It was not luxurious-- a control room, beige-walled, furnished with a couple of rolling office chairs, a broad flat console studded with knobs and dials for mixing electrical signals from microphones, and some tape recorders, dominated by a tall Scully eight-track machine. The engineer (me), and my boss, the producer, usually faced the console and two giant speakers above it. The Scully loomed behind us.
Mercury Studios was the first real music recording facility I had ever worked in. Actually it was the first real music recording facility I had ever seen.
That morning and afternoon I spent on a commercial for Ponderosa Steak Houses, home of Coconut Cream Pie in a Pan. Tonight's session was scheduled to start at 7 pm. By 10, Clients and musicians were beginning to drift in.
The console, built by the studio’s technicians, allowed the engineers and producers to alter and guide the electrical signals as they flowed through from the microphones to the tape recorders. The microphones were on the other side of a double-glazed window that allowed us to see the musicians–– a rhythm section, meaning drums, bass, guitar and keyboards, and a half dozen horn players–– but did not allow any sound through the glass. We did hear the sound of their playing, but only by way of the microphones, the console, some amplifiers, and, mounted on the wall above the window, a couple of massive Altec speakers.
That's the way almost all recording studios are arranged: 2 rooms, separated by a soundproof wall with a soundproof window in it. The control room is for engineers and producers and kibitzers, and the other room is for sound producers like announcers, singers and musicians. Sometimes the 2 basic spaces have various additions, like separate rooms for tape machines or other recording equipment. Or special rooms just for singers or storing stuff like microphones.
“Hi, I’m Jimi.” He extended a hand as a giant grin spread out across his face, then became apologetic. “Don’t worry about the hair—it’s just my cancer.”
I grinned back at Jimi Hendrix.
His hair did look bad. The trademark Afro was markedly diminished, and pretty scruffy. But there they were, the words hanging right out there. "Just my cancer", huh. What do you do with that? Jimi’s sense of humor took some getting used to. As I was to learn, this guy could stop a conversation better than anybody.
He was slim and lanky, almost fragile, in contrast to his old army pal Buddy Miles. Buddy was the hefty drummer in his own band, The Buddy Miles Express. Mercury Records, my employer, had persuaded Jimi to come to their 57th Street studios to help produce Buddy’s next album.
I was 19, and had only been working at Mercury for a few months. The year before, after somehow avoiding the draft (imagine: they used to actually force people to join the army) and getting an engineer job at a tiny spoken-word studio, a bogus outfit called Educational Publishers, I had kind of figured out what recording engineers did— and gotten almost to the point where I could imitate one fairly well. So I figured it was time to escalate the charade to new heights, and started scanning through the New York Times employment ads. And there it was: