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Chris Lord-Alge – Part 5: Calling Bob Clearmountain

Transcript
Come on down to Studio A, Power Station.

Erica: This is a very giant elevator!

Chris: You can imagine the artists that were in there. Jon Bon Jovi, I can guarantee you was standing right where I am right now, with a lot more hair, and he was a lot more fun.

Richie I’m sure was standing next to him with even more hair.

This is back just a couple of years. So Jon, love you man.

Here we are. Floor one. Ladies apparel, men’s underwear. T-shirts, hat, whatnot.

Let’s head to the room that made it all happen here. Not B, but Studio A. The house that Bob built. Come on in. The big green door. Here we go.

The most famous recording room in New York City right here, Power Station Studio A, AKA, Avatar. So follow me until where it really happens. Here’s the room right here. Control room A.

This is not a toy. This is one of the finest Neve consoles. This is ground zero of mixing. For me, this is where it started. For me, this is where Bob Clearmount was tracking and mixing the greatest records of all time, where he started by doing Chic and Sister Sledge.

This is where it all happened. This is where the first room that he designed and he worked with them, which is a fact kind of unknown, it was his design to make this happen here, and one of the great things he also developed in here, or became developed in this room, is if the mix isn’t loud enough up there, why don’t we just bring the mix closer to us?

How about speakers that move closer to you? How about making them almost like headphones, because they go all the way up? Now that is unbelievable.

Why don’t we just see if we can get someone on the phone who knows about this stuff.

[phone ringing]

Bob: Hello?

Chris: Hey Bob, it’s Chris, what’s happening?

Bob: Hey, how are you? I’m good.

Chris: I’m in Power Station Studio A, ground zero, your room, man, it’s awesome.

Bob: Great, it’s a good room isn’t it?

Chris: It is so good. I mean the first thing I did was listen to a mix in here on the big Reds, and it’s just perfect.

Bob: Oh, that’s nice. Yeah, it’s weird, those speakers actually work, but only in that room though really.

Chris: Yeah, the funniest bit is when you throw the switch and move them closer, everybody jumps.

Bob: Right? That’s pretty funny.

Chris: But yeah, it was really a blast from the past coming in here. I mean, I know that right now, you have the original leave don’t you?

Bob: I have the one that was — yeah, the first that was in Studio A in 1977.

Chris: Right, that’s the one that’s in Berkeley.

Bob: Yeah, from ’77 to ’84 or ’85 or something like that I think. Then they put the bigger one in.

Chris: What year do you think it was when you were doing Good Times? Tracking and mixing in here? Do you remember that?

Bob: That would’ve been like, ’79?

Chris: Because I mean to me —

Bob: ’79 around there.

Chris: To me, that was ground zero from like, Disco Records to, “Woah, that’s not a disco record anymore. That’s like a rock record.”

Bob: It kind of — well, those guys were into rock and jazz more than disco. The whole thing with them was they were — back then they were hearing these Disco records, and they were just these broke kids that were in this Jazz/Rock band, and they’re listening to the radio and they said, “Well shit, we can do that.”

So they did, and then they went straight to the top.

Chris: Yeah, but I mean, I personally think that the time with your engineering and the mixing made the difference. Like, turned it from just being normal to more punchy and more impact.

Bob: Yeah, well that was my thing, you know. I come from a rock background, but I was sort of trained as more of an R&B guy at Media Sound cause we used to do Ben E. King and a lot of R&B and Disco stuff, and so my thing was combining the two; was getting the bottom end like an R&B Record.

Chris: Like getting the top end like the rock record.

Bob: Yeah, with the kind of rock vibes, you know what I mean?

Chris: And the snare being loud enough like a rock record, cracking.

Bob: Yeah, right, exactly.

Chris: And I can actually picture it happening right here in this room, because that’s where it happened, right?

Bob: It was just me in the control room, and they let me have free reign as far as the sounds went. They never really got involved, they just went, “Shit man, that sounds good.”

Chris: Yeah, I think that’s the thing, leave the driver to the driving and let the band do the playing.

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Bob: Yeah, so it really worked out great. It was one of the most fun sessions I’ve ever done I think. It was such a great time.

Chris: Well yeah, I’m so excited to be here and go out in the live room and look around and just see the history, and just to be in the control room, and I’m sitting literally at ground zero where I’m talking at. Right in between the Yamahas. Right between faders 23 and 24. To me, this is exactly where you sat tracking Chic, and here we are today.

Bob: That’s right, yeah.

Chris: And you see those big Reds up in front of you, you look out and you see the band playing, and I can picture you were in here by yourself, tracking this, and they would just come in for playback, and they’d go, “Yeah, next song,” or “This is great, we’re going to do a couple of fixes.”

Bob: When I first walked into the building, I walked in actually when I think Tony was supposed to meet me there, and they went out to lunch or something, and I walked in by myself, and I thought to myself, “Well this is pretty cool, and old TV Studio,” and then I got to the stairway, and I go, “What’s this? It’s like a back extra stairway.”

Chris: Oh, it’s way upstairs? So you can tell right now, by all the echo — there’s a lot of mic cables in here. Oh my god. Cool you tell the room we’re in by the echo?

Bob: Sort of, yeah. It changed, like I said, it changed from what it was. You know, because they had to extend the stairway. The main part of it was the top floor, it was a big open space, and now it’s all sort of filled up.

Chris: Okay, that’s — and was this a go-to drum reverb or vocal reverb or?

Bob: Yeah, listen to something like Bryan Adams, “Heaven,” and that’s all that reverb, and Avalon is mainly that chamber. You know.

Chris: So these are the walls of Bryan Adams?

Bob: Yeah, that’s what we used for the big drums and all that kind of — it was just an amazing sound. I mean, now I guess you could duplicate it with some of the technology that is available, but there was something about us just having a natural, beautiful sound in that natural, beautiful sounding chambers, that back in the 80’s was just incredible.

Chris: I mean, I don’t think there is any technology that can copy this, and I can tell you we’ve used it all. You know, only way you can do it is put speakers in here and use it as a chamber while you’re mixing something here. That is…

Bob: Are you back in Studio A?

Chris: Yeah, I’m back in the control room. Want me to go in the live room?

Bob: So look out into the studio and look sort of to the left. The keyboard room there?

Chris: I looked into the keyboard room, yup.

Bob: That mic panel?

Chris: Oh, where the hooks are?

Bob: You see there’s a mic panel where you plug-in mics?

Chris: Yeah, I’m going to walk right out to it.

Bob: Well I wired that. [laughs]

Chris: Okay, so we have evidence right here, so let’s walk back. Now I’m in the live room, you can probably hear that ambience. I’m underneath the dome, walking back to Bob’s mic panel, and I think he called this Bob C’s mic panel.

Hey, nice job. 48 mics in, and then you have the four cues, and then — well, eight cues, four cues but there’s eight of them, and then the eight auxiliaries.

Wow. That’s killer.

Hey, this is the main panel for the room.

Bob: Well, for the keyboard room it is, yeah.

Chris: So right now on camera, I’m going to sign this, and they’re letting me, and I’m going to call this “Bob C’s Hand Wired Mic Panel,” and I’m signing my signature next to it.

Okay, you got that?

Bob: Right. [laughs]

Chris: Because you know, when you do a job like that that stands the test of time, people need to know that that’s what it is. They need to at least have a marker.

But this tracking room is just amazing.

Bob: I could have been a tech.

Chris: Well yeah, I know that about you, you’ve got a little bit of the tech fever. I’m kind of like that, because — it’s because you want to organize it, you’d rather wire it because you know it’ll be done right and you can depend on it.

When someone else does it, you’re like, “I don’t know if they did a good job.”

Bob: Yeah, I know what’s behind there.

Chris: Yeah, you know what’s behind there, I’m sure. Well everyone knows you did it now, because I just immortalized you in Sharpie, and I don’t think anyone has the balls to wipe it off. You agree with me? Okay.

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