Since it is possibly the worst record ever made, I guess there is some value in documenting how it happened - kind of like writing a story about a shipwreck where all hands are lost. And since writing or talking about myself is my favorite pastime, I am ecstatic to rev up my word processor and fire away. The whole story takes on a life of its own, and requires three sections: A, the studio; B, Ed Chalpin; and C, the record itself. So, if you intend to suffer through this recitation of the ridiculous, I suggest you choose a very rainy day, get yourself a nice hot cuppa, and curl up on the couch.
One of the strangest recording studios in the universe was named Studio 76. It was located on the 7th floor at 1650 Broadway, around the corner from The Brill Building. I believe it was in Suite 76, hence the name. But there could have been something else behind the name - possibly the speed of the turntable on the disc-cutting lathe when one selected 78rpm.
It was an all music building with lots of publishers and indie labels like Kama Sutra. I think Bang was in there too. Allegro Studios was in the basement, and a very busy place that was. Tony May, an old buddy, worked there later on and I think recorded the Isley Brothers' 'It's Your Thing' there. Although that may have been done at A&R, I'm not sure.
An interesting sidelight about Allegro is that it was in the basement of the building and the subway ran underneath it. Often you'd have to wait until the train was past to go for a take if you were doing something that was relatively soft. For most of the stuff done there, the train noise just became part of the wonder of Rock & Roll. Anyway, I digress.
My first real job in the record biz was as a button pusher at Bell Sound. I only worked there for about 9 months, almost all of it doing nothing important. But I was watching and learning, and had done a couple of little dates there, including overdubbing the Ikettes on 'Two Is A Couple', and mixing the thing for Ike Turner right before he took it over to pitch it to Juggy Murray at Sue Records. After nine months, I knew just enough about handling a board and a date to get myself in trouble.
I had met Rod McBrien, a writer, singer, producer and, at the time, engineer at Allegro - a great guy. Rod and I became a little bit friendly and one day he called me up and told me there was a job open as a mixer/engineer at Studio 76 in the same building. He thought I could handle it, so I went to see the guy who owned it. Since I was willing to work for the short bread being offered, with Rod's recommendation I managed to get the job.
I'm sure that Studio 76 was the first, and possibly the only, place to have a 10-track Ampex recorder. It wasn't exactly an Ampex. Ed Chalpin, the owner, had someone build him a transport with a custom 10 track head. I think we used 2-inch video tape - maybe it was 1-inch, what's the diff. I never saw another 10-track that I can remember. With the possible exception of Atlantic and Les Paul's home, no studio had anything except 4 tracks and it was a while yet before Mayfair opened with a real 3M 8-track. So we had this transport and the 10-track head on a deck with no electronics. To record or playback from it we'd use the electronics from our two stand-alone Ampex 4-tracks and our 2-track stereo mixdown machine as record/playback amps through the patch bay. To do a date you had as many as twenty patch cords. Slick, huh?
It defied the laws of physics, it defined the term 'Rube Goldberg Machine', and it was a freaking nightmare to use. But that's not all. The worst part was that using the amps from different machines caused a problem with the bias tone. Because we used three different machines and the tones from each were just slightly off with each other, we got what was called bias beating, distortion of all types and drop outs here and there all the time. Hardly anyone cared, as you will come to understand.
The console we had was most impressive for the time. It was huge and had about 32 in and 8 out, with every possible equalizer, echo feed/return, lights, bells, whistles, meters, etc. Right? Sure! Yes, my laddies, it looked like 32 in, it looked like 8 out, it looked terrific, it lit up like a Christmas tree and it was black anodized and had more chrome than a '54 Chevy. That was the top plate. Underneath . . . mostly empty space.
Unfortunately, the whole thing was fiction and was completely and totally lame-o. Almost the entire console was a fake and non-functioning. But buddy, it looked like a million dollars. The parts that worked were probably 12 slide faders - cheap carbon faders at that - and maybe about four of the inputs actually had functioning EQ or echo feed and return. Plus there were a few absolutely necessary switches and sub masters to make the thing work. It was really only 4 out, and we'd have to patch to get the four to go to the rest of the mess. Total joke, but looked very impressive.
I was the only daytime mixer and we had a nice guy who was the fix-it dude. He had no parts, no budget and absolutely no interest. We did have about 15 different old mics - some of which worked - and one decent U47 for vocals that was OK. The room and the control room were big and both were dirty and decorated in whatever you might find at a junk store. Truly a hellhole.
Vincent Cartagena, who became a very successful producer of Salsa and other Latino material, used to lease the studio from midnight till 8am for a flat rate. He would resell the time or bring in his own acts and record them there. Vincent was good. Coming from South America, he already knew how to make a record with a ball of wax, a piece of string, the eye of a chicken and a minced toad. I had come from the pristine perfection of Bell Sound with little real experience. Dealing with all this mess was something like being dropped into the jungle with no compass and being told to find your way home.
When I'd come in each day, I'd look at all the patches and wires and strange things that Vincent had left from the night before and just scratch my head. I had no idea how he did it but he made it work for him. He actually could get something listenable out of the room. Anyway, it was a horrible place, but I did learn a lot there. I had to learn how to get around the problems and limitations of that crazy room and manage to get sound on tape. Sooner or later I did.
I actually made one pretty good record there. Bobby Robinson brought in a white kid from Georgia named Wayne Loguidice, who sounded black. Bobby wrote him a useful little tune called 'Ow Boogaloo', got Mickey Baker to do the charts and used most of King Curtis' band on the date. That's when I learned an important lesson - that if it really happened in the room, you didn't need much equipment. Just throw up some mics, open the pots and stay out of the way. We did it 4-track. I've got a pressing still and it doesn't sound bad. Bobby remixed it at Bell Sound but, frankly, I thought their mix was a little bland compared with the one I had done off the date. If anyone owns the record, I'll eat my hat.
Studio 76 was owned by Ed Chalpin, a story in himself. I never learned what his background was, or how he got into the music business and came to own Studio 76. I later found out that, somehow or another, he had a valid, long-term contract of some type with Jimi Hendrix, long before Hendrix became a star. I was told, from that contract, he got big rich, but that was a couple of years later. Studio 76 was used mainly as a vehicle for Chalpin's business and - because it was real cheap and had a 10 Track - for demos by the unsuspecting that didn't know any better, not to mention those to whom budget was more important than anything else. Koppelman and Rubin were on a lower floor and once in a while Gary Klein would bring somebody up to put them on tape real quick. Church choirs, organ grinders, Dorian Burton with a $25 advance from Atlantic to make a demo - you name it, we got it.
When I worked at Studio 76 his business was something I had never heard about, nor knew existed. It was the reason he had a studio and the reason we had 10 track, as bad as it was. Basically, the business was making quick, down and dirty (and I would guess unlicensed) covers of bulleted chart movers, and then leasing them out to labels in foreign countries. He had ongoing business relationships with a group of labels all over the world. These independents, with which he regularly did business, would get the covers on the street before any major label even realized they had a hit or could get someone in their legal department to draw up a contract. Even if they could have moved fast enough, they probably would have asked for too much money.
Enter Ed Chalpin. Every two weeks, when the trade magazines came out, he would scan the charts for the most rapidly moving bulleted records, the ones that really looked like they were going to go Top 20. He'd run to Colony and buy the singles, give them a listen and choose the ones he thought he could easily copy. Then they would go to the arranger - some nice fellow who could churn out 8 or 10 reasonable facsimiles, scored for a minimum amount of musicians AND do it overnight. The next morning we'd start two all-day sessions.
Using a group of demo players working for a flat fee, we'd lay down the rhythm tracks for all the choices. Then three or four horns would come in and we'd do them. Then, if there were any that needed strings, they would come in. The strings and horns would usually be doubled. By the end of the day we had some pretty lousy copy tracks done on the fastest moving songs/records in the US.
The next day, here come the vocalists. Ed had a stable of people that could copy styles and would work cheap. They would get the records on the day we made the tracks and then come in on the second day ready to sing whatever they had been given. I only remember one guy, Scott English, who shortly thereafter wrote a career-maker titled 'Brandy', to be later immortalised as 'Mandy' by Barry Manilow. All of the singers were pros and decent and could knock 'em out pretty quick. They'd take their $150, sign a release, and hit the door. We'd add the background voices, such as they were, and start mixing. Maybe Chalpin would stay in the studio or maybe he'd be coming in and out, but whatever, sooner or later, by the end of the second day we had these copy records mixed down and done.
Chalpin would be on the phone all the next day playing the records and making lease deals in foreign countries. The fix-it guy would make the dupe tapes, the office girl would ship the reels and I'd go back to trying to get the 60 Hz hum out of something and the intermittent pops out of something else. Nice business, huh? Actually, pretty smart. Quality, believe me, was not an issue. How fast and how cheap he could do them were the criteria. I have a feeling he made a pretty good living at it. This was every two weeks and each master was sold many times.
Within a week of getting a red hot bullet, the records would be on the street in Venezuela, South Africa and points North and West. The people in those places never heard the original in the first place. The indie labels promoted what they got based on their chart action in the US and Chalpin gave them material and styles that had proven to be probable hits. They were junk, but as they say in the garment district, from where Ed Chalpin likely crawled, schlock sells. After a few years of this activity, he had a library of tracks for 100, 200 or 300 'hits'.
SAM, HIS FATHER THE POP SINGER
Now, enter the star of the show, Ed's father, Sam Chalpin.
You can blame Mrs. Miller for this entire fiasco. Who and what Mrs. Miller was, is an entirely different story. Suffice it to say that she was an old lady; an aspiring singer plucked from obscurity by some smart arranger, who made an album of covers before she even realised she was recording, that somehow became a novelty hit. (Coincidentally, she once recorded my tune 'Mary In The Morning'. A woman singing about a girl? What hath God wrought?)
Not one to pass up the lowest common denominator (nor the opportunity to take advantage of anyone who would work cheap), Ed Chalpin decided that if Mrs. Miller was popular, then why not make a similar record with his father - and Ed would make sure that his father worked for nothing. Existing tracks, a studio he owned and a free singer - investment zero! That's what I call keeping the cost-of-goods-sold within the bounds of likely profitability.
I first met Sam when he was sitting in the front office/lounge room, where he spent most of the next few weeks waiting for his son to tell him to come on in the studio, "It's time to go to work. Let's go, let's go, hurry up. I've got other things to do". Sam was a nice guy; an old Jewish immigrant in his 60s or 70s with a Yiddish accent that sounded like he had taught Jackie Mason to speak. He was maybe 5 feet tall and dressed like he just came from the ghetto in Poland - stoic and sad. As far as I could tell, he was totally unaware of, and completely uninterested in, pop music. In fact, I think when I first met him he asked me, "What am I doing here?" It was the right question.
Sam Chalpin was, either by vocation or avocation, a Cantor, the person who sings liturgical music during Jewish religious services, in Hebrew. If you've heard such music . . . well, you know, it's from another time, and maybe from another planet. My strong feeling is that it has never been written down in musical notation, so each guy that sings it makes up whatever melody he thinks is best and which notes he can hit, or come close to. I would venture that, in his chosen field of material, Sam was even money to get somewhere within plus or minus a full tone of any note in his one octave range. Good enough for Ed Chalpin, good enough for me. I just work here. Anyway, based on the foregoing, I guess he was as well qualified to make a pop record as many others who have reached for the golden ring of stardom, myself included.
Sam could not read English very well, maybe not at all. If he could read, then he couldn't see. If he was taught the lyrics, he'd forget them. The melody and meter? He had two chances of getting in the vicinity of either one - slim and none. Slim done took the train. Supposedly, he'd learn the song, then Ed would bring him in and we put the head phones on him. I think we actually had to tie them on him - he didn't like it. We'd start trying to overdub him by a): feeding him the old vocal in the cans; b): not feeding him the old vocal in the cans; c): letting him listen over and over again to the line or two he was going to yelp at, and d): Ed standing next to him waving his arms and threatening him with violence.
I swear on my children's lives that Ed made his father cry at least once, maybe more, during these sessions. It was terrible for me to watch, and possibly criminal to be involved in. Today, Ed would be arrested for Elder Abuse, and I would be the one who dropped the dime on him.
If we did one punch-in on a song we did 100. I did so many punch-ins, trying to get a single chorus done, that when the record was complete I was punch drunk. This is not exaggerated. The poor old man couldn't sing, couldn't read, couldn't remember and, most of the time, didn't have a clue what was going on. I may make it sound funny, but truly it was an awful thing for one person to put another person through, let alone a son to his father.
So, one way or another, we managed to get three things completed and Ed had me do some quick mixes and an acetate. Then he left to go to Atlantic. Atlantic, for Pete's sake! What the hell? He's taking this stuff to the Mecca. He's taking that sh*t to Atlantic. What a joke. It was inconceivable to me that he would be allowed in the door and unbelievable that he would have the nerve to play it for them. No way under the sun would they be interested. Right? Wrong. In about two hours he was back with an album deal from Ahmet Ertegun personally. Boys and girls, this is when I knew that nothing in the world would ever again surprise me. Looking back, I can only assume that Ed had some interesting pictures of Ahmet with a camel. It still makes no sense to me and I defy anyone who hears it to tell me Ahmet Ertegun bought this record - sober. No chance.
So how do I end this? We put in another week of unrelenting torture, for poor old Sam and poor young me. Ed was in his glory, he was having a ball. I have no idea what was in his head but my guess is not much. We got it done. They took the old man in some photo studio, dressed him like a fool and put him with a beautiful young model for the cover shot. It was released on Atco and everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves, except Sam. He was a trouper and a hero. He did the best he could under impossible conditions and he did it for his son. A father's love may not be the same as a mother's, but in this case, Sam gave more than should have been asked of anyone. A nice man. I can only hope that he took his promotional copies around to the synagogue and showed them to his buddies. I hope he told them he got to do a rude act with the model. He deserved it.
I quit Studio 76 to go to work for Sounds On Broadway. Along the way, being a fool, one day I bought a Rolex watch from a street hustler who conned me that it was stolen. I paid $25 for it. It looked as good as the top-plate on our console. It worked about as well too. Ed liked the looks of it and so I told him I really needed the money bad and I sold it to him for $35. A couple of months later we ran into each other on Broadway and he started whining about me selling him a fake watch. I'm not sure what my response was, but it was along the lines of, "After what you did to your father I'm glad I screwed you - take a hike".
I don't know if this story deserved the time it took you to read it, let alone the time it took me to write it. If you have any complaints, kindly direct them to Mick Patrick, he started it. Maybe you can sell him a watch.
Illustrations courtesy Malcolm Baumgart
Presented by the Spectropop Team