Trust In Love – James Gallagher

Chapter 3 Part 2

One day as I was assisting on a string session for Thom Bell and one of the violinists, whose first name was Americus I believe, came into the control room to listen to a playback. He was an elderly Italian American. He stood there listening and looking at the console and the tape machines etc. He turned to me and said, “I remember when it was just one big silver disc.” I asked, “You mean recorded directly to a disc?” He said, “Yes, and there were two things that you needed to understand about those sessions.” I asked, “Well, what were they?” He said, “Well first of all, if you did not play loudly enough, you would not be heard on the final recording.” This of course made sense to me immediately because in those days there was one large microphone that fed directly to the stylus which cut the live mono recording to the disc. One mic, one track and one take. Mixing was essentially where the different sources of the final sound, voices, string players, horns etc. were located in the studio and their proximity to the one mic. If you needed the voice louder the singer had to move closer to the mic or sing louder… If you did not hear enough of the second violin section, then you had to have them move closer or play louder… So, then I asked, “What was the other thing you had to understand?” He smiled and said, “If you made a mistake, you didn’t get hired again!” I asked why, and he said, “Because the big silver discs were very expensive, so if you made a mistake while actually recording, that disc was ruined, and they had to throw it away and pay for a new one.” One mic, one track and one take. Now that was pressure.
Other musicians that I met at Sigma were very important to me in a number of ways. For example, there is Evan Solot. Evan is a trumpet player, a composer, an educator and a great friend. One of the first memories I have of Evan is of him and Rocco Bene and others like Zack Zachery in the horn section. He was very friendly and fun. A few years later, Micheal Henderson asked me who in town would be the guy to have play a trumpet solo on his album that we were recording at the time and I recommended Evan. He played it and Michael was very happy with it. The song was “We Can Go On” on his In the Night- Time album. That credit was helpful to Evan also, I am sure. Skip ahead to 1978 and I am a staff first engineer now of maybe six engineers by then. Evan approaches me about the opportunity to teach a (first ever I believe) college level recording class at the studio. At this time Evan was a department chair of the newly established Jazz and Commercial Music department at the Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts that is today known as the University of the Arts in center city Philadelphia.
He asked if we could team-teach it. Five staff engineers would teach three weeks each covering the 15-week class and split the money. I said I would ask the guys. They agreed if I would write the syllabus. I did and was slated to teach the first three weeks, so I did. As the third week was ending, I called Carl or whoever was to be next and he bailed out saying, “You do it and keep my share of the money, it would make me too nervous.” In turn, everyone else did the same. I ended up teaching the first class of my career in post- secondary education and making all the money too.
The funny part was that as the class was about to start it occurred to me that I, who had dropped out of college to work in the music business was about to assume a role as a “professor” in a college class. I found this amusing, so I figured that it meant that I was “a college professor” but had never graduated from a college so I showed up on the first day of class in a cap and gown. I was (and I did not know this in advance) to be observed by the music department chair that day and it blew his mind. Everyone had a good laugh and it put us all at ease and it went well. From that day to this I have been an educator. I am exceedingly proud of that and I have Evan Solot to thank.
Sitting in a row of chairs in front of the mics at every horn overdub session in the reed section was another great player and friend of mine, Ron Kerber. A finer sax player you could not meet. He is featured on many solos on many records, some on Phyllis Hyman’s records to name a few. Ron also teaches and administrates at the University of the Arts with Evan. He is a friend in so many ways. He was very close with my wife’s sister Leonora “Sissy” Mammarella and her husband Mark Jacoby long before I ever met Pam Mammarella, my wonderful wife. So, his ties to my family go back to when I knew him in the studio all those years ago and he was a friend to my wife’s family before I ever met them!
Ron Kerber had a brother Rick who also played trumpet in the section in the studio and was also a teacher at the University of the Arts. He was great and beloved by his students. Sadly, he died very young the same year as Grover Washington Jr. I was so upset by the loss that upon reading about Grover’s death I sat down and wept. When I stopped, I picked up my guitar and wrote a song called “Angel with a Broken Wing”. After recording a few demos of it I realized that I wanted to create a high-quality production and decided to ask a number of the musicians I knew who were into jazz or came from a jazz background to play on it. I asked Jack Klotz Jr. (guitar), Ted Greenberg (drums and percussion), Angela Falco (Electric piano and synthesizer strings) and Gerald Vesley (bass) who was Grover’s conductor on the road and bassist, to play on my track as a tribute to Grover. I was astonished by all of their answers which were simply, “When and where, Jim”. No one asked if there was to be pay or anything like that. They freely gave of themselves their time and all their talent to make the song as a tribute.
I describe the recording as the easiest production I ever did in that they all showed up and just went right into discussing arrangements of the track each suggesting one great idea after another. All I had to do was sit there with Stephan Rossmeisl who engineered it in his “Turtle Studios” and say, “Yea, great idea, do that!” again and again. For example, Ted added all the percussion overdubs without even discussing them with me while I worked out keyboard/string ideas with Angela.
After we cut the track one day, I knew I wanted to add a sax solo, a soprano. I had asked Ron to do it. He came another day and played masterfully. The feeling of his performance was charged with both the love and respect for Grover and the loss that we felt at that time for Grover and Ron’s brother Rick. I recorded two different solos by Ron and asked which he preferred, and he said that he could not decide that he was not feeling he could pick (both were fantastic) between them. I listen a few times to them and came to realize two things. One, oddly enough there was a spot about half-way through both solos where at the exact same beat Ron had rested to breathe. Two, I liked the first half of one solo and the second half of the other. So, I played it back and simply switched between the two at that beat and everyone together all said, “Wow that’s it!” I had actually done something similar previously in Los Angeles with Stevie Wonder, but I’ll write about that later.
Next, I needed a vocal. I had work on my previous album with another veteran of Sigma, Carla Benson, one of the three professional background singers who sang on almost every record ever made at Sigma, more on the three of them later too. But Carla had sung one song for me before and I had asked her these few years later to do this. She had only heard my “folk” demo as Ted referred to it and had not yet heard what we had recorded at Turtle Studios. She showed up knowing the melody and words from the demo but was completely floored by the new track! She was a bit intimidated by it and said as much. I responded by saying she could take a copy home live with it and come back another day. She said, “No way, I need to do it right now before it scares me too much.” I said, “Let’s go!” She got on the mic and blew it away. I only had to “produce” it to tell her where to hold back and where to let go! It was awesome! The only real producing on the track was arranging the harmonies, which she sang. I simply was saying do a 3 part “oo” here or unison on that… And the next thing I knew it was finished but for the mix. It is available on my website on the Light and the Dark album. It is the first song.
Grover and I shaking hands at some party.

There were many, many others who will creep into stories throughout this book, but these were most of the core…
I spent about the first year and a half at Sigma as an Assistant Engineer. During that time, the job required a lot. We had to do everything from clean the bathrooms, to align the tape recorders, to set up everything for the sessions, to run for coffee or out for food like Chinese food (Sigma Sound’s main building is a block from Chinatown in downtown Philly). One of the hard things was that sometimes we had to move gear like the Hammond B-3 organ and its Leslie speaker cabinet, the guitar and bass amps and such from the original upstairs studio to the newer “B” room down on the ground floor.
To do this there was, in the rear of the building, an ancient manual elevator. It had huge rope loops that sat on top of huge, grooved wheels and a brake which essentially clamped the rope to keep it from slipping. It was not that effective, especially when we overloaded the elevator. One night, Michael Hutchinson a fellow assistant at the time, and who was to be my best friend as the years rolled on and I were loading the elevator to bring all the gear for a rhythm session the next day down to the first floor.
We, separately and together, had done it many times before only this time we wanted to get it done more quickly I imagine because it was late after a night session and we wanted to go home. We loaded the elevator particularly full. In fact, I had climbed up on top of the gear and was placing some last item on top when the over loaded ancient machine began to slip. The elevator shaft had on the back wall a nine to twelve-inch-deep ledge. I jumped on to it as the elevator fell to the ground floor. The metal top of the cage of the elevator just missed me. If it had hit me, I would have most likely been literally sliced in half or at least lost some limbs. I stood on the ledge looking across at Michael and our eyes widened as we realized how lucky I was to be alive. We stood there a second or two without saying anything as the gear crashed to the ground below us. I finally said, “Go unload some of it and pull the f***ing thing back up here so I can get off of this f***ing ledge!” He finally spoke and started to say how lucky I was, and I said again, “Go unload some of it and pull the f***ing thing back up here so I can get off of this f***ing ledge!” Only this time a lot louder and then we both started to laugh.
He ran down, half emptied the elevator cab and pulled it up and I crawled over to the safety of the second floor again and joined him in emptying it after lowering it from downstairs. That was one scary moment. Michael and I never loaded it so much ever again needless to say. The elevator was not replaced until after new ownership acquired the building. I have been told of a similar episode with my friend and at the time assistant engineer at Sigma, Joe Kraus, that he and Teddy Pendergrass and his extremely heavy wheelchair took that same very rapid descent together once. Neither of them appreciated it I am sure.

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