Recording Engineer History
Alice Cooper—Pretties for You
Alice Cooper—Easy Action
Frank Zappa—200 Motels
Frank Zappa—Live at the Filmore East
Frank called this the “white penzil-front album.”
Frank Zappa—Just Another Band From LA
I’m really proud of this recording. I recorded the band using just two microphones. Instead of using dozens of mics, I set the mix using the volume controls of the band’s instrument amplifiers. I told them if they needed to hear their instrument with more volume, they had to call in a roadie and have their amplifier moved higher or closer to them. The point was, if they turned up their amp, the album would be ruined. They trusted me completely. As a result, the album’s sound is their sound – not a studio mix. I recorded direct to a four track. Frank and I then simply mixed 4-to-2 at Ike Turner’s “Bolic Sound” studio in Inglewood. That was some night. I’m sure all of us remember it well.
Frank was still recovering from his injuries from the mishap at the Rainbow Theater in London. With a broken leg, I was transporting him to the studio on a mattress I’d put in the back of my ’47 Chevy panel truck. On the way to the studio, windows wide open, Frank called out, “Ohm Lad! I smell tacos, Ohm Lad!” So I made a U-turn and took him back to a taco shack on Inglewood Blvd. for a nutritious snack. I told the window attendant that Frank Zappa was lying in the back of my truck, but she didn’t believe me. When I brought his order to the back door of my truck, Frank was very happy at this delicious development. After his/our lunch, I moved him from the Chevy to his wheel chair and rolled him into the recording studio to supervise as I mixed Just Another Band From LA .
The four tracks we had were stage left, stage right, vocals and one track of room sound (recorded by a KM86 at stage center, facing away from the stage). I put the room sound mono track thru a mono-to-stereo converter, mixed in the band and vocals and we were done. We then ran the whole show thru this system onto a 2-track. This was mastered into the J ust Another Band From LA album. Easy as pie.
According to Jim Pons, bass player for the Turtles and the bassist on the Mothers of Invention album we were mixing, the sound of the bass was the best he had ever heard. He became quite emotional about the sound he heard. I'll never forget it. Considering that the nearest microphone to his bass amp was some 25 feet away, I count that as one of the miracles of “single-point” coherent sound recording.
Permit me to quote from one of my sound engineering books, “of all the mixing consoles ever invented, air, itself, remains the best of all mixer of sounds.”
To me, and I hope to Frank, even though he’s gone, these were the “good old days.”
Frank Zappa—Overnight Sensation
The guy with the fire extinguisher is “Dunt” -- the roadie. He entered my room via the balconies and sprayed me (while playing an amazingly-beautiful borrowed Martin guitar) with a soda-acid fire extinguisher. I spent the rest of the evening cleaning the guitar. What the roadies did with the ripped-open grapefruit, you don't even want to know. Trust me.
Frank allowed me to “experiment on him” extensively, in the studio. He was great for that — allowing people to try things. He would always say, “OK. Let’s try that and see what happens.” He was a sound engineer’s dream. I had a lot of fun working on the recording of this album.
When a band is on the road, eventually it “gets stuck” in an airport, waiting for a flight. The members
of Frank’s band had a hobby for occasions like this. I guess you could call it “paging names.” The band would be sitting peacefully in their boarding gate chairs when suddenly the entire group would burst out laughing. Non-band travelers would look at us and try to figure out what was so funny — what the joke was. What had happened is that one of the band members went to a “white courtesy telephone” and asked for a page of a totally bogus name. The challenge, of course, was to see who could get the “paging lady” to page the most outrageous name. There were many winners. The names that “won,” and the resulting pages, were really something to hear. Maybe you had to be there.