Requested and then assigned to Joe!
“The Love I Lost” / “Mighty Love” / “I Love Music” / “Stairway to Heaven”
After a few months Joe wanted to see if I had learned the ropes and if I was ready for sessions with the bigger clients, I guess. He called Vivian at one point and said, “Put Gallagher on all my sessions until further notice”. She told me, and I went from night sessions to day sessions the next week. That first day with Joe was quite remarkable. I came in early to make sure that I got all the set up and alignments etc. as together as they could be. Then I sat in my chair as Joe and Kenny Gamble came in and started to mix. Now this is something that these two had been doing for quite some time and had been quite successful at it. So, I sat quietly watching the rhythm with which they worked. Now the console in Studio 1 was built in such a way that the only way to pan tracks in the stereo field was to set up the mix so that the main faders were routed through the monitor section. What that meant was that all the monitor pots on the side of the board were also active. Often during the mix Gamble would reach over to the fader on which Huff’s keyboard was controlled and he would creep it up some more. Now Joe knew that it was something that Gamble had been doing repeatedly since the beginning of them mixing together, but Gamble did not realize the pots on the monitor side were active and every so often Joe would casually reach over and creep the pot through which Huff’s keyboard was passing back down into the mix the way Joe heard it. Now at a certain point Joe saw me watching him do this. He gave me a look that conveyed that if I opened my mouth and said a word about that… I was fired. I understood without a word being said. So, they worked on the song “The Love I Lost” until they were ready to commit the mix to the 2-track and mono master machines. At that point Joe finally spoke to me saying, “You got all this sh*t right don’t you?” waving his hand at the mix machines. He was saying that if I had gotten the set up wrong, I was wasting his and our biggest client’s time and that the consequences would be bad for me. I looked at them both confidently and said, “All the sh*t is right.” Joe said, “OK then let’s lay this one down” and turned back to the board. I stopped them and said, “Wait a second, but in the intro just before the voices come in there is an organ swell that I think needs to come up.” Well, the looks on their faces froze my blood. I remember thinking, “Oh my God, they are thinking, who the hell is this guy, telling us how to make records after about an hour of being in the room without even a word.” They slowly looked at each other and then back at me. Then Joe hit play and listened with Kenny again. After that spot passed, they stopped the tape, rewound it, looked at each other again and then Joe turned to me and said, “Put them in record”. I put the mix machines in record and then they proceeded to mix the song. At the point in the song that I had mentioned they brought up the organ and both turned and looked at me, shook their heads and mixed a hit record. I was so happy. I did not lose my job! To this day I think that it planted a seed in both their minds that I was not just another Assistant Engineer, but I was a conscientious, dedicated lover of the work we did as well as the music itself. I was also happy because I knew that from that day to this, every time I would hear that record, I would think there it is: my first contribution to TSOP! By the way, as was the norm for those 16-track days, we then mixed the short versions that were used as singles. Then we went on to mix two songs by the O’Jays: “Put Your Hands Together” and “Now That We Found Love”. Wow, those were the days, three songs in one eight-hour session. These days it takes at least two or three days to mix one song! Gamble, Tarsia and Huff!
At some point, Thom Bell began to request Don Murray on all his sessions. For me, there were two obvious reasons for Thom’s decision. First of all, Joe’s time was eaten up mostly by Gamble and Huff and I think Thom got sick of having scheduling problems. Secondly, Joe was a great mixer but loved (as did I later in my career) to use plenty of echo on his mixes. Don and Thom started to prefer a much dryer sound. This worked out very well for Thom, Don and the Spinners for sure. I was lucky enough to be requested on those sessions at a certain point as well. I was the first assistant engineer ever requested on any sessions. Thom also gave Michael Hutchinson and me the first assistant engineer credits on a project, ever at Sigma that I am aware of. It was on the Spinner’s album, Mighty Love. All it said was, “Assistant engineers: Mike and Reds”. That was the nickname that Thom gave me. I had red hair in my youth and my beard was even redder. He gave almost everyone some kind of nickname. It stuck with me on a number of albums even with other producers. One nickname he gave was to a member of the horn section who was short and round. Thom called him “Basketball”. He did not really love the name, but it stuck… Thom sometimes gave even more unflattering nicknames like “Biscuit nose”. That one was not much appreciated but also was the name Thom used when he talked to him, and about him.
Having been requested by Thom may have been what prompted Joe to have me assigned to him. His thinking may have been to make sure I was up to speed if I was to be the next assistant to be used as a first engineer. So, for the last six months or so of my time as an assistant I was with Don and Thom whenever Thom was working, and with Joe and Gamble and Huff when Thom was not. As a result, I got to work on some really great projects. TSOP was in its heyday so to speak. It seemed that every week all we did was make hit records for almost everyone who walked in our doors. I recall Harry having t-shirts made that said “7/24” suggesting that if we could, we would be booked constantly. He also told us individually to enjoy it while it lasted. He was wise enough to know nothing lasts forever and that fortunes can change in the blink of an eye. Things were going so well that in 1975 Gamble asked Joe to open a third studio within his 309 South Broad Street facility. When Gamble bought the building that had been Cameo/Parkway studios he converted the large room into all the offices and writer’s rooms. The small studio that was the “B” room for Cameo sat empty until Joe was asked to revive it as Studio 4 of Sigma Sound. It would be owned by Joe but built in Gamble’s PIR building. Sometimes that was weird as when PIR was not using it, outside people were coming into PIR’s facility to work.