Joe Sidore: A Key Staff Engineer at United/Western in the 1960s — Part Three
I’m pleased this month to present part three of my interview with the wonderful and generous Joe Sidore, along with some of the amazing photos that he took during his years at Bill Putnam’s United/Western Studios in the 1960s.
I don't know. It just comes to me. It’s hard to forget the times that have meant so much, and were so much a part of my future. It’s where I came from. There was nothing like it. I tell you, that was a great era. A very amazing time, and it's gone, and it'll never be that way again. But I'm so glad to have been there, and experienced it, and I'll savor those moments for the rest of my life.
Oh, yeah. Any album session that I was on, I always had an opportunity to do my thing. I think that was the reason people used me, because they never knew what I was going to come up with. I never knew what I was going to come up with! I was always going after a sound--I would always listen to what the music was telling me, and let the music dictate how it wanted to sound. Then I would try to take it there. If it needed a little delay, a little echo or flanging, or whatever, I would respond at that moment and create that effect. It became a part of the track from that moment forward, as apposed to today’s standard of not making that decision 'til the final mix. I made those decisions on the spot and the producers were always into it.
In the late '60s, I remember doing what turned out to be an underground recording for an unknown artist named Phil Pearlman. It was done in Western #2 and was titled The Beat of the Earth. It was one of those psychedelic albums you might say was a part of the hippie movement. I used a lot of prerecorded percussion effects played backwards, bagpipes, sitar, and added them to just the right spots for added psychedelia. It was trippy and wound up making sense of an otherwise amateurish album. Phil printed about 200 copies of this thing, and it wound up being, with all its mystique, very much a collector’s item, bringing in 600 bucks a copy. Who knew? Phil's still surviving off that recording to this day.
From 1968 to 1970 I worked on the only three albums Spanky and Our Gang ever did, and all of them had some kind of effects throughout. Probably the last album, Anything You Choose, was the most creative of the three. There was always a combination of sound effects and a musical bridge that took it from one song to the next. Like the last note sung would hang over and turn into a wavering siren with all sorts of clocks emerging from nowhere, followed by Big Ben and then this giant grandfather clock, which set the tempo for the incoming song, “When She’s Gone.” Meanwhile the siren is still fading off into the distance over the new intro.
Oh, well, by today's standards it was definitely more involved and time consuming. It was all done by the seat of the pants. I had to first see where I was at the end of a song and where I needed to be at the beginning of the next, and then build a strategy for bridging the gap. You could spend two or three hours on just one bridge, trying to get all the effects to play together at the right time. Some went quicker than others. Sometimes I would have as many as five extra tape machines cued up with effects, which all had to play in sync. I did whatever unconventional thing I needed to do to get it to happen. For instance, the clocks in the bridge were actually the same clock run at different speeds and recorded multiple times on separate tracks, with the grandfather clock set to the tempo of the incoming song. The siren was achieved by leaning on the capstan motor of the 3M 8-track machine. I’d have to work on each effect until I got it just right, then drop it in the right spot. That was the part that I loved, and the part that was always very challenging for me.
Some of my Number One credits include:
“Pushin’ Too Hard”(Sky Saxon & The Seeds)
“Sunday Morning,” “Like To Get To Know You,” “Sunday Will Never Be The Same,” “Give A Damn” (Spanky & Our Gang)
“One Tin Soldier” (The Original Caste)
“Rhinestone Cowboy”(Glen Campbell) *GRAMMY Nomination for Record of the Year, 1976
“Rockin’ Pneumonia & the Boogie Woogie Flu,” “Slow Dancin’”(Johnny Rivers)
“Psychotic Reaction” (Count 5)
“Baby Come Back” (Player)
“Feelin’ Groovy” (Harpers Bizarre)
“Rock and Roll Heaven” (The Righteous Bros.)
“It Only Takes a Minute” (Tavares)
Movie scores I can remember working on in Studio 1 are Cinderella Liberty, written and conducted by Johnny Williams, Shaft in Africa, the first in the series, Performance, with Mick Jagger.
No, no, he didn't. Actually, it was Jack Nietzsche. Some of the score was conducted by Randy Newman. Jack Nietzsche produced the project.
At times. It varied from cue to cue. Very strange instrumentation. Buffy St. Marie played some very exotic stringed instruments. Randy Newman did his "Gone Dead Train." There was a song titled "Memo From Turner," where the musicians in the studio weren’t completely happy with the track. They thought the feel could be better. So with a six-piece rhythm section consisting of Ry Cooder on bottleneck guitar, Russ Titelman and Lowell George on electric and I believe Gene Parsons on drums, Bobby West on bass and Milt Holland on percussion, they proceeded to actually replace the original band track. It was really interesting, because Mick Jagger was never there.
The track had already been recorded in England, with his voice on a separate element of 35mm sound stripe. We used the original track as a guide track for musicians in the studio. They listened to the original recording on headphones, played along with it, simultaneously recording a new track to replace the original track. Mick's voice from the original recording was synched up and transferred at the same time. That was the only departure. Everything else was recorded from scratch, there in Studio 1.
I remember it all being done piecemeal. It didn't happen in just one day, or in the correct sequence. It took maybe two or three days of bits and pieces. If you ever watch the movie, and you are able to hear to the scoring, you'll notice all kinds of ethnic instruments being played. It varied from a sort of baroque piece played on four English crumb horns to elevator music, to the Jew's harp, and some authentic American Indian instruments. Even the very beginning of the movie, the heartbeat sound, that was the Moog synthesizer, by Bernie Kraus. Interesting project. I sure had my hands full.
I haven't seen that movie in like 25 years. It makes me want to go see it again.
[Laughs.] Yeah. Kind of ahead of its time. I thought the scoring session was strange. And a lot of scores were being recorded at that time. In Studio 2 there was Brother John, written and produced by Quincy Jones, Dillinger, … in Studio 3 we did True Grit, with the opening theme by Glen Campbell. Tunnel Vision, produced by Lambert and Potter, The Devil and Leroy Basset, written and produced by Les Baxter. And The Frogs, written and produced by Les Baxter. In The Frogs, the entire score was the Moog synthesizer. I believe it was Bernie Krause on that project as well.
Artists I've worked with, and the studios:
Spanky & Our Gang, various studios (all three albums)
Ricky Nelson, Studio 2 (two country albums)
David Bowie & Iggy Pop, Studio 2
Ian Anderson, Studio 2
Fanny, Studio 7 (one album)
Essra Mohawk, Studio 3 (one album)
Batdorf & Rodney, Studio 3
Eric Anderson, Studio 2
Tim Moore, Studio A
Harvey Mandel, Studio 2
Julie London, Studios 1 & A (two albums)
Frankie Lane, Studio 2
Tiny Tim, Studio A
Bob Dorough, various studios
Sammy Davis, Jr., Studio A
Professor Irwin Cory, Studio B
Bill Cosby, Studio A
The Grateful Dead, (Dave Hassenger) Studio B
Joe “Fingers” Carr, Studio 2
Mickey Finn, Studio 2
Fats Domino, Studio 2
Hoagie Carmichael, Studio 1
Jackson Five, Studio 1
Johnny Rivers, Studio 3(four or five albums)
Les Baxter, various studios
Frank Sinatra, Jr., Studio 1
Jan & Dean, Studio 3
The Monkees, Studio 1
Sky Saxon & The Seeds, Studio 2
Peggy Lee, Studio 1
Roger Williams, Studio 1
Andy Williams, Studio 1
Rod Stewart, Studio 2
Melony, Studio 2
The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, Studio 1
Donovan, Studio 3
The Original Caste, Studio 1
Dusty Springfield, Studio 3
Player, Studio 3
Glen Campbell, various studios
Tavares, various studios
Righteous Brothers, various studios
The Grass Roots, various studios
Rick Springfield, Studio 1
This would be a great place to mention an important aspect of the record making process that has gone unmentioned, and only engineers have been privileged to experience. Producers also experience this, but from more of a production and finished product point of view.
I remember being on a session, recording and mixing, and then like a week later it was on the radio. It was just really so wild to hear what you were just working on, on the radio. It really made you feel like you were in with the in crowd. [Laughs.] Whether the things that I worked on were hit records or not, eventually, some of these recordings would at least get on the air. My stuff was being played on the radio more times than not, and hearing it allowed me to do another kind of homework. It was the real payoff, a way to hear the results of my mixes, my EQ decisions, how hot everything sounded and actually make some discoveries about what it was that I was doing. It was such an advantage. It was an advantage that most people today, new to the world of recording, just don’t have. That's the kind of thing that just doesn't happen anymore with the same kind of frequency for most engineers.
Another very important thing I discovered was that the recordings always stood out from all the other recordings played just before or just after your song. Not just my recordings, but the recordings that I identified as originating from Western or United. And there were a lot! They always stood out! For that, I have to give credit to the Universal Audio systems and of course, the great rooms. I could actually hear how much those elements played into the total sonic picture. For me, that's what set it apart from all the other stuff that I was hearing on the radio at that time.
It would be good to remember and give credit to the fact that all the albums and hit records, all the great music and recordings played by some of the world's greatest musicians and vocal artists recorded in those studios, whose sonic integrity has stood the test of time, all of this has passed through Bill Putnam’s Universal Audio Electronics.
Thanks to Bill Jr., UA still lives on!
— Marsha Vdovin