“Fix it in the mix”
“I Don’t Love You Anymore” and other Teddy tunes
Gene and John
During my ten tears at Sigma, I was lucky enough to work with many greats. In the first year and a half that I was an Assistant Engineer I worked with Kenny and Leon at Joe’s side. Sometime in the fall of 1975 I believe Teddy Pendergrass had left Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes and had signed to PIR. Gamble and Huff were about to record Teddy’s first album as a solo artist. The studio and the band were booked, and the hand of fate intervened. Joe Tarsia came down with appendicitis a day or so before the sessions were to begin. Gamble was given two options: cancel or record with any other engineer on the staff. I had only relatively recently been promoted and was shocked when I got the call!
I showed up that day and set up to record tracks with Charles Collins on drums and the rest of the crew. All was going fine. Huff sat with the band and started to run down the first song: “I Don’t Love You Anymore.” The band was ready after a bit and so was I. All seemed like it would be fine. Gamble looked and me and said, “Let’s cut it!” I rolled the tape, and they were just killing it. It was feeling super. Then at about 3:05 or so into the recording, the nylon wire that holds the snares on the bottom of the snare drum just snapped. Charles just kept playing and I kept recording. I looked at Gams and thought, “Too bad… this was a good take!” This was the age of the disco craze and so all dance or up-tempo records were being made into long twelve-inch versions. So, at that time, we were always recording long out choruses to avoid having to edit them that way. It also gave the band a chance to stretch out and jam a bit.
So as soon as they stopped playing, I could see by the look on Kenny’s face that he liked that one, but Charles ran right into the control room and said, “Too bad the drum broke, we’re doing it again, right?” Gamble said, “No. That felt great! That’s the one.” I objected because essentially what happened at around 3:05 was that the snare turned into a tom-tom! Gamble uttered the infamous words, akin to “The check is in the mail!” which was “We’ll fix it in the mix!” He told me not to worry, but I knew that Joe, my boss was going to be returning from the hospital before the end of this project and it would be his to “fix it in the mix.”
We fixed the drum and went on with the session recording three songs that day and the rest of the tracks for the album over the rest of the week. Along the way on that project Jay Mark did some sessions also. I remember recording strings and horns on “Close the Door” but not the vocals. So, Jay and eventually Joe were to finish it.
However, one night I was at the studio console at 309 and the phone rang, and it was Joe Tarsia. He was, as I predicted, let’s say, not pleased. I told him how I tried to get them to do it over but alas… He asked, “Is that same drum still there in the booth and are you using it?” It was, and I was mixing so I was not using it. Then he told me to have my assistant put it in the truck and bring it over to 212 North Twelfth Street, our main building, to Studio 2. I did as I was ordered and forgot about it until a week or two later there was announced that there was to be an engineer’s meeting at 6:00 PM between day and night sessions (when the whole staff was there) in Studio 2. Now every time there was such a meeting called, we all would get nervous. We never knew if it would be a layoff, a change of policy that could be good or bad for us… whatever. We were always a bit wary. We all show up and Joe walks in and proceeds to tell everyone about the broken snare drum and how he “fixed it in the mix.”
Joe Tarsia put the fixed snare drum on a snare stand in the middle of the studio and aimed a small eight-inch speaker that we used to play back the track to the string players before we talked them into headphones (yes, that was a recording challenge every time). Through the speaker Joe sent a sine wave generated from a variable oscillator. He swept the frequency of the oscillator up and down until the tone was at the resonant frequency of the air on the inside of the drum and the snares began to rattle. He had placed two identical microphones on the drum and then reversed the phase on one of them. What resulted was the microphones hearing only the rattle of the snare and cancelling the pure tone of the perfect sine wave completely. Now all the microphones heard was the rattle. He equalized it, set gain to record it to a mix quality ¼ inch tape, put the machine in record with a full roll of tape and said to his assistant, “I’ll be in my office, call me when that tape runs out.”
Once he had the twenty-five minutes of constant rattles, he rewound it and brought it into the mix. What he did next was also brilliant. He took the snare track and put it in a mult, which is short for multiple, and out of it you get the same signal i.e. the exact same thing that you plug into it. So now he had the snare on one track that was mixed to sound best in the record up to the second the wire broke, Then, he took one of the mult outputs and ran it into another channel on the board and processed it with equalization that accentuated the attack of the stick hitting the snare drum which was now sounding like a tom-tom. He did not send that sound into the mix to be heard but instead sent it to a noise gate, which is a device that opens and closes like a gate, essentially turning on and off whatever sound is passing through it. Into the gate he sent the sound of the constantly rattling snares and set the gate to be triggered by the sound of the stick hit. Now the snares were rattling every time the drum was hit. Out of the mult he brought again the sound of the (snare, sounding like a) tom-tom and equalized it to sound more like the drum sounds when the snares are not broken and are held tight against the drum by the wire. He then mixed that re-tuned drum sound with the crack of the snares generated from the constant rattle tape. Joe programmed the automated console to turn off the original snare track between the last beat before the wire broke and then to turn on all the other tracks that created the re-constructed snare before the next beat and viola! He had fixed it in the mix! Pure Genius!
We all sat in wonder. I’m sure my jaw had dropped. He took the tape and tossed it on to the console and said, “Have fun with it!” Our eyes all lit up! We knew that using the same technique we could mix in that tape of the rattles, processed as we saw fit to do everything from make fake hand claps to modify snare back beats in infinitely different ways. Engineers and producers all over the world must have wondered how we were creating some of the back beat sounds that we did for some time after that.
But as Joe, after dramatically tossing the tape on the console and turning to leave, suddenly stopped turned back around and pointed at me and said,” And you, Gallagher, don’t you ever let them get away with anything like that again!” and he left. I of course sat there and thought, “Oh sure, mere little staff engineer gets to tell super client and hit-master Kenny Gamble what to do! Sure, that’s gonna happen!”
On the next few Teddy albums, I got to occasionally work too. I did a lot on the second album including the title track “Life is a Song Worth Singing” with Jack Faith. I did a song with McFadden and Whitehead called “Cold, Cold World.” I also recorded and mixed Sherman Marshall’s “It Don’t Hurt Now” and “The Whole Town’s Talking.” I recorded the strings and horns on the G&H songs: “Close the Door”, “When Somebody Loves You Back” and “Get Up, Get Down, Get Funky, Get Loose.” I also worked on “Love TKO” with Dexter Wansel producing.
I had the great pleasure to record a number of projects for McFadden and Whitehead, a gifted writing and production team and later very successful artists themselves. I’m not sure of the sequence but I recorded the above-mentioned song and maybe others as well for Teddy, I did an entire album they wrote and produced for Melba Moore and I did an entire album for them as artists which preceded the album with the monster, anthemic hit of theirs “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.” They were a lot of fun to work with. John was always very upbeat and humorous. Gene was also fun but often was the more down to earth, concerned about studio time, i.e., budgets and getting the best out of our efforts.
I was the engineer they got to work with as they were given their first shots at producing. You see, they had been around for a while just as songwriters. Think about it: “Backstabbers,” “Where Are All My Friends,” “Bad Luck,” and “Wake Up Everybody!” So PIR had to eventually let them cut their teeth in the studio as producers. I worked on many of their productions, two of their LPs, Movin’ On and I Heard It in A Love Song and I also worked on an album for Melba Moore that they did called A Portrait of Melba that had one song of theirs I really loved called “Living Free.” They also worked with me on a number of productions for various PIR artists such as Teddy Pendergrass, Archie Bell and the Drells, The Futures and others.
I guess PIR had noticed that Dexter and others had had success when starting out with me, so they let me engineer Gene and John’s earliest efforts as producers. Some have speculated that it was the very long time it took for them to get such an opportunity that prompted the song, “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.” There is a lyric about being held down for far too long, etc. It was my bad luck that there was no hit on the first album for them as artists. They changed engineers from me to Dirk Devlin who also had waited longer than most to be promoted to First Engineer and together they enjoyed the greatest success of their careers with that album. Every time a Philadelphia sports team got into a playoff position from then on, a quick remake version would be made touting that there “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” for the Eagles, the Flyers and of course the 1980 World Champion Phillies! I think they let me make the Phillies one because I was such a big fan.
Apparently PIR did not prepare their writers and artists for the success that they were to enjoy. In the first place, as writers and artists enjoy sudden financial gain they should be strongly advised to address tax issues among other things, however I am not so sure that such advice was given and unfortunately, even if it was, the size of the checks sometimes boggles the mind and causes the recipient to think that there is now so much money involved that such issues will not be a problem. Well, in the case of Gene and John any warnings that they may have gotten were apparently not heeded. A few years after the monstrous success of “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”, the Federal taxman came a-knocking.
Gene somehow managed to weather the storm in it costing him a fortune but… John stood in court one day, without proper council I imagine, and was asked by a Federal Judge where all the money was that was owed. John told me he said, “Judge, your Honor, that money is gone. I spent all that money.” “Well then young man,” came the reply, “I am afraid you will pay it back in time. Time behind bars.” With that John was sentenced to something like two to two and half years in federal prison for tax evasion. When he was released after about a year or a year and a half or so I think, John was free to return to work but I believe there was some kind of lien against his royalties that would continue to come in and so he signed a deal as a solo artist (with which label I don’t recall) and proceeded to record his first solo album with me at Sigma. It completely made me laugh myself silly when he entitled the album, I Need Money Bad! I kid you not! What a remarkable sprit and sense of humor!
Sadly, both Gene and John left this world much too soon. John was gunned down in a drive by shooting intended for his friend whose car he was helping to repair. Gene died just a short time later. I was living back in Philly at that time and was present at both of their funerals. I had the great pleasure to record a project with two of John’s sons calling themselves the Whitehead Brothers. I also was privileged to advise John’s daughter in her years as a student in a department with which I was connected in my later years at the Art Institute of Philadelphia. Given all the talent that they had, I wish that they had enjoyed more years here with us to share more of it with us. One of the very few photos of me in the studio that I ever owned was taken by John, I think, of myself, Gene and Vic Carstarphen who co-wrote so many songs with them. It is in the control room at 309.
Gene, Vic and I, John took the picture…