Back in '97 I was just beginning my career as a recording engineer, and oh how green was I! I made a lot of bad sounding albums, and a couple of decent ones on accident I presume. If it wasn't for Mike Castoro of Wunder Audio, there's a pretty good chance that I would not be pounding this out right now since he gave me my first break. And it was at his first studio, Stardog Studio, in Austin, Texas, that I cut my teeth.
Stardog was a pretty special room. Mike had an insatiable appetite for vintage gear and microphones, so my education was robust and swift. I had my hands on every imaginable iteration of U47, countless C12s, and ELAM 251s. The first desk that I worked on professionally was a Neotek Elite, but this was soon replaced by an Amek Mozart, and then that magically turned into a custom Neve 8014; I was really roughing it. But maybe I should stop here and go back in time a bit to get to the point of this post.
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with music and that certainly hasn't changed. I would spend hours seated at the face of my mom's old Sony HP 465 turntable, this was my jam. My mother supplied me with the Beach Boys, Tommy James, Mitch Ryder, Buddy Holly, and the Beatles. Besides Rush, which was supplied by my musician cousin Melissa, the Beatles got the most needle time. This was also the time when I first discovered the balance knob. I would switch between the left and right channels and instantly recognize that the drums were on one side, while other instruments sat opposite, with the vocals supplied on both sides; I did not know why at the time, but my curiosity was piqued. I also started recognizing names in the liner notes at this time as well. George Martin's name was always a part of the Beatles liner notes.
Now at the time I didn't know what a "producer" was, but I figured he must be pretty important since Sir George Martin's name was always incorporated into the notes, jacket or center label. But what exactly did he do for the Fab Four? Well, that has been written about and documented by Sir George, the Beatles; and countless engineers, musicians, fans and music historians for decades, so I'm not about to get into that. But do know this, his influence has touched every one of us; music professionals, fans, everybody... period. Let's jump back to '97 and get to the point, cool?
One day in mid '97, Mike Castoro (the Wunder Audio dude, remember?) received a phone call, a potentially very special phone call. I was in the control room messing around a bit, and Mike runs in with some potentially special news. Stardog had an immaculate Studer A 800 Mark III that was set up with a 24 track head block; I believe this was the machine the Phil Collins' "Sussudio" was cut on, but I digress... This machine was stunning and got a lot of love, and was being requested for use by Ray Benson from Asleep at the Wheel. Oh, and that was who called by the way. Of course Mike wanted to know why Ray needed the Studer since he had/has a fantastic studio of his own. Ray then told Mike that Sir George was in town, working at Ray's studio (Bismeaux) if I remember correctly. Mr. Martin was cutting vocal tracks for the album "In My Life," and it was he that requested the Studer. It should be noted that a Studer tape machine is a very delicate, extremely heavy, and expensive device; this is not something that you just disconnect and throw into the back of a car. Mike politely told Ray that it would be near impossible to make that happen on short notice, but that Sir George would be more than welcome to come to Stardog and work on the track(s) there; I mean, this was obviously the only choice for the use of the Studer, right? Now I wasn't privy to the actual call, all of this came from Mike, but this is how I remember it.
So now we waited a bit for that phone call. Was Mr. Martin going to head up to Stardog for some tracking on the Studer, or would he stay put at Ray's? I believe we waited for about an hour, and then the call came in. I guess you already know what happened based off the title of my post, but man, we were so close. Had it happened, I honestly don't know how I would have reacted upon his entrance to the studio. Most of us so infrequently encounter true greatness. Had he graced the studio with his presence that day, it would have left a resounding mark on the studio, and our lives.
I think it goes without saying that Sir George Martin has indeed left a resounding mark on most of our lives. I rarely encounter a person that doesn't like the Beatles, and even if they don't like the music, a deep appreciation for the production is usually intact. This is a direct reflection of what kind of impact a musical visionary can have, the producer, that extra member of the band; Sir George Martin was that person. As long as we continue to spin the Beatles, Ultravox, Cheap Trick, and countless others, Sir George's sound will continue to resonate and influence throughout time.