Name an engineer/producer that has Diana Ross, Sisters of Mercy, Devo, Bruce Springsteen, Janis Ian, David Bowie, Bon Jovi, and Steely Dan in their credits. Chances are you didn't think of Larry Alexander. A veteran of The Power Station studio's glory years in the '80s, Larry has seen it all when it comes to making records. Having met through our mutual friend, Steve Masucci, it was only after looking at Larry's credits online that I realized the extent of his studio work, so I had to sit down with him in NYC and learn more about his amazing career.
How did you end up in recording studios?
I used to be a drummer; from fourth grade through college. I was always in bands, and I was the guy who would hook up the PA. I went to college at SUNY [State University of New York] Buffalo I started working in the radio station. They had an awesome radio station — WBFO. They would do live music broadcasts, so they had multiple mics. After a couple of years I became operations manager at the station. Somewhere in college I just decided, "I wanna be a recording engineer." At that point I had never seen a recording studio. I was getting this really early magazine, Recording Engineer/Producer, which was awesome. Between junior and senior years I started applying for jobs. I knew there was a recording studio near my house called 914 [Sound Studios in Blauvelt, New York]. I had driven past it a few times. I went in there and I met Brooks Arthur, and I said, "Hey, how about a summer job?" And he said, "Why should I hire you for the summer, and then in September you're gonna leave?"
Were you studying recording in school?
When I first went to school I was taking engineering. Which has nothing to do with audio engineering.
Real engineering. I never went to classes. My average the first semester was 0.5 because I never went to classes. I was in the football band, and the orchestra and all that. In that stuff I got As, and in everything else I got whatever the lowest grade would be. I was ready to quit when somebody said, "Why don't you design your own major?" SUNY Buffalo did not have a media department, so I designed my own major in Media Studies. Which meant filmmaking, photography, electronic music — everything I loved. From that point on I had straight As. During my senior year I started sending out resumes to all the New York studios, and everybody said, "No thanks." I called A&R Studios and I said, "I know you said I can't get a job there, but can I at least see the studio? I know I want to be a recording engineer. How about a tour?"
The first studio you saw was A&R?
Except for 914 that I'd stopped in. A&R- they said, "Yeah, sure." I went down there, and who's standing there but Brooks Arthur. At that time, I had no idea that 914 was a satellite studio of A&R. Brooks and two people from A&R had gotten together and started 914. I didn't know that. Brooks asked me, "What are you doin' here?" I said, "I'm looking for a job!" He said, "I just fired my assistant yesterday." I went in, we spoke for a while, and he said, "Look, I'll try you out. You gotta work for no pay for a couple of months." I said, "Fine! Just let me in!" He said, "I can't start you right away, because we're right in the middle of an album. I don't want to bring you into the middle." I said, "Really, who is it?" "James Taylor." I'm like, "You gotta let me start! I'm a huge James Taylor fan!" He said, "No." So, James Taylor and Peter Asher were there. A couple of weeks later he said, "Alright. You can start on Monday. We've got a new guy coming in for his first album: Bruce Springsteen."
Had you heard the name at all?
Nobody had! He was nobody. I was assistant engineer on Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, and then half of the Born to Run album. In the middle of that album Bruce couldn't stand his manager, Mike Appel, anymore, and he couldn't stand his contract.
When we interviewed Louis Lahav [Tape Op #56] he talked about this.
Yeah. I was an assistant to Louis Lahav. Bruce found manager John Landau. He said, "We're going to the Record Plant." So they went down to the Record Plant and started the album over. Somewhere along the line, Bruce said, "Let me hear that original version of 'Born to Run'."...