‘Yea, this is where they did that one.’
Pam and I took a vacation to London and in advance of it I wrote to the Studio Manager of Abbey Road Studios asking if I could come by and take a look at the facilities. I never got a letter back and did not expect to get to visit. On the Monday that we arrived in town I called the studio asked for the studio manager and when I got her on the phone she said that she did remember my letter and that it would be fine to come and stop by. We agreed on Friday morning, the day before we were flying home. I never was sure what about my letter got me in there… whether it was my history with the Philly Sound or the fact that I was now producing things. No matter, we got in. Pam and I took a cab and arrived at the famous studio and did the obligatory zebra-striped crosswalk pictures and headed for the door. As we came in the door we were met by the manager and told that we would be getting a tour from George an engineer who would be recording the London Symphony Orchestra that afternoon in studio one. We would find him down in the cafeteria. I thought, “How many studios in the world have their own cafeteria?” We went downstairs and found George. He had us join him as he finished his breakfast and we chatted about who we all were and how exciting it was for us to be there and all that. He was charming and we all three were chatting on when he finally said, “Perhaps we should go have a look then?”
So up we went. We were unable to step into the big room, Studio One, where they recorded “All You Need is Love” live to the whole world. Where they recorded the orchestral “rush” from “Day in a Life’. We could not go in because the London Symphony Orchestra was rehearsing what he would be recording later. He said we should go to Studio Two and as we walked into the studio, I was very excited to see that the room was set up to record a rhythm session. We walked into the middle of the room and he told us that Oasis was recording in there and would be in a while. I was knocked out because I could tell that they had set the room up just like they did for the Beatles. I was fascinated by an unfamiliar microphone I saw suspended high above the drums. He told me it was a bi-directional mic that was an EMI design that only they owned. I was blown away because of the high ceiling and the great idea of hanging a bi-directional mic halfway between the ceiling and the drums. It blew my mind. Pam brought us back from engineer “geeksville” by telling him about her father’s involvement with the American release of “She Loves You”. He casually lightly gestured at the floor between us and said, “Yea, this is where they did that one.” It was at that moment that she really got it. All of a sudden it was real. We were standing in the room, on the very spot, where the Beatles made most of their records. It was like being on holy ground.
And hey, it’s where Pink Floyd did their giant records too, just to name a few. This was ground zero for incredible pop music history.
We walked up the stairs into the control room. As I stepped in, I knew that the board would not be in front of the only tiny window because Mixing consoles were so much bigger now. And of course, it was against a different wall using closed circuit TV cameras to watch the room like we did at Wonderland. But sitting under that window were some very cool pictures of George Martin near the board and the Beatles visible through the window at their instruments exactly where all the instruments were set up now was something that I didn’t recognize. I looked around the room and then back at this machine sitting under that window and asked what it was. “Oh, that’s a Mellotron. They have been pulling out all of the old toys.” I nearly freaked out. This was not just a Mellotron, it was the Mellotron that John had played the intro to “Strawberry Fields”, that Paul had played the fake flute line on “Fool on the Hill”. This was the Mellotron. For the second time on that trip, I had to reach out and touch something whether I was allowed to or not. In Westminster Abbey, despite the sign, I had to touch Henry the Fifth’s sarcophagus. In Abbey Road, I had to touch the Mellotron.
George showed us the rest of the facilities the completely redesigned Studio Three and a bunch of Mastering and other smaller suites. As we were finishing the very lovely and thorough tour (I guess because I was a fellow engineer), we were about to leave and were nearing the front door when two members of Oasis bustled past us and headed down the hall to Two. As we turned to go, George said, “Wait I think you will appreciate this too.” He walked a bit down a hallway and opened a big closet door, opened some drawers and took out two microphones. One was an old tube U-47 and I think the other was a U-87. He walked over and put them in our hands. I knew exactly what he meant. We were possibly holding the very microphone through which John sang “All You Need is Love” or Paul sang “Yesterday,” or George sang “Something”. Or any of them all. We both smiled knowingly thanked him and the studio manager and walked out into the London day happy, very happy. Incredibly, we went on to do some more amazing things that day. It was our last day in London for that first trip and it was truly extraordinary. We always refer to it as magic.
Epilogue: The Beat Goes On…
At the time of this writing, I am seventy plus years old. I have had a wonderful life. I am happily married. I have a wonderful and talented son with whom I share music. Ever since he asked me to show him how to play the guitar at age eight (I never pushed it on him before that) after I took him to see Beatlemania the Broadway show when it went on the road and came to Philly, Rustin and I have been playing acoustic guitars practically every time we ever get together. We have written one of my favorite songs together, “While the Baby’s Sleeping” from my second album The Light and the Dark. His first child Katie, on her first visit to my home as an infant, was sleeping on a davenport between us as he sat and played this great music. I asked, “What is that a Pink Floyd song?” “No,” he said, “I’m just making it up.” I said keep playing that, now that other part again, now the other part… Over and over, we played it as I directed his chords into a song structure. After we got the structure together, we played it again from beginning to end and stopped. Katie woke up just as we stopped as if to say, “Hey, that was nice, why did you stop playing?” My son and I with 2 six strings. Ever since he was 8 years old…
We either recorded it on a portable cassette or wrote it down and arranged for him to return a month later to record it in my studio, the Vinyl Room. We programmed a drum pattern to play along to and he played two different acoustic guitars then a bass then and electric rhythm guitar part, then a slide lead guitar solo, then an organ synth and as the night grew very late a lead guitar part. This was after working all day leading a seminar at the corporate headquarters of his company. I used everything he did even some of the lead guitar can be heard at the end as the song is fading out. The guitar solo inside the song is Chuck McCrory. The drums were played by Rusty Crowe replacing the drum machine. At another date after I had written the words Rustin came back and sang it and background parts. I added Sue Mammarella’s sweet voice as a high harmony to his and mixed it. Speaking of Sue, I must thank her here as she has for years been my go-to singer when I write new material. I am planning a “Best of” CD down the road that will include versions of songs that she sang that when previously released offered other singers. At least two of those performances will be included as the “never before released” versions… Like all my Mammarella family members I love and respect them greatly, but Sue Mammarella is an outstanding beauty whose voice I am so happy to share with you. She is already on every CD I have made but here she is singing the song I wrote with her late father’s lyrics written for her mother, Agnes: “I Need You”. “I Need You” is on this website on the Light and the Dark CD.
The title track of my last CD “All About Love” is dedicated to my grandson Ryan. If you listen to this song, he can be heard as a young boy predominantly singing with a chorus of family members. He was very young at the time of the making of that song but leading up to that recording I kept bringing him and his sister down into my basement studio, The Vinyl Room, and playing and singing that song again and again with them so he would be able to sing it when we did the family chorus overdub. He was running around and came often closest to the microphone and is featured that way. My son Rustin was essentially the co-producer on that song. He played bass on the track, suggested and played the “Sgt. Pepper type horns” in the bridge on a synth, came up with and played the electric twelve string guitar line, sings lead vocal with his cousin Greg Stoffa and suggested that we record this song like a Beatle homage after I played it for him the first time and he said, “Oh Dad, that is sooo John Lennon, let’s cut it like a Beatle track.” Thanks, son for everything. You have always been so supportive of my music.
In summer of 2018 on vacation in Los Angeles Rustin and I rented two acoustics and played and again got a few good ideas of his down on my phone to work out later. It is one of the great joys of my life to be with him and his family. I love sharing music with him. He is a real musician. I have never been in a band and seldom ever play with other musicians while he is in his own band, Sticktime, the premier classic rock band of Maryland. (www.sticktime.net) Most guys who form a band like that last a month or so until it gets too much in the way of family. They have been going strong for more than fifteen years. They were smart about it. They agreed that they would never play more than two weekends a month and practice only one Wednesday night a month. They also said that if they weren’t making money instead of spending money on the band after a certain period of time they would quit. They were making money in half the time they allowed themselves.
My life is very full. I have my two wonderful grandchildren: Katie and Ryan, theirs are the only pictures I carry in my wallet. I love them beyond words. I have many in-laws from Pam’s family that I adore and even live nearby. I am still teaching students at two different Universities to record and produce music. I am looking forward to doing it until my young (11 years my junior) wife retires. Even then if I am still vital enough and they still want me, I think I would love to keep doing it. I love it. I plan on completing a fourth album of my own songs for which I have written a lot of songs and finished many already.
I will always be thankful to all the many great people that I was lucky enough to make music with, from some of the biggest producers and superstars in the world to every single student I ever taught. Thanks for letting me be there. I hope you had as much fun as I have had.
…and the beat goes on…