hollywood, summer 1974
Neal Bogart left Buddah Records in 1973 and started Casablanca Records. The first Buddah release had been Green Tambourine, which was written and produced in 1967 by 23-year-old Paul Leka, who later produced NaNaHeyHey Kiss Him Goodbye, my dopey-titled first gold record. (See Chapter 7.) Gladys Knight's Kerner & Wise hits were all on Buddha.
In 1974, Casablanca flew Kenny Kerner, Richie Wise and me to Los Angeles to record the second KISS album. Kerner and Wise were now proven authentic studio geniuses, having produced 3 giant hit singles in less than a year.
Neal rented condominiums in the neighborhood near Casablanca's offices in Hollywood for each of us. We were in a show biz building. My neighbor down the hall was Marvin Hamlisch, who wrote the musical A Chorus Line and a bunch of film scores. A real music biz celebrity!
Right after we finished Kiss' Hotter Than Hell, Kerner and Wise got another gig, producing a José Feliciano album. Every day, the three of us commuted down to Jose's studio in Orange County. Two notable things about And the Feeling's Good:
1. José himself. Until then I had not spent a lot of time working with a blind artist. A friend who had worked on a lengthy Stevie Wonder project noted that Stevie had little or no feeling for day versus night; he was just as likely to call at 4 AM as 4 PM.
José absorbed information in a completely different way from sighted people. Instead of getting to know you by interpreting your looks or your expression or the way you moved, he immediately started decoding you by your words —— how you chose them, what inflections or stresses you put on them. And his conclusions were always revelatory. He gave me a new way of looking at people, and myself...
2. Drummers. These musicians are always central to the sound of rock and pop recordings. Getting the drums right have always been a priority with me.
José's album was my first chance to work with Hal Blaine, who had played on thousands of recordings, including those of Phil Spector, The Beach Boys, and Simon and Garfunkel. He was one of the few drummers who could come in, set up, get mic'ed, and start playing, with an instantly interesting and powerful sound. Very different than working with young rock band drummers who had no idea how to tune and perform in the studio, with whom it would sometimes take days to get a sound together.
The other drummer on these dates was Ron Tutt, who at the time played in Elvis Presley's show band. A completely different style of player, but also an excellent musician.
living in los angeles
Once I got to LA, I morphed or was morphed from a staff engineer into a freelancer. Sort of like a religious conversion: from the faithful following of The Company Way, which had a number of attractive aspects: a salary, health benefits, a variety of challenges, a place to learn stuff and develop relationships, plus the comfort of a familiar place to work in and get familiar with. And mainly, something I didn't really appreciate at the time: Security!
To, in its place, a surrender to the Gods of Chance: a bit more control of my own destiny and the ability to make more money, a lot more—— that was the good part. There were a lot of not-so-good parts: long droughts, meaning total lack of work for months; when there was work, sometimes not getting paid; and a lot more responsibility for the success of a project. Another big deal was getting used to working in different facilities with different equipment and different ways of doing things
After KISS #2, and Feliciano, it was time to find a more permanent place to live. I didn't know much about where to look or what to pay. The only source of information was the LA Times Classified Section. One day I made a list of possibilities and called for a taxi.
I lucked out and got a female driver, Abby. She wore a jaunty little cap that had 'Yellow Cab' embroidered on the front. She was great. We drove all over and she soon was tagging along on the walk-throughs, readily volunteering her opinions on every place we looked at. I figured out later that we had ranged from Santa Monica through downtown and waay out to Pasadena.
Towards sunset we tramped through a cute 3-bedroom in Los Feliz. The landlord was a local church whose pastor was supposed to live there except he already owned a house nearby and didn't need it.
"This is it," Abby announced. And that was it. I think it had once been a large Tudor-style bungalow, but the exposed half-timbered details had been obscured by an overcoat of thick white paint. Still it was a nice pointy-roofed house that overlooked a quiet dead-end street. With a real basement, unusual for Los Angeles.
a tour of LA recording studios ca 1970 part 1
The way the studio business worked, at least in Los Angeles, and especially in my case, was kind of disorganized. Well, of course it was. Most of them were independent businesses, but they were all fundamentally dependent on the major record companies, many of whom owned and ran their own studios.
The labels strongly urged their signed artists to use the label's own studios. But in most cases, especally when the artist had already turned out a hit or two, or showed potential, the artist would choose to work at an independent studio.
The independents were able to attract artists who had label contracts because they were hipper and more agile than the label studios. They would block out weeks of time, experiment more, provide drugs and catered meals, even elaborately appointed bedrooms.
The label studios sometimes fought back, because, in general, they had more access to cash than the independents. Sometimes a big label studio would redesign a room, wire up and plug in some of the newest, trendiest, most expensive equipment available, costing hundreds of thousands—— in hopes of seducing their own artists to come and work there. Or even better, to bring in other labels' artists.
The first few KISS Hotter Than Hell songs were recorded at Wally Heider's on Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood. We ran out of dates there so we moved to The Village Recorder in Santa Monica. I was starting to get an idea of the tensions that existed ——not only between the independent studios and the record companies, among the studios, who were all angling for those album budget dollars.
Sometimes a studio would try and tilt the playing field a bit by offering me a "commission" or percentage of their hourly charge, otherwise known as a bribe.
United Western/Ocean Way
a tour of LA recording studios ca 1970 part 2
1 The Village Recorder
2 Record Plant
3 Westlake Audio
4 Cherokee Studios
5 Wally Heider
8 United Western/Ocean Way
9 Mastering Lab