Bill Schnee has earned his place in the pantheon of recording engineers, with credits like Three Dog Night, Ringo Starr, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Marvin Gaye, Whitney Houston, Boz Scaggs, Huey Lewis and the News, Dire Straits, The Pointer Sisters, The Jacksons, Natalie Cole, Miles Davis, and George Benson, as well as Steely Dan’s Aja and Gaucho. Bill has worked on dozens of Grammy-nominated albums and has been nominated 11 times for Best Engineered Record (winning twice!) and continues to make excellent records in Nashville. Bill’s wonderful book, Chairman at the Board: Recording the Soundtrack of a Generation, came out in 2021, and is one of the most engaging memoirs by an engineer/producer from this classic era of record making. Blackbird Studio’s Studio C provided the backdrop for a conversation with one of the all-time great producers and engineers, and a true gentleman.

How did you get into music and recording?

I started a band [The L.A. Teens] my senior year of high school, and we began writing songs. We went to a local studio for six dollars an hour, and made a demo of three of our songs in 1964.

What studio?

I couldn’t tell you the name. It was better than the barn we rehearsed in, where I had been recording our songs on my TEAC 2-track. One kids’ mother knew somebody who knew someone in the music business. That somebody was Gary Usher. He was friends with the Wilson family, and had wanted to be in The Beach Boys. They chose Al Jardine instead, but Gary did write “409” and “In My Room” with Brian Wilson. We sent him the demos cold, and he called and said he wanted to meet us. He had just made a production deal with Decca Records and he signed us. In those days you would go in and cut four sides; if one of them hit you’d run back in and cut six more to make an album. Sadly, The L.A. Teens only recorded the four sides, but on the second tracking day, he brought in an incredible guitar player, Richie Podolor, to augment the band. After the session, Richie told us he was building his own studio in the [San Fernando] Valley. When Decca dropped us, I went to see Richie at his studio [American Recording Company] and told him we’d been dropped. He had a relationship with Mike Curb, who was just starting out, and, based solely on Richie’s recommendation, Curb signed us. We had recorded with Gary Usher at Capitol Studios’ Studio B and Western [Recorders’ Studio] 3, two of the best studios in Hollywood at the time – still even today. So, we went to Podolor’s American Recording and cut the first track. When I came back into the control room and he hit play on the Ampex 4-track, I looked up at those Altec 604 speakers and was blown away at what I was hearing. I felt something from the sound of our band that I had never felt in those other great studios. I realized right then how much recorded sound could augment the emotional content of music. I turned to Richie right then, pointed at all the equipment and asked, “Can you teach me how to do all this?” He said, “No. I’m teaching Bill Cooper. Now go out and do another take.” “Yes, sir.” But that was the “aha” moment for me.

Where did that thought lead you?

I found a studio near where I was living with my parents. It was minimally professional, with only two condenser mics and egg cartons on the walls for sound absorption. No EQ, just a little mixer for the 2-track recorder. I told the owner if he’d teach me how to operate the equipment, I’d sweep the floor and help him with sessions. He went for it, and within six months I was recording all of his sessions. A while later, he brought in a homemade 4-track, and commissioned Toby Foster to build us a small console. Toby soon got a job at Whitney Recording Studios and became my first mentor. I was back in college and would go in after school and barrage him with questions about how everything worked. Toby was very patient and taught me all the basics. All of my aptitude in school was in math and science, and learning engineering came pretty easily for me. About two and a half years after having my “aha” moment, I heard Richie’s other engineer at the studio was quitting. I started pleading with Richie to hire me. After two months of begging, he finally said, “Okay, there’s a publishing demo tomorrow morning. Come and do that.” I went in, did it, and called him that afternoon and asked, “What’d they say?” “They said you were great.” “Okay, what’s next?” He said, “Come in tomorrow. There’s a Warner Bros. demo session and you can do that one.” I went in, did it, and called again in the afternoon to see what they thought. Richie said they also said...

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