Interviews, Stories, and the Truth
by Larry Crane
In Tape Op issue #53 I interviewed Brian Kehew and Kevin Ryan, authors of the then-recently released book, Recording The Beatles. One of the topics we discussed was interviewing people and collecting facts, and what to do with conflicting data. When looking back at careers spanning decades and sessions that occurred 40 years ago, it's common to find stories that don't quite line up. In our previous issue, #127, I interviewed Tony Bongiovi; the former owner and founder of the famed Power Station studio in NYC. During the course of our talk Tony regaled us with many stories, but some of these stories, might be a bit further from the truth than I hoped for.
I want to extend an apology to Tina Weymouth, Talking Heads, Ed Stasium, and anyone else whose music or work at Power Station might have been misconstrued by Tony in his interview. We try to fact check, but in this case I was taking him at his word, even when searchable facts sometimes didn't line up. The stories were interesting, I thought. I guess sometimes memory can be a tricky thing, and fact checking every aspect of an interview is pretty much impossible, but I'll be keeping an eye out in the future.
So, to set record straight, here's Ed Stasium's fact checking for Tony Bongiovi's interview:
Recently I read the Tony Bongiovi interview in Tape Op, my favorite pro audio rag. I would like to set the record straight, as there was much misinformation included in quotes by Mr Bongiovi. TB also spun some of these tall tales in Greg Milner's book Perfecting Sound Forever where TB first admitted publicly to replacing Tina Weymouth's bass on several tracks on Talking Heads 77, dispelling his quote in Tape Op that "The engineer who worked with me went public with it" (that would be me, and I never disclosed this fact). This started a discussion which was brought to my attention on the Electrical Audio Forum, where I addressed this issue in October of 2009:
Let me first preface by saying that I will forever be grateful to Mr Bongiovi for hiring me on staff at Power Station and introducing me to the Ramones family. I have, and always will, give him props for jumpstarting my career and for my association with the Ramones. I will leave my comments to subjects that I was directly involved with. The views and opinions expressed in this article are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Tape Op Magazine or any of their affiliates thereof.
So here we go with a list of fallacies in the interview...
TB: "We worked on those records at Sundragon Studios. We had a 16-track [Studer] A80, and they had a Trident console. I recorded The Ramones' [Leave Home] there, and it was one or two takes for each song. I brought it back to Media Sound - I was building Power Station at the time. I mixed everything over at Media. I was ganging two or three equalizers in series to get Joey Ramone's voice to match. I had to go way over the top. I called Bob Ludwig [Tape Op #105] and said, 'I've gotta send this record down to you to master it, but I had to really juice it up because it wouldn't work any other way. You've got to fix it when you master it, because it's way too bright.' That was the Ramones' Leave Home and Rocket to Russia."
We recorded Leave Home at Sundragon, where they had a Roger Mayer desk, NOT a Trident. The "One or two takes" part is true! We started tracking on November 1, 1976, well before the future Power Station building on 53rd Street was purchased. The LP was mixed at Track Recorders in Silver Spring, Maryland, on their Neve desk and Le Studio Morin Heights, Quebec on the Trident A Series desk. I'm quite surprised that TB is quoted as saying we mixed it at Mediasound as he, Tommy, and I flew to Montreal in his plane, which in itself was quite the memorable adventure being that I drank two cups of coffee before departure. TB's "I mixed everything over at Media. I was ganging two or three equalizers in series to get Joey Ramone's voice to match" is pure bullshit. We did not mix at Media and TB never touched the recording desk, the 2-inch tape, the 1/4-inch tape, or the patchbay... ever. The story about Bob Ludwig mastering Leave Home is false. It was mastered by, and credited to, Ray Janos at Mediasound. Just look at the LP credits! Rocket to Russia was recorded at Mediasound in studio A. We did overdubs and mixed it at Power Station; it was the first record mixed there. The control room and adjoining isolation room were built first, so we were able to work at night and the crew did construction of the recording room during the day. The only reverb we had was the stairwell on the east side of the building.
TB: "On The Ramones' records I put timpani on, and keyboards, but really low so that I could get the frequencies I needed. I also doubled guitars."
There are no timpani on any Ramones tracks, as I would have definitely recalled recording them. I just did new mixes of Leave Home and Rocket to Russia for the 40th Anniversary Deluxe Editions and there wasn't a timpani in sight! The only keyboard on the Ramones LPs that I worked on with Mr Bongiovi is on the bridge to "Oh Oh I Love Her So", which was on Leave Home. Tommy suggested the part and I played the nine notes on a Hammond B3 during mixing at Track Recorders. I am quite sure that when I first suggested that Johnny double track his guitars on Leave Home TB was not even in the building. When Mr Bongiovi asked me to join him on Leave Homehe informed me that as well as engineering, I would be producing the record with him. When I saw the finished album, I was credited as engineer... and my name was spelled incorrectly. I was a kid, what did I know!
TB: "The Talking Heads: 77, I recorded all of that at Sundragon. I brought the cello in on 'Psycho Killer.' That was my idea. Jesse Levy was one of the cello players for the orchestras. David Byrne [Tape Op #79] was there, and I said, 'David, let me try this and see if you like it.'"
We tracked at Sundragon and also did several days of overdubs at ODO Studios, which was right under Studio 54. The mixing was done at Mediasound. We recorded and mixed Talking Heads: 77 in between Leave Home and Rocket to Russia. Jesse Levy did not play cello on "Psycho Killer," it was not TB's idea. In a recent conversation with Chris Frantz, I asked him to confirm who played cello and he noted to me, "It was Arthur Russell. He was a friend of Ernie Brooks (who had been in the Modern Lovers with Jerry Harrison) and they were starting a band together called The Flying Hearts. I think the idea came about when we were thinking of a string section, but then thought better of it and then thought again, 'Well, how about just a cello?' Arthur came in and did it. He was part of the downtown avant-garde music scene." Listen Here
TB: "David had written the song so that the "psycho killer" [chorus] came at the end. I had 1/4-inch tape and I spliced it in three or four times, but it didn't match. They had to learn it and replay it."
Tony never did any arranging, editing or even looked at a razor blade for "Psycho Killer" or any other song on the multitracks of Talking Heads: 77. The only editing that was done was extending the intro at Tina's suggestion. This was done during mixing by myself. Check out the 1975 CBS demo. The arrangement is virtually the same.
TB: "My other good Talking Heads story is I was in there, and Lance Quinn was working on the record with me [co-producing]. I'm listening and saying, 'Is the bass out of tune?' He said, 'No.' 'Well, why does it sound like that?' 'Because you can't play an A-minor against a G chord,' or something like that. I go out, and here's Tina Weymouth [bass]. She's married to the drummer [Chris Frantz]; Jerry Harrison is on keyboards, and then David's out there. I asked Tina if she could try a couple more takes with some different bass parts. She said to me, 'I have been playing these bass parts for over a year.' I said, 'Okay.' I went back inside, and I said, 'She doesn't want to change it. What will we do?' Obviously something was wrong. I went to Warner Bros to see Seymour Stein. I said, 'I need $3,000. I have to replace the bass on four songs.' He said, 'Why?' I said, 'She's playing the wrong notes.' 'Can't you show her the right notes?' 'She won't play anything different, but I'll bring in a bass player.' I used Bob Babbitt, and an arranger wrote out all the notes. Track 1 was the bass, and track 16 was always the voice. What Babbitt first played was [like Motown]. I said, "You can't do that. What you have to do is match her sound and play the right notes." We did all four songs in about two hours. The most difficult thing he had to do was not play the right note while listening to the wrong note but follow the rhythm, because he was listening to what she did so that he could match that. I put it on track 16 and we were done. I took track 16 and bounced it down to track 1 and I never told her, until the engineer who worked with me went public with it. Why would I say that about a band?"
Tina Weymouth played bass and is present on the final mix of every track on Talking Heads: 77. In my opinion she is one of the most original, creative, and proficient bass players on the planet. Tina is also a good friend. Unbeknownst to the band, TB did have Bob Babbitt come in and overdub on two songs (not four); "Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town" and "Pulled Up." I honestly do not know why he fabricated the story that there were wrong notes, because there weren't any, and Bob Babbitt duplicated the exact same notes that Tina played. During the mixing of "Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town" I used Babbitt's bass as a "ghost" with Tina's bass, the effect being obvious on the chorus. I'm sure that Tina would have noticed the augmented notes in her bass arrangement had any existed. TB's confusing quote about the vocal being on track 16 then putting the bass on track 16 and bounced it to track 1 in itself is absurd. Tina's bass track is intact on every song; they were never erased. Babbitt's bass was recorded onto a separate track (not necessarily track 16) and never bounced to track 1. On "Pulled Up" Babbitt played an octave below Tina's part, although his track was never used in the final mix. Can I add that David Byrne refused to have TB in the room while he was doing vocals? Jus' sayin'... Again, I would like to reiterate that Mr Bongiovi initially "let the cat out of the bag" about Bob Babbitt in Greg Milner's 2009 book, Perfecting Sound Forever in which TB's quotes about Talking Heads: 77 are also fabricated and way out of line. "The band didn't even notice that I did that, no one, to this day, knows what happened." This issue would have faded into obscurity if it weren't for the fact that his quotes from the book concerning Bob Babbitt were brought to the attention of Tina, Chris, and myself, which is when I readily admitted the fact that TB had brought Babbitt in. I take great offense with Mr Bongiovi's insinuating in the Tape Op interview that I was the one that first went public with this fact, even though he did not name me directly.
Tony Bongiovi doesn't seem to recall that I was the first recording engineer hired by he and Bob Walters in September of 1976, previous to the finding and purchase of the building at 441 West 53rd Street. I was on staff at Le Studio Morin Heights in Canada when TB approached me to join the team. They paid my moving expenses and put me on salary. I worked with Tony as an engineer, and also checked out many buildings with Bob Walters to consider for the unnamed studio. This is how I initially became involved with the Ramones and Talking Heads. Credit should be given to the original team at Power Station, which was comprised of Ed Evans, Bob Clearmountain, Bob Walters, Bongiovi and myself. We all attended several meetings with Stephen B. Jacobs Associates to jointly conceptualize the construction of the studio. Mr Bongiovi has never acknowledged the fact that it was my original concept to build what I called a "pyramid" room in the building. TB's original idea was to put in a floor and build two studios with 12 foot ceilings where Studio A is. I still have my original drawing, which was submitted to the architects. Granted, TB elaborated on the idea and did the mathematical equations and final acoustical design, much to his credit. I also nicked the idea of the isolation rooms with sliding glass doors from Record Plant L.A., and came up with the idea to name the studio Power Station. I left the employ of Power Station in November of 1978 to pursue an independent career.
There you have it... - Ed Stasium