Inside the Philly Sound
(My Time in the Music Business)
James P. Gallagher
Copyright © 2021
Jim Gallagher and Thom Bell in Studio 2
Photo: Arthur Stoppe
Dedicated to my loving, brilliant and supportive wife Palmina Mammarella,
without whom I would never have made it this far. Nor would I have written
this book. Pam has encouraged and advised me “All Along the Way”.
Acknowledgments and great thanks to:
Arthur Stoppe, my long-time friend for literally letting me in the door on
my first day at Sigma and helping me with the chronology of all the history
we shared there. Also, for the use of his fantastic photographs that he has
allowed me to share in this book.
Vince Warsavage for being a great Assistant Engineer at Sigma, but most
importantly, a super friend for being patient enough to edit this book and
for the use of his photographs.
All the other Sigma alumni who have helped me recall some forgotten
moments… as well as having been my friends through those amazing years and
Joe Tarsia and Harry Chipetz for hiring me and bringing me into the TSOP
family we shared. Also, the entire TSOP/Sigma family with whom I so happily
Toby Shey of Drexel University for providing me access to the Sigma tape
vault to check some of the accuracy and chronology of the stories.
Temple University for the use of some of the photographs from the Sigma
Sound Studios special collection donated by Joe Tarsia.
I must acknowledge and thank Joe Tarsia, Jay Mark, Bill Dorman and Vince
Warsavage and others whose stories I have repeated or included in this
All the musicians who played and sang on all of my own albums. I hope you
had as much fun as I did.
And of course, Pam for keeping me real…
Table of Contents:
Introduction – Page 7
(From here on, I refer to Sigma Sound Studios as just Sigma.)
Chapter 1 – Page 8
Climbing on the “Love Train”
From Temple University to 919 Sound to Sigma
“Be Thankful for What You Got” / “TSOP-The Soul Train Theme” live!
Chapter 2 – Page 33
Thom & Linda
Today, I’m a pro!
“You Make Me Feel Brand New” / Mighty Love / “For the Love of Money”
Chapter 3 – Page 45
THE Rhythm section!
“Disco Inferno” / MFSB’s “Touch Me in the Morning”
Strings and Horns
Chapter 4 – Page 66
The Spinners Live /“K-Jee” / “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind” / “Love Epidemic”
Chapter 5 – Page 75
Requested and then assigned to Joe!
“The Love I Lost” / “Mighty Love” / “I Love Music” / “Stairway to Heaven”
Chapter 6 – Page 85
Gams and Huff and more time with Joe
“The Rich Get Richer” / “Dirty Old Man” / “When Will I See You Again?” /
“She Loves You”
Chapter 7 – Page 89
My first times as a First Engineer
“Livin’ for the Weekend” / “I Lied” / Life on Mars
Chapter 8 – Page 95
ROCK AND ROLL!
Duke! Dark Side of the Moon & The Wall
Chapter 9 – Page 105
Working on some Classic Hits!
“10%” / “Bad Luck” / “Wake Up Everybody!” / “Close the Door” / “Then Came You”
Changes to the team: The Resurrection Rhythm Section
Chapter 10 – Page 114
Two at once…
Thom and “C” bus
WMMR Radio Concerts
Chapter 11 – Page 127
Fix it in the Mix!
“I Don’t Love You Anymore” and other Teddy tunes
Gene and John
Chapter 12 – Page 134
“Take Me I’m Yours” / In the Night-Time / “Wide Receiver”
Chapter 13 – Page 142
Odds and Ends
“You Are So Beautiful to Me” / Night Flight by Gabor Szabo
Chapter 14 – Page 161
The Session that wasn’t…
“Seed’s A Star” from The Secret Life of Plants
PIR (Philadelphia International Records)
“Close the Door” / “Turn Out the Lights” / “Lady Love”
Chapter 15 – Page 187
Holdin’ My Own
“Help Me, Somebody Please”/ “Cry Together”
Stevie keeps his word recording a Jermaine Jackson track
“Silly” / My Melody
Chapter 16 – Page 198
The album that wasn’t and the ones that were
“What You Gonna Do ‘bout My Lovin’” / “Put Your Body in It”
Stevie Wonder and MYX
Chapter 17 – Page 213
Go West Young Man!
The Bossa Nova Hotel and many Maniacs!
‘The Pope of Pop’
Chapter 18 – Page 238
LA LA Land
“We Are the World” / ‘Don’t leave without me!’ / “Gypsy Boy”
Chapter 19 – Page 265
Headed East to the Big Apple.
House of Hearts / “Da Butt”
Chapter 20 – Page 271
Philly is my home.
‘…they pulled me back in again.’
“Somebody Loves Me” / “When I Give My Love (This Time)”
Chapter 21 – Page 289
Life is good!
Add Producer to the list
“Kansas City” / “Trust in Love” / “Falling in Love”“Moon of Fire” /
“Forbidden Innocence” / “I Don’t Want To Know”
Add Writer to the list
“Days Go By”
Chapter 22 – Page 316
‘Yea, this is where they did that one…’
Epilogue: …and the beat does go on… – Page 320
Afterword: Beyond the Bucket List – Page 324
Client lists – Page 335
Job list – Page 340
Glossary – Page 341
Bio Page – 344
Links list – Page 346
For years I have played with the idea of writing a book about my life in
the music business and always said to myself, “So who would care about it?
I would never ‘tell tales out of school’ since I don’t know much of the
dirt on anyone I ever worked with, so what would interest anyone?” As time
went on however, and I would relate a story or two to people, students in
my classes, friends and relatives, etc., I began to realize that some of my
stories were not only interesting to people but were sometimes educational,
and even amusing at times. So, I decided one Saturday afternoon to write
down short phrases that represent a story from each of the twenty some
years that I was a professional in the music industry. After an hour or so
I had filled two pages of legal pad with story ideas, people’s names and
key words to tales I knew I would love to share about the years 1972 to
1992 and beyond. I finally realized that the many, many people, places and
adventures that I had enjoyed would be enough for a book. A book that might
entertain and even open a view into a remarkable time in the history of
popular music and the part that I happened to play in it. I was by no means
a major player, but I was around and worked with my share of them. So here
is a glimpse into the fantastic ride I enjoyed at that time. I hope you
find it as much fun reading about it as I did while living it.
Climbing on the “Love Train”
From Temple University to 919 Sound to Sigma
“Be Thankful for What You Got” / “TSOP”-The Soul Train Theme live!
One night in the late summer of 1982 I sat at “stereo center” of Studio 1, upstairs at Sigma Sound Studios, working as a First Engineer. I was looking through the studio’s control room window at a new group called MYX, playing a rhythm track with none other than Stevie Wonder in the center of the room surrounded by a
half-dozen keyboards, leading the band,playing and singing a song that he had written for them.
Earlier that week Stevie’s people told me how much he liked working with me and that I “should come out to LA. Stevie would give you a lot of work.” In the
control room with me were a number of Stevie’s people including a number of
other producers who were involved with other songs for the album, but in
the producer’s seat right next to me, just hanging out because he was in
town for a show, was Bootsy Collins. Bootsy really dressed like that,
glasses and all … all the time! I looked around and thought to myself “Oh
my God, how did I get here, doing this for a living?”
Well, it was quite a fun ride, up to then and since. Let me take you along
the way with me on my journey while I was at “stereo center” at the mixing
console, making records with some of the greatest people ever whom I was
lucky enough to have met, worked with, became friends with and loved.
One of the first contacts I ever made with one of the key people in “The
Sound of Philadelphia” music scene was with Bobby Martin in 1972. However,
it was a year or so before I ever entered a recording studio looking for a job.
I had moved to Philadelphia only months before, along with my college
roommates with whom I had relocated from Wilkes-Barre, PA. We had worked
any number of odd jobs around Philly to pay the rent and keep us fed as we
figured out what three college dropouts would be doing next with our lives.
Doug Forde, Carroll Cobbs Jr. and I all eventually completed our
undergraduate degrees. But it was the winter of 1970 when we arrived, so we
scrambled for any work we could find. At one point, all three of us found a
job in a lamp making shop at the end of the block from where we shared a
“Trinity” house (also known as (AKA) a “Father, Son and Holy Ghost” house).
This shop reeked of fumes from the acid baths into which it was our jobs to
dip the metal lamps. We literally lasted only until lunch that first day
and never even went back for the few hours of pay that we had earned.
I also worked a while for Hertz, the car rental company. I was a runner. We
ran cars from various locations including the airport and delivered them
all over the Philly area. We drove so fast and recklessly in packs that
even the cab drivers got out of our way.
I also was a substitute teacher in a Camden, New Jersey junior high school.
I was very young looking for my age and was only in my very early twenties
anyway and when the principal saw me, he said, “Whatever you do, don’t turn
your back on the class!” Later that afternoon I was talking to one of the
students and as I wanted to make a point, I forgot and went to the
blackboard and started to draw a diagram to illustrate what I had been
talking about. As I did, a chair flew up just past me into the blackboard
at about eye level and broke the blackboard. After school, I received death
threats in the parking lot from a gang of junior high school girls whom, I feared in the right circumstances, just might have made good on their threats. Needless to say, that was another job to which I did not return. I eventually did return to education later on in my life, however.
Another job I had for a while was being a parking lot attendant at a lot
that is still there to this day on the corner of Spruce and Juniper
streets, 1314 Spruce Street. Juniper is a small street one half of a block
from Broad Street. This means that this lot is directly behind 309 South
Broad Street. That 309 building was once the home of Cameo Parkway Records
and in the early 1970’s it was purchased by the very successful team of
Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell, where they formed
and opened Philadelphia International Records (PIR). It seemed that every
time the extraordinary arranger Bobby Martin came into town to meet with
Gamble, Huff and Bell, he would park in my lot. Within a very short period
of time, I would be working beside Bobby, Kenny, Leon and Thom as a member
of the production team. It always used to blow my mind that within 2 years
(or less) I went from parking Bobby’s car to engineering sessions for him
in the 309 studio in that same building that Bobby would go to after
dropping his car off to me.
Often in my life I have been asked, “How did you get started?” I would have
to answer, “It was through a strange twist of fate.” One day I was working
at another steady job that I had gotten sometime after the parking lot job,
being an assistant manager in a health food warehouse, where we used to
listen to WDAS-AM radio all day. I worked with only one or two people there
that were Caucasian like me, everyone else was African-American and we
listened to black radio. I loved it! I always had loved black music. From
my earliest days being exposed to black artists on the Bandstand (later
called American Bandstand) show (I used to watch it with my older sister
even though I was still a kid) through all the fantastic music from Motown
and Stax as well as all the Blues music that the Rock world had exposed to
American audiences from Robert Johnson to B. B. King.
One day a new single by the Spinners was played on WDAS-AM and it was
having success with both sides; “How Could I Let You Get Away” and “I’ll Be
Around”. I liked both sides, but I really loved “I’ll Be Around .” I was living in southwest Philly at the time and there was a little “Mom & Pop” record store a half a block from my house so one Saturday morning I walked to the shop and bought “I’ll Be Around”. On my way back home I pulled the 45 RPM vinyl record from the bag and read on the label, “Produced, Arranged and Conducted by Thom Bell. Recorded at Sigma Sound Studios, Philadelphia. Pa.” I literally stopped in my tracks. I remember thinking… “They do this here in Philly? That’s what I want to do!”
I had been a part-time student at Temple University studying Radio-TV-Film
and had taken a few first-year classes in which recording with tape and
making 8mm films had been required. I had acquired a ¼ track reel-to-reel
tape recorder from my cousin Georgia Ann Lawson with which I had recorded a
rock band named Pulp a few times, the members of which were friends of
mine. I had also used the recorder to create a very psychedelic audio
collage from my Beatle record collection. I had “skills” as the kids say
today. Although my “skills” were entirely amateur, I nonetheless, had
“skills.” Enough so that I immediately sat down at my manual typewriter and began to type up a resume.
That resume was then distributed to every recording studio in the
Philadelphia phone book. I remember a few interviews at a few different
places. One sent me over to New Jersey to observe a session. I think they
wanted me to see what it was really like in a studio recording setting with
songs being played over and over and over again. Undaunted, I was
eventually hired at 919 Sound, an eight-track studio upstairs from a record
distribution outlet at 919 North Broad Street. There I met an engineer
named Mike Apsey. He had previously worked at a studio somewhere in Florida
where he had recorded a song called “Love Will Make You Happy” by a group
called Mersey. His story was that he had access to the original eight track
master tape and after the production was mixed and released and did not
sell very well, he went back into the studio and added additional
background harmony parts on the existing mix (which he had sung himself),
remixed that new version, re-released it and it became a hit. One of my
first lessons about the music business was his recounting how the group and
original producer of the original mix lost all the money from the
successful version to the lawyers who represented him and the lawyers who
represented their interests in the court battle over the profits.
I have to say that it was Mike Apsey who looked at me as a very naïve,
young, well-intentioned man who really wanted into the business. He asked
me as much and I replied that I was quite serious and in fact had dropped
out of college for this job. So, he proceeded to teach me the ropes. He
taught me all about everything from microphone pick-up patterns to
multi-track recording to client relationships. Without the training Mike
gave me, I imagine that I never would have gone as far as I did. Thanks
Mike wherever you are. I hope you are well!
I was hired at 919 to organize and file all of the existing tapes from a
number of years of work that had preceded my arrival. This was a thankless
and boring job that I diligently undertook every day for two weeks after
which the tape library was up to date and well organized with a numbering
system to refer back to all the tapes via a card catalog.
At night, a few times during those two weeks Mike had sessions, which I was
allowed to attend as the assistant (or second) engineer. One event was
memorable. It was a session with Janis Ian. Attending it were Janis, her
producer and a very young man who played a second acoustic guitar. The
session was simply recording demos of a few of her tunes with the second
guitar. I remember the arms of a few of the people who were there being
riddled with tracks. I was street savvy enough to know what I was seeing
and smart enough to pretend I did not notice. I cannot remember which songs
they recorded but I remember being very pleased about five years later when
Janis had a string of successful albums including the songs “At 17” and
“Stars”. It said to me that she was no longer with the people who had been
around her at the time I met her. She seemed “in the pink” which leads me
to believe she dodged that bullet of the dangerous habit that was surely
around her then.
At the end of the two weeks when the tape library was completed, I was
summarily fired. Being a naive youth, I was shocked and quite angry. I had
let go of a scholarship at Temple University to take this job. Now I was
out of school and out of work. Having a wife and a baby coming soon you can
imagine how upset I was. I picked myself up and went straight back to my
manual typewriter and re-wrote my resume with 919 right at the top. It was
now an official part of my professional history and it turned out to be
significant. The new resume was again distributed to every studio in town , first and foremost to Sigma. A week or two later I got a call from the studio’s business manager Harry Chipetz. I had another interview, this time at Sigma Sound, perhaps the most sought-after studio in the country, let alone the city of Philadelphia.