Trust In Love – James Gallagher

Chapter 13

Chapter 13
Odds and Ends
“You Are So Beautiful to Me” / Nightflight

Early on while I was still assisting, Don Murray and I were booked to cut a song produced by Richie Rome, a very well respected and excellent arranger and producer from South Philly. It was an odd one indeed. It seems that the then Governor of Pennsylvania at that time, Milton Shapp was a bit of a musician and writer. He had written a song about the missing recordings in the White House tapes of Richard Nixon during the Watergate investigation. He had inquired about a producer who could realize his song, and someone connected him with Richie Rome. So, Richie booked Sigma and a rhythm section to cut the track on January 12, 1974. Since the Guv (as we oft referred to him as the project evolved) was the only one who knew the melody of his song a reference vocal was recorded with the Guv himself singing. A few copies were made for everyone who needed one; the Guv, the schoolteacher he wanted to sing it, Richie to write the string and horn arrangement, etc. and off went the Guv with his escort of two or three Pennsylvania State Troopers and into the Guv’s limo they went and back the one hundred and fifty or so miles to the Governor’s home in Harrisburg. Richie left, and Don turned to me and said with an evil grin on his face, “Go get me the sound effects records.” Soon Don had added howling dogs and baying wolves to the recording, and we were laughing our butts off. He made a copy and Lord knows where it may be today but the staff at Sigma had a lot of laughs and Richie nor the Guv ever knew.

But that was not the last of it. It seemed that the Guv had been bitten by the Music Biz bug and was now hooked! He, besides returning for every subsequent session: the vocal with the schoolteacher, the background singers, the strings and horns session and, of course, the final mix date, came to Philly often unannounced just to have us make more copies of the work at various stages and even after we were finished. Now that was a nightmare for the staff. He would simply show up at the door with his huge burley two or three Pennsylvania State Troopers, totally unexpectedly and ask to come in and listen to the copies in “any studio that was open”. There was a small studio on the first floor that could accommodate and often we would stick him in there and let him listen all he wanted after making more copies for him and eventually he would leave and with sirens blaring, fly back down the turnpike to Harrisburg. If the voters had ever known how much time and money he must have blown on the trips and security for these often totally unnecessary trips to Philly, there would have been hell to pay.

But that still wasn’t the worst of it. Try to imagine the position we staff engineers were in trying to accommodate the most important political figure in the state while his bored two or three Pennsylvania State Troopers would be hanging out in the lobby and around the building. At the same time, we were doing this project for the Guv, there was a project ongoing with a local producer called POA (short for Power of Attorney). It was an idea someone had to bring convicted felons from Graterford prison out on a project to help rehabilitate them with music. So, a number of these prisoners, who had been screened for musical and songwriting abilities, were being released into the custody of people running this program and some very light and often missing in action security to record an album.

Well, some of those sessions were interesting to say the least, in that often as we all know from a million documentaries about the music scene in the 70’s, there were often drugs being used by various people in the production process. However, as much as we thought this was a bad idea, it was inevitable that the prisoners and the drugs were to cross paths. There we were in a room with convicted felons getting high and making music. It made a lot of us who worked this project more than somewhat nervous. But it really got crazy when the Guv would show up or was working in one studio upstairs and the POA sessions were going on downstairs. Oh Lord, on a few of those nights the assistant from upstairs would run into the assistant from downstairs on the stairs and we would look at each other and say, “Oh God, this is it, we are all definitely going to jail tonight!” Drug addled convicts, stoned music producers and musicians, the Guv and two or three Pennsylvania State Troopers, who, by the way, were bored, angry and wanted nothing to do with this place and were wandering all the halls and bathrooms. We were certain that doom was to befall us at any second! Somehow miraculously never did the wrong people walk in on the wrong people in the wrong place at the wrong time… and none of us went to jail! Both projects were completed and saw the light of day. Neither were any giant successes but at one point I wanted to ask for hazardous duty pay!

Charo did an album in the mid to late 70’s at Sigma and I worked a bit on it with producer Vince Montana Jr. She was something special in that she was a Latin sex kitten, singer and dancer but also a very nice person to everyone around her as far as we could see. There was a strange evening with her that involved a zipper. So, on one of the tracks on that album Vince wanted to add the sound of a zipper opening up to be suggestive and sexy. She went in front of the microphone and zipped down her jacket. Strangely it didn’t sound very much like a zipper at all. We all agreed that it didn’t sound right so we proceeded to try zipper after zipper; large ones on big black leather jackets, small ones on sweaters, I even tried my zipper on my pants, but nothing sounded right. We were all a bit perplexed as to why every zipper we tried did not sound like a zipper… Finally, I think it was Vince Warsavage who was assisting me that night said, “Let me try something” and he went out on the microphone and pointed it at his pants zipper and took a ball point pen and ran the tip of it down his zipper. Instantly we all sat upright and Charo said “Cu chi, Cu chi!” and we recorded Vince’s pen on the pants zipper and moved on. It just goes to show you, that you never know what will or will not sound “normal” on mic.

“Gospel chicken dates” were what I referred to as sessions I used to get a lot of from the Baltimore/D.C. area. Sigma’s reputation as a place where you could get a great sound for R&B and Gospel music was apparently well spread in the Baltimore/D.C. area and I was the guy that they often got to record them. Sessions would run like this: the band from the church and the musical director would leave early by cars and get to the studio to record the music and then a few hours later the bus(es) would arrive, and the choir would descend on the lobby and the studio. Now the twenty or thirty singers and the choir director would be hungry by the time they arrived since everyone had rushed to get on the road. After we emptied the studio of all the instruments and made room for the choir and set up the mikes and speakers, we ate with them! The women would have packed food to sustain everyone for the evening. Well, when I say that it was the very best fried chicken I ever ate, I am not kidding! And it was great every time, no matter which gospel group it was! I loved those sessions! The music was always powerful and uplifting, the people were always wonderful, loving and full of Christian good will and joy, but the food that they always shared was awesome! Man, I loved those dates!

Chuck Brown and the D.C. “Go-Go scene” was a Sigma influenced movement. Carl Paruolo recorded Chuck Brown’s big hit “Bustin’ Loose” in Sigma Studio 1. He and lots of Baltimore/D.C. area acts and producers preferred the sound that they got in Philly at Sigma and made the run up I-95 often to record. Artists like Frank Hooker and the Positive People, Experience Unlimited (later known as E.U.), Webster Lewis and a group called Special Delivery produced by George Parker were among the many acts we saw at Sigma. I particularly loved a song I got to do with George Parker for Special Delivery that I still pull out and play from time to time called “Changes (We Go Through for Love)”.

I, as a First Engineer, once was overdubbing strings and horns for a Jerry Butler album at 309 and a producer from D.C. named James Purdie was there. He had stopped in the studio after a meeting with Kenny Gamble I presume. After all, Kenny’s office door was literally the next door over in the hall from the 309 studio. It so happened that after recording the strings and then the horns on that date I was to overdub an oboe on one of the songs. Now I had recorded all kinds of orchestral instruments up to that point in my career but never yet had I recorded an oboe. I did what I thought was the smart thing and stopped my assistant from putting away all the mics for the horn section and I instead placed them all a number of places around the player and his instrument. Jim had watched me moving all around the oboe as he warmed up and practiced the part. I stood behind him, stuck my head above him, got down on my knees and listened near the floor below the horn, etc. I then placed mics all around him in all the spots I just named, besides the obvious places in front and slightly above the instrument. I then went into the control room and listened to all those different mics in all those locations to see what best captured the “real” sound of the instrument. I selected two or three and combined them to record the oboe.

James Purdie was very impressed. He also was very pleased with the sounds I had gotten on the rest of what I had recorded that day, in particular, the horns. I was always trying to capture as “real” a sound as possible. In those days of disco everyone was tying to get as much separation on ever little bit of whatever was recorded so that there could be elaborate remixing later with separation let’s say between the trumpets and the trombones as well as the saxes. So, all the engineers were micing each bell often and separating everything as much as possible. I on the other hand was not, because one night after recording horns for Jack Faith he came into the control room and listened, shook his head and said, “Sometimes I wish I could just break down that window between the studio and the control room. So that you could hear how it sounds out there and how different it is in here.” After a discussion of sound, tone and mic placement, I simply pulled the mics a foot or so back from the bells and got a warmer, more homogenous sound and Jack was pleased, not 100% (after all I didn’t smash down the glass), but a lot happier than the first time.

I recorded horns like that from then on. I always thought that they sounded much more natural that way. The players and the arrangers preferred it like that and often told me as much. This paid off down the road for me a number of times. As the years went by horn players became arrangers, arrangers became producers, and producers recommended Sigma, and also recommended me, even after I was no longer at Sigma, as the go-to guy to record real strings and horns. James Purdie in particular. I had a great number of dates with him or other producers whom he advised to seek me out. Thanks James, I always appreciated you plugging me!

T. Life is a friend of mine. We met at PIR at a point where he was on staff with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff as a writer and sometimes producer. He had been in a band called Yellow Sunshine with Dexter and Roland before coming to PIR. During the time he was on staff there, a fellow named Mr. King was hired to provide custodial services for Gamble’s company on the third floor of 309 S. Broad where Sigma Studio 4 was located. He was a very amicable guy and often told us all about his daughter. She was, according to him, a fantastic singer and would be a star someday. Most of the staff would look at her, a skinny little fifteen-year-old kid working with her family cleaning the floors and bathrooms, etc. and dismissed him out of hand. Here is Life with a friend he met getting of a subway in South Philly. Proving once again, “Never take anything for granted in South Philly”.

But one day after hearing Mr. King singing her praises again said. “Ok, Mr. King let me hear what she can do.” So, Mr. King brought his daughter into Life’s office and he started to play some song that she asked him to play, and she opened her mouth and blew Life out of his chair! Mr. King’s daughter’s name was Evelyn. Life took them aside and said let’s talk about this later and elsewhere. Life went to Harry Chipetz and arranged for a demo session at the 12th Street studio. I recorded that session in February of 1976. The band came in and we recorded the track pretty quickly with a live sax along with the drums, bass, guitars, keyboards and percussion. Life made the band immediately step into the control room and had us set up a vocal mic and had her sing it. I think she practically sang it in one take right after she sang a little so I could get a level. Everyone in the control room was yelling and hootin’ and hollerin’ because it was all so good! Life said, “Make me a copy of it just like that right now I want to play it for Harry.” I did, and he and the band ran out of the control room down the hall to play it for Harry and I looked at my assistant and we smiled at each other because we had just cut a winner.

Then he looked up and directed my attention to the studio. Evelyn “Champagne” King was still standing in front of the mic, somewhat confused and, I imagine, a bit scared. I raised my hand and signaled for her to come into the control room. There was a hall between the studio and control room that you had to pass through to get into the control room that we sometimes used as an isolation booth, I went in there and met her as she came out. We were alone in the hallway and I put my two hands on her arms looked her straight in her fifteen-year-old eyes and said, “Get ready for the ride of your life, young lady. You are about to become a star.” She smiled and laughed nervously, and I sent her down the hall to hear Life and Harry and the band singing her praises. It was rare for any Sigma staff to say things like that; we were told that a lot of our clients were superstitious and saying things like “That’s a hit” or “You’re going to be a star” was bad form. We would say “That’s fantastic!” or “This will do well!” instead.

The song of course was “Shame”, perhaps the biggest hit she ever did. Life ended up with a deal for her with RCA and it was recorded elsewhere but I am proud to say I did the demo that got her the deal. I am also proud to say I was the first to congratulate her on what I was sure was to be a successful career in the music business. I am not sure if she would even recall that moment, but I sure do. It was like a fairy tale coming true.

Other odds and ends were one-time shots. I already related my one “test” session with David Bowie. I feel if that had not gone well there would never have been the Young American album recorded in Philly. Others such as Johnny Mathis produced by Thom Bell one night doing vocals in Studio 1. Dirk claims he assisted on the only vocal session with Johnny, but I swear I remember one myself. Maybe it was when I was being trained and I was added to that session with Dirk to have extra manpower on a weekend with such a big star… who knows. Then there was one night with a Richie Rome session for Vic Damone. He kept backing away from the mic as the song was ending, as was the practice many years ago. I couldn’t get him to break the habit.

Another strange night was spent recording Mike Douglas who was a talk show host whose career was Philly-based. I think it was Richie Rome again producing but the odd part was after recording the entire track; rhythm, strings and horns and background vocals so it would be more like a Sinatra date, Mike was a bit strange about his vocal. First after setting up the vocal mic and booth as we always did, he insisted on very elaborately setting the lights in the room. It wasn’t enough. Next, he asked for a spotlight to be aimed at him. Well since the customer is always right and even though Richie was rolling his eyes but saying nothing, Jeff Steward, my assistant on the date, ran down to the basement and found a clamp on light that the tech guys used and set it up to aim at the singer. Then we needed to gel it so we found some colored cellophane somewhere and clipped it to the make shift spotlight. Well, that was still not the right vibe. The next thing he asked for was almost all I could take without losing it and laughing out loud and blowing my professional demeanor: he wanted a mirror hung up, so he could see himself as he sang! We, being a service-oriented business, found and mounted a small mirror where he could then sing while watching himself… Of all the stars, big and small that I ever worked with, I never saw so much ego-building needed for an artist to sing his or her part. He polished the night off, after singing the songs, by saying some of the most condescending things to Jeff that I had ever heard without someone calling him on his apparently thoughtless racial insensitivity. Jeff was black. Jeff was a stone-cold pro about it. But we never got over how weird a night that was. Jeff Stewart, by the way, was a Silver Star decorated Viet Nam vet who did not take any crap from anyone. I spoke with him years later commending him on his patience and professionalism. He said, “I probably just put up with it to keep my gig.” and laughed. Let’s face it we had great gigs! To me the real irony of it was that after Mike Douglas no longer had his talk show in Philly and was moving away, he put his huge Main Line home up for sale and it was purchased by none other than Teddy Pendergrass!

Among the many odd sessions that I did here and there over the many years I worked at Sigma there was one which was both an advertisement (for Budweiser beer) and it was a rock ‘n roll session. It was George Throughgood and the Delaware Destroyers. The band came first, and George showed up later. The first thing was we got sounds on the drums and all the instruments as usual. After we got all ready to go George showed up checked his guitar and did a quick sound check. When he and the band were happy with the way things sounded George, instead of saying, “Alright let’s record this.” He put down his guitar and walked right into the control room and looked around and asked, “Ok, where is it?” We looked around the room and said, “What are you looking for?” George said, “Where’s the Bud?” Of course, no one had any beer there. No one had thought to bring any. Since there was none in the room, I turned to him and said I’d send out my assistant and have some “Bud” in no time, maybe a half hour, tops. He stopped me and turned to the businesspeople in suits and ties on the other side of the room and said, “No, you guys go. One of you go and get the beer.” So, he sent the “suits” to go fetch the beer for the session. He didn’t do another thing until one of them got back with a case of “Bud”. He opened one, drank some, offered beer to the band, my assistant Jeff Steward and me, and then said, “Ok, now let’s do this thing!” He and the band, cans of “Bud” in their hands, walked out and cranked it up. I put the tape in record, and we laid the ad down in no time at all. After doing the different length takes needed for radio airplay, George and the guys came back in the control room, listened to a few playbacks and were content with the recordings. The sax player and I had talked before and also near the end of the session about getting George to come to Sigma to record his next record but alas it was never to be. But I will never forget the look on the faces of the “suits” when they were told they had to make the beer run! Jeff and I really enjoyed that, George!

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a lifelong Philadelphia Phillies Baseball fan, as was my father, and is my son and grandchildren. That having been said, it was no news to anyone at Sigma about my Phanaticism. So much so that Joe Tarsia, God bless him, was kind enough to often give me his tickets to the Sigma box seats at the old Veteran’s Stadium when he couldn’t use them, or the Phillies were not playing well or were out of the race for the season for instance. I must take this opportunity to publicly thank him for all such generosities. In particular, when in 1980 and the Phillies were in the World Series against Kansas City, Joe in his kindness gave me two of the bonus seats provided to box seat holders to the first home game. I was able to then take my, lifelong fan, father to see the Phillies win. In fact, were we so excited that at one point when “Bake” McBride hit a home run to right field that landed only about five rows in front of us, I jumped in the air screaming and came down landing my elbow on the top of my father’s head. I immediately screamed, “Dad are you alright?” and he ask what I was talking about. He was so excited he didn’t even feel it! Thanks Joe, for a memory I will take to my grave. Joe told me of course, that that was it and not to expect any other seats as he had clients, friends and relatives to accommodate and I, of course, understood and was again very appreciative.

I did ask one more Phillies’ related favor of Joe however. About a week or so later as the Phillies were to play the sixth and what was to be the final game of the series I was booked, as usual, at night, to mix a song or two for a client from the Baltimore/D.C. area. I asked Joe if he would let me borrow his small TV from his office and put it in the control room, so I could follow the game with the sound turned down. He said if your client didn’t mind it was OK with him. So, I got the TV in place and started my session about when the game started. I stopped the tape and insisted on watching “Lefty” Carlton’s first pitch or two of the game. I saw his slider was as deadly as ever, turned to my assistant and client and said, “It’s OK… we are going to win! Let’s mix a winner!” I sat down and got to work, glancing up on every rewind of the multi-track tape to see what I could of the game. I was so pumped up that I was mixing my butt off! The client was happy because I was nailing it so quickly. I finished the song just before the game was about to end and the client said that that was all he wanted to do that night and we wrapped up as the Phillies won the World Series! I left 12th Street when we were all done, and the town was in full out party! I was barely able to drive across Broad Street to get home to West Philly where I lived. I called my dad and my son and then popped a bottle of Champagne and sat on the stoop of our apartment building passing the bottle back and forth slugging it back, no glasses, until it was gone! What a night!

That story is to set up this one, a very odd one indeed. In the years I was at Sigma, after they won it all, business was slowing down. In a play to keep it up we had acquired the adjacent building and broke through and added more spaces of the Tech staff, offices and a number of much smaller studios designed to bring in advertising business. We had hired Wally Hayman and Joe Bees who were well established in the ad field in Philly, and they brought in a lot of work. Well, one day an agency was going to do an ad featuring the two most famous booth announcers for the Phillies of all time before or since, Hall of Fame player and color man Richie “Whitey” Ashburn and the voice of the Phillies, Harry Kalas. Both of these men have statues in the new home of the Phillies Citizen’s Bank Park. Both are dead now and are legends in Philly, but they were living legends in 1981 when they came to Sigma to record. So of course, no one on the staff, not even Joe himself, felt that there was anyone who should do this session but super fan: Jim Gallagher.

The big day came, and I even got to switch to a day session for the occasion! I was like a kid, nervous and over excited. Then they walked in and I calmed down and very professionally set out to do my job without completely losing it. I introduced myself and told them what a big fan I was of the Phillies as well as the both of them. They sat at first in the control room and asked me questions about Sigma, so this where all the big stars record and the like, which surprised me as I thought of them as HUGE stars! Then they blew my mind by asking me where all the “babes” were? They thought there would be groupies hanging around constantly or something… I was shocked. These were icons of my world, not worldly men who would ask about “babes” at ten in the morning? It really blew my mind. I was quite gullible in my youth and maybe I did not get that they were simply having a laugh at my expense. I will never know. So, I got to add Whitey and Harry to the incredibly long list of stars that I had recorded.

Another one shot, one night working on a giant record was when Joe was asked to remix Joe Cocker’s big single, “You Are So Beautiful to Me”. I remember it being a sudden switch in both our schedules and I was assisting him at 309 at night on this remix. The producers weren’t happy with the way the large string section sounded in the mix and Richie Rome (I think), who had most likely written the arrangement, got them to get the multi-track masters to Joe for the royal Sigma “Sound of Philadelphia” touch on the mix.

We worked on it for no more than the usual amount of time Joe might use to mix something he had recorded. That meant that it was decently recorded. That was not always the case. In fact, we remixed poorly documented and badly recorded tapes from studios all over the world so often that Joe formed S.P.A.R.S., The Society of Professional Audio Recording Studios. I think he did it just to raise the bar on everyone else in the industry and so we would not be dealing with all the unanswered tech questions that accompanied tapes from everywhere with which we had to work.
Anyway, it was yet another really big record I got to be involved with just in the nine months to a year I was assigned to Joe for my “training.” What an awesome body of work he has touched. At Temple University, we have a snapshot of Joe Tarsia and Geoff Emerick (who recorded much of the Beatles catalog) that my friend Jack Klotz Jr. took at an AES (Audio Engineering Society) convention or S.P.A.R.S. event hanging in our studio/classroom. We remark about the number of hit records made by those two men together is almost unbelievable!

I even recorded the comic geniuses of Cheech & Chong! Yes, the great comics came to Sigma, at least twice. The first time apparently did not go well. They were booked with Joe Tarsia and as we always do when recording vocals, we set up the mics before the session, but we run it down sometimes a few times with the performer(s) before we are ready to record. Well, I guess Joe and Cheech and Chong did not discuss that. I guess that they were used to walking up to the mics and rolling tape and bang: ya got a record! So, they walked out to the mics and did the routine that they were there to record, and Joe sat and finely set the gain and the limiters etc. Tommy and Cheech came back in and Joe asked why they had returned to the control room. They said that they wanted to hear a playback of what they had just done, and Joe had to tell them that he had not recorded them. Well as you can imagine the artists were not pleased. They thought that they had just performed a “keeper” for their next album, and they had zip. This blew the mood for them and they may have recorded something that session, but I am not so sure.

Mostly because I was booked to record them not long after that (most likely a day or two later while they were still in town) but I was told of what happened and was to make sure all went smoothly this time. They came in and I was ready and after just a few minutes on the mics I was ready and told them to start from the beginning as I was ready to record. We did record a new routine of theirs which was a parody of the film Jaws. Now I do not believe they ever released it, but we spent some hours working on it after their performance adding sound effects that were relative to the story: beach ambience, water splashing (this was done by Arthur Stoppe, he tells me), crowd sounds, etc. I guess they were happy with Sigma and my job on it as I recall they gave me tickets to the live show they had that night or that weekend. I remember that the live show was great. Cheech was in a tutu with a Strat at the end of the show which was the big finish to their act at that time. It was their song “Earache My Eye!” the single of which also had a B side called “Turn That Thing Down” (a continuation of the music from the A side) which really was funny.

Bunny Sigler and I made a lot of records together but the one we made with Gabor Szabo was perhaps the most unique. The Hungarian Jazz guitarist came to Sigma and was produced by Bunny and was writing with Richie Rome who also did some smokin’ arrangements. Now I was bit nervous as he had great stature in the world as a guitarist and I had to record him in Studio 2 (the smaller room) with a full rhythm section. Now this meant that there were at least two other guitars, drums, bass, at least one if not two percussionists and most likely two keyboards. I had no special treatment to offer Gabor’s amp. I simply put a SM-57 on it like any other amp in the room. He just got to be the lead center channel featured guitar. After we cut the first track the band returned to the control room for a playback. After listening to only a minute or so, Gabor said to me that he had been recorded all over the world but that he thought that he never sounded as good as he did on that song. Well, what a compliment! And what a way to kick off a great album which I enjoyed immensely! Now I always wondered if he said that to every engineer that recorded him just to set a great tone for the sessions and to put the engineer at ease. I guess I will never know but he seemed quite happy with the sound and the final product.

Now as great as that was there was another jazz album, I worked on that did not please me. I was asked at one point by our manager Harry Chipetz to work weekends in addition to my normal five days a week so that we could fit in an album for a jazz great who had just recorded in NYC but was unsatisfied with the mixes. One of the songs on the album was a cover of Gamble and Huff’s Lou Rawls hit “You’ll Never Find…” Now because it was a Philly Sound hit originally the label thought mixing it over at Sigma would improve it. However, we were as popular as any studio in the world at that time and getting studio time was literally at least a four or more months wait! Hence, the request to work weekends was needed to get it done. I agreed and for at least three weekends I mixed this record, finishing three or four songs a weekend. This was rough on me as I got no break for about a month and my personal life was compromised as well. But that was what I agreed to and I liked the extra money at the time. However, after the album was finished the tapes were sent back up to NYC and the label loved them. They re-mastered the album with all my mixes and released it. Unfortunately, the album cover had gone to print before the remix decision was made and when I went out and bought the record I was first crushed and then very angry that my name did not appear on the cover. Someone else had received the credit for the great mixes that I had done. Show biz, oy vey!

Other Jazz albums done at Sigma that I assisted on early in my time there were a Thad Jones and Mel Lewis album and a Monk Montgomery album. Not a lot of people were aware of any jazz records done at Sigma, but we did a few and they were great. And of course, this was back when engineers rarely got credits on records and Assistant Engineers almost never did…

It was a time when Sigma was considered one of the best recording studios on earth. So often even if it wasn’t music that was to be recorded, big stars and celebrities when in need of a place to do anything audio while in Philly, booked Sigma. That was the case once or twice with the “The Greatest”: Heavyweight World Champion Mohammed Ali. He owned a compound in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania where he used to train before his fights and Sigma in Philly was closer than any New York studios. I can’t recall why he was there, maybe a commercial or maybe a demo for his musically talented daughter, but I sure remember being in the room with him. I think I was assisting Kenny Present who was always a bit nervous, but this time was more than usually on edge. At some point near the end of the session Ali asked for something that we couldn’t deliver (maybe he wanted a disc instead of tape copy) and Kenny deferred to me to deliver the “bad news”. So, after I told “The Champ” that he wasn’t getting what he wanted he turned towards me and glared with a rage in his eyes that made my blood freeze. He was only kidding of course, but when the Heavyweight World Champion of boxing steps towards you with his hands in fists and anger in his eyes there is not much one can do but pray. I froze, and my mouth dropped open and my eyes popped opened but before I could speak or run out the back door of the control room, he smiled and laughed and stepped over and pretended to poke a jab at me. When I could breathe again, I laughed too but, for a second or two I think I knew what it must have been like, to face Mohammad Ali in the ring. Wow! I will never forget that look. He of course was a true gentleman but liked to kid around. I think he wanted to do that simply because Kenny was so nervous, and he knew that such a display would freak him out too, which of course it did! It was indeed an honor to meet him.


Stay up to date!