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.

45 Responses to “A&M chapter one”

  • Twaddle:

    The science of sound is something I have jsut recently dabbled with. Being a half- assed musician most of my life, I always created, but just recently I bagan to record on some inexpensive software, and my home PC. I would love to have gained that kind of inside knowledge! Beats the hell out of just about everything else I’ve done with my life.

  • David Lee 3:

    I still sometimes think about writing a humorous script loosely based on my memories of being @ A&M. I’ll call it “Runners” and use “Breaking Away” & “Caddyshack”as models.

    I’ll never forget that place.

    Prick

  • admin:

    It was an experience both painful and profound. I will go to my grave with it in my dreams.

    Prick.

  • I needed this. thanks. don’t stop.

  • Teresa:

    Fascinating…can’t wait for the next chapter! However, still believe you should be writing a book!

  • admin:

    Who says this isn’t a book and who says I haven’t written one?

  • Brandy:

    I am laughing my ass off!!! Please, please write more.

    I was so humbled by my time spent there though it didn’t last long as the ravages of the other areas of the business quickly clouded the A&M gem. Now, thankfully, I can reminisce and be humbled again…and remain humbled.

    Love to all,
    b

  • admin:

    Thanks Brandy, there’s plenty more to come……….

  • Misty:

    I can’t wait. My only question is; was all the terror an ass busting worth it? I already know the answer! rock n’ roll was for the young at heart.

  • admin:

    Misty

    Yep, it was crazy good.

  • Jim labinski:

    I remember maxing out at 134 hours in one week. That only left an average 4.86 hours to commute home, sleep, shower and get back to do it again. It was just a balancing act. Coffee, water, hot cocoa, Pinks hotdogs and strawberries. With just the right amount of each I could stay up forever. I never took a sick day in 7+ years… good times!

    Thanks for the memories. More!

    j

  • admin:

    Man, I think my best was like 123 hours. Lotsa water and that vitamin B from Erewhon you could snort.

    I loves me some Jimhead.

  • admin:

    Something wicked this way comes.

  • Sean Nebeker:

    Paul Hewson? I like him. I don’t recall ever hearing that story. I do however remember hearing alot of things about this place…Stevie Nicks and Bon Jovi working together…freakin’ riot. One take Tina or walking in on Don Henley for starters…so drinks for you my friend.

  • admin:

    I’m not sure where you were. It was the world’s craziest place.

  • Insightful:

    Only someone with incredibly low self esteem would subject himself to life as a “runner” at A&M back in the day. Believe me, I know all about it. I lived with what this did to my husband. There is nothing glamorous about the place or it’s people, nothing impressive about moving up the ranks of this “asylum” in this manner. The drugs, the derelicts, whores… etc…. it all has a psychological effect on a man. This place was hell on earth for so many, but you know what they say, the abused one always returns to his abuser. This devotion that you guys feel to the place is a sickness.

  • admin:

    Interesting. For me it was a challenging, often humiliating environment that was ultimately the place of my greatest triumphs.

    I suspect your husband may have been one that got chewed up and spit out……

  • Insightful:

    My husband made it to chief engineer there and is very “successful” in his work today, but not personally.

  • Insightful:

    Being successful personally counts for a lot. Not being reliant upon drugs and alcohol, for example. And having a happy family life. The people who chose that life were dysfunctional to begin with. Victims of abuse often stick together. And in doing so they often don’t move forward. That said, I think you are a very good writer.

  • admin:

    Is your husband MB?
    I certainly wasn’t reliant on drugs or alcohol. If I was in a control room working in any capacity I was stone cold sober.

    Thanks for the compliment.

  • admin:

    He’s a good man, definitely one of the good ones. Just saw him a few weeks ago.

  • Misty:

    Insightful, Rock and Roll was ultra crap. Which so many of my generation, took serious and wasted their beings with. I mean I was into it when I was like 11 years old, the Stones, and that English crap, but I developed a mind and personally of my own. I have plenty of c. d. s and shit, but I never dropped much money on that junk. How could anyone as hella smart as Michael ever waste his life on that transitory J crap. Rock and Roll should have died when Brian Wilson went psychitzo, then only be reborn for the advent of Nirvana. My father was a recrational musician, I think my ass hole parents, really bought into that Hollywood, go be a stupid Whore crap. I proved them, wrong as did my siblings.
    Fuck people that don’t have minds of their own, and allow idiots in the mass media, to pull their life strings.

  • Insightful:

    Misty, You give me hope. I don’t know you, but I love you. Mike (Michael?), please pursue your writing talent.

  • admin:

    I just don’t understand the whole rock & roll is crap thing. My career in music was not a waste of time. It was an intrinsically rewarding profession that I enjoyed immensely. As a record producer/engineer my creative instincts were allowed to flow. I bonded with some extraordinarily talented people and made many life long friends. Mixing records stands out as one of my very favorite things to do.

    Without the whole experience, I wouldn’t be who I am and doubt that my artistic acumen would be anywhere close to what it is now and I certainly wouldn’t be half the writer I am.

    I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I’m grateful for it.

  • Insightful:

    hhhmmm…Since you put it that way… I kind of get that– the artistic part. It’s the industry, or more specifically the way things happened at A&M, from the stories I’ve heard (just like yours), that I find disturbing. And what all of that can do to a person and hence, a family. It can have tragic consequences. But we make our own decisions and live by them.

  • Insightful:

    BTW, I’m looking really forward to Chapter Eight and I think Misty is very cool.

  • admin:

    Well forgive me, but if you are who I think you are, Mike left his post as chief engineer to be with you. It also occurs to me that he is among the kindest most level headed guys I’ve ever had the pleasure to be friends with.

    I both like and admire him.

    Yes, is many ways, A&M was a house of horrors, but it did separate the men from the boys. In other words, those of us who couldn’t not be in music, all ended up still standing. We were in love with something we got paid for. How many professionals can say that?

    We rose above because of our convictions and love of the art.

    Check out the “making records” category on this blog. Maybe you’ll better understand what I mean.

    History is full of individuals who suffered for their art. We were/are no different. You cannot convince me that the pursuit of music or the production thereof, both high art, is anything less than noble.

    I’m quite proud of my contribution.

  • admin:

    Thank you again, for the compliment in that you’re looking forward to a new chapter.

    My blog is predominantly political satire and social commentary and it’s a unique experience to have one of my autobiographical pieces be controversial.

    I guess my point is that corporate America is not really any different except the impetus there tends to be pure avarice as opposed to sincere passion……

    See what I’m saying?

  • Insightful:

    I’ve come to see that nobody ever REALLY leaves A&M. I completely get the artistic part, I do. And so you SHOULD be proud of your contribution(s). I’m just saying the whole boot camp mentality and other “horrors”…. Well, I think you know what I’m saying. Maybe it just didn’t work for me. I’m an artist of sorts too. But my family is my priority.

  • Insightful:

    Yes, I THINK I do see what you are saying, but your vocabulary is incredible, and I have to decipher a lot of it! I’m quite well educated, but you speak a different language. You should never have been intimidated by anyone there. Funny, that’s what I told me hubby back then.

  • admin:

    I hate when people tell me they need to decipher what I’m saying, but I admit I understand. I love words, I always have.

    I was intimidated because I was surrounded by people who knew so much more than me about what I lusted to be an expert at.

    Let’s not forget all those who mentored us, who nurtured us. Life lessons and the nature of the human condition were hyper concentrated inside those walls.

    An experience like that never leaves you. I learned so much beyond music and engineering. We were all very smart, but very young. Your man always had a quiet confidence I envied.

    None of us had families back then and I can’t honestly entertain the notion that it somehow damaged me. What it did was inform me. I grew up there.

  • Insightful:

    Have to think here…. Okay. It may have been a good thing that none of you had families back then. Smart but young. I can see that. I think those who ended up damaged started off damaged. I think I said “low self esteem”. I don’t mean to disparage anyone in particular. Over the years I just got to meet a lot of people like that. Maybe they achieved professionally- eventually, but they didn’t achieve personally, in my mind. But who am I to say my personal values should have been theirs? I’m all about family– like being home at night for your wife and kids, etc. To date, a lot of those guys aren’t married and hang out like college buddies, but they’re in their 40’s and 50’s now. They are still smart, but STILL young. They still live in “that world”. It still works for them. It doesn’t work for me. A&M may have ended up a happy place for some, but for many it was too much. Glad it wasn’t too much for you. (For the record, nobody ever left his job for me. It was all convenient timing with the change to Henson coming right then. I could only have wished to have been that important!)

  • admin:

    Ever notice how Bic lighters are the only ones on the market without a lever for flame adjust?

    Definitely a good thing we didn’t have families.

    Your estimations of my people, they are my people, are compelling. Very interesting. My first reaction is that it’s not endemic to the occupation, but simply traits learned and manifested much earlier.

    We were weird before we knew it.

    It’s possible that specific personality gravitates towards a studio career but that says it’s a symptom, not a disease.

    You seem to be kinda saying the same thing.

    Two things:
    1) I’m sure I’ve already gone too far, but I must respect our mutual friend’s privacy and cannot comment specifically about him further.

    2) Understand this is a book I’m writing and our conversation here will be invaluable.

    And yes, I do know of what you speak. I know plenty of men like you describe. I haven’t set foot in a control room in close to a decade and I know men like that from every walk of life.

    I’ve got some of it in my ownself.

    You just might be right. There certainly is a shitload of them in recording studios.

    Hate the player not the game I guess.

  • Insightful:

    Haven’t lit a Bic in a long time. I’m on the east coast time — 3:25 am and don’t sleep much. Maybe I could get a studio job! — but tonight I am tired from thinking and feeling too much on this subject. It’s been a source of anguish for me, which is how I ended up here last night. How about “Chapter 8: The REAL women of A&M!” I don’t think there were a lot of us, though. Have a restful night. It’s been good chatting with you.

  • admin:

    Chapter eight on the way. These chapters take weeks, sometimes months.

    You may need to write that chapter on A&M women.

    Thank you very much for reading and contributing.

  • Insightful:

    Thank YOU very much for letting me get out my own feelings on this! (:

  • admin:

    No sweat.

  • Jonathan:

    I don’t remember A&M, at least between 87 and 97 having a chief engineer, ‘cept Shelly, so I’m puzzled by that…

  • Frank:

    J: I don’t suspect that there is a whole lot you DO remember from those days.

  • Jonathan:

    Frank, who are you? I remember pretty much everything from those days, it was only the late 70s and early 80s that I saw and partaked in the crazy shit, if that is what you are insinuating. After John Belushi died, everyone started to realize maybe blow isn’t so good for you. I saw more vitamins than blow or any drugs at A&M. A&M was pretty tame in those areas, at that time, and in comparison to the Village and Cherokee, it was like a health food store. Tell me, if somebody was a chief engineer at A&M, outside of Shelly Yakus, who the fuck was it?

  • admin:

    Mike Baumgartner silly!

  • David:

    There’s fame and fortune for ya!

  • Jonathan:

    Mike Baumgartner? What??? I guess that was after I left or… Maybe we are mixing up terms here. Mikes’s a great guy but the only guy with credits to be Chief Engineer of a facility like A&M was Shelley.

  • admin:

    Ron Rutledge.

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