decade assembling.  Lots of time researching and listening to the various components.  Me and Shaq, Shaquille O’Neal, had the same audio dealer.  A crazy liitle guy named Elliot with a house in the dense foliage just south of the boulevard.  The amplifier, preamplifier, transport, digital to analog conversion and speakers ran me nearly fifty thousand dollars.  I paid thirteen hundred dollars for the power chord (AC cable) alone that plugs into the wall from the power conditioner with it’s oxygen and crystal free copper buss bars that provide pure virgin power to the components that reproduce sound in my living room.  Both pieces of equipment designed by a retired NSA physicist.  Two hundred fifty watts a side into eight ohms and twice that at into four.  When I crack it wide open with nothing playing it is dead quiet.  It doesn’t even hiss.  Two speakers, five feet tall, 180 lbs each, hybrid ribbon and soft dome tweeter array, no subwoofer, no surround sound and it sounds like God to me when I play anything at all no matter how quiet.

They call me an audiophile.  I kinda don’t like that.  I used to be a vegetarian and I didn’t like that label either.

Beethoven’s Ninth will blow your hair back like that old Maxell tape ad from the eighties on my system.  So will Fiona Apple‘s first record.  I love the lushness and hips on that recording.

It is simultaneously a pinnacle of scientific achievement in sound reproduction and hopelessly archaic in the eyes of most people under thirty five.  Small grapes for the ears vs. speakers that weigh a large man.  Data compression and convenience versus all out raging sound.  I fear the mixers are wearing the ear grapes these days.  Paradigm gone.  Window open.

Yet, God as I understand it in my living room.

Sometimes I feel as though the majesty of popular music enjoyed for hundreds if not thousands of years has been eclipsed by the frozen diet meal and a hard disc recorder.  I’m genuinely afraid that art is no longer more important than microwave popcorn.

I need to tell you this.  The difference between humans and animals is not reason.  That is embarrassingly silly.  The difference is isn’t even humor.  My cats crack me the fuck up.  The difference is art.  Human beings everywhere would do well to understand and remember that.

Drinks for my friends.

Class 4, A&M chapter what, The Ballad of Michael Whitaker

Now you may or may not know that brainspank was down for a week.  It was an ill-fated attempt to at upgrading and advertising.  In the process I lost the graphics and only one blog.  My latest blog.  No word on graphics yet but I did discover a copy of said blog in my drafts file.  I took the liberty of editing and upgrading and here we are…….I’m just proud to be an American helping Americans one window treatment at a time.  Come see me at Costco………..

Without further ado: 

Michael Whitaker was the kind of guy who confounded most of the reasons I had for liking or disliking people.

Aggressive and smarmy.  When we first met, I thought him unctuous.  His enthusiasm was almost effeminate and rang bullshit to me.  I didn’t like him.  He seemed to know less than he thought.  I might have been aggressive and smarmy too.  I’m sure I knew less than I thought.

Cold isn’t a problem for me until the wind blows.

I was a cocky bastard.

Michael was rotund and sweaty.  About as big around as he was tall but obviously agile.  Belushiesque.  Always on something so he perspired so profusely.  Whatever you snort for pleasure is poison and it makes you sweat.  Toxins have no choice but to find escape from the pores.  I know this from personal experience.  I got into some bad biker speed one night in Pacoima and nearly lost my mind.

Long time ago.  A good story.  It involves Johnny Angel (Wendel), now a progressive radio talker, bodyguards, a professional big bust model and pink kerosene smelling biker speed that I was naive enough to think cocaine.

Anyway.

Corpulent fingers on hands that were amazingly strong.  There were times in the middle of the night, 2 or 3 a.m., he’d take it upon himself to knead my back as I sat with the tape remote between my legs or console in front of me.  He meant well.  It was an intrusion on my person.  He never smelled bad but but his nails were sometimes grimy and his face was a map of rivulets and streams.   I sweat.  I’m a sweater.  I leak from the head.  Whitaker’s head ran sometimes, like he just walked out from a car wash.  And he was thick and hirsute.

I don’t remember ever seeing him eat.  His eyes were so damn smart.  He clocked every single thing.  Like a cat.  Ever notice how some cats don’t want you to watch them eat?

Always completely about whatever we were doing.  Manic.  Hyper vigilant.  It was easy for him to tell me not to worry about things I knew I had to worry about anyway because he didn’t worry about anything.  He wasn’t interested in my world or anyone’s idea of else.  Michael’s world was completely his own.  I wondered sometimes where and how he lived.  We weren’t concerned about the same things in life,  in music however, we complimented each other.  We understood each other.  We visited each others world.  We made music in Studio C.

He filled out track sheets, box labels and had an excellent memory.  He remembered what I forgot.  He helped me in every way he could.  He helped us, the artist.  He helped us, the band.

Together we would guide artists around and through the obstacles that they might otherwise stumble upon.  We crafted and cajoled and reinforced.  We nurtured.

He bounced around my edges while I kept to the inside.  Did my best to keep the sounds fat and the performances with the right amount of rubber on the road.  I earned his respect about the same time he earned mine.  My muse.  His muse.

We did record a guitar out of time once through an entire chorus and neither of us realized it until after I mixed it.  Has to be the dumbest thing I ever did.  It was a forest for the trees mistake.  Patricia Sullivan, The lovely MissRicia, repaired it for us in mastering.

“Gozer the Traveler. He will come in one of the pre-chosen forms. During the rectification of the Vuldrini, the traveler came as a large and moving Torg! Then, during the third reconciliation of the last of the McKetrick supplicants, they chose a new form for him: that of a giant Slor! Many Shuvs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Slor that day, I can tell you!” -Ghostbusters and Bob Borbonus

I kept my control room at 65 and wore long shorts and a sweatshirt.  I wore a doo-rag with my hair tied back.  Oxblood Doc Martins that came half way up my calf with heavy wool lumberjack socks.  My partner Al would bundle up.  He had a fragile constitution.  I was fond of reminding him.  I was alert at that temperature and I’d discovered that sound deteriorated at a rate that coincided with an increase intemperature.  Twelve to sixteen hour days are best served cold.

Vitamin B (snortable), Vitamin C, lots of water and not so much coffee.  Juice.  Salads.  Fruit.  No booze until just before bed.

I’d go out to the guard shack and have a smoke when Hollywood was a hundred and one degrees.  Back to my control room to get some hot coffee and a banana.

I did so much then without even knowing what I was doing.  I slept there, I showered there.  I ate there. I drank there.  I learned about life there.  I less occasionally lost my mind there.

Easier to make a snare drum crack right in a control room that’s not a sauna.  Easier to make guitars bite and bass guitars growl and lumber along just behind the beat of the kick drum when even the kick drum hangs back.  Sometimes.  All electronic equipment runs better in a cool environment.  Now and then the AC would go down and every control room would rocket past a hundred degrees inside of fifteen or twenty five minutes.

Big fans doing a push pull at every control room entrance and exit.

Heat smears things to the ear the same way it shimmers and distorts the lense when looking at anything from a distance on an oppressive summer day.

I wish there was a past tense word like ‘shat’ for ‘shit’ for ‘sweat’.  Swat?  Perspired.  Michael Whitaker was fat and greasy and I adored him.

He was a human holiday.

Unmitigated enthusiasm and too infectious euphoria.  Sensitive to the artist as a cautious bull surrounded by china.

Whitaker didn’t really know how to play the guitar, I don’t think, but he could make it feedback in pitch and even get a melody out of it.  He really was a genius at it.  He played Mellotron on tons of stuff we did.  Mellotrons are unbelievably cool instruments: “The Mellotron is an electro-mechanical, polyphonic keyboard originally developed and built in Birmingham, England in the early 1960s.” -Wikipedia.

That works for me.

Press any key and it starts an actual loop of prerecorded tape of some component of an orchestra.  Completely analog.  The most amazing thing was you could play a chord on it.  The loops from each key played in time.  A pre synthesizer.  We had the same one John Lennon used for a while.  The ones I recorded were in tune with themselves, thanks to a genius A&M tech squad.  They weren’t always completely in tune with the track but a little dissonance isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Chili and lime.  Sweet & Sour.  Ginger, lemon, soy sauce and garlic and raw fish.  Capers, lemon and butter on whitefish.

A raging wall of collapsing guitars stacked upon each other so that the dissonance is harmonically irresistible.  So that you can feel the wind coming off the wall.  There really is nothing like that sound.  The feel and sonic force of 12 inch speaker cones literally warping and contorting while reproducing the distorted chords being forced down the throat of the magnets driving them.  It was one of my favorite sounds and I knew just how to make it.  When it came to big guitars, I could put the anchovy in the paste.

Cilantro and/or ginger.  A little soap in the gravy.  Maybe it’s not so comfortable on the tongue but you’re glad you swallowed it.

Like an oyster.

“Like disco lemonade.”  -stolen from some song I’m too lazy to look up

Always use celery salt on sauerkraut.  Always.

Contrast is as valuable as a compliment.

I digress.

We were talking about Whitaker.

Everything about him was fierce and gentle.  He had an office but no desk.  This was A&M records.  The most successful independent label ever.  Used to be the Chaplin Stage.  Charlie actually lived there; his foot prints are in the cement right before the steps to the studio.  It’s a protected historical monument.  I worked there for about a decade.

Geographically on the cusp of social unrest.  We all had to flee the riot.  It came up La Brea chaos ugly.

Michael’s office was pillows and bean bags and crappy playback.  We’d go there to listen to a mix and I’d  listen out of the corner of my ear only.  Crappy playback.  And a bong.  A giant bong.  I rarely took a rip off that monolith, so I can’t say I didn’t.  A policy that was part of my work ethic.  I never sat behind a recording console anything other than stone cold sober.

There were times I ended up behind one influenced, but never at my own discretion.

It was well lit.  Michael’s office I mean.  Cheerfully moody.  Rugs and candles and cushions and carpets and incense.

It occurs to me that I got away with what I did because there really was honor among thieves.

Michael, in a peculiar way, was a musical genius.  A production genius.  I learned a ton from him.  He never once thought inside the box.  His brain was untamed.  I was the producer and the engineer so I had to spend time within the box.  I had to decide about the box.  What size and what color and all that.  Big picture stuff.  Michael kept fucking with my box.  We agreed he could touch the faders after they were marked.  We came to an understanding.  He was free to contribute as he saw fit and we hardly ever disagreed.  There were certain things like delay times or reverb parameters we had to consult on before he laid a hand…..they were timed to the tempo of the song.  Meticulously.  All effects were in time with the track; no good engineer leaves that undone.

He was raw and intellectual talent.  He was crazy and combustible.  I don’t really know or understand where he came from.  I’ve no idea what his sexual orientation was.  He was goddamn swirly pudding.  He talked about his past in vague terms.  He told me once he could have ended up bad.  I think I know what he meant.

I don’t know what else he was actually.  I guess the A&R department paid him, but he had no power to sign anyone.  He didn’t have an expense account.  He had an office.

I’d cultivated the A&R departments business and this guy Jeff Suhy started to send tons of gigs my way and Whitaker was part of the deal.  He was nuts but I have tons of affection for him to this day.

We’ll get to Suhy.  He’s his own chapter.

One of us was the others muse constantly.  I got what I wanted when I wanted it because I was the engineer and the producer.  The stud duck as my my father would say.  But he still drank my milkshake.  The phone on the console would blink and ring.  “Fruzen Gladje?”  “Without reservation”, I replied.  Four minutes later, Whitaker pushes through the double doors and lands on my day.

He suggested one dark Sunday morning that we track a vocal on La Brea Ave.  Jessie Montague.  From the Studio C control room to the La Brea sidewalk was 150, maybe 200 feet.  We had to run mic and headphone cables all the way out.  XLR, low impedence, so  I was grieving over inductance loss.  We had more trouble from the cans than the mic.  A couple passive DIs and Bob was your Uncle.  Ask me about Bob is your Uncle.  He’s your lucky Uncle.  We had the guards open the gates.  I set up a music stand, headphones, a fet 47  or a 414, I wasn’t about to hang a tube mic on LaBrea, and a pop filter.  She sang a version of Come Together by the Beatles that slays me to this day.  Whitaker played mellotron at the bridge and some stabs in the verses.  We faded it on the cars going by.  It was then I realized I should have recorded it in stereo.

Like he was egoless.  Michael never once looked at his own dick the entire time I knew him.  Not even when we were pissing next to each other.  The metaphor is unlovely but apt.  Michael was all about the band’s dick.  The artist’s vagina.  I’m sure I looked at mine.  I know I did.  I called him “White Acre”, he called me “Douglass”.  That was it.  He looked at you and talked to you.  Sometimes I didn’t completely understand him but he always knew what he was saying.

I had a giant ego back then and Michael Whitaker handled me just fine.

When I think of Whitaker, it makes me miss the whole thing.  I miss the whole thing.

Making records is the coolest job in the world.

Drinks for my friends.

A&M Chapter Twenty One Down By Law

So I made fast friends with this guy named Hunter Oswald.  The drummer.  He played drums.  Like a motherfucker.  As soon as I heard him I was happy to work with him.

The experience of making this record was daunting and cardio pulmonary.  It was hard and I complained.  I whined.  Mark Harvey reminded me that if it was easy, everybody would be doing it.  I wonder what he thought that day.  A mere few years earlier he told me I lacked confidence while I stood in front of the same desk and he was absolutely right both times.

He told me to shut up and get on with it.  Both times.

Mark charged us next to not a damn thing for Studio C while we had it locked out.  I think our bill might have been as low as $17k.

Best boss I ever had.

So this prick’s name was Hunter and he was a fucking punk.  He celebrated his 21st birthday during the making of, and I threw him out of the control room for participating in record making while drunk and surly.  It wasn’t really hard to do because I liked him.  He was a cynical, mocking, steps ahead little bastard.  Barely corrigible because he was so smart and so reckless.

Great goddamn drummer.  I don’t know how he plays now but when I recorded him he was Keith Moon meets Phil Rudd.  Really.  A buck twenty five maybe, but he’d chop up cymbals and burn through a snare head in two takes.  He had a way of looking at you and mocking you with a shit eating smug fucking grin that warmed the cockles of my heart.

Toothsome.

It was like I saw him and he knew it.  Plate of shrimp.

He told me once that he thought of me as an older brother.  I don’t flatter easily but that blew my skirt up.  I had the privilege of doing another record with him and it was just the most entertaining and somewhat nuclear of experiences.  Do yourself a favor and read it:  http://brainspank.org/wordpress/?p=102

We’d been in rehearsal for a few weeks.  We had no name for the record.  Half the songs didn’t have titles.  I knew what they sounded like and I had some ideas but this was seat of the pants for me.  I was totally winging it.  Alex took the wheel while I swam around and figured out what I needed to do.

We hung some huge poster board at the entrance of the control room for possible album titles.

They had this roadie they were all fond of.  His name was Jimbo.  He contributed “Whiskey Dick Chaos”, “Fuck & Suck Circus” and “Ebola Ain’t Shit” to the conversation.  The album was eventually to be called “Punkrockacademyfightsong”.  He could drink a 16 oz. Guinness in like three seconds.  After four of those, the power of Christ compelled him out of the control room too.

I may have told this story before.  Hunter is on the couch to the left in the very front lobby of A&M.  He knows The Stones are across the hall and he spends his off time making friends out front because he knows that’s where everyone comes and leaves from.  He doesn’t have a lot to do because he’s the drummer and he’s barely post adolescent.   And It happens.  One night Hunter is hanging out and in walks Keith Richards.  I was there.  Hunter was off the couch lickety split and he said, “Keith Richards” while pointing………

and Keith said, “Funny you should say that, that’s my fucking name.”

I eventually figured out what to do with the record.  As soon as I did, it was over and time to mix.

I was seeing Jules Bergman’s daughter.  Beth.  He was the science correspondent for ABC when I was a kid and covered all the cool stuff during the seventies including the Apollo Soyuz link up.  She had a great rack some freckles in her cleavage and rosy nipples, a moon rock, webbed feet, great lips and a beautiful blue eyed Sheppard Husky mix named Girl.  She was a lawyer and played violin and she was interesting.

I showed her the difference between tube and solid state amps.  I made her her a tube girl.

I’d recently stopped seeing an international Penthouse Pet I met in traffic court while bargaining with a judge over my shitbox VW Bug and the boot on it.  She was so hot I was intimidated.  Damn.  Her name was Olivia and she had a trust fund and a condo.  Damn.  My vagina was huge.  She was in AA but kept cognac in the cupboard for me and she made heaping steaming bowls of pasta.  She lived in Brentwood.  I knew she was older but she never let on how much.

I imagine coke was her vice.  She told me George Carlin was her sponsor.

When she wanted sex, she invited me into the bedroom to watch a movie.  She was hotter than Georgia asphalt.  She would remind me the VCR was in the bedroom.  She’d smile and ask me if I wanted to watch a movie.  Olive skin, tan lines, silk bras and lace panties.

I was about to mix the first record I’d ever recorded and tried to produce and my head felt like it was consumed by bees and ants.  We started in D.  Arguably the worst sounding console at A&M.  Beth was with me that night I pushed the faders up and began to listen to what I had.  The working title of the song was ‘Sam Police’ but it became “Minusame”.  We ended up remixing most if not all we did in D, manually in C.

Beth was wearing a Stones T-shirt that night and her tits were a major distraction.  Beth once got me drunk and fooled me into boning her while she was menstruating.  It was dark and she kept telling me not to look down.  One morning I woke up and she’s already been to the store and returned with raisin bread, orange juice and condoms.

She called cognac “wood drinks”.

I did know when I pushed those faders up that we had a record.

Somewhere in there was this adorable young black woman.  Lexi.  I really don’t remember where I met her or how we knew each other but she gave me a pedicure and a blowjob for my birthday.  It was dark and rained hard the next day.  She had small but perfect breasts and had just pierced one with a tiny silver hoop.  She spent the night at my place in Hollywood.  I drove her home past collapsed apartment buildings in the Valley.  She was beautiful and I don’t even know her full name.  We saw each other only a handful of times probably because I was a mess.

Drinks for my friends.

A&M chapter Twenty Down By Law

Listen up, this story is important.

Promise it’s a good one.

My first time engineering and producing a record.

I had no idea what I was doing.  No shit.  I really didn’t.

There’s no rhyme or reason other than right place, right time.

It’s gonna be more than one chapter.

It was pretty cool.

So I think I was twenty six or twenty seven years old.  I’d gotten a pretty good grip on most of the A&R department’s business.  Enough so that when another engineer appeared on the schedule, I could get proactive.  Sometimes I was actually able to take the gig away.  Other times I was at least able to insert myself as an engineer and avoid some full orchestra AT&T jingle or some ridiculous nine day mix of a single song with a total of 10 tracks of music with Don Smith and Shelly Yakus.

Some dog and pony fiasco by some major superstar or not that I didn’t give a mad fuck about either way.

It’s always good to work with others, share ideas and interact but you could check out the set up, talk to the staff guy, survey the gear, the mics and their placement without anyone bothering you.

I ended up under some dipshit named Graylin (sp?).

The band was Down By Law.  An Epithaph band.  This guy Graylin was a piece of work.  He thought himself some sort of wizard.  He wanted to meet me and talk production beforehand.  We had drinks and he told me he liked to sometimes bring a ladder to a session and sit on top of it while the band played.  Just to throw them off, he said.  I told him that was fine by me but I warned the ceiling in studio C was only about eight feet.  I ended up paying for drinks.

He was an idiot.

Turned out to be an excellent band and Graylin was the turquoise cummerbund.  Mouth breather.  We left him behind the first day.  I did the best I could.  I liked these guys.  They could play and they had passion and this producer they had was full of shit.  He had no idea what he was doing.  He had no idea what he had and he didn’t understand his band at all.  He showed up the first morning of the gig and burnt a wad of sage in the live room.  We were setting up mics and it took less than two minutes to smoke us out.  Studio C had a very small live room.  I tried my best to be nice when I asked him not to take it into the control room after kicking him out of the live room.

Before I ever pushed a fader on this session, I understood this guy Graylin to be a douchebag.

He was getting all bullshit native American spiritual for a punk rock demo.

Nobody cared.  Dumbass.

Graylin ended up being quite enamored of my capabilities.  Why not double the rhythm guitar?   Why not do so with a different guitar and amp as long as you can make them compliment each other?  Why not check the snare head between takes especially if the little fucker plays as hard as this one does?  Why not check tuning constantly?

Why not pay attention?

Why not wear your sunglasses in the control room?  Really, and a fucking trench coat.  What a dick.  Rock stars and wannabes wear shades in the goddamn control room.  I really can’t blame the rock stars sometimes.  The only time I ever wore my sunglasses in the control room was for a photo shoot.  I looked like a smug dick.

The session went well.  Good songs.  Great band.  Full of personality, humor and heart.  I got excited.

We let Graylin have the couch.

They could play.  They could really play.  Different tempos and sensibilities than I was used to.  I’m big on dissonance and the way Dave played wasn’t always tonally congruent with Sam and Angry John.  Usually worked out pretty good though.  Lovely dissonance.  I like when rhythm guitars rub a little.  Punk rock is a good venue for dissonance.
Oh, and Hunter.

Hunter has become one of my best if not closest friends.  Geographically inconvenient.  He’s a cracker and I’m white trash.  He’s upper Florida and I’m LA by way of trailer in Carson City.  We’ve both crossed the country to work together.  For years when Hunter was on my side of the continent he left a simple message: “plate of shrimp”.  Whereupon we would drink and such.  One night he was at the Roosevelt and we ended up with this group of high school girls from out of state on meth, seriously.  They were some kind of team.  They were tagging each other until sun up to do drugs in the bathroom.  I woke up among them.

Creepy.

I think I walked home.

I adore Hunter.  It’s a man crush but I’m not looking to give him the business or anything.

There’s no mirror that reflects half of what everyone needs to know.

I made sure, I did my damndest, to make sure they left with good rough mixes.  Graylin would be taking his vagina along with the rest of himself, to mix somewhere else.  What kind of an asshole takes his demo to another studio to mix when he has free time at a place like A&M?  When the band is being considered by a major independent label like A&M as opposed to a minor independent label like Epitaph was at the time?

I didn’t have much time but I spent every minute left to me on good aggressive punk rock mixes because Graylin thought he was working on prog rock.

I’m sorry Graylin, wherever you are, but you were an ass.  I’m sure you’re not a bad guy.  I hope not anyway.  I could be wrong.
It was alarming and depressing to know that such a poseur could somehow infiltrate this level of things.  Whatever.  I’d already seen this movie too many times.  Another day in the life.  Never expected to hear from Down By Law again much less Graylin.  Dave Smalley called me three weeks later and asked me to produce his next record.  I told him yes.  I told them all yes back then.  I had nothing to lose and didn’t believe a single one of them.

So many so willing to kiss without even touching.  I was already a whore.  What were they waiting for?

I was giving it away.

Long story short.  Six or seven months later, Dave came back around.  There used to be a diner on the corner of Sunset and La Brea, I honestly can’t remember the name but it was a very faux Hollywood/Fifties, suck my dick, touristy kinda deal.  They had pretty good milkshakes.  It may still be a Boston Market.  A family restaurant two doors up and across the street from a titty bar.

Crazy Girls.  Eh hem.

I can’t remember the exact sequence of events, but Dave contacted me at the studio and asked to meet me.  We met at that diner.  I think he told me he wanted to talk to me about making his next record on the phone.  I think he said that but I didn’t believe it so I don’t remember it.

We order fries or onion rings or something and he asks me, with his lovely wife Caroline present, if I would make his next record with him.  He said he didn’t have a lot of money to spend and he might not be able to pay me anything up front but he said there was money for the studio and points available and I didn’t care about money.  The offer was to produce, engineer and mix a record for Epitaph, for a band I already liked, had already recorded and sort of understood.

In the intervening months I’ve become a much better engineer.

My ass puckered because I didn’t really expect to hear those words.  Even at that young age, I was used to allusions and promises.  I’d heard it all before.  I thought maybe, maybe, I’d get offered this record but I didn’t own it at all until Dave Smalley actually asked.  I’d kinda forgotten about it.  I remember smiling and and answering.  I walked back to the studio wondering if it was real and what I had agreed to.

I barely understood what it was to produce a record and I would be engineering too.
I took the gig.

I accepted Dave Smalley’s magnanimous offer.

Al Reed was in front of my lobes.  Al and I had begun to work together but he probably still thought I was some kinda dick.  I couldn’t be positive he’d take this on with me.  I’d thought about explaining that I’d never produced a record before and that I really was relatively inexperienced as an engineer……..I thought about it, but Dave knew it, and it just didn’t bear repeating.  We were on the same page.

He wasn’t just willing, he was enthusiastic about taking a chance on me.  Turned out to be the best selling record Down By Law had ever or would ever release.  We really did see into and understand each other enough for us both to know I would do my best.  I did.  I did do my best.  Alex Reed did his best and helped me and the band to do our best.  We honestly all did our best.

It was fucking swell.

I struggled.  I lost and regained my confidence a half a dozen times.  Alex was amazing while he worked to define his own role.  We had a blast.  I melted down a couple times but not in front of the band.  I was sure I didn’t belong there, either as a producer or an engineer.  Al would shove some sturdy lumber up my ass and I’d be back the next morning and so would he.  The band embraced Al because he was so smart, organized and intuitive.  I’ll forever be grateful.  I made up my mind that I would never, if it were up to me, share anything but equal billing with Alex Reed ever again.

Once again, Alex would teach me, sometimes by example, what I needed to know.  An early symbiotic relationship.

He brought everything I couldn’t.  That smacks of melodramatic but I’m here to tell you it’s not.  We share a birthday but that is almost all we have in common.  Very smart guy.  Way more musical than me.

Could not have done it without him.

Much more to come, and it gets better.

Drinks for my friends.

A&M Chapter Nineteen

I’m out of the loop to the current culture of music production.  All I know is that it’s different in most ways.  Fair enough.  When I was in it, far too many records were made for way too much.  There were very few reasons to spend more than a quarter million.  Orchestras were expensive and so were choirs.  Know what you’re doing and orchestras and choirs should be around just long enough to wipe out the refreshments.

We never spent more than $100k.  Studio musicians could be expensive but not if with some planning and discretion.  We hired Josh Freeze once for a demo but he came to rehearsal, he was in and out in a few hours and he wasn’t cheap back then.  I think I remember his socks didn’t match.  I can’t believe that despite how much the business has changed, pre-production doesn’t still save dollars like nothing else.  Rehearsal time with your producer and engineer saves serious cash and gives you the best chance at being on the same page.

The band needs to understand the producer(s) and the producer(s) must understand the band.  Playing ability or chops, vision, direction, nuance etc, must all be a shared as completely and honestly as possible.

It always occurred to me to be stupid when big dickhead bands showed up with a semi full of gear or spent three days auditioning pianos tuned down an octave because Axl couldn’t transpose.  When they piled mountains of gear and spent six months mixing.  If I spent three months mixing a record I’d only be there two hours a day.  How can you have perspective after that long?  I had an engineering teacher tell me once to not fall prey to the “fiddle factor”.  By the time an artist or band arrives in the studio, 75% percent of the work should be complete.  It’s not only the most economical way to make a record but the most common sense methodology.

The goal is to arrive in the high dollar environment prepared.  Like Boy Scouts or NASA.

We made a record in about two weeks over Christmas once.  We spent around $25k, we had songs on two big soundtracks, the president of A&M, Al Calfaro, dancing and playing air guitar, a really good, raw, honest pop record and nothing happened.  A handful of excellent pop songs and a completely entertaining record.  Nothing at all, not a fucking nickel spent on promotion despite positive reviews.  What did they have to lose?  It didn’t cost shit to make, it was a good record and lives and careers hung in the balance.

Really stupid.  Heartbreaking.

This shit took place at a record company like A&M, where you walked forty feet out the studio door to see the A&R guy or sixty feet to the art department or the radio promotion suits.  Ninety feet to bullshit with guards at the front gate or seventy five feet to drop in on David Anderle.

A week later I find myself on some Metallica or Motley Crue gig, where they’re spending a million bucks on production alone.  Not advertising, promotion or tour support.  But production.  The band are pricks, Hetfield is a racist, shut up James, I have stories.  True ones.  The hours are long and nobody gets album credit.  Lars is pompous.  Lars was the guy to announce that no one would be credited on the Black Record.  The guys in The Crue are actually nice. But I think about how many records by worthy artists could be made for that budget.  Too big.  Ridiculous.  Too little artist development and too much money spent all the way around.  A&M was really one of the last labels practicing any sort of artist development.

We made records for between $15k and $100k.  I did one for about $37k that sold around a hundred thousand copies and me & Al got royalty checks, some fat ones, for five years.  We did another one that was the LA Times Orange County Edition record of the year.  A few years later it was in the top ten for the decade.  Couldn’t get them signed.  Too old they said.  Dusty Wakeman from Dwight Yoakam’s band and owner of Mad Dog Studios where I was a client, told me to my face that the record was excellent but the band was too old.  They were in their early forties and could play and sing like nobody’s business.

The $100k budget went to a record that sold some 3.5 million copies.  You may have heard of them.  They were called Everclear.

When in doubt, use a big diaphragm condenser with it’s own pad.  I faked my way through lots of stuff with big diaphragm condensers.  If that doesn’t work, throw up a cheap dynamic like a 57, 58, or a 421.  Try squashing the crap out of it with a 160 or an 1176.  Watch the attack, especially on the 160.  You never know.

That Probably dated me.  Who knows what the kids are using these days.

We recorded Johnny Angel Wendell, now a somewhat famous radio personality on Air America with his band Creeps In Exile.  One day a year or two later I was wandering the financial district in San Francisco with my good friend Chris Faris and some bike messenger pulls up and uses my full name.  Turns out he was in Johnny’s band and was pretty glad to see me.  I think he was the bass player but I can’t remember for sure.

Dave Smalley confided in me once that they all thought Johnny Angel was a joke back in the day.  I don’t know or care.  With the exception of Johnny’s radio and writing career, they were all bit players.  I believe the first Down By Law record we did was by far their best selling one ever.

I was the last person to record Don Cherry before he died on a project with the Watt’s Prophets.  I recorded Mel Torme and he called us “cats” the entire time.  I worked with Bowie and Stan Getz, Alice Cooper, Peter Criss, Solomon Burke, Benmont Tench, Roy Bittan, Mike Campbell, Roy Orbison, Tina Turner and one of my favs was Stan Lynch.

Not so famous but way talented and very funny.

Once upon a time there was a band named Dumpster.  A Brian Huttenhower project.  Famous A&R guy who signed Soundgarden and then succumbed to crack.  The lead singer was named Robert.  A surly prick with brilliant blues eyes, a menacing chipped front tooth and a bald head.  I can’t remember how big he was but he wasn’t small.  Like a pirate somehow.  His girlfriend was a B level porn star and he was a heroin junkie.  He got cranky when he didn’t have his medicine.  He was cranky anyway but I liked him.  Very smart and very funny.  Tons of dark charisma.  A little Anton La Vay.  He showed up one morning with an eyebrow missing.  When we asked about it, he smiled and said he’d woken up with the eyebrow resting perfectly on his pillow.  He said he decided to leave it there, just as he found it.  I wondered out loud if there was maybe a radiation leak nearby.

His was an angry band.  Furious punk rock with excellent pop hooks.  Kelly, the drummer once told me that Robert’s girlfriend had the ugliest pussy he’d ever seen.  I didn’t understand until he popped in a VHS one day.  It was an incredibly ugly pussy.  The color was wrong.  Like one of those old back lit photos of menu items in cheesy ethnic food palaces.  Garish and overly greasy.

We took a break everyday around six p.m. when said girlfriend showed up with Robert’s evening fix.  She brought his works in a small tin.  He didn’t want it around otherwise because he was pretty serious about what we were doing.  It was far from my first experience with a drug addicted musician but something about Robert intrigued me beyond the norm.

He told me a story about getting hit in the face with a full can of beer while walking along side a highway in one of the Carolinas on a hot summer day.  He said he figured he deserved it because he was just some fucking punk and that was how his front tooth was chipped.  He said it didn’t hurt much.  Fifty fifty chance he was lying to me.

Ever been amazed at how a cat can just stand and stare at you?  Tail barely flickering.  Sizing you up and down.  That was Robert.  I wonder if he had one of those brains that just didn’t understand the rest of us.  As much as we didn’t understand him.  Until we did smack together, he was some bird on a wire to me.

We began to talk about it.  I did my best to lure him into conversations about it.  At the end of the day, he was a pretty forthright guy.  He knew right away what I was getting at.  Heroin was pretty much the only drug I’d never experimented with.  I was more than curious, I was fascinated, and I knew full well the hold it took on people.  I’d already seen people die from it.  Crazy, but I was young and reckless.

Eventually he agreed to let me try it, with a firm disclaimer that he was not about to be responsible for what came of it.  He warned me with candor about what we were going to do.  He said no way would he have anything to do with me shooting it.  He had just enough evil and curiosity in him to wonder would happen.  We waited until we were finished one night and we chased the dragon.  We smoked it off foil using a glass tube.  It was like bubbling brown sugar running down chrome as we chased it with the flame of a lighter from underneath.

He coached me the entire time.  He was making sure I got a good hit and didn’t waste his junk.

It was pungent but sweet.

The high was ridiculous.  Warm.  Molasses in my head.  I couldn’t believe how comfortable I was.  We drank some beers and talked about what we were working on.  We had another hit.  He walked me through it again.  Then we talked about life.  I didn’t understand how such an angry man could succumb to this flowery, fresh baked pastry influence.  Syrupy peace.  Maybe he would be homicidal without it.

Some people need to be medicated.  I’ve known many and I think Robert was one of them.

The very next night, we finished and waited for the band to leave.  We took a plate from the kitchen/runner’s closet and I snorted the brown sugar into each nostril.  Robert did too.  His lines were longer and fatter than mine.  I took comfort in that.  He suggested we take a walk.  I told Eric the guard we’d be back on the way through the front gates.  Eric usually opened a gate for me but I didn’t like that.  I wondered about it.  He was being respectful and generous.  We were friends, we were nice to each other.  All he really had to do was keep track of my coming and going.

I still have a key to the front door of A&M Studios.  They took my tool kit and my pager.  Bet they’ve changed the locks though.

Up La Brea and onto Sunset.  We walked for at least an hour without saying much.  The lights and neon were gorgeous and the smells of exhaust and fast food coated me in a way so pleasant but so impossible to describe. A country boy enveloped in the city.  Glazed like a doughnut and nestled in soft natural fiber.  I asked him about his angry nature and whether heroin might be an effective mitigator for him.  He thought about it and after some time he imagined out loud there were better things out there for him but he didn’t know what they were.

He asked me if I was having fun and I told him I was floating in bliss.  I said to him I can never do this again and he smiled a little and whispered he hoped not.

I never did.  I knew I couldn’t.  If I live to be eighty, I might try to get some.

” don’t doubt that the randomness of life is in some
way synchronized with all the things that we don’t
understand about the universe. It’s what we do know
that confounds us. All the while, what we don’t know
blows us along. ” -I wrote that

Drinks for my friends.

A&M chapter eighteen

I’ve been laboring on this tome for some time now and I’m beginning to see an end to it, but there is still so much to tell.  I have three more big stories and a chapter or two of anecdotes about famous people.  Probably some other stuff.  This anecdotal chapter will be full of brief, uh, anecdotes about famous people and there’s lots to tell.  All these things happened the way I intend to describe them.  The way they happened to me.

I was in the Biz for awhile and I got a little dish.

I figure that if I put all the higher octane in one or two chapters, it’ll be more convenient for the lawyers and stuff.  Maybe if the book is good enough they’ll pay for my lawyers.  Really, what I have to tell you isn’t all bad, but it’s personal and it happened to me or around me.  Well within my periphery.   To the best of my ability, I will remember and describe.  No harm or malignancy is intended, but this is my goddamn book and I intend for it to be as truthful as is available to me.

Let’s start in the deep end.

Jimmy Iovine is a dick.  In a blond wig, heels and spandex, he could stand in for CC DeVille.  What chaps my ass so much about Jimmy Iovine is that he’s neither an engineer or a record producer.  Never has been.  He’s a deal maker, and he has very little to do with where the music comes from or how it gets rendered.  He puts the right people together, but I doubt Jimmy has ever actually “made” a record.  Jimmy Iovine is in charge of the production of, the marketing of, the cultivating of, as opposed to the making of.

People like him are there for a reason and he is the poster child for people like him.

It chaps my ass because the making of the music, the immediacy and permanence, is recorded and committed to by the hour, by engineers and musicians.  It is the center of the universe for the entire music industry.  It is the recording studio or any reasonable facsimile thereof, that is hallowed ground.  More in my day than today.   It is a delicate and intricate process under the best of conditions.  I’m amazed at some of the recordings before my time.

Yet it becomes more and more instant.  Disposable.

We still don’t know the impact of music in the thought and finger tip era of technology, but early results on science applied everywhere else is mixed at best.  I can’t think of where science hasn’t benefited art, except early digital audio.   I have my fears.  There’s a lot to be said for cracking the shrink wrap, smelling the vinyl and ink.  Reading the liner notes, who produced, engineered and played.  Where it was recorded and when.  It allowed me to have a picture in my head.

I must tell you, I never liked Jimmy but he wouldn’t know my name or recognize my face.  He wouldn’t give a mad fuck.  He is one of the most powerful men in the music business.   I hear he comes from meat packing on the east coast.  He could probably have me killed.  He survived Snoop, Dre, Suge and Tupac.

I can’t help but wonder at his success.  He’s got genius for sure but avarice and lust as well.  I was around him before he was all this, even though he was quite something back then, and he was a prick that wore a toupee under a hat.  A prick is a prick by any other name.  He wore a wig under a fucking baseball hat and he gave John Lennon’s mellotron to some department store magnate named Ted Fields.  I know, I delivered it.  One of the most amazing houses I’ve ever been in.

He looked at me once on some session I can’t remember, after I’d had the audacity to make a suggestion, pointed his finger and said, “You’re wood, wood doesn’t talk”.

 How am I doing so far?

Then there was the time I was doing a gig with Stevie Nicks and Chris Lord Alge.  It was me and Randy Wine and the cowboy coffee fueled Lord Alge.  He brought his own coffee.  It smelled pretty good.  Hell of a name.  New Fuckin’ York.  East coast guys had an automatic chip for west coast guys.  Chris was among the cooler east coast guys, but still a hardass.  He gave me some of his coffee once.  It was pretty good.  Stevie had the biggest posse for a white girl ever.  Remember this was fifteen, seventeen years ago.  Stevie looked more Presley than Nicks.  Her hangers on turned her pages and mixed her drinks.  She did far more than diet and work out for that last comeback.  She was a mess.

I think she was cryogenically frozen while they fixed her teeth at least.  They were the teeth of ancient flying reptile and had to be replaced with ones that resembled human.

Bulky and corpulent.  Sausage bursting from it’s casing.  I remember her feet looked as though they would explode from her shoes.  She had incense, candles, tissues and gobs of whatever else on her music stand.  Oil burners, foil balloons, kites and train sets.  Kidding.  I can’t remember the song so I’ll have to look that up before I publish.  That, and the Bon Jovi gig in D.  That was a train wreck too.  Anyway, we’re in the middle of a vocal, I mean Stevie Nick’s is out in the middle of studio A with a temporary vocal booth on wheels constructed around her.  Lights all the way down.  Just her and her candles and incense and whatever other paraphernalia.

The flame on her right goes from an inch to a foot.  I was transfixed.  Mesmerized.  Sitting there behind the tape remote in a dark control room.  Randy Wine got me moving.  We hit the button for the Star Trek door, through an iso booth, so two more sliding glass doors.  We tipped it over and stomped it out.

She did mention she smelled smoke afterward.

Then there was the time, with CC Deville, I was forced to punch in and out of record over an eight bar solo section for CC Deville for eight fucking hours.  A man who could easily have stunt doubled for Jimmy Iovine had he just replaced his ridiculous wig with a stupid mullet wig and cheesy baseball or bass fishing hat.  He sat there and did blow, take after take, while Julian Raymond did nothing to stop it.  Eight hours for eight bars in one of the most expensive studios in the world.  He played the same thing over and over until he got too fucked up to play it the same way.  It was ridiculous.  I’ve already talked about this, I just like the way I’ve managed to make the argument that CC and Jimmy just might be the same person.  $2.17 to the first person to provide a photo of them together.

How about me  driving Annie Lennox to her hotel in Beverly Hills?  We got to talking politics in my ’69 VW Superbeetle.  All I could think about was the springs that must be poking her in the ass.  Bare rusting springs tearing at the integrity of her garment.  The fabric on the passenger side had long looked to me like shredded wheat.  That, and the way the size of her voice rang my bell as she sang over my shoulder while I sat at the console when she suddenly had inspiration for a background vocal part.  I nearly shat myself.  I was vaguely worried she’d get tetanus from my car seat.

That woman moves between smoke and fire.

Chrissie Hynde from the Pretenders threw a sausage at my head.  I didn’t see it coming but she popped out of the mix room pissed, as I was ambling down the hall to make a fresh pot of coffee for someone.  All I remember is teeth and heavily made up eyes hurling a giant log of flesh right at my head.  Apparently our concierge was clueless as to our new guest’s animal activism and solidarity with all things PETA.  I was happy to learn it wasn’t personal, as I was a vegetarian at the time.

She missed me, I ducked.

How is that Rush Limbaugh uses the Pretenders everyday as a bumper on his radio show?

I could mention the couple of times I got tossed out of the titty bar across the street because I was with Tom Petersen from Cheap Trick.  Great guy, notorious drunk.  I spent a lot of hours with a lot of clients in that titty bar.

Kevin DuBrow was a dick and I don’t care.  I deliberately spilled my drink on his shoes at a club after I worked with him.  Carlos Cavazo was the opposite, quiet and humble.

Warren DeMartini was also a very nice guy.  Spent the afternoon shopping with him one day because he didn’t have a car.

Me and Al hired Bun E. Carlos once for this Australian fiasco.  All Bun wanted was McDonald’s and a joint.  Then we were good to go.   We did a cover of Can’t Stand The Rain.  I gotta find that DAT.

I got Marcus Miller’s Porsche up to almost 90 on Delongpre between La Brea and Highland by ignoring the stop signs.  It took a couple tries.  It was hard to shift.  We’re talking about an eight of a mile maybe.  I was supposed to be taking it for a wash and wax.

I got Shelly’s jeep up to 85 on the way to Tahoe and got a ticket but I got his Jag up to 130 on the way back and didn’t get a ticket.

Ann and Nancy Wilson carved some pumpkins for Halloween in Studio D and I stole them for my apartment.  Ann thought nothing of letting her dog crap at will in the studio instead of walking it, so I thought nothing of stealing her and her sister’s pumpkins. Greg Goldman left a sign on the floor with the word ‘SHIT’ and an arrow pointing at a paper tent that also said ‘SHIT’ that covered the Vienna sausage sized turds before calling a runner to clean it up.

I wasn’t sure if it was meant to be funny or not.  I thought it was.

I remember picking up a keg for Ratt and hours later passing Bobby Blotzer in the hall with blow all over his face and crazy eyes.  I led him back to his control room and discovered even later that they’d managed to break the nearly half inch thick glass tabletop in the A lounge.

I drove a completely hammered Sam Kinison to some club I need to remember the name of.  The China Club maybe?  I had to babysit him one night as he slept on the couch in control B.  He snored like a drunk and talked in his sleep.

Aerosmith showed up once with a semi trailer full of gear that took us an entire day to unload.  I had to go a prop house for palm trees, south pacific art and memorabilia etc., the idea to create a vibey lounge for them to hang out in.  I think they actually called it the Voodoo Lounge.  They then tried to get all studio personnel to sign a memo promising not to drink alcohol or do drugs during their stay.  I guess their sobriety was still pretty fragile at that point.  Mark Harvey called bullshit on that.

There was the time that I answered a page to come to the front office and happened upon Cameron DePalma walking in circles behind Timothy Leary.  He was escorting Mr. Leary to the mix room to see Mick Jones from Foreigner.  It’s a long story, but Cameron had somewhat accidentally dropped acid that afternoon before coming to the studio.  He confided in me he didn’t know how hard he’d be tripping and I agreed to keep an eye on him and take the front desk if things got out of hand.  Later that night, earlier that morning, Mick Jones had Goldman set up a mic in the back hallway to record Cameron  at the front desk blowing his sax into the phone and over the PA system.  Since Cameron had the receiver off the hook, Mick would dispatch Goldman or a runner with requests to Cameron.  I remember him asking for “A Taste of Honey”.

To keep the higher ups out of your food when chained to the front desk phone, you had to literally lick it in front of them.

Sessions that went until 6 or 8 a.m. were called a “movie”.  As in, “Yeah, B is looking like a movie”.

I worked a lot of nights.

I can see this being more than one or two chapters.

Drinks for my friends.

A&M chapter seventeen

I mentioned prior that there are too many stories here for me to hope to tell.  So far, what I’ve related has been largely personal, as it should be, this is after all, my story.  It’s not lost on me however that I have an obligation to entertain you, the reader.  So many of the stories don’t necessarily warrant an entire chapter but they are important to my narrative in that they provide context for the absolute insanity that was my life.  The the constant and consistent wallpaper to my everyday existence.  Like any good Rock N’ Roll story, or medical drama or cop show, even the wallpaper was alive.

My life crackled and vibrated.

This may not be one of those stories, as it falls between the cracks of a tale about a famous musician most of you may not have heard of,  and my personal story of that musician.  Nonetheless, I would be remiss if I didn’t write about this one man in particular because he inspired me so much.

Sometimes, people come into your life or you accidentally enter their’s and you realize you will never be as good at anything as they are at what they do and despite that, they embolden you, by leaving you breathless and mesmerized.

Magic happens.  I’ve seen it.

There was this guy named Jeff Porcaro.  If you don’t read album credits, you may not know his name.  He was arguably the best studio, or “session”, drummer ever.  Easily one of the most recorded.  He played on some of your favorite records I guarantee, especially if you’re anywhere over thirty and no doubt if you’ve crested forty.  From Steely Dan to Toto, Michael Jackson’s “Beat it”, Don Henley’s  “Dirty Laundry” and “New York Minute” (which I worked on), Paul McCartney, Jackson Browne, Paul Simon, Madonna, Peter Frampton, Bee Gees, Joe Walsh, Diana Ross, Bonnie Raitt, Dire Straits, David Gilmour and Roger Waters, Clapton, Springsteen, Miles Davis and Elton John to literally name a few.

Jeff’s fame flamed because he could effortlessly cop any groove.

I worked with and got to know him a little, on two or three Richard Marx records and a few other sessions.  Richard always hired the very best musicians and it was always a seamless pleasure.  The best cats in the biz always.  Often a different drummer everyday.  Jonathan “Sugarfoot” Moffet, Terry Bozzio, Russ Kunkel, Kenny Aronoff………the cream of the crap.  Making slave reels by eight o’clock, while waiting for dinner from any one of the best restaurants in Hollywood, paid for by Mr. Marx.  Make slaves and order whatever you want he’d say on his way out the door.  One of the coolest guys I ever worked with.  Funny, easygoing and knew exactly what he was doing.  Bill Drescher was his tracking engineer and he too was talented, humble and cool as fuck.

Hey Bill, you fucking cunt.

Recording sessions where we actually enjoyed ourselves.  Made music.  With shit hot players.  I can’t tell you what an oasis it was.  We had fun on the records that me & Al made, but this was long before that.  It wasn’t just novel, it was an aberration.

Porcaro was a genius.  Amazing.

Richard Marx, a great guy, and a talent whether you like his music or not, said that Porcaro “was the best drummer he had ever worked with”.  Marx wasn’t splitting the atom, just writing, performing and executing good pop songs.

Jeff literally died in a bizarre gardening accident in 1992 at the age of 38.  It was a sad day around A&M.  We all liked him and we were all aware of his genius.  He was thirty eight years old and an accomplished legend at that age.

My memories of him are fresh.

Jeff’s tech would arrive first thing in the morning with his gear and set it up and tune it with fresh heads.   If I’m not mistaken, it was Ross with Drum Doctors and it was a Gretsch kit.  Every time I worked with Jeff it was in studio A.  The room.  The best tracking room in the world.  One of two custom designed consoles built by Rupert Neve for George Martin of Beatles fame.

I would later have the pleasure of hiring Ross for a few records I was producing.  I was a small fish but he always treated me well.  A total pro.  Much respect.  All the people in this story were cool and professional.  As good as it got on that level.

Jeff didn’t usually arrive until later in the afternoon.  Superstar players like Randy Jackson, Steve Lukather, Lee Sklar, Marcus Miller, Fee Waybill had already been there for hours rehearsing.  He’d already been handed a demo of course.  He knew the tune.  A relatively small guy who carried his cool and legend with quiet grace.  He was barely 36 or 37 years old.  I was in my early to middle twenties.  I just can’t describe my enthusiasm when he walked through that air locked door into the control room of studio A.  I was thirteen again.  I’d been reading about and listening to him since then.  This guy, known only to the musicians and music people that actually mattered, was an absolute legend to me and to them too.  It was palpable.  Whenever I learned that I’d be working with Jeff Porcaro, I lost sleep the night before.

Here I was, surrounded by musical legends, and Porcaro made me into a comic book collecting, album liner note reading, adolescent.  He was there to play and he never disappointed.  Ever.

Recording studio control rooms are heavily air conditioned.  Not just cooled but conditioned and that meant smells and odors had a very short life.  Jeff always smelled clean.  Like lotion and soap and nothing more.  I couldn’t help but notice.  He had a pretty deep voice for a man his size but he spoke softly as he greeted all the people in the control room.  He smiled a lot.  He seemed to be somewhat shy but his demeanor did not at all belie his confidence.  He shook hands and looked everyone in the eye, even me, the second engineer, lowest guy in the room.

He was there to execute.  It’s what he did.  What he was famous for and why he made the big bucks.

In no time at all, he was behind his kit, listening on headphones to the work we had done that day.  He would ask that the lights be adjusted in the live room so that it was fairly dark.  With a joint in one hand and a pencil in the other, he would sketch the song structure on his snare head.  He’d listen once, maybe twice.  If he had any questions, they were few and rare.

Sounds, levels etc. would have already been dialed in with the help of Ross, who could play well himself and was intimate enough with how Jeff hit, to give us the big picture and prepare us for how and what Jeff would do.

Jeff would give a take or two to while he felt out the track and while we dialed him the rest of the way in.  Good drummers sound good and that’s that.  Then, two takes, usually live with the band.  I don’t believe he ever gave more and I don’t remember us ever needing more.  I will tell you that he was never there for longer than an hour or an hour and a half.  Only ten or twenty minutes of it actually playing.  Not on anything I ever worked on anyway.

Then he was gone.  Sometimes someone would say it out loud but as often as not, we all thought it.  Holy Shit.

He truly was the shit.  Formidable.  An expert.  Realistically, a genius at his craft.

He would play these fills that were like falling down stairs until he landed solid on the one and picked up the groove in the greasiest and most fluid of ways.  He never overplayed on anything I worked on or anything I’ve listened to since.  Never stepped on the vocal or got in the way of any other player.

Ever.

He nailed it every time.

He was NASA to me.

I tell you this having worked with many great drummers who’s names I will not mention here out of respect for them.  Many of them just as famous and all of them still alive.  A few I had the pleasure to actually hire.

I will tell you that I have never been so consistently impressed with a musician as I was with Jeff Porcaro.

Thanks Jeff, may you rest in peace.  You inspired, impressed and excited me and working with you will always be one of my fondest memories in a time that my hell had found it’s center.  It was you and people like you, that by example, allowed me to eventually rise above it.

It was the religion of music that got me through.  I worked in a flawed church but the music is what literally saved me.  The deity that we were all there for was the art of music.  In the end, it was the music itself and the rest of us that believed in it that saw me through.

I am lucky.

“All this machinery making modern music
Can still be open hearted
Not so coldly charted
It’s really just a question of your honesty, yeah
Your honesty
One likes to believe in the freedom of music
But glittering prizes and endless compromises
Shatter the illusion of integrity” -Rush

Drinks for my friends.

A&M Chapter Sixteen

I had my guinea pigs.

Bands and artists that suffered my inexperience.  I made more than a few really shitty recordings.  Sometimes there was some attitude there but I made some egregious sonic messes.  I’m as embarrassed over those recordings as I am over my contributions to my high school paper.  It’s true.  I was a dickhead.

There was a guy named Scott Thomas.  Huge talent but kind of a prick so I don’t feel so bad.  Jesse Montague, I got some of it right but some of it wrong.  The percussionist’s name was Jagoda (sp?), he spilled a bong into the console and smoked the power supplies but we did make some cool recordings.  She played and sang an entire chorus out of time without me realizing it.  Duck Duck Goose, I think I did okay by them, the guitar player had this tiny little 15 watt vintage amp that he got the coolest sound from.  Hard as fuck to record because I had to isolate the hell out of it.  It broke up as beautifully as a cameo broach and he had a lisp.  The gayest straight guys I ever met.

A band called Dumpster; have I told the story about experimenting with heroin with the singer?  A band called Eleventeen who would later become Eve Six.  My lawyer got me home early from vacation for that one.  Found me in Tahoe somehow when I’m not sure my parent’s  knew I was there.  Before cell phones.  Neverland with Pat Sugg, the best I’d ever heard a guitar player sound through Peavey amps.  Bill Kennedy was building the coolest record with them and it just never happened.

I’ve got to go through my DATs as I have thousands of hours of the best LA had to offer.  Before it was over, we were out scouting them and bringing them in.

Salad days.  Golden.

Along came a band called Rat Bat Blue.  Dabro, Ace, Fraulein Sniffy, Alan the genius and Teddy on bass.  Dabro, Dave Abrahams, was the guitar player and the archivist for A&M’s mastering department.  We became friends because he was so damn friendly.  One of the nicest people I’ve ever met.  It was a bad day when Dabro wasn’t smiling.  They were all sweethearts.

We had fun and worked way very hard to render their vision.  All night long whenever we could.  Must have done at least twenty songs together.  Songs don’t happen in a day you know.  Sometimes not in a week.  They could play, all good musicians, with Alan on keyboards being a bit of a stand out.  Alan and I seemed to understand each other right away.  I can’t explain it but we connected.  He was a sorcerer with a grand piano.  Funny and smart.  That actually describes the band as a whole if I toss in the words talented and dedicated.

They were a stalwart team.  They were to be my first experience and example of such a dynamic in many ways.  I was to work with many famous ones that didn’t share a similar ethic and it’s absence was always a hole in the process as much as it was an indicator of an obvious expiration date to come.

Professional.   They never bitched about or maligned each other.  They were confident in their abilities and never failed to share encouragement and support.  They were very sensitive in that way with me as well.  They treated me like a member and often left a few hundred dollars on the console after we’d worked all night and I was the only one who had to get up to clean toilets and fetch fruit in an hour.

I was mixing them the night of the ’92 Northridge quake and had just gotten home to fall asleep with a beer between my legs.  So tired.  Still on the couch.  A 6.9, and I slept through it.  What woke me was the arcing of the transformers.  Not the sound and crunch, but the blinding flashes.

My ears shut down to this day when I sleep.  I hear them turn on right before I’m completely conscious.  They click and work with my eyes.  Weird, huh?

I wasn’t sure what to do but understood something big had happened.  I put on my shoes and wandered out to find a community on the sidewalk.  Battery powered transistor radios, blankets and candles.  Some woman remarked at the irony of such tragedy on a so beautiful a night.  She gestured at the stars.  It was then I realized it had been a quake serious enough to knock out all the power of the entire LA Basin.  A celestial show like that hadn’t been possible in Los Angeles for a hundred years.

I was in bed asleep inside half an hour and slept through all the aftershocks.

I’m an agnostic, yet I can’t help but say, God love you guys for your patience.  Thank you.  Rat Bat Blue certainly wasn’t my first but we lasted, I learned and together we grew.  The first female drummer I’d ever worked with, Fraulein Sniffy, Jeanne Thomason, she could play, she had pocket and she could tune her own drums.  I almost always asked drummers to hit harder and Jeanne was no exception, but neither was it a problem.  She was very solid.  Always there’d be a message on my machine from Jeanne thanking and praising me after we’d finished a batch of songs.

“Magicfingers” she called me.

Dabro on the lot, spreading the word about what a good job I’d done.  Smiling and telling everyone.  This band was instrumental, pun intended, in earning me respect and legitamacy.

The band’s style was pretty eclectic and they seemed to go wherever they wanted musically because they had the vision and talent to afford and accommodate it.  Ace, Michael Baker, was a larger than life front man with charisma, chops and style.  A funny motherfucker, with serious lyrical and melodic ability.  He had an informed and clever grip on humor and pathos.  I was often in awe of him.  He was the real deal.

Exceptionally good live.  Always a function of the band’s ability to play and a front man’s ability to deliver.

When Dabro first approached me, I was still green enough to be leery, but I accepted.  Understand these transactions had nothing to do with money.  It was about us helping each other.  One of the reasons I was grateful is they could play far better than I could engineer.  Like I said, they were patient and I can’t help but know they were grooming me for their needs.  I had no problem with that then and I don’t now.

Before we were done with each other, about a year and a half in, they were being courted by labels and the fish in my pan had gotten considerably larger and a little more supine.  We’d accomplished what we’d set out to do, we’d helped each other and I was glad to have held up my end of the deal.  They signed to Atlantic and Rupert Hine produced.  Rupert Hine picked up where I left off.

It always broke my heart a little when a band I’d helped for free got a deal and never even threw some overdubs my way but I loved these guys.  My heart holds nothing but fondness for them.  We had shared with and nurtured each other in a musical equivalent of graduate school.  They did at least as much for me as I did for them and it was without regret on my part.  We had a good time doing it.  They didn’t owe me a goddamn thing.

As is often the case, they got lost in a shuffle.  Atlantic just happened to go through a “consolidation” and they were never really heard from again.  I never heard the record they made and I can’t help but be curious to this day.  They were exceptional.

The thing is this, when you work with a band for that long and that hard with a common goal, you share something beyond friendship, it becomes a partnership that approaches family.  You get to know each other pretty goddamn well.  I was to join many bands in the years to come but this was my first.  I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.  My heart swells when I think about it.  Good people.  Good times.  A lot of honest talent and sincere friendship.

Here’s an epilogue for ya:

I’m not sure how, but word got out at one point about a batch of three songs I’d completed mixes on with Rat Bat Blue.  Mark Harvey, the Harvinator hisself, studio manager and boss hog, approached me to say he was impressed and  asked me to engineer for him that very weekend.  Again, I found myself flattered and intimidated.  A piano vocal session with Astrid Young, sister of Neil Young.  I accepted.  There was no way I could let this man down.

I was nervous but Mark was cool and It went well.  So much different than my hard ass boss.  We had a pleasant afternoon.  I documented everything I did.  Brian Schueble was to follow up on what I’d done and told me later that when he first looked at my signal chain he thought I was out of my fucking mind but it sounded pretty good.  Brian was one of the good ones still much to my senior.  One of the best engineers to ever walk the planet and as humble as  pornstar with a tiny dick.  He would later spend time with me sharing his micing technique on grand piano with emphasis on phase and right left balance.

Brian is another one I owe.  Damn he was good.  He showed me how to make a piano sound like God.  He handed me the keys.  He taught me to fish.  Listen to Fiona Apple’s first record, that’s Brian.

So the buzz about these Rat Bat Blue songs somehow continued to escalate.  Some of the techs were even talking about it.  I know Dabro was raving all over the lot.

It’s weird being under the microscope all the sudden in the most famous and renowned recording studio in the world.  Discomfiting and confusing.  I’d had the light shined on me before for other reasons and this felt the same.  It itched.  It was sore.  I wanted a vacation.  Given the chance, I might have run for it.

But I knew the songs were good.  I knew my production and engineering was good.  It sounded almost the same as it did in my head so I knew.  If I was wrong I was wrong and so be it, I would never be right.  My colleagues and contemporaries listened and smiled.  It was good.  Nine out of ten dentists agreed.

One day, in the middle of my session, I forget who I was working with, Shelly Yakus, President of Recording, the big cheese, in his inimitable style, walks into my control room, folds his arms on the meter bridge, looks at me and waits for me to stop tape.

I stop tape.  He tells me he heard I did something special.  I tell him I think I know what he’s talking about.  He tells me he wants to hear it.  I say as soon as I’m done here I’ll play it for you.  He smiles evil and says take a break, then tells me to meet him in studio B and exits stage right.  I tell the band I’ll be back in fifteen minutes and head across the hall with my DAT.  I sweat making the easiest patch in the world and bring the DAT up on “stereo A”.  I crack the gain to twelve o’clock.  I’m not sure where to stand so I lean against the multitracks in the back.

His head curly gray head dances without rhythm and he doesn’t say a word or open his eyes for all three songs.

I hear it through his ears with all the flaws and mistakes.  It’s amateur hour.  We didn’t have automation.  It’s overdone.  Too ambitious.  The effects are out of control and I’m positive he flinches where I cut the half inch.  The band helped and did mutes and fader rides and everything because we didn’t have automation.  I can’t tell anything because there’s no meter to his bobbing head.  It’s like he’s listening to a disco version.  But I know he knows.  He may be a sonafabitch but Shelly Yakus is an icon and he knows.

I hate his dancing head.  He’s going to mock me.

I’m thinking about being grateful for his inevitable criticism.  How I’ll be gracious and humble as he points out the flaws.  He’s going to have constructive things to say.  It will be helpful.  I’ll be ok.  He’ll tell me how far I have to go and the bottom sounds disconnected from the rest of the mix.  The mid range is skinny and my balances are off.

The last song ends.  The silence is deafening.  His hands are folded and he’s rubbing his nose with both index fingers.  I hope he encourages me.  That would be nice.  Tell me it’s a good effort and to keep working because I’m onto something.

I don’t know what to do so I pull the patch cords, step close to him to mute the console and sit down next to him for my lumps.

Well, well, well he says.  I can’t help but look him in the eye, you gotta pick one, so I do, and I want it straight.  I pick his right eye.  I’m ready to own what he has to say.

“Congratulations”, he says.  He grins wide and kind, “You’ve figured it out”.  “I’m impressed”.

I really don’t remember what happened next.  Free beer to whomever was assisting me that day or anyone that can tell me who was.

I had just earned myself a whole mess of trouble but I didn’t care.

This chapter is dedicated to Keith Woods, may his soul and consciousness rest in peace.

Drinks for my friends.

A&M chapter Fifteen

There are so many more stories between those days and the days I’m itching to talk about so maybe I’ll go back and tell some more, fill it all in a little more, regardless, you the reader, will never be the wiser.  There’s no real reason to tell you this.

Whatever.

We’re gonna dance around with this chapter a little.  Got ta, got ta, got ta go see Ben.

If it seems to  have taken too long for me to rise to the occasion of what I expected of myself, it didn’t take very long to get what I wanted once I figured it out.  It was equal parts unwilligness to follow the years long path a typical assistant engineer takes to get a shot at the show, as it was not at all congruent with my aspirations once I finally began to understand what I was doing.

Fuck all that.  I understood the big picture.  I’d seen enough.  Paid my dues.  Fuck all that.  I was busting.

I had a plan.  I was developing mad skills.

There was bullshit.  Shitloads of it.  Nonsense.  I’d be cutting through that.

I was a quarter century old.  I’d produce record and mix my first record before I was thirty.

The fact was, I could hear it in my head and knew how to put it on tape.  Or I knew I could figure out how to.  I had come to understand top and bottom and volume and chunk and circumstance enough to make it so.  I witnessed famous engineers and producers making huge mistakes.  Both in coaxing performances and being clueless while getting a sound.  I witnessed Bob Ezrin leave a turd in the punchbowl with a band called El Magnifico.  An A&M staff guy named Brian Schueble had already nailed the El Mag vibe.  He had already given the band their sound.  He understood them.  Their record was shit and I understood the biggest reason for that was because Brian didn’t do it.  I witnessed Mike Clink fuck up a band called I Mother Earth while I won his confidence after he’d thrown me off Gun’s & Roses two years earlier.

No one was any more or less fallible than me.

It’s a very delicate and elusive thing, the relationship between band/artist and producer/engineer.  As often as not, the band needs nothing more than an engineer with an opinion as opposed to an engineer and a producer.  It’s a fact, I’ve been there.  Foment an atmosphere where they are relaxed.  It sounds simple but cheer lead them into trying harder and reaching further.  Explore harmonies and percussion and other melodic instruments.  Musicians are creative animals and the man behind the glass and in front of the knobs must and should make them comfortable with experimenting.  That man must also contribute and suggest, make the band try things they oppose even if they don’t work because it pushes open doors to other possibilities.

I did the same with a brilliant band called Agnes Gooch.  There’s a story there for later but I’m here to tell you that I understood them and they did there best work with me and I think you’d know their name if it was left to our mutual muse and device.  We fucking killed it.  I joined that band and we did excellent work.  Goddamn they were special.

I punched the same sixteen bars for CC Deville one night for eight fucking hours.  Julian Raymond producing, Phil Kaffel engineering and CC on blow and guitar.  It was a cover of Hank Williams’ “Hey hey good lookin” for some Pauly Shore movie.  From eight at night until four in the morning we did nothing but the same solo over and fucking over.

I punched every note, every space, every nuance.  I could have played it myself by the time we were done.

Nobody stopped the little prick.  Julian was a sweet man but a worthless producer.  Philo was a good engineer but a bit of a prick who always looked like he combed his hair with a sharp rock.  CC was an obnoxious, whiny, coke fueled, Brooklyn accented self absorbed piece of shit.  That Julian didn’t stop the whole thing after an hour or two made him guilty of manslaughter.  It was profoundly ridiculous.  I doubt Julian ever made a dime for Disney or The Mouse (Hollywood Records).  Seriously, every time I worked for Julian, he sucked.  Indecisive and no control or vision.  The whole thing could have been done in any shithole in LA with a multitrack, a decent mic pre and a decent mic.  Instead, CC Deville was allowed to masturbate for eight hours without shooting his load because he was hoovering coke every other take at a studio like A&M at hundreds of dollars an hour on top of engineering fees etc.

Vulgar and insipid burlesque.  The kind of stupidity and waste of resources endemic to a place like A&M; a situation among hundreds that taught me me lessons I wasn’t necessarily supposed to learn.  How is it people don’t get embarrassed in the middle of shit like that?

I’d been engineering on my own.  I was taking all comers.  I was a whore.  You got a polka band?  Bring it.

I was confronted with my first horn section, my first concertina, my first stand up bass and my first violin, mellotrons, organs and Leslie’s etc.  I stood in front of these instruments, listened to them and heard them in my head the way they should sound.  The way they wanted to sound, so I figured out how best to be honest with them and still allow for them to speak in a song.

I took it very seriously.

I had ceased to fuck around.

I was faithful to them.  Honest with them.

I became somewhat expert at guitars and amps and distortion.  How an amplifier breaks up, how different ones behave and how to drive them differently to get what I heard in my head.  Hundred watt Marshalls tend to suck because you have to run them so hard before they bust up.  Fifty watt heads are much easier to make crunch.  Give me a 50 Watt Plexi and a 4X12 loaded with aged Celestions and I’ll go gay.  A Vox AC30 with a Tele or a Moserite.  Class A always runs hot baby.  I loved experimenting with voltage regulators, powers soaks etc.  Vintage Fender Bassmans were a favorite.  Hiwatts,  I adore a Fender Twin.  Boogie dual rectifiers.

My penis on a hot tin roof.  A wall of Ampegs.

Single coil, lipstick or double coil humbucking pickups.  Always check between the bridge middle and back pick up positions for every part.

I always brought my own cables because they made such a huge difference.

Tube or solid state.  Tubes in the pre amp or actual gain stage?  Is it a hybrid?

There is no finer perfume than a hot tube amp.

A/DA flangers, vintage MXR distortion, Wah pedals, Big Muffs, DOD ……..the variables were infinite and a geek’s dream.

A Les Paul, Strat, Explorer, Flying V, Rickenbacker, Moserite, semi acoustic, hollow body, acoustic with steel or nylon or both.

Six or twelve strings.

The thickness of the pick or plectrum, the gauge of the strings.  Where on the guitar the player strummed.  The size of hands and fingers.  The ridiculous shoes worn that day.

It’s kinda about the way you combine all the elements and the combinations were infinite.

Just turn every knob until it breaks up somewhere between barbarian and princess or love of self.  Only then do you add microphones.  414s, 57s, 421s, fet 47s and make sure all the diaphragms are lined up.  Phase is everything.  Use a flashlight but them there diaphragms need to be like ducks.

Before the sun sets, tone comes from hands and fingers.  Ignore that fact at your peril.

I tuned drums even.  Showed the drummer from Everclear how to do it himself.  He thanked me for it years later after a show in Vegas.  I was a shitty drummer, but my kit always sounded awesome.  I understood the kind of heads best for a drummer based on his kit and how he played.  The size of his sticks and how hard he hit.  light medium or heavy batter for the snare.  Ambassador, Emperor, Pinstripes or Black Dots on the toms.  The lighter head on the bottom, the thicker head on top.  Tune the bottom head a little lower, sometimes a little higher.  I spent inordinate amounts of time moving various blankets with various textures back and forth in kick drums.  I built gynecological tunnels and used sand bags, bricks, weights from the sound stage and gaffer’s tape.  I miced it inside, out side and way back, while pounding the shit out of the way back one with the most brutal compressor I could find.  An 1176 with all the buttons pushed in.

I made compression my friend and my bitch.  It’s an ugly muscular mistress with copious facial hair.  Ya just gotta keep it’s head between your knees and below your waist.  Compression done wrong will eat your genitals.

I really digress.  Sorry.

But goddamn, recording is a crude and manly art that begs a feminine touch.  Pricks.  Bitches.  Fags.

All necessary.

Once I understood the tools, and it took a while, but once that epiphany occurred, I had no interest in playing it the way everyone assumed it was to be played.  Studio C was my epicenter.  It was where potential wizards and obvious dipshits were first assigned to study the craft.  The idiots got fired.  I spent thousand of hours in that room as an assistant.  Mostly Demos for the record company but also working with the ‘B’ listers like Quiet Riot, Peter Criss and Alice Cooper.  Older luminaries like Mel Torme, Solomon Burke and Don Cherry.

I ended up being the last engineer to record Don Cherry alive with the Watts Prophets.

From Gospel to hip hop to metal, it was an excellent education.  A solid, real time crash course in just about everything.  I got a brainfull everyday.  I was a shitty assistant but I was learning to be a good engineer.

I understood there was no way I would survive as an assistant engineer.

I understood I didn’t want to.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I could do what these outside engineers could do at least as good and probably better.  At the end of the day, I was right.  I did it better.  Much better.  I heard it in my head.  Took a while for me to pull it off.  I befriended most of the A&R staff and earned their trust.  It didn’t hurt that in the beginning, no one on either side, the recording studio and the record company being separate entities, paid much attention.  The deal was, the A&R department had first dibs on the room (studio C) from nine a.m. to five or six p.m., five days a week.  That’s when demos got done.  The smarter, more adventurous A&R people took advantage of the free time in a world class studio to literally sound out artists with any potential.

Those smart ones I courted with a vengeance.  I made friends with them.  Before long, I was scouting bands and bringing them in under their auspices while they handed me projects.  Pierre Vudrag, Jeff Suhy, Michael Whitaker, Teresa Ensenat, David Anderle, Amy Brokaw (daughter of Tom)………

They just wanted a decent engineer they could trust and maybe spend an afternoon away from the desk and phone playing house and or record producer.  At the same time I began to have some facility as an electron director, I became an earnest student of the socio-political mechanics and egos of young ambitious record company wannabe heroes, lazy but talented musicians and older and wiser record execs.

I made friends.  I began to be a salesman.

Thus I was able to avoid dancing with more substantial egos of the famous engineers or producers by assisting.  I worked with plenty of the good ones but successfully avoided most of the assholes.  I never once assisted Shelly Yakus, Niko Bolas,  only once for Don “Dry as a bone’  Smith…….I did learn tons from Dave Thoener, Ed Stasium and Paul Hamingson, Thompson and Barbiero, Bob Clearmountain, Keith Forsey, Mike Shipley, Jimbo Barton, Tony Platt, Boll Dooley, Steve Barncard ……..

The rest of the twenty four hour cycle and weekends, the studio was free to book the room for profit.  It was such a technologically advanced complex that most people made the mistake of underestimating the little 32 input API without automation.  It was the red headed step child.  The truth was, it was an amazing sounding console and the compliment of outboard gear available in a facility like A&M, made Studio C an absolute asset in the hands of any capable engineer.

My contemporaries were damn fools for not realizing the room’s potential and assuming it was amateur hour.

It was a brilliant venue for overdubs.  But I tracked twelve piece bands, grand piano, horns and full on rock bands, all live, with very pleasant and thickly rendered results in that little 10×15 foot room without a single iso booth.  I used the “Dance Hall”, an equipment storage room down the hall with the master fridge for fruit and perishables.  It also housed some ancient power grid.  Hello sixty cycle hum and phase horror.  I used the guard shack even further down the hall.  I ran cables all the way out to La Brea Ave. on a Sunday for vocals.  I put mics and instruments and amps in the public bathrooms and in the other studios before or after they showed up or went home.  I recorded in the lobby and the live echo chambers.  I made the asses of the office bitches itch by using the mic closet for isolation with amps so loud they couldn’t hear the phones ring.  It was often a dorm room carnival with the phone on the console ringing and us not answering because we knew they just wanted us to turn it down.

Fuck them, it was a recording studio.

We recorded vocals live on La Brea Avenue.

I routinely blew up speakers.  A percussionist spilled his bong into the console and smoked the power supplies on my watch, a story that made it all the way to New York, where my assistant tried to tell me the story without realizing who he was telling it to.  I set him straight.  I had no respect for impedance, voltage, wattage or amperage.  Voodoo bullshit.  When the woofers in the NS10’s were toast, I muted the console, pushed the kick drum fader all the way up, cranked the line amp, twisted fifty hertz all the way to the right, master buss fader and console gain on overdrive and flicked the output toggles open.  Turned down the lights, started the multitrack and watched the little fuckers cough sparks.  Called the techs for a swap.  Learned that from the Kill Bennedy.  Seems like it was always Mad Dog Mannon who showed up with a fresh pair.

He looked at me funny for a decade.  Fuck you Mannon, I always liked you.

By the time I was done, that whole nine to five thing meant dick to me and eventually, I meant dick to management.

I was pushing other people out of the way.  Merely a way of life in a high pressure, high stakes environment.  Borja, Bogosian and a sweet man named Steve Smith who always wore a suit because he was engineering at A&M yet still honked a fatty from his endless briefcase supply. They all would see their gigs dwindle because of my ambition.  These men all taught me well and as importantly treated me in a way that was far more humane and kind than I was used to.  Good men.  I did blow with Borja in the gardens of Yamashiro and Mr. Smith always got me high while I drove him home.  Bogosian took me to the apartments of strange women during the riots and I always got laid.

Good men that I owe thanks to.  Before it was done, each knew they could trust me should they need to step away from the session.  I engineered completely for each of them before it was over.

I became better than them.  I did, no shit.

Inside of eighteen months, I’d taken over the bulk of the A&R departments business, drawing salary and benefits from the studio, between $25 and $35 an hour from the record company and vacuuming the best training any aspiring engineer could possibly hope for.  Most studios weren’t anything like A&M but many were like Studio C.  A new band every week or sometimes every few days for what felt like a forever paradise.

I ate, drank and slept it.

Along with my partner Alex Reed and a few complicit A&R guys, we’d eventually come to control the Studio C schedule for years.

Golden and ripe.

Once I’d figured this out and began to be able to make things sound like they did in my head,  the whole paradigm changed.

I went to town.

We started making records.  No one but Alex and I saw it coming.  Every band we recorded, we saw as a body of work with at least one one radio single.  I recorded and mixed a band named Wink, Michael Lockwood was the guitar player.  He now plays for Aimee Mann and functions as her musical director.  Back then, the singer named Roxy, did a head stand in the ice chest and the band paid me with a brand new pair of sixteen hole oxblood Doc Martins.  I have a Polaroid.  I still have those boots and I wore them on every record I ever made.  A plexiglass drumkit I barely got a handle on, good God it was hard to contain, a genius and kind guitar player, and a junkie singer.  I think we did a seven inch vinyl single and that would be my first produced, recorded and mixed by.

It sounded awful.

Thank you Michael Lockwood.

I kept at it.  I could hear it in my head.  It didn’t take long for me to hear and understand what the engineers I assisted were doing wrong.  I could hear it in my head.  Competent engineers.  More than a modicum of skill.  But they just didn’t get it.  They’d turn it up and make the paper NS10 woofers dance but that was easy.  Make ’em dance with clarity, thump chunk and chaos how you mean and then we can have lunch.  No shit.  That’s what is.  Sorry, but that’s what I did because I heard it in my head.

I figured it out and Alex Reed came along because he was way far from stupid and he knew I needed him as much as I was gonna need anybody.

Alex became my assistant one summer and he asked me to help him with an actual record he intended to make with friends of his from Berkley.  I’m not sure how much I contributed because I was suffering the slings and arrows of being a professional assistant engineer at that point and I really lacked both courage and conviction.  I was more than a little spent and beaten.

I ended up getting drunk a lot and trying to teach him to engineer.  To his credit, a fine record was made.  It was to be the first for both of us.  A band called Love Nest.  A very cool quirky record.  I still like it very much.

The truth is, Al thought I was the biggest most arrogant prick he’d ever met.  It’s true, he didn’t like me at all.  Ironically, we share the same birthday but we are about as different as the sun and the moon.  He was painfully bright, knowledgeable and both subtle and diplomatic.  I was loud and forceful.  He taught me far more than I ever taught him and he learned what I had to offer at a pace that humbled me.  I miss him.  We talk, but not often enough.  Music was our bond, we are otherwise different.  Almost entirely.

I have still, as much respect for him as anyone I ever met.  Alex Reed is is an example to me.  His mother passed while we were working together.  The very first time I was called upon to produce, record and mix a record, I said yes knowing Alex would agree to be there with me.  We made records together and you just can’t know what that’s like unless you’ve done it.  We slept in bedrooms, shitholes and fleabag motels.  We were more than the sum of our parts.  We did four times as much musical good together as we could have done by ourselves.  God love you Al.  I trust you are well.  We did the best we could.

Drinks for my friends.

A&M Chapter Fourteen

There were these two guys.  Ed Stasium and Paul Hamingson.  Ed was a little crazy and Paul was little sane.  Yin and yang.  Ed had a bit of of an Alfred E. Newman grin and Paul had a wandering eye and a Weird Al Yankovich vibe.  Ed was the producer and Paul was the engineer.  Some of the most pleasant times I ever spent in a control room were with these guys.

I liked them, very much.  I learned a shitload from them both.  They both had a quiet methodical discipline and a humor just as subtle.

I learned the art of a good flange using just an AMS off the sync head.  Monitoring quietly through anything cheap.  Bringing something to read to a session with Pauly and Ed was important because they didn’t want me bouncing around the control room with nothing to do.

Both of them, good old friends of Mark Harvey.

They weren’t just two guys.  I’m proud to count them as friends.  I hope it’s not too presumptuous to hope they feel at least somewhat the same about me.  Actually, I think can be confident Pauly does.  We’ve been corresponding a little lately.

They had a system, a major component of which was zero drama.  They did their thing without angst, urgency or anger.  No eighteen hour days or at least as few as were absolutely necessary.  Methodology gorgeous.  They would have preferred Geetus as their assistant but they weren’t unhappy with me, I hope.  I think.  Paul supervised me.  He made sure I documented and took care of the things that were important to both he and Ed.

As a second engineer, the job is to make the engineers job easier and to be “wood” in the eyes of the producer.  I was never an expert at either.  It’s true I have kind of a big personality and it got me in trouble more than once.  Ed and Paul never seemed to mind much.  They were as egoless as I would ever encounter in a control room.

Understand that Ed Stasium was as luminous and accomplished as anyone I would have the privilege to work with.  From the Chambers Brothers to Sha Na Na.  The Ramones, The Talking Heads, Soul Asylum, Living Colour and Mick Jagger.  The Smithereens seminal album “11”, Motorhead and the Reverend Horton Heat.  I don’t think I ever tracked with Ed and Paul, but it was a pleasure to assist them both on the mixes I did with them.  They knew what they were doing and the vibe was focused but relaxed.  They made clear what they expected of me and it was relatively minimal.

It occurs to me now, they didn’t really need an assistant at all, much less me.  Pauly was on it.  I was perhaps the shittiest assistant at A&M studios, save for maybe Randy Wine.  Wine was way smarter and more capable, he just gave far less of a shit.  That says a lot.

Fred Stadium and Pauly.  Always a sweet gig I was happy to have whenever the Geetus wasn’t available.  “Did ya prick her ya prick ya?” was a question Ed was fond of asking for no reason at all.  Ed was a friendly goof and not a little bit of a dirty old man.  Forgive me for mentioning his tremendous talent last.

I was in The Mix Room once with Gggarth and Joe Barresi working on an L7 record and Biohazard was directly across the hall in Studio D with Ed and Paul.  Understand that I thought these Biohazard guys were consummate dickheads.  About the time cell phones first came out and these Jersey retards wandered the halls all day trying to get a signal with bricks pressed to their empty, wannabe heads in a recording studio designed to reject all manner of radio or electromagnetic frequency.  Evan Seinfeld was the singer.  Later to have a gig on “OZ”, the HBO series and even later to marry Tera Patrick, the world’s most beautiful porn star.  As far as I know now, Evan is still her suitcase pimp.

He was and I’m sure still is, an idiot.

As fate would have it, Evan and I would cross paths again some ten years later.  First in a titty bar in Vegas and then in the form of a potential business deal involving his beautiful wife and the company I was then second in command at.  Much comedy was had there at Evan’s expense.  I’m still in awe at the idea of this beautiful and elegant woman allowing such a meathead to speak for her, let alone entering into matrimony with such a clueless fucktard.  We clowned him around the office for at least a year.  He somehow got the idea that it was me standing in the way of his wife’s deal with Phallix as my good friend Rick, owner of the company, had passed the buck to me, just to shake his stupid ass and annoyingly self aggrandizing phone calls.

If Evan ever reads this, he’ll be pissed and scrambling for a dictionary.

The truth is, they were asking an astronomical sum for a simple day’s work.  We sought to hire Tera as a catalog model and perhaps develop and market a signature toy with a share of the gross profit.  It was Evan who was relentlessly hard charging for such an exorbitant fee from our relatively small company.  It’s my belief this was because he’s as stupid as I estimated him to be.

I simply wouldn’t take his calls.

It didn’t take long at all for the girls in L7 to understand what kind of brain trust was across the hall.  They were a comic strip.  A cartoon.

The catalyst was their bullshit, macho Jersey swagger.

Wannabe Jewish goombahs.  At least Evan was.  A clown.

There is perhaps nothing I loathe more than those who wrongfully assume they are smarter than they are.

The girls, or rather, women of L7 were a fairly streetwise and savvy bunch.  Jennifer Finch and I forged a bond a little beyond what typically developed between artist and second engineer.  Somehow, she reminded me of my sister.  It was her humor and resolute intelligence.  They were very cool chicks in general.  They would put me in “love jail”.  It involved surrounding me with chaste kisses and aggressive hugs I wouldn’t be able to escape unless I resorted to a degree of violence or brutality that would’ve been completely out of context.

Obviously, I succumbed.  I adored them.  Some of the coolest “artists” with whom I ever had the pleasure.  Very self aware.  Very funny and very real.  At that point in my career, such qualities had begun to stand out.

My future partner, Alex Reed and I were instrumental in getting Jennifer’s next band “Other Star People” a record deal by doing their demos pro bono at A&M studios less than a week after we were both officially released from our employ by A&M recording studios.  Al & I sat in the middle of the cavernous live room of studio A early one morning after we’d completed three songs with that band, burned a candle and drank a fifth of Jim Beam.  It was our wake.  Our Ode to almost two decades between us in that place.

The Other Star People record went nowhere, we were never asked to participate on any level and the other half of the band, a douchebag friend of Alex’s named Xander Smith, hit on my girlfriend hard one night while she was on a layover in Vegas.  I had the pleasure of letting him know on the phone that I knew what he’d done and was secure in the knowledge that I could have broken him in half.

What a prick after what I’d done for him for free.

Welcome to pro audio as my good friend and master tech Gary Myerberg used to say.

But I digress.

Between the two of us, Jennifer and I, we began to foment a good natured plan to  fuck with the dickheads across the hall.  It blossomed one night with Joe and Garth complicit.  Garth was never afraid to stir a little shit.  We sent a runner to a newsstand in Hollywood to buy as many gay porn magazines as possible with what was available in petty cash and waited for the goombahs to leave for the day.

We spent at least an hour cutting out every erect penis we could find and taping them to every surface or moving part there was in the control room of Studio D.  Open the DAT machine and a penis leapt out.  Cassette decks were popping with cocks.  Every multi-track had phalluses ready to spin.  We were thorough and Garth was happy to be the default ring leader, mentoring the circus and directing the placement of elaborate faggotry.

I’ll never forget Joe going around the room and picking up the scraps, so careful not to leave a mess.  A class act was Joe.  Joe, Ed, Paul and Garth were among the best men I ever worked with.  Serious talent and excellent human beings.

At first, it was all in good fun.  The escalation involved both camps barricading each inside their respective studios with furniture from our lounges and the abundant equipment that always lined the back hall.  It didn’t take long for the whole thing to turn ugly, however.  Stupid testosterone resulted in trapping the estrogen in the Studio D lounge against their will with a microphone patched into the complex wide PA system and the the girl’s subsequent panic was broadcast throughout the halls of A&M.

It ended badly.  I was embarrassed for my role in it.

I certainly wasn’t guiltless in playing both ends against the middle, but good clean fun was all I had in mind.  It ended up going way too far and the Biohazard guys remain boneheads in my memory.  I never liked them.  Lowbrow misogynist jerks.  I always loathed bands that thought they were on top of the world just because they’d gotten a record deal and were in our hallowed halls.  Dumb enough to not realize that the hard part begins with a record deal.

I doubt they’ll ever be candidates for the rock & roll hall of fame.  I recall the record they were making then doing pretty well.  No doubt because of Ed & Paul but most subsequent efforts went double balsa.  They are a rock & roll asterisk.

A few years later, Al and I were making the Phenobarbidolls record in Studio C and the phone on the console rang.  I answered it and whoever the receptionist was at the time told me it was Paul Hamingson calling for me.  Put it through I said, I asked Pauly to give me a minute and put it hold so I could take it in the machine room.  I shut both sliding glass doors behind me and lit a Marlboro.  I picked up the phone and said something like Pauly, to what do I owe the pleasure?  He told me he was calling to thank me.  I wondered for what.  He said he was calling to thank me for making his favorite record of the year.

I was more than taken aback.  I have to paraphrase, but the gist of what he said was that the Everclear record I’d done, Sparkle & Fade, was his favorite new record and that it gave him joy to listen to it.  I was beside myself.  It is a singular moment in my music career that I will never, ever forget.  I can’t help but well up a little as I write this.  A professional for whom I had so much admiration and fondness, took it upon himself to call me and congratulate me, for what he estimated to be a job well done, a magnanimous gesture that left me speechless other than to thank him for calling……….

Tears leaked involuntarily as I hung up the phone.  I took my smoke out behind the studios and finished it while I gathered myself.  The enormity of it at that moment is beyond words.  Thanks again Pauly.  That was huge to me.  The confidence and inspiration you handed me that day is no doubt far beyond your humble intentions.  A simple sincere gesture on your part filled my heart.  Thank you my friend.  Thank you.

Drinks for my friends.

A&M chapter thirteen

Let’s talk a little more about Barncard.  Barney.  SQB.  Stephen Quinn Barncard.  Resident Genius.

Barney designed and implemented so much crazy cool shit at A&M studios, it’s safe to say he was taken for granted by almost all of us.  What it must have been like for a man so bright, to serve at the discretion of men so much dimmer, is completely outside my ability to fathom.  When I think about it, I’m a little embarrassed.

Understand, it’s not a scenario that was exclusive to him, there were many great minds in that place.  Ultimately, as well as I knew him, he stands out, a little more of an enigma than the rest.

Friendly, gregarious even, and never patronizing.  Undeniably odd though.  A little crazy even.

He seemed happy and was so goddamn smart, pretty much above reproach.  Nobody ever really fucked with Barney.  Not as far as I know.  Sometimes he’d say something he clearly thought was funny, he had a laugh not unlike a little kid’s, kinda gleeful and unselfconscious; a little shrill for a man in possession of such a rich baritone.  About a third of the the time I’d smile and chuckle, not having any idea what he’d said or meant.

It sounded to me like, “A little like folding soup on hot summer day inside an igloo, eh?”

The Star Trek door leading to the control room in Studio A.  Push of a button and the the heavy airlock door whisked aside.  Kind of a pain in the ass sometimes but cool as shit nonetheless.

Tape copy.  A hundred plus Tascam 122MKIII cassette decks controlled and completely synchronized by a primitive late eighties Mac.  A listening system that allowed for the operator to hear a few seconds from each individual deck and thus be able to pull a bad copy in the process.  Oscilloscopes to see phase in case you couldn’t hear it.  I loved the dance of the cathode ray tube.  An integral step in teaching potential engineers how to listen and develop an attention span.

“They had good three motor transports and three heads, and were easier to align that other prosumer decks. But the deal making feature for me was that the decks could be operated by a direct connection rather than by infrared. That allowed the use of simple transistor circuits to drive the remote control inputs of the decks. At the end there were over 135 decks in the room; it was built for 156. There were 13 decks in each rack because that’s all that would fit. It would have been nicer digitally to have 16 decks in a rack.” -SQB
The FM radio station complete with Orban Optimod brick wall limiters.  You could listen to your mix on your own car radio in the parking lot, or a fully restored candy apple red ’57 Chevy sitting out back.  What the FCC didn’t know, didn’t hurt them.

Then there was Echo Central.  The Inner Sanctum.  Barney’s office.  A windowless room in the upper regions of A&M studios behind the second floor Studio A and B lounges that housed backup hard drives for the four computerized automated consoles in studios B, D, Mix and eventually A, once the legendary Neve was retrofitted with Massenburg flying faders.  The epicenter of research and development for A&M studios.

It was among the quietest and most peaceful places to sleep in the wee hours.  There was a back room, sort of a sepulcher, most didn’t know about.  I thought of it as a secret sarcophagus.  I enjoyed many a nap back there.  I might be imagining this but I seem to remember a way through the ceiling to the ancient catwalks above.  A few ceiling tiles pushed aside and you were in the era of Perry Mason.  It was filmed there, in that space, decades before.  You could see into the B lounge from up there.  A window that from the lounge looked on nothing, or so people thought.

Barney had devised a technology where all of the studio’s five live chambers and some 13 or 15 EMT plates could be assigned to any individual studio patch bay via ELCO connectors and then show up on a television channel so that each of the five control rooms could see which echo units were assigned to each room and which ones were available.

Red room, white room etc.

A live chamber is essentially a small, highly reflective room with two transducers.  A speaker and a microphone.  Pump signal through the speaker and it’s reflections are available via microphone.  I believe the White Room was a coincident or XY stereo pair, whereas the Red Room was mono.  There were three smaller chambers above C as well.

Roland The Headless Thompson and I experimented recording various acoustic guitars, nylon and steel string, in those live chambers with mixed, but always interesting results.

EMT plates are archaic technology as well.  Again, two transducers.  A small speaker at one end of a huge metal plate and a “pickup” at the other end of said plate, all housed in a wooden box about the size of a grand piano.  We had something like fifteen of them, all hanging in a two story brick building behind the studio.

In both cases, simple methodology and crude technology to create very unique echo on recordings before digital was even a word in pro audio.  Think Beatles, Stones and Elvis.  By the time I became a sorcerer’s apprentice, live chambers and EMT plates were a luxury very few studios in the world could afford real estate for, much less the logistics.  We were spoiled.

To switch or reassign any of them meant  trekking up to the Inner Sanctum, walking through a blue haze of quality pot smoke and physically moving the the ELCO connector  from one patch bay to another.  Barncard may or may not have acknowledged the interloper, depending on what he was working on.  It would then instantaneously appear on the television screen showing the patch point it could be accessed from in any given control room.

The only thing the Inner Sanctum lacked was test tubes and Bunsen burners.

Genius.

I confess, as a runner/janitor at A&M studios, I had keys to just about everything, including Barney’s Inner Sanctum.  Later on, I had legitimate reason to enter, but before that, under the auspices of emptying the trash……. you see where I’m going with this.

Barney could usually be counted on to at least leave a roach or two in an ashtray and we came to learn he kept his stash in empty quarter or half inch reel boxes back in the sepulcher.

Air conditioning is a very big deal in recording studios because the equipment generates an amazing amount of heat.  The temperature in a control room would go from 65 degrees to 95 or a 100 in fifteen or twenty minutes when the air went down.  This, in turn, effects the audio gear as well as musical instruments in a hurry.  Guitars go out of tune, drum heads go flaccid etc.

Just so happens, the Inner Sanctum shared ducting with the control rooms of both A and B.  Whenever we did bong rips in Echo Central, the Inner Sanctum, the inhabitants of both control rooms could smell it.  It was obvious, like green pungent gas.  Barney didn’t seem to care, he didn’t have to.  We did.  So upon locating his cache, we’d often take it to a safer place, like the Secret Pizza Lounge also known as Berg’s Green Retreat, far higher up in the building and the only other way to access the the weird upper regions of this recording complex built inside the the antiquated shell of the original Chaplin sound stage.  Far above and behind the tech shop, the speaker loft and removed from the elaborate air conditioning system.  Hot as fuck in the summer but the monotony was broken by getting high.

A happy sweat at three A.M.

We’d climb down the catwalks and ladders, consciousness altered enough to afford patience for clean up after rock bands, washing their dishes and schlepping their trash.

At the pleasure of judge and jury, a quick anecdote:

One Saturday afternoon, not too long into my time at A&M recording studios, I was working the front office phones when a battery of fire trucks arrived in front of the main gate on La Brea, sirens blazing.  The front guard shack called to say there was a fire alarm going off full tilt inside the studio somewhere.  Let them in I said.  What could I do?

Seconds later, eight or ten anxious firemen stood before me in heavy uniform while their captain explained that a smoke alarm was going off in the building and they couldn’t leave until they verified the location of the alarm wasn’t actually on fire.

What could I do?

Somehow, they were able to pinpoint the specific location of the alarm.  Echo Central.  The Inner Sanctum.  Fuck me.  I called up and there was no answer.  Anybody sitting up there blazing away on a Saturday wasn’t gonna answer the phone.  I knew that, but I had to try.  I stalled by paging another runner to cover the phones before I escorted them up.

I guy we called Foo Paux answered the page and I explained the situation to him and told him to keep ringing Echo Central.  Meantime, I led the phalanx of firefighters behind me up the back way explaining how we couldn’t interrupt the recording sessions in in either A or B…….trying to buy time.

We started down the back hallway to Echo Central and we could all smell it.  What the hell I figured, it’s not like they’re cops.  They began to giggle and chuckle behind me.  Still, I was nervous because I couldn’t know what we’d find upon my unlocking that door.

At any given time, this place could erupt into a carnival/circus with naked chicks, drugs and mayhem from hell to breakfast.  It was an insane place to work.  On weekends, the runners were expected to mitigate the inevitable craziness or at least keep it from spilling on to the streets of Hollywood.

Any reputable recording studio of that era served simultaneously as a creative environment for artists and a sanctuary for rockstars to indulge themselves without concern for the outside world and mere pedestrian consequences.  Our job was to encourage and foment the idea that within our walls, they were not subject to society’s rules, judgements or persecutions.

An unspoken but concrete ethic.

Early on you become sensitive to sound, if you’re serious at all about making a living at manipulating it.  The heavy feet of so many battle outfitted men behind me coming to such an abrupt stop startled me.  Two or three at least carried axes.

Silence.  The provenance of any real recording studio.

The sound of the keys in my hand was like a chandelier crashing on concrete.  I unlocked and opened the door.

Slow motion in real time.

There sat Randy Wine, a fat hog leg of a joint in his hand.  The atmosphere blue green from smoke, his feet up on a workbench, slit eyes like road maps and a shit eating grin on his face.

The troops behind me began to laugh out loud.  “Ain’t no fire here man”, he said while exhaling another thick blue cloud.  Behind me they began to  lose it.  I stood for a second, not sure what to do.  Randy gave me a what the fuck gesture with both hands and I shut the door and turned around.  They were laughing so hard they couldn’t look at me.

I asked if they could find the way out.  They assured me they could.

On top of it all, Barney was a shit hot engineer.  His acoustic guitar sounds were crazy good.  His legacy stretches from Crosby, Stills and Nash, to Nilsson, New Riders of The Purple Sage and The Grateful Dead.
Barney would eventually hire me to engineer in his stead.  No greater compliment.  I was paid handsomely, put up in a nice suite in Ann Arbor Michigan and did well enough to be asked back a few times.  The artist afforded me room service and an open tab at the hotel bar as well as room service.  Nothing ever came of it.  The material wasn’t bad but it wasn’t timely.  I had a swell time and did a good job.  My acoustic guitar sounds weren’t as good as Barney’s but I held my own.  They were bright and shiny.

Drinks for my friends.

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.

A&M chapter eleven

Meet Garth Richardson.

Garth was the senior Canadian.

A viciously competitive ping pong virtuoso with a devastating serve, a pronounced paunch and male pattern baldness.  Glasses and a baseball cap with some hockey logo.  I don’t believe I ever saw him lose.  He sure cleaned my clock whenever I was bored enough to have my ass handed to me.  I grew up with a ping pong table.  I was lucky to return his goddamn knuckle ball serve.

Talented, a big heart, funny, friendly and smart.  He was quite good to me.  You’ll see.

An immensely accomplished record producer and engineer who managed to eclipse his legendary father, Jack Richardson of Nimbus 9, The Guess Who and “These Eyes”, in the universe of recording arts.  He produced the first Rage Against The Machine record, arguably their best.  Good enough for me.  Always on the curve and usually ahead of it.  A class act and a good guy.

Years later, while I was mixing a project at the the deceased Frank Zappa’s house, Dweezil Zappa revealed to me how Tom Morello managed the signature  rhythm riff on “Killing In The Name”.  The second half of it was a full octave lower in the same key.  I’d always assumed it was a punch after he’d tuned down, but Morello did it with an octave pedal.  Duh.

Garth looked at me on the morning of the first day of the first gig I ever did with him and said in all seriousness, “Mikey, if you do nothing else on this session, I want you to set it up so that every time I hit rewind or stop on the multitracks, the audio from the hockey game comes up.”

I ran a noisegate off the sync head from the smpte time code track on 24, consistent amplitude and frequency.  The sync head gave me fifty five milliseconds of lead time before the playback head.  Enough to drive a truck through.  I patched into the trigger of a Drawmer gate, set it to duck, and brought it up on a fader at the end of the console near the patch bay so I could have access to it.  I ran the hockey audio through the gate, then I strapped another gate across the insert to close while the mix was playing with the same trigger off a mult.  Kinda the same chain but in reverse.  I still took care to mute it when we were printing.

Took me about five minutes to figure out and implement.

Garth smiled and asked for it in stereo.

I fucked up a lot but I think Garth and his engineer Joe liked me after that very first gig.  These guys were self sufficient.  They didn’t need a genius, just somebody to change the linens and help flip the mattress.

What I learned from Garth was largely by example.  Etiquette and politics.  He was a producer and I was an assistant to his engineer, Joe Barresi.  Joe has become a star in his own right: The Melvins, Queens of The Stoneage, Kyuss, Tool and Bad Religion.  Joe was a soft spoken and understated funny motherfucker.  At one point I was dating a redhead and showed him a picture.  His eyes lit up and he smiled.  “Firepie” he said softly through a slight grin. I’m grateful to have known and worked with him.  We were born on the exact same day, 02/07/65.  Technique and chops I stole from Joe.  Class and manners too.

Garth always had an exceptional ear for good engineers.  Stan Katayama and Joe Barresi for example.

Garth has a fairly pronounced stutter that seemed to come and go at random.  In my mind’s eye I see him jolly and hardworking.  Very funny and somewhat paternal, even to Randy and Bill.  He liked being Dad.  On holidays there was always whiskey for your coffee.

We pulled an all-nighter in B once, we were firing and printing snare samples and kept having phase problems between the original and the sample.  I remember looking at the the scope and seeing it 180 degrees out on one hit and almost phase locked on the next.  Frustrating.  We could hear it plain as day.

Around midnight Garth ordered roasted garlic pizza from this place up in Laurel Canyon.  He knew exactly what he was doing.  As soon as the pie arrived, he said with a smirk, “Mikey, I apologize in advance”.  It was delicious.  For a solid five hours we carpet bombed the control room with a prodigious volume of pungent garlic flatulence that had the runners entering with Lysol and makeshift face masks to clean up.  We joked about the air changing from blue to green.  We didn’t dare light a match for fear of combustion of the copious amount of methane.  An air locked control room and there were complaints from the hallways.  We  giggled with adolescent glee and morbid satisfaction.

His production credit often reads “GGGarth Richardson, a self deprecating nod at his stutter.

There was a young woman named Patricia Sullivan with a speech impediment somewhat more severe than Garth’s.  I called her Miss Ricia.  She was a mastering apprentice.  A different kind of engineering sorcery that suited her demeanor better than the testosterone fueled boys club of wanna be console jockeys.  Beautiful inside and out, she possessed a serenity and wisdom that I often wondered at.  She was calm and peace in an absolute maelstrom.

My point is this, an incidental thing like a stammer becomes pretty much invisible in the presence of of such genuine humanity.  It wasn’t until I remembered Garth’s affliction that I was reminded of Miss Ricia’s.  I was only reminded of Garth’s when I remembered his album credits.  When I hear his voice in my head today, I don’t hear the stutter.

I’m not sure by what authority, but Garth made me an honorary Canadian at one point.  He teased me that my assistant engineer credit on an the L7 record, “Hungry For Stink” would be either Demo King or Donut King.  I dared him and was a little disappointed to see my actual name spelled correctly when it was released.

These guys, these Canadians, Randy, Garth and Bill, all still inhale and exhale music, engineering and the production thereof everyday.  Garth has a school with producing legend Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”), Nimbus School of Recording Arts.  Randy and Bill have very successful careers and are making God Thumping good sound as you read this.

I have much more to say about Garth, but this chapter is done.

Next up is the story of how Garth was able to prevent me from beating the shit out of Eddie Kramer in front of Luther Vandross, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons while I was actually engineering on a KISS record.

Drinks for my friends.

A&M chapter ten

Meet Randy Staub.

I called him Rusty Stub.

Randy Staub, while still a crazy as fuck Canadian, was the polar opposite in demeanor to Bill.  Val Kilmer’s Iceman to Bill’s larger than life cartoon monster.  I learned so much by watching him rather than being taken by the hand, he was talented and I owe him.  Stoic and soft spoken.  Disciplined like a scientist, a Canadian hallmark, he effortlessly made things sound giant.  Rode his bike back and forth from Sunset & La Brea to Van Nuys on a few hours sleep.  Ten miles at least with serious hills in between.  Every night.

The guy was good, I courted him like I was gay.

Every now and then he’d wait for me to acquit myself of all things janitorial because he was too tired to ride home.  I became his hag, but he wasn’t a fag.

He had focus.  You’d think he was arrogant.  Nope.  Focused.  Generous and ridiculously smart.  Kinda dark, definitely more than meets the eye.  A quiet charisma with rockstar good looks.  Still he had a degree of innocence and sincere humility. He’s a celestial body in his own right these days.  Google him.  Randy Staub.  He became a wizard.  I like to believe I witnessed the final stages of that transformation.

Didn’t take long at all for him to be picked up by producer Bob Rock as his engineer  (Metallica, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Cher, The Cult, David Lee Roth, Skid Row, The Offspring, 311, The Tragically Hip……).  I did everything but wear a dress and paint my face for this guy.  I took his tapes up to the library every night.  I stole his ridiculous bike shoes, filled them with cocoa mix and duct taped them to the ceiling of the mix room.

I wanted his attention.

Late one night after U2 wrapped, he asked with an eggplant stained wine grin if I knew where my car was.  He’d stolen it.  My shit box ’69 Superbeetle.  Told me my keys were at the front desk, but wouldn’t tell me where it was.  Pay back for the shoes on the ceiling thing.  Took me and Randy Wine hours to find it.

“Slow but steady ay?”  Him letting me know he wasn’t impressed yet.

There’s more.

He mentioned to me late one night in his quiet way that he hadn’t tracked a band in a while.  Too long he said.  He’d been in The Mix Room for months.  He was asking me to find a band, an open room and to assist him.  Keys to the universe.

I don’t remember if Cameron De Palma, nephew to Brian De Palma, was still working as a runner at A&M at that point, but we had become good friends.  His was one of the best bands I never got to record.  Studio D was open the following Sunday, Randy’s only day off.  I set it up with The Harvinator.

Staub needed rest so we didn’t start until early evening.  They were not anything like a heavy or hard band, but that’s what Randy managed to extract from them.  Although it took hours it seemed to happen in minutes.  The biggest and most aggressive Cameron’s band had ever sounded and probably ever would.  Before I knew it the main monitors were cracked wide open and the band was sounding like I’d never heard them.  The song we tracked was political, “Surgical Strikes”.  It was the very first time I’d witnessed an engineer make it bloom huge so easily.

The experience still looms large in my mind.  I have a peculiar recall for the way things sound.  It was unlike anything I’d ever heard at that point.  I was floored and excited.  My head swam and my heart raced.  My ears were on fire.  Fucking awesome.  I was inspired.  One of just a handful of times that proved I’d ended up in the right place.

He had made this band who’s music I adored, explode with what I saw as the simple ease of an expert and adept craftsman.  Arguably not what they were supposed to sound like but that didn’t matter.  He wielded his power to bend them into what he wanted to hear.  He smiled at me just once, when he saw on my face that I understood what he’d done.

A wizard.

Late in the morning, after the band had left, all the cables wound and I had taken all the mics and auxiliary outboard gear back to the shop, I found Randy neatly arranging all the mic stands along the wall by their triangular bases;  a simple puzzle.  All arms facing the same direction like a company of soldiers.  There was to be a string date the next day.  A thirty or forty piece orchestra.  The powers that were would never even see the condition we left the room in and that was really beside the point in his mind.

Good engineers cannot afford dominance from the right hemisphere.  They rely heavily on the left side.  I’m good with my left brain but it’s no face card in a poker game.  Most interesting occupations require good dancing between the two.  Rusty Stub had it nailed.  That means he wasn’t normal.  None of us were or are.  At one point or another, you breathe that shit or you don’t.

You may be in it longer than you’re feeling it, but you don’t last unless you breathe it.

Anyway, then Staub gets married and there’s this huge rock & roll wedding down in Newport Beach at the Four Seasons I think.  He sent a Limo for Bill Kennedy and Scott Humphries and I was invited along by both Bill and Randy.  It had a push button liquor dispenser.  I shit you not.  Like ‘B’ for burbon and ‘V’ for vodka…….all the way to Newport Beach.

There were girls with us, I think one was named Jeanne and she was the hot one.  None of us banged either of them.  The Wedding and reception were classy and chaotic.  There was a dinner of some sort where I seem to remember Bill causing some controversey with his blue dick.  Humphries sneered at my jeans but I had a shirt and jacket.  Half the dudes at the ceremony were in jeans including all the guys from Little Ceasar.  Did I tell you Humphries was a dick?

I remember the party we had in the beautiful suite provided by the Randy and Janice consortium.  An ocean view and the honeymoon suite kept sending tubs of beer and hard liquor.  Literally every fifteen or twenty minutes room service was at the door with a galvanized tub full of Coronas or bottles of Jack or Tanqueray.  Not buckets.  Tubs.

There was this girl named Carol but I’d been drinking for twelve hours and I just couldn’t make that work.  She was hotness.  Red hair, excellent rack, a clever mind……….. the Maid of Honor I believe.  I don’t blame her for never taking me seriously after that.  Great smile.  Cool woman.

Woke up the next morning with Bill Kennedy yelling and spanking my forehead.  I opened my eyes.  Ocean View.  Bright Ocean View.  “Beer!”, he was yelling.  With one hand he was smacking my face and with the other he was holding a bottle of Miller too close for me to focus on.  At least it blocked out the sun.

I was into photography at the time and I took the most brilliant black and white portrait of bill that morning.  In his robe and sunglasses, smoking a camel and drinking a beer.  I gotta find it.  Roland the Headless Thompson helped me develop the film and make some 8×10’s

We went whale watching.  There were drinks on the boat.  The seas were rough that day.  There was a group of us but I don’t remember who.  That group got to watch me end up on the shoes of tourists a few times.  I’m not a puker so I don’t think I puked.

Next thing I remember we’re on our way back to Hollywood in the Limo with the push button liquor dispenser.  I think the girls were with us.  We smoked a lot of pot.

It took me three days to feel normal.

The whole experience was very valuable to me.  I learned some very important life lessons.

The first one is, make sure you don’t get so hammered you can’t seal the deal.  Sheezus.  Rookie move.  The the second is, try not to get so hammered you black out sporadically and eventually realize that huge chunks of a very good time are missing.  Been pretty good at those things since.

Also, don’t go to places you’re likely to fall down if you’ve been drinking.

I remember running into Randy outside of Tower Records on Ventura one night.  It was summer and his eyes were clear but the look on his face I wasn’t used to.  He’d just finished some ridiculous ordeal that was a Bob Rock production.  Twelve to eighteen hour days for months on end.  It may have been Metallica’s Black album.  Probably because it was done at A&M.

He’d been sleeping for the last few days.  He told me I was the first person he’d seen that he knew outside of the record he’d been on for months.  He told me he was over sleeping and needed to get out and about.  He was raw.  Almost confused.  I honestly think he suddenly saw himself in my eyes and grinned a little at it.

“Slow but steady ay?”  He said.

Drinks for my friends.

A&M chapter nine

My experience with the Canadians is a book in itself.  I’m thinking these bastards deserve at least a couple three chapters.

Meet Bill Kennedy.

I’ll never forget my first time.  Neither would you.  Kurt Gibson hits the heroic home run in game one of the World Series against Oakland in ’88.  Randy Staub calls, we’d just seen the same thing, he was pumped and his buddy Bill was with him.  We all thought drinks.  I wash my hands and brush my teeth.  Change my shirt.  The doorbell rings and there’s this ugly little fucker with brilliant blue eyes and long red hair standing there.  Tight black pants, Beatle boots, a CBGB t-shirt and a black leather jacket.  Teeth like a donkey.

My first thought was The Tasmanian Devil.

I stick out my hand and he grabs my balls and says, “Nice ta meet ya motherfucker.”  Then he laughs all throaty and mocking but like a fucking witch.  Kinda spooked me.

Staub hangs back with a half grin looking me right in the eyes.

Can’t remember what the deal was but neither one of them could drive legally in the States.  We headed into Hollywood in my shitbox ’69 Superbeetle.  They rode in the back like I was the chauffer and took turns covering my eyes and sticking fingers in my mouth.  They bought my drinks, Staub got shut down by some betty in fishnets while me and the Tasmanian Devil got shit hammered.  We drove back under the same conditions.  Except for alcohol and drugs part, it was a virtual re-enactment.

I don’t even remember where we went.

For what it’s worth, I don’t do that anymore.

Bill Kennedy or Kill Bennedy, his alter ego after too much Jagermeister, was and probably still is, a crazy bastard with a big heart.  He was to help and teach me a lot.  Sometimes his own worst enemy, he’d monitor and mix so loud his clients would be driven from the room.  His maxim was to “make a racket” and he always did.  Hard drinker.  We all were.  Truth is, he drank harder than most of us and that’s saying something.  Not as hard as the rest of us and that’s saying something too.

I was furious with him for using forty seven microphones on a drum kit when I was producing/engineering my very first record for Down By Law.  Even in a studio like A&M, that amount of excess taxed resources.  A day to sort out phase alone.  Ridiculous.  Over compensation for a tiny penis.  He was doing Demos for Motley Crue in D and I was trying to make a record in C.  Prick.

Once upon a time, he had like eight Marshall stacks and six Ampeg cabinets going full tilt in D, so loud it was leaking into the live echo chambers above C, I had one patched into a mix I was doing in B.  Had to go to an EMT plate.  Bill Kennedy was an abhorrent gear and amplitude slut.  Louder was better.  He sometimes missed the point.  Subtlety was never his Devil’s advocate.  It never occurred to him.

Bill Kennedy was a dick.  I don’t know what he is these days but if he’s any less of a dick I might like him more than I remember.

We became good friends and I miss him.  Standard greeting was, “Hey fucker”.  He taught me a shitload, particularly in matters of outside the box thinking and extreme approaches to standard engineering gospel.  I learned to push all the ratio buttons in on an Urei 1176 with the input and output all the way up at once.  Gorgeously unpredictable distortion.  Child’s play. Bill would patch six of them together, turn the line amps to eleven, push the fader to the top, mute the console, turn the master gain all the way up and deselect the mute button for the adolescent pleasure of making the NS10’s smoke and spark.

Call a tech, the monitors are toast.

I learned compression and distortion, concepts rarely mutually exclusive, from Bill.

The strip joint across the the street, Crazy Girls, was known as Bill’s office.  Canadian for strippers is “peelers”.

A story about Canadians including Bill:

Randy Staub had found himself a lovely bride named Janice from the other lot so we had a bachelor party.  Events are soupy blurry but I remember spraying Bill in the face with air freshener I’d discovered in the glove compartment of a taxi and helping to toss his ass from said taxi while it was still moving.  He rolled end over end.  Ass over teakettle.

Kadump kadump.

Not sure if it was before or after we got thrown out of a mud wrestling place on Western called The Tropicana.

What happened next is unclear. We were drinking and spilling and yelling.   Staub was good to go.  He was in some sort of a diaper.  Down there on the stage.  We’d all put up hundreds of dollars.  Not me, but all the other Canucks.  Next thing, we’re on the sidewalk under the neon and there’s a handful of bouncers with their arms folded, saliva ran from their snarling lips.

Proud shithoused Canadians.

I think it was before.  The cab thing.

I had wisdom enough to discourage an actual fistfight.  Been there, done that.  No win situation.  Bad idea.

That was my genius.

What I remember next is Bill falling from his second story balcony trying to break into his own apartment after losing his keys. I think I heard his his ribs crack.  We  got in and Bill was the first to lose consciousness, maybe because his ribs were cracked.  Pain and alcohol being a formidable force multiplier.  Yes Mother, there were drugs too.

It was Staub’s idea was to paint his dick blue with one of those jumbo Sharpies.  So that’s what we did.  Painted Bill’s flaccid, unconscious penis a deep inky blue.  Bill was so pleased, he whipped it out at even the slightest provocation for any member of the wedding party and probably a few tourists.  I remember some old folks being offended.  I don’t remember what his dick looks like.  Maybe I blocked it out.  There’s a chance it never happened.

He complained to me once that it wasn’t coming off.  Soap wasn’t doing the job.  I reminded him that Sharpies were alcohol based and the answer was contained therein.  He said to me, “Fuck, I’ll just leave it.”

A Kill Bennedy catchphrase:  “Take a long, slow suck on my runny scrotum you stinking cunt.”  There was something else about eggs in a swamp and elaborate theories regarding stale semen buildup or “SSBU”.

I just knew the crazy little fucker would never supply me with cause to question his integrity.  Were I to drop the ball, it would be on me.  Bill Kennedy would never throw me under the bus with alibi or malice in mind, however.  Kind of a miserable prick but he treated me well.  Fiercely loyal.  Big heart.

Much love to you Bill.

Drinks for my friends.

The Powerhouse

I’ve just discovered Oscar Mayer cheese dogs.  A big delish.  I eagerly anticipate test driving them with a variety of condiments including Claussen dill spears and of course, Big Bob’s Bleu.  Countdown to angioplasty.  Harbinger of heartburn and a guaranteed culinary delightful.  I need to buy an onion.  Excellent texture and authentic whang.  Got me plenty of ketchup and mustard.

Can’t always afford those smoked white turkey franks from Ballpark.  I’m a whore for good tasting nourishment.  Will need to explore cheap asian noodles again soon.  Another jar of peanut butter.

I’ll need a glass of Woolite, a glass of Kim Crawford sauvignon blanc.  The Crawford is the shit.  Very grapefruit with good acid.  Order salt & pepper calamari and the seared ahi appetizer at PF Changs.  If they don’t have the Crawford, throw a fit and opt for the Estancia pinot grigio.  Trust me, I know how to gamble.  Do this by yourself and bring a book.  Sit at the bar, it’s lovely.

I have an odd fascination with Ernest Borgnine.  I named a room in my house after him.  I like when he’s spooky, he has the creepiest grin.

Drove by Pink’s today.  Marveled at the line.  Romanced by the aroma.  Lovely perfume guaranteeing a gastrointestinal malaise.  I’ll suffer that but not the absurd volume of zombies waiting online.  I hate them.  Ordinary people.

My first and last hang in Hollywood, The Powerhouse.  On Highland just north of Hollywood blvd., on the east side of the street.

When my session ended before two am, you could find me there.  They were cool enough to put my records on the jukebox.

Bartenders were, SJ, Steve, Gary and Tracy.  I’ve long been a compulsive hand washer, so upon entering, I’d head straight to the bathroom to sate the sticky handed urge.  More often than not I’d emerge to find a giant, dry as the desert Bombay Sapphire martini, three olives up at least, in a punchbowl of a pina colada glass waiting for me.  I usually had something to read.

You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here,  shouted just before two, accompanied by a ringing bell.  I was exempt.  Once the door was locked, the onus was on me to make my own drinks.

Never cut to the guy getting pasted by the train at the end.  That’s chickenshit.

Old wooden bar on the left, red naugahyde booths on the right and shitty green shag underfoot.  Pinball and a juke at the back end.  Steve was a musician, Gary an aspiring comic, SJ a Republican from Texas and Tracy had amazing oral skills and a very nice rack.  I brought the Gotohells with me one night after a gig at Al’s Bar along with a journalist from Flipside and the six of us drank all night while the journalist conducted her interview.  Whiskey and pitchers of beer.  The bill was twenty four dollars.  Quid pro qou, I left a hundred on the bar.

Got my dick sucked on that bar with a nickel plated .38 snub nose above my head.  Tracy had mad skills and a gun.  It was her birthday and she wore some ridiculous hippie buckskin bra with feathers.  Ridiculous but it stirred my loins.  She locked the door and only her and I were left.  One thing led to another.  Paradise by the jukebox light.  Mad skills.

I actually got up and did a short set on drums with some band one night.  Gesticulating the best I could.  Killing myself softly.  I was a shitty drummer.  I’m lucky to have sucked because it informed my engineering and production skills.  My own suckage was positive stuff.  Invaluable.  A seriously penis whipped drink.

My goal is a deluxe apartment in the sky.

My Sharona is as close to a perfect pop song as it gets.  Great production.  The solo rips.  Fuckin slays me.

Listening to Primus lends me largesse in the form of gristle.

I visited the Powerhouse a few years back.  Despite the fact that Joe Power had finally  sold the place and it had been remodeled into strip mall austerity, I was with a lovely woman and had a swell time.

But it was absent vibe.  You can never go home again.  My heart sank a little.  My start yanked a little.  Nostalgic for the salad days.  I just remembered how much I like snowglobes.  My eyes have begun to fail me.  I need reading glasses.

I want to be Walter Matthau when I get old.  It’s a good goal.

Drinks for my friends.

Walk with me…..talk with me

I ain’t askin for much.

I always liked the word gendarme so I looked it up.  Big disappointment.

I’ve long since recognized the appeal of wealth.  I admit, I like shiny things.  Actually, I like handsome objects.  Artful globes to leviathan machinery.

Used to be I coveted wealth.  Then I made a little money and indulged myself a little.  Bought a nice car.  Developed a taste for caviar and champagne.  Good wine.  A ridiculously expensive stereo.  A house.  Vacations.

It all kinda fell apart, slow enough so the way down wasn’t crazy in my face but just enough to make me puke now and then.

There are magazines still reasonably popular, devoted to things most of us can’t afford or wouldn’t, even if we had the scratch.

I don’t covet the pretty things so much as the freedom.  A nice lunch.  Healthy food is more expensive.  I like tomatoes.  Sauces.  Appetizers and good wine.

I want a condo in the sky above the dirty streets.  My life’s trajectory has been odd at best.  One of the things we’re supposed to do here is distinguish ourselves.  I feel I’ve done that but would like to continue.  Cook up some pork maple sausages, dip them in Big Bob’s Bleu and you’re courting intestinal methane pressure.  The antithesis of fiber and nature’s broom but still an efficient evacuator of the colon with many a loud report.

My two biggest questions are why are we here?

And are we really here?

I often think one’s life is either a good mosaic or a bad one.  Subject to trends and popular opinion.  All of us beholding to what is vogue  What is not.

I’m trying to point to how closely we dance with chaos.  A true economic implosion would have families and entire clans grouping and sharing resources.  There’s a chance that’s not a bad idea.  It could just be the most important skill my mother can pass to me is how to grow and preserve produce.  Agriculture is about to become more important.  Dad taught me to shoot but I need a refresher.

Imagine a world without glutinous salad dressings.

I want to talk about bars now.

I feel obligated to start with the Whitehorse.  Dark and sinister.  Late eighties, early nineties.  Just north of Sunset on Western, east side of the street across from an OSH.

Pretty crazy neighborhood, rather insane clientele.  Pimps, prostitutes, trannies and drunks.  Drug dealers, criminals and musicians.  Not odd at all for a cockroach to skitter down the bar dodging the cheesy candlelit, white plastic net wrapped red glass candle holders.  I figured it was the light they feared, not the heat.  “There goes another cola nut”, I’d say.  Diane, the lovely but flawed bartendress who always wore rosewater perfume, would smile and bat her eyes while protesting she hadn’t seen it.  Had never in fact, seen a single bug on the bar or anywhere else ever.

D.S. Morey.  Adorable.  Lying to me for sport.

She was gorgeous.  Blue pools for eyes.  Voluptuous.  Serious tits and a Coop Girl frame.  Smart clever and vulnerable.  Gorgeous tattoos on pale skin.  Blond with a yellow tooth at the very front of her head.  She was a reformed meth addict from Traverse City, Michigan.  We got very close.  She put my records on the jukebox.  I believe we were afraid of each other.  She was fragile and I was timid.  We went on a few actual dates.  The first one, she watched me get drunk and I took her to Denny’s, the second I took her to see Naked Lunch and tried to kiss her.  She resisted my overture and politely insisted that I not embarrass myself.

I was crushed.

A few weeks later she took a lover and told me I just wasn’t mean enough.

I wondered a long time before I understood what she meant.  I drank cheap whiskey in those days.  Long neck Budweisers.  I recorded punk rock.

There was a framed picture on an end table in her apartment from her days as an addict.  She and another woman on a rooftop at dawn.  The sun breaking behind them as they celebrated how fucked up they were.  Her hair in braids and colorful ornaments.  Christmas on a summer morning.  Huge awesome smiles.  A light blue sky and clouds pink and orange.  I asked about it and she had nothing to say.  She was ashamed of it and that’s probably why it was there.

It was so very sublime to me.  Finally, I actually asked for it.  She told me no way could I have it.  Not long after, her apartment late at night, the photo in the same place but the glass was broken and the picture torn.

The Whitehorse was completely destroyed in the ’94 earthquake.  It had been my bar of choice because the bartender was lovely and fascinating and the bars in my neighborhood were no place for a big long haired white boy.

Oh Diane Morey.

Drinks for my friends.

A&M Chapter Seven

I must tell you about the Magic Snot.

As  janitor King of the Fruit, I was accountable  for the appearance and cleanliness of the entire studio.  Tens of thousands of square feet.   King of the Fruit; the onus was on me more than anyone else.  Five bathrooms.  Two public restrooms inside the complex.  One for men and one for women.  Five bathrooms total, three with showers in the private lounges of studios A, B and D.

Lounge bathrooms were to be stocked with shampoo, conditioner, razors, shaving cream, toilet paper, soap, tampons, paper towels, tissues…….

All five control rooms required full dispensers of denatured alcohol, windex, tex wipes, Kim Wipes, a certain number of blue, red and black medium sharpies, grease pencils, sharpened pencils, ballpoints, splicing tape, canned air, red tape for reels stored head out and blue tape for reels stored tails out.  Red heads, blued tales.  At least two empty half inch, quarter inch and two inch reels.  Labels to fit any tape box size, track sheets, patch sheets for 72 channels and templates for documenting outboard gear of at least 50 different kinds filed alphabetically, blank cassettes and dats……

Of course the aforementioned pots of fresh coffee, decaf, cold water, hot water, and then tea, sugar, non dairy creamer, sweet & low, cocoa mix, honey, stir sticks, plastic spoons, forks and knives, paper plates, salt & pepper, napkins …….

Then ice chests with half & half, milk, ketchup, mustard and an identical accompaniment for each refrigerator in four lounges.  Fruit baskets etc…..

I did my best to ensure those bathrooms, control rooms and lounges appeared  clean and sanitary.  Sort of.  I didn’t take it any more seriously than I had to.  I was adept at maintaining appearances.  Randy Wine taught me to stoop and pick up imaginary flotsam when passing authority in the halls.  Greet them and smile while bending to retrieve imaginary refuse, then make your way to the nearest trash receptacle and out of their periphery.

We did mop the floors, clean the toilets and urinals, windexed the mirrors and took out the trash at least twice a day.

It was there and then I became a compulsive hand washer.

The day shift was a hump but it was only nine hours.  We ate when we could.

Years of my life were spent cleaning up after drunken , drug addled rock stars and don’t give a shit producers and engineers.

The night shift could be a grind.  Cleaning up after five, spoiled and self indulgent rock bands who ate their meals off real plates using real flatware.  All of which had to be transported down to the runners closet to be washed in a single sink that you couldn’t even see because of the shelving in your face if you were taller than five foot six.

It fucking sucked.

The worst part was the waiting.  Waiting for the rooms to go down in the early hours of the morning knowing the work that was waiting for you.  Work that would challenge my janitorial acumen.  My capacity for giving a fuck.  It sucked.

As a runner, I was exploited, taken advantage of, discounted and dismissed.  It was a goddamn nightmare.  I remember sitting in my piece of shit ’69 VW Bug outside some shop in South Central LA in the pouring rain to procure obscure vacuum tubes for the amp of a semi famous studio guitar player.  I was already wet and about to be soaking.  Sitting there, asking myself just what the fuck I was doing.  The wind making my bug rock and the rain drumming on it’s thin metal shell.  My hands and feet were freezing.

I would ask myself that a lot.  I was to be in that place over and over.

I drove that shitbox everywhere.  From Malibu to Oxnard, Beverly Hills to Manhattan Beach.  Before it was over I would drive Shelly’s cars back and forth between Tahoe and LA.

If you lasted in that place longer than six months you were probably at least a little crazy.  More than two years, you were for better or worse, a member of the asylum and it might be the best place for you.  I put in over eight years, which is easily twelve in human chronology.

I need to explain to you the Magic Snot.

There was a brass push plate on the door of the public men’s at the end of the first long hall.  Past studios B, C and A.  One day I glimpsed a curious thing.  I can’t be sure how long it took me to notice it.  Once I clocked it, I couldn’t be sure how long it had been there.

A smear of mucus on the upper right hand corner of the brass door plate to the bathroom inside the privileged and exalted environs of A&M recording studios.  It looked a little like Italy. Maybe a half an inch.  That was it’s shape.  Boot and all.

It seemed impossible for such an obvious anomaly to survive in an environment of turborcharged anal retentivity for very long.  For awhile there was a stunted black whisker lying flat, half inside and half outside it’s shape.

I could have eliminated in seconds with a variety of tools.  My thumbnail even.

Yet there it was.  A booger.

A Magical Mucus Smear.

Albeit a tiny one.  It’s edges blackened over time.  It became more disgusting.

But it was holy.  Sacred.

Hallowed by a singular audience.

I came to ascribe all manner of superstition and outrageous fear to the Magic Snot.

I grew to covet and admire it’s unlikely existence in the face of impossible odds.  It was my champion and I became it’s benefactor.

I protected it.  I preserved it.  After years, yep years, I came to regard it as the signpost of my future.  I never mentioned it’s existence to a single other person.  The Boot Shaped Booger came to represent not my hardship, but instead my survival.  My symbol.  My metaphor of eventual triumph..

It became my Mascot.  My Talisman.

I was even assigned the men’s room one weekend with nothing but a toothbrush.  With that mere toothbrush, I did my damndest to demonstrate my devotion to the institution that was A&M recording studios, yet I took care to preserve the Mystical Booger.

I couldn’t believe for all that time, no one noticed the sacred Italian Mucus Smear.

One day, in a sort of semi obsessive compulsive routine that had manifested itself over time, I saw the Magic Snot had vanished.  I was able to detect that it had been scraped off with what was likely a razor blade.

In my mind’s eye I pictured it’s abrupt removal.  Flaking away and wafting in the sun spilling before gravity claimed it’s feathery mass.

Razor blades were plentiful in recording studios in that day for the editing of analog tape.  The entire plate and been polished to it’s full sheen of brassy potential.  It glowed and I admit, it was beautiful as it shone beneath the morning rays streaming through the windows of the rear studio entrance.  My stomach flipped and my heart pounded in my ears.  Some over zealous runner had forever deleted my secret charm in the self interest of janitorial acuity.

I was reckless that day.  I got Marcus Miller’s Porsche up over eighty between two stop signs on the way to a car wash down De Longpre.   Got it up to a hundred down Highland ………

I had been asleep.  It was time.  I was to make happen what I heard in my head or fail.  Time to relinquish childish things.  I waded in up to my chest in a vicious current and started swimming against it.  Stand still, you die.

Stand still you die.

Drinks for my friends.

A&M chapter Six

I dove farther and harder into obscurity.

I was stung.  Once bitten twice shy.

I worked nights as a janitor.

The Todd on phones.  He played his Strat upside down and backwards like Hendrix.  I always liked Todd Montgomery, it would take years on up to today to fully appreciate him.  He rode Japanese steel.  Him and Symington.  The grunion run.  His wife was and still is a successful  comedienne.  Tall goofy guy with a ridiculous grin who made friends easily, but chose them carefully.

Easily underestimated.

I ran into him in Vegas a few years back, his wife was performing where I was staying.  He was gracious and sweet.  We had a quick drink.  I had some place to be but he was happy to walk with me to my room so we could talk.  He hung with me while I changed clothes, brushed my teeth and even walked with me and talked with me on my way back down.  He was happy with himself as well as his life and family.

He was sun through the clouds of the mission I was on.  My crew actually traveling with bodyguard.

A lung full of clean air in my toxic life.

We’re still in touch.

Otherwise, I did the best I could to land in studio C.

A little 32 input API.  The most rudimentary of the five rooms.  The redheaded step child of the entire complex.  If you were in there, you were probably assisting on a demo, as in not a record.  The engineer usually understood he was getting someone with training wheels attached.  Not quite live without a net.

It was the lowest profile gig to be had that still afforded an opportunity to learn.  My place to get the big picture on at my own pace.  So, I did just that.  I pushed hard for gigs in C.  I would divine the process and what was expected of me.  The room belonged to the record company, as opposed to the studio, from nine to five.

Bonus.  Sane hours.

Work hours in a recording studio, unless your role is administrative or clerical, have no thing to do with eight hours a day, five days a week.  Twelve hours a day, six days a week is pretty tame.  Hundred hour weeks were de rigueur.  I was to sleep there often.

Thing was, I would still be pushing someone out of a comfortable seat.  Scott Symington was studio C attending.  Symington wasn’t well liked and I never understood why.  At least not completely.  He seemed nice enough.  He had a smarmy cop mustache.  I think he might have shit talked me a few times but beyond that I didn’t think too hard about him.

No trouble there.

It didn’t take me long to displace Symington.  I got the idea he was on his way out.  I doubt he saw me coming.  I’m not sure he cared.

Joe Borja was really my first mentor.  A thick, short Filipino guy with an over sized head and the voice of a ten year old.  Joe didn’t have a car.  Once in a while, on a good pay day for Joe, I’d take him to his hotel in my shitbox and we’d stop on the way at Yamashiro’s for drinks and to do blow in the gardens.

I almost flattened him one day in a crosswalk.  Didn’t see him.

My first gig with Joe was tracking in C.  He assigned me one task.  We had a guitar amp in the machine room.  We were using it as an iso booth.  Two sliding glass doors between the control room and the machine room.  Joe asked me to make sure both doors were closed always before we were rolling.  Wax on wax off.  No shit.  He showed me how bad I could be at a very simple thing.  Then he showed me a microcosm of what I needed to pay attention to in the time I’d forgotten to make sure both doors were closed.

He wasn’t a dick about it, he just pointed it out.

I would assist Joe on and off for years and he did his best to teach me something.

Joe wasn’t always easy on me but he was good to me.  A solid engineer with a giant heart.  He taught me with patience.  Showed me how to hold the hammer.  He demonstrated what happened when it was swung with a good arc.

It occurred  to me I was to be a shitty assistant and Joe was in silent agreement.  He still did the best he could by me, even though he knew I sucked.  I could tell by the way he looked at me that his hopes weren’t high.  We both understood that I didn’t have the temperament or the patience.

Thanks Joe Borja, for all of it.

There were others.  John Bogosian helped me a lot.  Tall good looking guy with cool hair who smoked Marlboro Reds and used a Zippo.  Swagger.  Bogosian was a good friend to me and even went after chief tech Mikey Morongell on my behalf one morning.  Mikey was spewing his coach cleats schtick on me as the underling.  Leveraging the pecking order.  Bogosian called him on it.  Mikey walked away.  Pretty cool.

Mikey wasn’t a bad guy.  He was a somewhat volatile Italian prick threatened by a squad of insanely talented and capable techs beneath him.

John came to the deep Valley one night to get me after I’d fled my Koreatown apartment during the riots. His old man was a coach for the Seattle Seahawks.  He took me to a party with a band we were working with called Aristocratic Trash.  I got drunk and I got laid but I can’t remember how I got back to the valley.

John was kinda damaged and struggling to adhere to the twelve step thing.  Sometimes gracefully and sometimes not, he’d leave the control room.  I would take over.  It is the simplest explanation of how I won the trust of a band called Rat Bat Blue.  Thank you John, Dabro, Allen, Ace and Fraulein Sniffy.

Fraulein Sniffy was the drummer.  The roughly two women drummers I worked with were both excellent.

Here was a band that could play. Rat Bat Blue was to be be my ultimate pig guinea.  Along with bands named Wink, Undercity, Agnes Gooch and dozens of others and eventually some punk band named Down By Law.  I’m not sure how many songs we, Rat Bat Blue and me, completed over the years.  More than twenty is my guess.  Wonderful people, excellent band.  My chops began there as well as my understanding that the only benefit I would enjoy from being an assistant engineer was to learn to from others how to make things sound the way they sounded in my head.

The first time I did that, was with Rat Bat Blue.  I knew it immediately when it happened, it sounded like it did in my head.

It’s a story for another day.

I realized my future in pro audio would only be jeopardized by pursuing excellence as a second engineer.  I knew I needed to bypass this step as much as possible but realized I’d have to wade in as much as I could stand.  My only shot was to make it sound like it did in my head.

To be a good engineer.

Drinks for my friends.

A&M chapter five.

I’d made it out alive but it cost me some time and I had two brand new enemies, Sheri and Bill.  A lovely couple, each swinging a bat far heavier than mine.

I didn’t like Bill for shit, but I wasn’t trying to throw him under the bus.  Wasn’t my fault he ended up under the wheels.

I was moving from under Bill to back under Sheri.

Straight to the night shift.  Six p.m. til whenever.

There was new talent down stairs. College boys. Frat boys. Sharma and Bamford. Fags both of them. One with wholesome looks and the other with sorta terrorist Tom Selleck charisma. They golfed and played lacrosse. They both had college degrees. I hated these pricks until I liked them. They turned out to be among the coolest and sharpest engineers ever hired as runners. They were actually overqualified.

Excellent drinking companions.

I had the good fortune to share misery with them and have them as my bitches for a short time.   I believe Bamford did a Weezer record recently and Sharma did a goddamn Stones record not long ago with Don fucking Was.   If either of you two are reading this, you were each my bitch for a time. Pricks.

You can imagine I was threatened back then.

I could feel it, palpable. I hadn’t engineered a thing and had barely assisted on a handful of sessions.  Mark Harvey, may he rest in peace, saw something that was before scared.  He began to move aggressively on my behalf by putting me as a second on high profile sessions. Pardon the misnomer, just about everything that happened there was high profile.

He threw me in the river.

I loved that man, at the very least because he believed in me. Tough but fair.  He saw me in a way I couldn’t yet see myself.

There was a schedule published everyday.  What act was in each of five rooms, start time, producer, engineer, assistant and second assistant.  On the same page were the runners times and mastering schedules. It was to be distributed before five p.m. to all departments and specific offices.

Night shift for runners started at six p.m. When I was on days, I called shotgun on the schedule delivery because I had to establish dominance and maintain my relations with my friends around the lot.

It seems like the first time I saw it was on the schedule. Where your name appeared on that schedule could mean months of misery. What you read there could make your heart sink or burst. What you saw there was your fate. Your rank, your potential. Updated every twenty four hours.

The Harvinator put me on a Guns N Roses tracking session in studio A.  The big room.  The most confusing console; a custom desk built by Rupert Neve for George Martin.  I was to be the second under Hedley Godot.   Ed Goodreau.

To not talk about Ed right here would be remiss,  yet I can’t think of what to say about him.  Smart guy, can’t speak for his engineering because I don’t remember any of it.  I was to see him in many situations beyond this drama.  I’m not sure if he was hard trying to be soft or soft trying to be hard.  I doubt he knows.

Mike Clink was producing and engineering.  The album was to be “Use Your Illusion” 1 & 2.  It would be a fascinating disaster for me.

The very first morning Clink was on my ass for how I draped the cable down the mic stand.  I asked him if he wanted ten pads on the 451’s.  He looked at me like I was an idiot.  No one uses a 451 without a pad on a hat or a ride. He did.  Years later I watched this guy struggle with a kick drum sound for an hour that I or just about any front office jockey could have nailed in five minutes.  Not like he couldn’t fire a sample.

Find the low middle and suck it out.  Somewhere between three and five hundred hertz.  It’s how you find the bottom of a kick drum, capture it all and subtract what’s ugly or messy.  Works on other instruments too.

What has Clink done since Guns & Roses?  Thompson and Barbiero mixed Appetite For Destruction.  His only noteworthy record after Appetite was “Use Your Illusion” 1 & 2.  I watched him ruin a band called I Mother Earth.  I have to tell you that Mike wasn’t a bad guy but he was simultaneously an arrogant prick with mediocre talent.

Hedley had me drive, which meant running the multitrack.  A very demanding job for someone who barely had any experience and a good move on Hedley’s part because I didn’t know the console or the patch bay.  Operating the remote for the tape machine on a tracking session requires a very long and focused attention span, particularly with an engineer like Clink who does dozens of takes for the sake of numerous variables and often edits on the spot.

Many engineers and all producers are loathe to drive the multitrack as it demands so much real time concentration, it limits the ability of an engineer to devote enough creative acumen to the big picture.  I was wood.  Best place for me was on that remote, even though I was tragically inexperienced.

The simple is thus, the recording engineer is analogous to the cinematographer and the record producer is not unlike the director on a film.  Financing can still happen from hell to breakfast.
Wide eyed and panicked but I handled it.  Barely.  I didn’t impress.
The band was a mess, Slash drinking a fifth of Jack a day and Duff doing similar damage to a bottle of Stoli.  I will tell you this, they could fucking play.  Matt Sorum had replaced Steven Adler on drums and he was not less than a goddamn freight train.  One of the best rhythm sections I would ever have anything to do with.  It was a thrill.

These guys could fucking play.

I remember Mike Clink being embarrassed when Slash pissed in a trash can.

Axle Rose was a self involved douchebag.  The band wanted nothing to do with him.  They left as he arrived each day if not before.

I wasn’t killing it but I didn’t suck.

Maybe two weeks in, the last straw came.  Not exactly inspiring confidence in Clink and it felt more and more like Hedley was determined to deliver my first trial by fire by burning me.  Sink or swim.  He wanted for me to go under.  He was anxious to hand me a humility that would be the last thing I needed.  He was a dick.

He expected a pro when he knew he had an amateur.

Last order of the day was to make sure cassette copies of the day’s work were ready for the band before they left.  One morning Mike Clink pulled me into an iso booth to tell me that the stereo image on the cassettes from the day before was reversed.  Left was right and right was left.  He had already spoken to Mark Harvey and asked for me to be removed from the project.  I finished the day knowing it was to be my last.

Late that night after everyone was gone, Hedley brought me a bottle of whiskey and encouraged me to drink it.  I was to meet with Harvey  the next morning to determine my fate but I was off the session for sure.  His demeanor was an impossible dichotomy of smug and sympathy.  I drank most of that bottle.

The patch bay is a wig of wires like an old school telephone switchboard.  Complex signal flow that determined everything from where any part ended up on any track, to what gear was in the signal chain, to what effects appeared on the console and where.  If you were the only assistant on a gig, you covered both, otherwise one drove the machines and one handled the the patch bay.

The thing is this, I didn’t make that patch.  Hedley did.  It wasn’t my mistake.  I never said a thing.  I was sure it would sound like an empty excuse. I understand Ed’s version is disparate.  Ed, although you were to do a lot for me in the years to come, you are not forgiven,  you should apologize.

I was now in the river, whether I liked it or not.

This chapter is dedicated to Baumgartner, Aguto and Korengo. Old studio rats from back in the day. Ran into them on a sidewalk just yesterday.  Ten years at least. We talked for at least four hours and no one did anything but get up to piss. They were more peaceful than I remember so I hope I was too. They were just as bright and funny as I recall. Good times.

Drinks for my friends.

A&M Chapter Four

Time for my sentence in tape copy was at hand.

It was kind of an unwritten rule that runners did a stretch in “Post Production” in order to get time in the rooms. Post Production in a recording facility/record company, meant tape copy. Bill Lazerus ran the tape copy suite designed and implemented by Steve Barncard and the ridiculously smart and talented A&M tech squad.

Barncard killed it. By that I mean he nailed it. He designed that room so intuitively well, it was clear he saw the whole thing in his head. Barney is one of those guys that functions above the rest of us in ways we don’t quite grasp.

I was to be flattered to engineer for Barncard years later.  The artist, some crazy but sweet child psychiatrist, flew me to Detroit, put me in a suite and didn’t work me very hard.  Decent cake.  Good gig.

It was brilliant. There were one hundred black, rack mounted, Yamaha cassette machines stopped, started and synchronized entirely by a crude little MAC in the middle of the room. We had quarter and half inch ATR’s and Studers, DATs and U-matics. There was a headphone listening system that fed five or ten seconds of audio from each of the hundred cassette decks. You wore the cans to listen to the job while you typed the labels.

You were mandated to hear every project you did.  Not merely listen.  It was about the discipline of hearing. Not a bad gig on it’s face, as your job was to hear new, unreleased music all day or night.

I knew Paula Abdul had a hit with Straight Up before you did. Not my music but I knew.

You assembled the package by inserting the “J card” into the cassette shell, affixing labels to the tape itself, packing them in boxes of ten, all with the A&M logo.  There were jobs that ran into the thousands of copies and that was your day.  One song over and over.  The caveat here is you’re not working on that song.  You are copying it over and over, hearing it over and over, without the remotest power to affect it any way.

Some thought me lazy because I grabbed the small jobs and although that was true, I didn’t listen to the same shit all day either.

We learned to align analog two tracks and to listen, and really hear. You had a window of just a few seconds to identify a bad copy out of a hundred and pull it.  I used to touch the lid before I hit eject.  Sometimes I could feel it in the machine.

After that, 1/4″ and 1/2″ copies and transfers from one medium to another including the brand new and fabulously shitty sounding DAT format. Sixteen bit chaos.

CD burners were years away.  Mp3s?  I remember working in a vinyl record store when CD’s first arrived.  I kept blowing fuses on the store stereo with Pachelbel’s Canon.  I’d make it through the whole thing,  the first cannon would fold the fuses and the amp would die and then a faint gust of ozone.  Never figured out where the fuses were, so Tom always knew who and what the next morning.

I learned all I needed within a month or three.

What it was, was a factory with ears.

My plan was to do four to six months and exit Dodge.

I liked it at first.

Bill, my boss, a female deer……. an ugly but charismatic little man, did analog edits, the occasional voice over, smoked cigarettes and redlined unpredictably. I’ll put a finer point on that. He erupted like a dwarfish, silver haired, angry and frustrated man. Marriage to Sheri Lazerus must have been a fucking nightmare.

Copious amounts of hair and a round waist that was slipping. It was nearly a front butt.

He always wore sweaters and cheap cologne. He drank coffee like it was water and I’m sure did the rest of his drinking at home. His breath made me think amphibians.

He could cut two track tape like a bastard.

It didn’t work the way I thought it would. I was ready to go long before Bill was ready to let me go. The roster of runners had stagnated. None had quit or been fired for months. Weird. No slots for me to assume. Purgatory.

By then, the entirety of studio staff had begun to liken tape copy to Alcatraz, as in “Lazatraz”, named after it’s redfaced warden.  My boss.
I met nice people up their too. David Chow and Ron Rogers are two of nicest people to use air. Ron turned out to be this excellent artist and musician. He had this great band called the Bowling Ball Mechanics. A friendly Texas twang; he pronounced my name like “mahckul”.

My good friend Keith Woods was down the hall in the tape library and our friendship came into it’s own then. I had to go the library several times a day. Keith died some ten years ago of Mad Cow Disease. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy. That’s another story, but may he rest in peace. It was so fast. There wasn’t then and there is not now, a single human who would or even could, disparage this man in any way.

He was an excellent and loyal friend to me.

I began to make friends in the A&R department and Bill Lazerus did not like that one bit. He was jealous. He told me it was a mistake to make friends and that it would only get me in trouble. He was wrong.

Bill spent the last three to five months kicking the shit out of me. His breath stank from coffee and cigarettes and he took great pride in being militaristic. He was a miserable bastard, but I have to tell you, I stumbled upon some James Taylor records he did and they are gorgeous. Beautiful recordings.

He had the gift.

I lost almost a year up there. Cheryl Engles, head of QC, became my Betty in shining armor by witnessing Bill meltdown on me. She was horrified enough to go right to Mark and Shelly. Meet Mark Harvey, aka The Harvinator, hard drinking intellectual and Studio Manager. Shelly Yakus, Giant Vagina, President of Recording, will entertain you much, later.

I think I was getting used to the abuse because her move confused me. I was further confused to have Mark and Shelly intervene on my behalf and bring me back downstairs into the lowest echelon of any recording studio’s gene pool.

I couldn’t wait to dive back into obscurity. I’d attracted too much attention.

Drinks for my friends.

A&M chapter three

Certain times of year, a full fat butter moon would billow up in the west over over the main gate and guard shack. A dish hanging over the ocean with even more drama than it did over Hollywood.  I saw it on the water. It was huge.  It kept place for the sun next afternoon.

Our star busted hard on those mornings and then withered reluctantly as did the moon at the end of my day. I worked nights. Six p.m. until whenever.

There to the left, day and night, was the A&M sign with the trumpet in the logo. Some nights in the fall, it’s luminous disc did harmony with a crescent moon.

A night for me and Jimhead to climb to the roof of the Chaplin stage and throw mustard bottles and leftover fruit at cars on La Brea.  Jimhead would suggest we “throw shit at cars”.  He had a well developed sense of chaos and a fine nose for the absurd. We were both fond of explosives.

We barely hit any. It was a good fifty feet up. Years later, we would have parties up there. Five or ten of us drinking and doing bong rips at three in the morning, striving merely to avoid the attention of the record company’s crack security. We failed at that over and over.

Remind me to tell you about The Secret Pizza Lounge.

Like a promise, said solar star heated those slate steps in front of the monolith door at A&M Recording to a point where you could feel it around your head when reaching for it’s enormous handle.   Twelve hours later, the giant moon would cool them again with equal parts sugar and mint.

The end of the Raygun Bush years, late eighties early nineties. Iran Contra and the first Gulf War. Homeless population way up. Crazies on my block.

For the eight and a half years I worked there, the studio barely ever, really closed.  There was almost always someone there.  If not, the respite was brief, a few minutes or barely a few hours.

For a decade, I had a key to that sixteen foot high front door. I may have it still.

I was to struggle for years.  Behind in an environment that challenged me in every way.  Worse, being surrounded by people at least as smart as me if not smarter.  Some of them a lot smarter.  I was overwhelmed by the confidence I encountered everywhere.

I was a a goddamn hick.

Nothing in life had prepared me for this.  I was always the brain.  The most capable.  The one everybody else looked to for leadership.

I got my ass handed to me every fucking day.

I laid low.  Did my job.  Sucked up.

I became ‘King of The Fruit’.  Seniority.  Everyone underneath me had either not been there as long or had been fired.  As King of The Fruit I had certain privileges.  Some control over my schedule and the ability to delegate responsibilities to other runners.  I had become an excellent runner.

Good news?

Nope.

I was to be sequestered, to serve time elsewhere, for nearly a year.

Drinks for my friends.

A&M chapter two

“Working in a recording studio because you like music is like working in a slaughter house because you like steak.” -Rick Plank

Characters named Eprom, Gunther, Jimhead, Hortense Chlamydia Hortenspinoza, Otis, Shemp, Foo Paux, Geetis, Roland The Headless Thompson-aka New Guy, Helmet, Chameleon Diploma, Schveihundt and a guy named Steve Kukoff Signature Series.  I was Dr. Douglass or Buck.

Then there was Joycee. A syrupy Jamaican accent so thick, it took me weeks to begin to understand her and months to appreciate her. First day on the job, I misunderstood her so completely that I walked into the women’s bathroom instead of the runner’s closet right next to it. Carol and Mrs. Lazerus were kind enough to not actually be excreting in any way at the time. They were applying makeup in anticipation of Eric Carmen’s arrival, or maybe Don Henley, thank Jesus.

“Wrong door honey”. Fuck me I was embarrassed.

I would clean that bathroom for years.

Joycee could be the difference between the success or failure of any runner or potential engineer. Don’t cross her, respect her and she could deliver you into good favor. If she didn’t like you, you just might be fucked. A sweet woman that could neither read or write. She worked her ass off and could save your ass or sink it. Middle fifties to early sixties is my guess.

Black don’t crack you know.

Sad eyes as we got our asses kicked. Sometimes glad. Once in a while she’d remind you that she could do in thirty seconds what took you five minutes. I miss her.

She ran the grill Friday afternoons out behind the studios. She walked the halls in a bright dress carrying fruit on her head and a smile. She chuckled a lot. We always shared what we found in the ashtrays.

A few years in we would test her by tossing the dishes from five lounges into the dumpster along with the trash before the sun rose instead of washing them. It really pissed her off and she knew we’d been raging all night. “Who work last night?” in a dialect so thick only we understood her. One of us would then drive her to a second hand store with money from petty cash enough for dishes and flatware to replace what we’d shitcanned the night before.

Joycee liked to go to the store. So did we. There was a place over on Western and Hollywood that sold everything.

She and I became friends once she decided I wasn’t a fool. It took a while, I was a fool. I loaned her money and drove her home in my shitbox VW Bug. One of three, blue, red and black in that order.

You couldn’t fool Joycee. Almost.

Her son Vanroy worked with us one summer. A giant sinewy black man that liked to joke with me about “pushing my face in”.

I remember being paged for a clean up in the D lounge one night. I can’t remember who the band was but Jimmy Iovine called the front desk himself to demand it in a squeaky voice.

Vanroy and I answered the call. We responded with the big truck. Cleaning supplies, bags and a cart to haul shit out. It was the only lounge with windows in the doors because it used to be part of the shop or a tape copy suite or something. When I knocked, I peered in the window. It’s Iovine, The Edge and other people of some degree of artsy stature.

The obvious approach is fast, thorough and inconspicuous. Two out of three you know. Vanroy was at least six three, probably taller. All activity ceased, we had assassinated the vibe. At one point, Jimmy Iovine looked right at me for a reason I can only guess at. A fairly urgent question in his eyes.

I did my best and introduced Vanroy, the large black man, as Joycee’s son. That seemed to be what he was looking for.

We made short work of it and on the way out Jimmy stopped me to ask me who Joycee was. It was sobering to me that this man had an office on the lot and in and out of this studio everyday…………

She was good to me. She retired and moved back to Jamaica to open a restaurant and that’s all I know. We had a party for her and she was gone. I wonder if she’s still alive.

I remember being high with her just after eight in the morning in Studio A. We’d found a good sized roach in an ashtray. I put on the Toni Childs record BV and Tokes had done back in the mix room. We bonded over it as we pretended to look busy so we could listen to the whole record.

Then I went to buy fruit.

Drinks for my friends.

A&M chapter one

Preface:

I need to issue a bit of a disclaimer here. This is a very big story of which I can only endeavor to tell a small part and that is because my part was very small. Inevitability conspires with the march of time to guarantee that details will be wrong or left out entirely. So many huge and profoundly unique personalities make it a sure bet that some will be neglected or even forgotten here. Rest assured that my nearly nine years inside this asylum masquerading as a recording studio is worth as much to me as any other experience in my life thus far.

I was first allowed in the door to provide janitorial services and walked out of it a multiplatinum recording engineer and producer. It would not have been remotely possible without the most amazing collection of brutal, ugly, inspiring, crazy, insane, magical, thoughtful, compassionate and even nurturing individuals that I can’t help but wonder could have existed in any other place in that space and time.

The art and science of sound is something I’ve had an appreciation for longer than I remember. Within in those walls, I learned almost everything I ever wanted to know on the subject as well as how to manipulate it in almost any way I ever dreamed of. For over ten years I was a kid in a candy store. I came back often after leaving it’s employ.

Sound has it’s own language and mindset. By the time I’d made my last record, I spoke it fluently and understood it intuitively. It was a magic castle I worked in.

I grew up the first time in Carson City Nevada.

I moved to Atlanta to study music and engineering. A kid from a small town in the desert. Culture shock and humidity. I worked very hard and never scored below 99% on anything I did. I blew the the curve consistently.

I came home for a summer before moving to Los Angeles to be a recording engineer. I spent that summer working in the only record store in town. I remember getting our first shipment of compact discs. That October, I packed up my shitbox VW and drove it to LA.

Somehow, I got this guy who went to the same school I did, to meet me at a pub called the Cat & Fiddle. He was the other best grauduate they’d ever seen. We had a few drinks and went to his car, a piece of shit mustard Monte Carlo, to smoke pot out of a quarter inch jack housing. He told me he’d put my resume in the right hands and that was all he could do for me. I would later understand that his makeshift pipe was the reason that no faucet at A&M Recording Studios ever had a screen in it.

His name was Bob Vogt. May he rest in peace. One of the smartest and funniest people I’ve ever met.

On January first, nineteen eighty eight, I began a job at A&M Recording Studios as a ‘runner’. I quit my job at the bookstore, the clothing store and the weird mug shop in the mall. I’d lived on my own in a galaxy far away but I was still fresh off the mothership. Your average dipshit.

Then I grew up again at A&M Studios. If can call myself a man, it was there that I became one.

Twenty one years old. The third or fifth time in my life I ever set foot in Hollywood was the day I started that job. One other day was for the interview. I had a perfect 4.0 and recieved an oustanding graduate award. The first time I walked through that monolithic wooden door and down those long halls I understood I had no business doing anything but taking out the trash in a place like this.

The technology was awesome. The studio itself was still under construction. I stole glimpses into the edges of the known universe as I walked down the hall to my interview with a man named Mark Harvey. What I’d seen intimidated me so much I’m sure I was a deer in the headlights by the time I sat in front of him for the interview.

That’s all I remember.

I was selected out of twenty plus candidates. I found out pretty fast that I was a janitor unless I was picking up some rockstar’s food, parts for their bathroom sink or taking the Porsche for a bath. I didn’t mind, I knew I was in over my head. I bought a Thomas Guide. Remember those? Before Computers?

I would concentrate on the job at hand. I would be an excellent runner.

The first year of my life was spent in fear of being fired. The culture was pure bootcamp. People, particularly runners, got fired every week. The guy who showed me the ropes the first day, I was his replacement. They called him G-Joe. Much later his cousin and I would partner up and make records together.

Within just a few weeks I got a call on a Saturday evening from this horror show of a woman in the front office telling me I was fired. Sherry Lazurus. Recording studios ran 24/7. I’d worked the front office phones that day and a guy named Paul Hewson called for Jimmy Iovine. Jimmy wasn’t in so I took a message and put it in his slot. I had no idea how important Jimmy Iovine was and no idea that Paul Hewson was actually Bono from U2. No way of knowing they were in negotiations for Jimmy to produce U2’s next record.

I didn’t understand the facility I was employed by was among the finest on the planet. Not yet anyway.

I survived, but that kinda shit hung over your head for a while.

It was awful. Every face you even looked at was your boss. Not only were we janitors but we worked for the janitors. Every morning starting at eight, the runners would brew some fifteen or sixteen pots of coffee, the same number of thermoses of both hot and icy water and deliver them all over the lot. Seven ice chests stocked with ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, half & half and milk plus whatever special requests the band or artist had. No refrigerators in control room to avoid the inevitable sixty cycle hum. Seven fruit baskets at least, with fresh fruit from the Mayfair market down the street purchased with money from petty cash. Five studios and two mastering suites.

Hand pick the fruit, get good stuff, if the grapes look good, get them, apples and oranges and make sure they’re ripe. Bananas. Green stems meant they’d last more than a day. Strawberries. Strawberries were very important. Select them one by one for at least seven baskets. Then there was a list of condiments etc. to gather. Eight bags of groceries in my ’69 Beetle.

It’s where my future partner met his wife, that Mayfair market. Her name is Xantipa. His is name is Alex.

As soon as that was done we began to fetch and deliver breakfast to the early arrivals and/or those needing a boozemop. We also had a concierge who showed up around nine. Her job was to tour the studios and lounges and find things for us to clean or fix or make better somehow.

I’m not sure if we ever had a decent concierge other than Nicole. There was a woman named Rita.

If you were adept at all, you stayed on the best side you could of the concierge. All but a handful were clueless women there to amuse the clients and make us miserable, thus amusing management. After a time, we organized and no bubble headed bleach blonde was able to last long against eight to ten testosterone leaking phalluses dangling between the legs of some pretty determined and competitive young Greeks. Geeks.

Before we were done we managed to get the bad ones fired fairly easily.

Drinks for my friends.

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