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.

16 Responses to “A&M chapter five.”

  • Jonathan:

    Good stuff! I think it’s funny the different impressions people came away with from the time spent at A&M. I was there ten years and the amount of characters who came through that place was nuts. Some of the other studios I worked over the years were even nuttier, but those were the blurry blow years… Keep up the good work Mike!

  • admin:

    Thanks Jonathan 🙂

  • David Lee 3:

    “the other with sorta terrorist Tom Selleck charisma”.

    you’re f*%#ing funny

  • admin:

    You know what I’m saying.

  • Roland the headless:

    Great writing Mike! Can’t help but feel proud for the 4 years I spent there and the amazing talent I got to share it with. It was abusive, but that helped weed out the weak!

  • admin:

    Thank you my old friend.

  • idiots:

    What a lot of dysfunctional idiots.

  • admin:

    Dysfunctional yes. Idiots, not so much.

  • A.:

    Just low class

  • Jessie:

    How do you feel good about selling glass dildos?

  • admin:

    Why do you ask?

  • Jessie:

    Seems like your recording days have launched great things for you.

  • admin:

    Depends on how you look at it. Tell everyone who you are.

  • linda:

    Just in case you’re going to be having a crappy Christmas, may it comfort you to know you’re not alone. I get through it by telling myself it’s one damn day out of the whole year. All the same, I hope your time is going to be okay. It will soon be over!

  • phil:

    No, Mike Baumgartner is not a “guest speaker”. He is connected from the inside out. The more time you spend around these people the more time you will see that they are “Jacks of all trades”, not “music industry professionals.” Who is the “Director of Marketing?” How many “bands” can one guy play in?
    This is one big circus act, where the clown also sells the tickets and flies the trapeze. A rose by any other name would still stink. Spend a little time with this group and you will see that the only thing they have in common is that they are all selling the same come-on: Snake oil. They promise to make everyone a “big star”, but give them your money first.

  • admin:

    Who are you?

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