Bob Holden is a Northwest recording icon. As a drummer he played with Don and the Goodtimes, The Invaders (the Portland version) and The Redcoats. In addition, he recorded many sides with Seattle's legendary Kearney Barton. As a studio owner he started several studios in the Seattle area, including Sea-West and HH&R — some of the first 8- and 16-track studios north of San Francisco. He continues to be a forward thinker as the Associate Director for Multimedia Services at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington.
The first time you went into the studio did anything spark for you regarding wanting to be a recording engineer?
Being a musician, you love sound. For graduation from high school in 1964 my parents bought me a Model 1600 Wollensak mono tape recorder, which by today's standards is a doorstop. I learned to do some magical things, like razorblade editing, sound on sound, and various ways of cheating to record. That gift really gave me the disease. I used to record things off the radio and then I would try to learn the songs or present them to the band that I was in at that time.
You were a member of The Invaders in Portland, Oregon?
Actually I was a senior in high school when we started Don and the Goodtimes. The Kingsmen from Portland, in 1963 or '64, had a national hit with "Louie Louie." The Kingsmen's first live album was recorded at a club we [The Invaders] also played, called The Chase [The Kingsmen in Person]. Their keyboard player, Don Gallucci, happened to be fifteen years old and he would come out to the club and we'd have little jam sessions occasionally. He came to me one day and said hey, "I really like playing with you. Let's start a band together. I've got contacts if we want to do any recording and I can get us a recording contract."
Did he say that to The Invaders?
Just me, but it turned out we ended up taking a couple of guys from The Invaders. Our rhythm guitar player learned how to play bass and Don McKinney played saxophone and also sang lead vocal. We went through a mish mosh of guitar players over the years.
How did the name come about?
It was actually from a girl in my social studies class who was just a livewire! I told her I'm starting this band and we're looking for a name. She said, "You guys are the Good Times." I went to Gallucci and he said, "That's great." One Saturday morning we got in the car and drove up to Seattle to Kearney Barton's studio, Audio Recording. We did a cover of a song that had been recorded by a local group and was getting some notoriety called "The Turn On Song." It was an instrumental — we recorded that and a throwaway b-side and drove home. Gallucci arranged the recording session with Jerry Dennon of Jerden Records. He had done the original Kingsmen recordings. This was the summer between high school and college. I had a summer job doing machine shop work and I remember sitting in my mom's Cadillac eating my lunch listening to KISN in Portland when I hear "The Turn On Song" by Don and Goodtimes and I about had a cow. We went on the road backing up this record and got some local airplay! We were an interesting band because we had these R&B roots but at the same time we realized that kids really liked show bands — like Paul Revere & the Raiders — so we amalgamated the two. The guitar players did steps, I was the MC between songs — if a guitar player broke a string, we got the patter out. I'd talk to kids in the audience and give away some prize. Never a dull moment!
At Kearney's was recording to acetate or to tape?
It was 2-track analog on an Ampex 351-2s. Kearney had two 2-track machines. I don't think he had his 1/2" 3-track yet. At that time everything was mono — we would record on one track, and it had Sel-Sync so we could overdub on the other track. Then he would transfer that over to another machine while we added another track. Then you could Sel-Sync an additional track after that. Sometimes you would be bopping back and forth two or even three times — three was about the limit, noise-wise. Then he got a 3-track, which was basically just a modified 300 [Ampex MR70] and the original idea of the 3-track was so you could do cinema: Left Center Right. But the rock n' rollers were using it as a place to put the lead vocal, guitar solos and that sort of thing. We needed to overdub because the original version of "The Turn On Song" had a trombone, trumpet, and saxophone but we only had one saxophone so he had to play his parts on separate passes.
After recording at Kearney's, were you thinking again about a career in recording?
Oh yeah. Because Don and the Goodtimes were actually making a lot of money at one point, I went out and bought a Berlant Concertone [20/20 — reel-to-reel deck].
I've got a mono...
You have a mono deck and I had a 2-track. The guitar player in the band, Charlie Coe, bought a stereo one. Between us we had the makings of a stereo recording setup and we used to do demos. We rented a home in Hollywood when we were doing [the TV show] Where the Action Is, and set up a room as a recording studio. We experimented with recording and discovered some crazy things! We used to do demos that actually sounded better then the final tapes that we ended up doing at Columbia Studios!
So Don and the Goodtimes had a regional hit. Did the record company then go, "We've got to get you guys back in the studio"?
Yeah absolutely. At some point we realized if we were going to be doing this seriously we had to sing, and none of us were singing. Don was a good lead singer and then we got Jim Valley [guitar/vocals] and he had a lot of experience singing. We used to sit around and sing barbershop quartet music basically to hone our harmonies, like "Down by the Old Mill Stream" or something like that.
Behind the kit, were you singing? Was that the challenge for you?
Not really. I'd been playing drums so long that it was just second nature. Don McKinney, Jim Valley, and I would all sing lead. Then we got a bass player at one time, Ron Overman, who also was a lead singer. In fact he sang on our biggest record, "I Could Be So Good to You," which was on CBS/Epic.
When the record company said, "We have to get you back in the studio," where did you go? Back to Kearney's?
Since we were signed with Jerden Records out of Seattle, we came up and did a lot of recording at Kearney's studio. We did reams of stuff. In fact, all of those recordings are haunting me because when I go online I see a myriad of these recordings that are out there: The Best of Don and the Goodtimes, Don and the Goodtimes Revisited, Son of Don and Goodtimes. All of these different things have been released from those old recordings, which were not that great quite frankly. [laughing]
Here Are The Sonics!!! [by The Sonics] was done at Kearney's. The recording is not perfect but if it's got that energy, I don't really care! On that Sonics record there is massive distortion. Did you experience the same stuff on your recordings?
Yeah, there was a certain level of distortion that was the hallmark of that studio. It's a well known fact that the British bands like the Kinks would listen to the Northwest recordings and try to emulate them in their studios over there and they'd have to do some distortion things to accomplish that. It sort of seemed to come natural at Kearney's. I don't know if it was the Langevin console he had that was built up from parts, or if it was bad tubes in the Neumann microphones or... [laughing]
Could he have just been slamming the deck?
It very well could be that too.
What was next?
We were getting notoriety from that recording and were one of the top bands in the Northwest. We'd pack a place. Jim Valley was offered a sweet deal by Paul Revere to go with his band, because now they were on this national daily TV show called Where the Action Is. Eventually Jim talked to Dick Clark, who produced the show, and said, "Man, you ought to have my old band on 'cause they're really good." He put us on and we did one show and as soon as we got through shooting he came to us and said, "Do you guys want to be on here regularly?" And we said, "Ummmmmm, okay!" So he signed us right there. This was a HUGE cut in pay for us! Now we're getting $1200 a week instead of $1500 a night!
But that shows what a big deal Where the Action Is was because you guys jumped at this!
We did — and we got some proper management in Bob Levinson and he got us a sweet recording contract with CBS/Epic. Our contract was for five percent, which was unheard of! The show was lip-synced. All the acts that were on the show, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Don and the Goodtimes, and a whole bunch of single artists — we would rehearse and then go in and record. Armin Steiner was our engineer at his little studio on Gower Street in Hollywood [Sound Recorders]. After we had done this for a couple of weeks, Dick Clark called us up and said, "When you guys record, you're only in there for about three or four hours and you do maybe fifteen or sixteen songs. How do you do that?" We said, "We rehearse well before we go in and we're prepared." Eventually he says, "The other bands take forever to do anything and it's costing us a lot of money! Would you be willing to do the backing tracks for all the single artists that are on the show?" We said, "Sure!" He paid us a little extra money, we'd record in the evening and we might do twenty songs. We were constantly recording. We'd be watching the show and there's Mark Lindsay with Paul Revere and the Raiders. It's his singing but it's our playing! [laughing] All of a sudden we're doing backing tracks for the other bands too! I thought that was hilarious!
Did you ever do backing stuff for people who weren't on the show, for other artists? Because we know of the Wrecking Crew...
I don't think we were of that caliber to be honest! After all, Hal Blaine played on some of our recordings too! He was a monster. On our biggest record, "I Could Be So Good to You," he and I both played. We had two drum sets going at the same time, side by side. The producer was Jack Nitzsche, who was a protégé of Phil Spector's, so it was that "wall of sound thing." On that session we had five guitar players, including Charlie, James Burton, Glen Campbell and Ry Cooder. Larry Knechtel and Don were playing keyboards. We had two keyboard players, five guitar players, two drummers, and then Hal and I overdubbed percussion afterwards. This was on 1" 8-track at Columbia Studio A, which was a HUGE studio! By this time I knew the security people at all the studios, so I basically could walk in and hang out with the engineers. I told them I really wanted to learn how to do this. We would have days where we had nothing going on, so I would drive over to a studio to see if someone was recording and hang out. They were all pretty generous and willing to let me hang around — they would say, "We're doing this and here's why we're doing it." You have to understand the culture at that time within the recording industry was totally different than it is today. It was a unionized group of people. You'd go to Columbia Studios and you had a guy that did nothing but tape op. That's all he did. No remote controls. No autolocators. Then you had one guy who was board op and he just did the mixing, and you had a guy who did setup — and they could not do each other's jobs! If a mic had to be moved they had to call the mic guy and he'd go in and move the microphone around. You've got three people on payroll that are doing the job of basically one person today. It was an expensive proposition!
Was there a time when Don and the Goodtimes started waning and you thought, "I'd better do something else to make a living?"
Yeah, I think it was in '68. It had been our plan to basically keep the band going as long as we could and then eventually become a Vegas fixture. Since we all were pretty much legitimate musicians and pretty good for the time, we could have done that. But some of the band members were going through a time of experimental drugs, and along with that came the idea of different kinds of experimental music. The outcome was that Don and the Goodtimes evaporated and became a group called Touch. I worked with the band for some time on new material and helped write some of the music, but at one point it just didn't feel right to me. They weren't happy with what I was doing and one of the roadies was actually a drummer — unbeknownst to me they were rehearsing with him. I'm not real keen about being around the drug culture. I could have probably gone to one of the studios and gotten a job, but I decided I had had enough of L.A. — too much weirdness going on and I didn't want to raise a family there. I went back to Portland when The Redcoats asked me to join their band, but that didn't work out either. I started at the machine shop again working toward becoming a journeyman machinist, but when you've got music and recording in your blood you've got to scratch that itch! I started hanging with Rick Keefer around a studio in Vancouver [Washington], called Ripcord and doing some recordings there. He said, "I'm going to build a studio in Seattle because there's really very little up in Seattle. Would you be willing to go in with me on this?" I said, "I have no money to offer but I could give my time," so that was my part. We eventually went up there and built Seattle West Recording [Sea-West] on the 85th and Greenwood. I did everything from building walls to installing the glass. I even put the air conditioning unit on the roof!
Did you guys start making a living off the studio?
Sort of. Actually I started a production company with some other guys called Krans Martokian Productions and we collectively bought shares in Sea-West. We'd do all of our production work there and I was engineering. I had learned a lot in L.A. in the studios, as well as on my own, but now I was working with real, quality equipment. It was the first 8-track recording studio in Seattle — 8-track Ampex 300. I believe that was 1969. Rick Keefer was busy doing records for groups from the area, and we did some records out of our production company as well. We were also doing radio commercials, which was a lot of fun. We had an arrangement that if we had a client we wanted to pitch, we would write all the music and go in the studio and record a complete demo. There was no billing on it and no cost in doing that unless we sold it. We'd go to a client and say, "Here's something we put together for you" and they would listen to it and go, "That's great! We'll buy it!" They didn't ask for it, we'd just show up with it!
Who was initially involved in your production company?
Myself, Herb Hamilton, Larry Roberts, Chuck Jamison (a guitar player from Portland), and Gary Thompson, who went by the stage name of Billy Scream. We were all musicians and creative people, but for the most part we all had a business sense about us and wanted to make some money. Eventually we got an office within walking distance of Sea-West. We used an old technique called "make them believe you've got lots of money and you're doing well." We rented a suite in the Tower 801 building, on the 28th floor, and got all this brand new furniture and put a grand piano in the foyer. We started bringing clients over to listen to our productions and to talk about doing work with them. Now they smell success, and because of that we started getting lots of work! In fact, I used that same technique when I built the recording console at Sea-West. The recording console itself was about the size of a Mackie 1604. I built a lot of the knobs in the machine shop I was working! I had one of my colleagues make the faceplate for the console and we built everything with SpectraSonics electronics, but it wasn't very big. We wanted to put on this big show, so I ended up building this console out of eight-foot sheets of plywood. The only magazine that was available to me that showed consoles was the AES [Audio Engineering Society] journal. I got one of those and inside was a Rupert Neve console — I looked at the lines of that and thought, "I can make it out of plywood, cover it with Formica, trim it in wood and make a nice vinyl armrest." That thing looked like a million bucks by the time I was done and we ended up putting phony knobs and meters all over the thing to make it look huge like a big console!
You dropped in your tiny mixer so that you would sit at it and really engineer?
Right! It was very small! We mocked up this big console and people would come in and they would go, "Wow! I want to record here!" If we would have had that dinky little mixer sitting there all alone people would have come in and said, "Are these guys kidding?" It's flash, and it still is today!
What other gear was at Sea-West?
Rick and I actually flew to Europe in the summer of '69. We went over there and purchased microphones. The Deutschmark was very weak at the time, so things that were selling for $1,000 here were selling for $200 over there! We bought two Revox/Studer 2-tracks, Klein + Hummel monitors, AKG microphones and shipped everything home. The only thing we couldn't get were Neumann microphones, because of their exclusive with Gotham [Audio]. We saved a ton! We were there for a month and had a great time too.
Did you have the first 16-track north of San Francisco?
I think that HH&R [Holden Hamilton and Roberts] may have been the first 16-track. Neil Rush, then the husband of Merrilee Rush who had that big hit record ["Angel of the Morning"], had built a studio near Green Lake at 56th and Kirkwood Place, and he decided he didn't like being in the studio business. He came to me and said, "I can't do this. Would you like to work for me and run the thing or would you like to buy part of it?" So in 1972 we purchased controlling interest from him in the studio and negotiated a lease because he owned the building. We started running the business, and as you know,HH&R was fairly successful over about a ten-year period of time.
This was Krans Martokian Productions in essence moving out of Sea-West and over to this new studio, which was called Holden Hamilton and Roberts? Was the new studio well equipped?
Right. In fact, when we moved and sold our stock in Sea-West to someone else. We decided to make a name change, so at that point we just called it Holden Hamilton and Roberts period. We didn't call it "studio" because we were doing a number of very diverse business things. We eventually got into tape duplication and as a result of some of our advertising work we ended up being major shareholders in a bread company, believe it or not. The studio was equipped, but it had some installation and acoustic issues. Initially I made certain changes to get rid of some noise and eventually we redesigned the whole thing physically and it ended up being nice eye candy.
What was in the new studio, gear-wise?
Some pretty nice equipment for the time, including a 25-input Langevin console with four buses, but no pan pots. If you wanted to do anything stereo it was hard left or right, or mono. The recorder was a 2" 16-track Scully 288, which was a behemoth! It also had a 1" headstack and tape guides, so you could do 8-track. The nice thing is you didn't have recalibrated the electronics because both formats had the same track width.
Do I remember you had a mobile rig? Was that after the HH&R period?
Yeah. I left HH&R in 1979 and ended up going into business with Dan Rupert. He is a superb writer, arranger and producer who worked here locally on a lot of movies. We had a great working relationship, having worked in the studio together for years. An opportunity came up to buy a mobile truck from a guy in Oregon and we went into business doing mobile recording. It was a converted 27-foot Winnebago and it was really cool! We did many album projects and when we'd get ready to mix we often drove up to Mt. Baker, since Dan and I are both avid fisherman. [both laughing] We'd go to this campground, rent ourselves a boat, and get up early in the morning and go fishing. Then we would come back in the midday when it was warm and we didn't want to be out in the hot sun and we'd go in and mix for four to six hours in the Winnebago! As the sun was starting to head down we'd have a little dinner and go out and fish a little more and then maybe come in and mix a little more. That particular campground had power at the campsites, which they turned on at 6:00 am. It was a generator, and it went off at 10:00 pm! We didn't get any flak — in fact the rangers thought it was kind of cool! They would stick us off in a corner so we weren't bothering anybody because you could hear it. That was a kick!
The entire interview, text and audio, is available at www.jeffreybruton.com