By some strange route, one thread I’m following on GS went from Biotec, to tinnitus, to Rock and Roll. I mentioned that I suspected the tinnitus was due to my working in the music biz as a tea boy-producer, and some ’fools’ wanted to know more….well here it is and I warn you now that it has absolutely nothing to do with investing. Its just a story which you may, or may not, find interesting as a diversion.
I know that being around Beatles, Stones, Floyd etc sessions will sound like a glamerous life filled with music, drugs and groupies. It wasnt….well not glamerous anyway. It was the hardest job Ive ever done. People generally get one shot at fame and they enter a recording studio to WORK their nutz off. There are no superstars in a studio, no serious drugs and the super model girlfriends usually fell asleep on the couch with their skirt round their neck, bored out of their minds and snoring. Theres lots of high jinx vibe, but someone like Mick Jagger was just another bloke. If he’d acted superstar with us lessser mortals, it would have been impossible to get any good work done. So many’s the superstar that made me tea while we techies were honing the product.
I have lived and worked in London UK all my life. Like all the people I met in the music biz, I had a strange route in. I have the strange belief that however stupid you are, if you dare to leave yourself open to fate’s wind, fate ventually blows you in the right direction……….. those that try to plan their own route usually end up doing something very boring ! Or maybe I am just a super lucky b’stard coz I have had more than my fair share of employment luck over the years.
I left school at 15 without any qualifications….par for the course in 1960’s. People who went to Uni came from the other side of the tracks. I started work in Soho importing shoes from Czechoslavakia. At 18 I earned an assistant rather than a pay rise (short changed as usual). This guy spent all day fantasising (sorry we Brits use the S not the Z) about woking in a recording studio. Frankly I had no idea that they existed…..I thought those round bits of black plastic grew on trees. But his enthusiasm was infectious. To make ends meet, I also worked for a tobacco shop in Carnaby St on Saturdays . They had a ciggy vending machine sited at Trident Studios. For the first time I was sent to fill it. I asked the v pretty but bored girl on reception (probably Patti Page) where it was .She never looked up from filing her nails and said ’ ’Down the stairs, thru the studio, in the toilet, out back’. So in I went. As I entered, I spotted a familiar face strumming a guitar….Oh, hi George (Harrison) Dont mind me, Ive just come to fill the…..AARGH! Suddenly my collar was grabbed from behind and I was dragged outside. DONT YOU KNOW WHAT AN EFFIN RED LIGHT MEANS, YOU MORON. Nope, no idea (why would I?)…What DOES it mean?…. This is a recording studio !. Really? Ive always wanted to work in a studio ( I lied….but it had to be better than filling cigarette machines) Can I have a job? Can you make tea? How many sugars d’ya take? I left Trident ~3 years later.
My first session was very nearly my last. Tea was made in a basement room directly behind the main studio and below the control room, where they also stored old instruments like drum kits, master tapes and echo plates (whatever they were). Now, no little boy can’t resist a drum kit can he?, so, Kbahh Kboom, Tishhhh Tishhh Tishhhh, para diddle para diddle. Suddenly this engineer came rushing in….WHAT THE MUCK !!. Apparently he was mixing a track upstairs called A Little Help From My Friends, for some window cleaner called Joe Cocker. I swear when I listen back v carefully, I can still hear some mad drumming in the echo…perhaps its tinnitus?.
When the the cats away the mice will play…..
It was normal procedure that once the band had gone home after a sessions, the trainees would load the days tapes and start playing with them (learning the trade). This day the Beatles entire days worth of master tapes was fair game. Having smoked a bit too much, I carelessly spilled coffee all over Abbey Road (?) ….oops ! Imagine what those very rough mixes would be worth now days, let alone the master tapes?…. I hear EMI later built a nuclear bomb shelter to protect them coz they are considered invaluable. Those were the days. Being a disaster as an assistant engineer, I was ’promoted’ to being an assistant film projectionist. I was equally successful at that ! So then promoted to disc cutting engineer….the guy that puts the grooves on a record…if anyone here is old enough to remember what a vinyl record was? I remember Elton Johns album coming up and stripping a copy of Your Song off as a 7’’single as a valantine prezzy for my girl (later wife) She sold it recently but wouldnt say what she got. Hmmm. I gained music industry fame for using Polo mints (the mint with a hole in the middle….you may have a different name for it in US) as spacers (we were always short of plastic spacers) I got a call from the presser saying’ Your acetates are smothered in white chalky stuff!’ LOL ..Of course as you tighten the screw on the lid, you crush the mints……Derrh!
During Trident days I worked on sessions for the Beatles, Stones, Procol Harem, Elton John, T.Rex (Marc Bolan), David Bowie and tons of others who you’d never remember. My favourite day was with a band called Genesis. They needed a new singer so had auditions. Their own drummer, Phil Collins, applied and did his bit. He and I paced up and down while the band conferred. A voice came on the speaker…. ’ Phil, youve got the gig ! We hugged and danced around the room like two drunken gypsies.
Then I moved to AIR studios. Air was created by George Martin….the Beatles producer.
What people dont realise is that George worked with the Beatles for miserable wages until aprox the White Album and EMI certainly weren’t going to give him a % . So he left EMI and joined with the three other ’most successful’ UK producers to form AIR. Naturally, every major artist wanted to associate themselves with George, so the best artists in the world booked our studio. I was one of 4 or five staff engineers, so I got to work with the creme de la creme purely by rotation….not skill…..which is why you wont find anything about me on Wiki.
I remember Stevie Wonder’s sessions on Talking Book. He played most instruments himself. All was well until the drums. He kept missing and there was an almighty CRASH as he collapsed into the missing kit !!! Hes a wonderful man, but I assume (to judge distance) he shakes his head to and fro quite violently. Its hard to converse with someone who is eternally shaking their head at you.
You also need to understand studio culture. Rock artists tend to get up for 2pm sessions and work thru till 2 am. This creates a huge problem for studio staff. None of their former friends can keep such stupid hours, so you rapidly lost all your former friends. So when you had some time off (rare if you were successful), you had no choice but to go back to the ’club house’ ….ie the studio. I didn’t WORK with the Pistols, but it was de riguer for the ’in crowd’ to wander into any session that was going on, sit down, roll a spliff, play tamborine, do hand claps, sometimes sing backups and say, Yeah man that’s great. So did I meet Malcom Mclaren ? …probably….was he a mate….v definitely not. In fact he was a difficult/tricky b@stard. The two possible producers of NMTB wanted to know who was due what %. In trying to get out of paying, Malcolm wouldn’t tell them which mix he had chosen (they both did a mix). In the end they countered this by sending a combined bill and splitting it between them like the good mates they were. Consequently you will see the Pistols ’producer’ credit uniquely says Bill Price OR Chris Thomas.
You should also know that very few tracks/albums are recorded by a single engineer at a single studio. They are stitched together seemlessly. Some studios were ’famous’ for drums, others were the nutz for orchestras. Ours was the latter due to size. So if you hear a 70/80’s track that mentions AIR studios, the strings were prob recorded there. I did some work with Harry Nilson and Carly Simons’ brass section. I mostly worked with Tony Visconti. His big acts were Marc Bolan (T.Rex) and David Bowie. I also made 2 platinum albums (wrongly creditted to my friend Bill Price) with Mott the Hoople (of All the Young Dudes fame). My great mistake was working with Cat Stevens. I was asked to do an album with a new band. All puffed up I said, sorry I can’t Im working with Cat. (It didnt end well) ’Why not give my apprentice a try? Cat S was a difficult but lovely man. Like his music he was chilled one moment, then frantic…it was hard to keep up with his moods. I made Buddah and the Choclate Box….not his best album. Meanwhile my apprentice made Breakfast in America …….at the time the biggest selling album of all time ! To rub salt in the wound, they got on soooo well he was given a %…….which he’s still retired very comforatably on.
So when I say ’I worked with the Beatles’ please remember….I made tea! But which of you wouldnt give your left leg to have got that close to history in the making. Of course at the time we thought they would be forgotten in 6 months……Mozart should last as long!!