"No, you cannot mix the tape. You have to go to bed. It's past your bedtime."
This was me talking. Talking to the 16-year-old rock 'n' roll child prodigy Mark Radice. It was well past my bedtime too, these being the early morning hours on a cold winter's night in North Brookfield, Massachusetts. I was tired, and had had enough for one day.
"No way," young Mark spoke back. "Your mix is all wrong. Bottom, mainly. You still can't get the foot together with the bass the way it's supposed to be. Too much boom; not tight enough. Why don't you just go to bed, and I'll fool around down here."
I forget what the resolution of that dispute was that night. Maybe it was me who went to bed. But I wasn't happy about it, I can tell you that.
Things happened in funny ways in the music business in the 1970s. Not always straight up. Not always up front. Listen, for example, to this telephone conversation which occurred, I'll bet you anything, only a few days earlier somewhere in the bowels of the New York City music industry.
"Who, me? You're fuckin' crazy. I'm a music attorney, not King Midas. Put that kid in the Hit Factory at a hundred and fifty dollars an hour and you'll go broke in a week. For a tape of fuckin' demos? You're crazy.
"Listen, you know the studio business, right? Here's what you do. You get a young and up-and-coming recording studio... no, a studio that hasn't even opened its doors yet, and you call them, see, and you say that you've got a young Mozart on your hands who's going turn the pop scene upside down and who's going to make a lot of money for everybody involved — particularly the guys on the ground floor who helped when the help was needed. Particularly the guys who made the demo tape. You hype the kid, you hype the Donovan connection, you hype the kid's old man who's the best recording engineer in the city. You tell them that the kid plays all the instruments, and can play engineer himself. It's a great story."
"Yeah Sid, but what can we pay this place I'm supposed to find?"
"Pay? We pay them nothing. We pay them futures! No studio here in the city, though. That won't work. Out of town somewhere. One of those residential studios where the kid can stay for a month or two. Like Bearsville. Or a place out in the boondocks like Caribou Ranch, in Colorado. Only here, on the East Coast. That'll work for sure. Go get a cup of coffee and get on the phone."
The phone rang while I was sweeping up sawdust. The place was almost finished. A rock 'n' roll recording studio in the countryside of Massachusetts. The farmhouse has been gutted, and built back with deep carpets and glass and stainless steel. The shiny new Aengus recording console was in place, all lit up with its 24 VU meters and those little red lights that people called "leds," and there was a 3M 16-track recording machine in place, and a Scully two-track tape machine to make mixes on. Vintage Pultec equalizers were wired into the walls, and an acoustic echo chamber had been carved out of the foundation of the barn a hundred yards away, ready to make anything sent over there on the wires sound better on the way back. What a project! What a great job done by this dozen or so devoted people, all thinking positive thoughts and ready for what came next. All positives, except for the bank balance of course, which was strongly negative. And except for the prospects for paying business, which, despite the glittering gear and deep carpets and stainless steel, were nil. No business in sight. Some people thought that I had lost my mind.
"Hey, Gil!" the guy on the other end of the phone shouted. "Ernie here, in Sid Martin's office. You know Sid, don't you? The music attorney? Well, Sid and I were sitting with Clive and Bob just the other day, and Clive, he tells us about the terrific job you're doing up there with that recording studio of yours. Just the sort of place the industry needs, Clive says, and Sid looks at me and he tells me to give you a call."
"Well thanks, Ernie," I muster. "You're just the sort of guys we need to be speaking with now, now that the place is all tuned up and ready to roll."
"Hey, hey! That's why I'm on the phone to you. Figured this would be the time to give you a leg up on things. Sid, Clive — both of them — they want to get you off your ten-yard line with something special. You wanna hear more?'"
"You bet, Ernie," I said, contemplating the heap of sawdust at my feet, and thinking about the bank balances.
"Well, you heard about Mozart, right? Child prodigy? Went on to do big things and change the music industry around? Well, we got a Mozart for you. A young Mozart. Kid's incredible. Just off a tour with Donovan. Fifteen years old, maybe sixteen. Written two hundred songs before he had hairs under his arms. His old man is Gene Radice, maybe the best engineer in the city. Worked in all sorts of studios — Scepter, Mirasound, Olmsted — you name it. All the kid needs now is a new demo, and we want you to do it. Perfect gig for your new place. Perfect opportunity to get in on the ground floor of something big. Make the demo, let us run with it, and you'll do the album for big bucks. Whattya' say?
The pile of sawdust at my feet was now looking bigger. I had to call the guy at the bank the next morning, and had not yet figured out what I was going to tell him about business in the studio, or the lack thereof, and about a repayment schedule for all that money. So I said "Yes" to Ernie, and figured that I would hope for the best.
"Just one thing, Gil. This kid plays all the instruments. All of them. That's good for you, 'cause you won't need any session musicians to back him up, but the instruments? You're going to have all the instruments there for him to play. Piano, of course. A Fender bass guitar, and a bunch of the noisier ones, plus amps. Synthesizers. Go for one of those mini-Moogs. He needs a ten-string acoustic too. Big drum kit, otherwise he'll be banging on the kitchen pans. Hey, you've got the time to get it together; we can't send him up there until tomorrow sometime."
"How's he arriving, Ernie?"
"Greyhound bus," Ernie said. "Have someone down there in Worcester to pick him up."
My subsequent experience with Mark Radice in the recording studio was a bit difficult for me to handle. Here I was, a successful business entrepreneur, with a terrific new venture on my hands, and with a strong confidence in my ability to hear sounds, and to create out of them recordings on magnetic tape which, unless I was very wrong, would make me all the more successful still. I was full of myself in those days. Enter Mark Radice.
Mark was not just 16 years old, he was diminutive besides. He was the picture of wariness, seeming to expect the worst out of any new circumstances. Even when things were going well, or when there was some good news to celebrate, his response would be one of mild surprise. He was quiet. Spoke in short sentences. He smoked cigarettes — all kinds of cigarettes. Unlike the then future President of the United States, Bill Clinton, Mark Radice inhaled. He inhaled his cigarettes, and, asking to be excused if he was at the table, stumbled back around his chair and pushed open the lead-lined heavy door leading into the studio and would sit quietly by himself at the Baldwin piano. You could see him through the tinted glass windows. He would sit quietly at the piano while the dishes were being cleared. Then, as though on signal, Mark Radice would begin to play the piano, furiously. Heads would rotate around the dinner table, over the coffee which had just arrived. Questions would be asked of Jesse Henderson, our Chief Engineer. Was this something new we were hearing? Jesse both knew and feared the worst. Yes, this was something new, and he would have to take his coffee back into the control room, and start up the big tape machine. Mark Radice had conceptualized a new song, and we would have to get the piano track while it was fresh.
That of course was only the beginning. When Mark Radice conceptualized a new song, he had not come up with just a piano track and a melody and some lyrics to sing — he had also and simultaneously conceptualized the roles to be played by a half a dozen other instruments as well, and background vocals, and the changes in volume which would appear in the eventual "mix" of these elements. He did it all at once, in service of a finished image of the final musical product which he, for the time being at least, enjoyed all by himself, alone. Forget Jesse Henderson, the recording engineer. Forget his occasional assistant, Stuart Ervin. Forget Gil Markle, the studio owner and project producer. Mark Radice would conceive the new song entirely unaided, as though in one fell swoop, leaving the rest of us struggling along behind him, having to forget altogether about ourselves and our putative roles in this venture. We were in these circumstances working for a likable but extremely demanding child prodigy named Mark Radice, and Mark was in a hurry.
"Piano track is fine" Mark announces as he pushes out of the control room and back into the studio area, heading for the drum kit. Mikes on the drum kit haven't been checked since last night, nor has the snare drum been tightened and the tom-toms tuned. Jesse Henderson, who prides himself on his drum sound, rushes out behind Mark, frantically re-positioning the black AKG mikes over the cymbals. Too late. Mark is already snapping his foot against the bass drum, and calling for playback of the track in his headphones.
Geoff Myers has contributed his Fender bass guitar, and is checking its tune in the kitchen. Mark will play this next. John Farrell has forgotten about the cappuccinos and the cognacs and has run to get his Stratocaster guitar from his apartment, which will come into play after the bass guitar. The keyboard synthesizer is in my way as I plump into my seat at the recording console, but I tolerate this, fearing the consequences if it becomes disconnected from its little blue box, and produces no sounds a few moments from now, when Mark starts playing it.
"Whattya' mean Gil wants to play the tambourine?" Mark asks. "I'll play the tambourine."
Mark plays the tambourine, and is now back in the control room, fooling around with the sliding faders which raise and lower the sound levels of the elements of this new song. He is now moving more than one of them at a time, and twisting on the little knobs which assign reverb.
"No, you cannot mix the tape. You have to go to bed. It's past your bedtime."
That wasn't the reason, of course. It was because I wanted to mix the tape myself. After all, I knew all about dynamic range — the vertical acoustic space between the quietest and the loudest sounds, and how to shock and animate the listener by displaying these one after the other in a manner perhaps unanticipated. That's what I knew about. But, about the rest, and I say this now some thirty years later, I knew much less than Mark Radice. Mark knew how to fill these vertical spaces with musical sounds, and with melody — the stuff that memorable songs are made of. Mark Radice was perhaps the most talented composer of popular songs who ever worked at my recording studio in North Brookfield, Massachusetts. I learned a lot from him.
Thinking back on it now, I should have perhaps let him mix those songs. He might have done better still.
As for Sid, things didn't go so well between me and him. I had to sue him for the money he owed me. Lost the lawsuit. Made the mistake of hiring an Irish attorney named O'Malley. You don't hire an Irish attorney if you're in a music business dispute in New York City.
The following songs — music and lyrics alike — were written and recorded by Mark Radice in 1974. In the instance of Julie, and Down in Tobago, there was a measure of collaboration with Gary Wright and Gil Markle, respectively.
With the exception of an occasional tambourine track, Mark played all the instruments, and sang all the vocals. Jesse Henderson got all the sounds up as the recording engineer; Gil Markle did the re-mix. Thirty-one years later, Toby Mountain digitized the tapes, which had been found by accident in an abandoned packing container.
Down in Tobago
Nothing Like Rock 'n' Roll Music
That's the Way Love Goes
Waiting For the Music to Come
All original material copyright © Gilbert Scott Markle. All rights reserved.