The New York city-based Ramones arguably began and boosted the punk rock movement back in the mid-1970s. They took the world by storm and inspired a multitude of musicians to form bands with a similar spirit, letting loose musically with maximum energy. They are the true spirit of punk rock. Tom Erdelyi, a.k.a. Tommy Ramone, is the band's original drummer and only surviving member of the original lineup. Erdelyi is the legendary foundation to the band, because without this Hungarian-born musical mastermind, the band, in many ways, would not exist. While he and original members Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee drove the band onstage and freed the souls of the audience at a time when music was overtly polished and sometimes contrived, Erdelyi also acted as creative seer to the band behind the recording studio console. He produced and/or co-produced their legendary records in the early phase of the band's career. In the late 1970s he decided to step down as their drummer to keep from being distracted and ravaged by touring and the like, opting to focus on and hone his recording and producing skills. Besides the Ramones, Tom Erdelyi contributed his sonic wares to bands including The Replacements, Redd Kross, Talking Heads (their first single), Collider and the Continentals.
I read somewhere that you were an assistant at some studio in New York City in the late 1960s. What was the studio like and what did you learn from all that. Were there any particular 'mentors' for you from those days?
In 1968 I met a friend of mine on the subway, his name was Jack Malken, and he told me that he was an engineer at a recording studio. I said, "Wow, can I come down and see the place?" And he was nice enough to invite me down. I went there and I was taken aback. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. The place was called Dick Charles Studios and it was located in the United Artists building on 7th Avenue and 49th Street. It was a small studio where many important clients made their demos. Major record and publishing companies. It was one of the few small studios that had an eight-track recorder at the time. It had Ampex recorders, an 8-track, a 4- track, a stereo and two full track mono machines. At the time, clients were still doing mono bounces from machine to machine to save money. Sound on sound. They had a Neumann tube stereo console, which was amazing. It had ten or twelve input channels and two out. Since it was a Neumann, everything was first class, which meant fancy knobs, meters and faders. The EQ section was primitive by modern standards, but it had one, as many of the consoles of that era did not. No pan-pots, they had not been invented yet. Left, right or center. If you wanted to pan you had to use two channel strips. They had one Teletronix limiter/compressor and one Pultec equalizer. Tannoy monitors were placed on the sides of the small control room, so it was like listening to headphones. They used KLH bookshelves for near-field mixing. The studio room was not too big, maybe 15 by 25 [feet], but it was well stocked with a Hammond organ, a piano, a tack piano, drums and lots of percussion. It was a great place to start and that is where I started.
And then you went on to the Record Plant...
The original Record Plant. Part of the staff of Dick Charles went on to create the Record Plant so I had that connection. I was in the right place at the right time and was lucky enough to get a job there. While there I had the opportunity to work with Jimi Hendrix, Mountain, John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock and various other artists of the era — lots of jazz, R&B and rock.
The studio was quite 'advanced' for the time wasn't it?
It was one of the first 16-track studios. They had an Ampex video deck converted to 16 tracks of audio. That is what the original 16 tracks were. While I was there, the first or second 24-track ever made was delivered to studio B. This was also a converted video deck. We also had Scully 12-tracks, 4-tracks, stereo and mono machines. The consoles were by Datamix. It was a simple console by modern standards but they did have pan-pots and a full EQ section. We monitored through six large Tannoy speakers, each powered by its own Macintosh 75 watt mono tube amp. They wanted to impress the clients. Both the control room and studio of A were quite large. The place was a converted parking garage. For reverb, we used EMT plates at both the Record Plant and Dick Charles. This was 1969 and things were starting to get a little more complex. It was the first time that multitrack studios were really starting to happen. It was a changeover from the old-school union engineer system to the independent studios and freelance engineers and producers.
So how was it working with and being in the presence of Jimi Hendrix?
Working with Hendrix was something else. I was still quite young and he was at the height of his fame. To me it was like working with the gods. We would set up two full stacks of Marshalls as if he was playing live. He wanted to be able...