Not unlike Mary Ann Singleton's entry through the golden gates into a wild 1970s San Francisco, I was launched into an equally mad Los Angeles in 1986. And I was just as naive, excited and green as she was.
A few weeks in I had first tricked with, and then become friends with a guy named Gene. He was a fast talking wheeler-dealer on the periphery of the music business. He and a friend Darryl (an absolute sweetheart, who owned the L.A. Deejay's record pool) cooked up an idea to launch the comeback (?) of a minor 70s disco singer. They were going to produce a dance track written by a third friend. Gene finagled a few days of studio time (to be paid on the back end) with the proviso that they work at night when the studio was free. I was invited to tag along as a mascot of sorts and, for the first time, walked through a green door into a magical land called The Village Recorder.
I entered my first recording session to quite a disappointing surprise: a small room with one guy and a computer. Where where the horns! Where were the strings! Where were the three black chicks! There was the engineer (who Gene talked into working at half rate) mixing synthesized instrumental tracks. The next night was show time. The singer was coming in to do the vocals. Now we're talking, I thought. I was very excited, that is until about 3:30 in the morning. The glamorous singing part was long done and they had been editing and mixing for about three hours now, which seemed to be a process of playing about 5 seconds of tape at a time about a hundred times in a row. I walked out into the hallway and into the main lobby. Dead. We were the only people in the building. I walked back into the studio and before I got to the control booth, the big leather couch in the lounge caught my eye. I stretched out on it. The TV was on but muted and the sounds from the booth were faint. All of the sudden I was aware that I had never before (or since) felt so enveloped, safe and cradled as I did in that moment. There is a vibe in that building that is like nowhere else, and I fell into a deep delicious sleep.
I suppose I don't need to tell you that the project went nowhere quick. But 'never say die' Gene had another idea up his sleeve. He managed to talk himself into a sales job at the studio, with me as his assistant. We were given a couple of desks and phones. He would bring music acts into the studio and get a commission off the booking, and the Village would give us a salary draw against those commissions. Well they paid the salaries alright and the also paid the expenses for all our lunch meetings, but after 3 months when no bookings materialized, Gene was given the gate and I stayed on. For the next year and a half. I was given a newly created position as the manager of digital recording equipment rentals.
The Village Recorder was started in 1968 by Geordie Hormel, heir to the Hormel Meat Company. It was lovingly referred to as "The House That Spam Built". Geordie was the musical prodigy black sheep of the family. In the early 50s he was married to Leslie Caron for a few years and he composed incidental cue music for the TV shows, The Fugitive, Lassie, Naked City, Rin Tin Tin, Wanted Dead or Alive, Ozzie & Harriet and The Untouchables and others. By the mid sixties he had tuned in and turned on and so, logically, he bought a 22,000 sq. ft. former Masonic Temple in West LA to do his music projects in. And he really did intend it just to be his own big playhouse.
On the second floor there was a huge auditorium with a red velvet curtained stage. On Saturdays he let the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi use it and the Los Angeles Transcendental Meditation movement was born there. (When I first worked there with Gene our desks were thrown haphazardly into the back of that auditorium.) As he was building the place out he had, I am told, roughly a dozen secret doors and hallways honeycombed through the place. I only ever found two.
Slowly but surely, musician friends of his began to hang out and a rock and roll salon was formed. Takin' drugs, talkin' rock and playin' music. They also asked if they could bring work there, and finally in '72 when a group of top flight studio musicians decided to do a group project there under the name Steely Dan, it was on. Geordie gave in to the realization that he owned a commercial recording facility.
I don't care who you are or what kind of music you like, you have owned albums that were born in that building.
STAY TUNED FOR PART TWO.....