Our Recording Career
When I first met my wife and partner Susie Foot in 1968, she started
recording me with a Wollensack mono reel-to-reel tape recorder that
had a cheap crystal microphone housed in a tan plastic box attached
by a cable. Susie would make micro-adjustments to the mic's placement,
and it was clear that she had an "ear".
We were in NYC at the time, and through some friends, I landed a
job as a studio guitarist for Paul Vance and Leon Carr, writers known
famously for their hit "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini".
There was one song that we worked on (later to become the theme song
for Clairol) that took a huge number of takes, and we were there for
a few hours. When we got "the" take, we went into the control room,
where I saw the engineers asking Susie advice about the mix, and
thanking her for helping them get the sound.
Susie and I moved the Florida in 1969. A couple of months earlier,
we had purchased a new reel-to-reel ¼ track Roberts 420X. This machine
had "sound on sound", meaning you could record one track, say guitar,
then hear that track back and mix it in with a new track, like lead guitar
or bass. We added a Shure Vocal Master head so that we could mix multiple
microphones together on a track. The Vocal Master head was designed to power two speaker columns that we didn't have; we just used it as a mono mixer, utilizing the line out on the back into our tape recorder. Along with the Roberts, we bought 2 Shure Unidyne II microphones, which were wired high impedence to ¼" phone jacks.
We soon discovered how to use the Roberts as an echo machine, and
we recorded many experimental echo jams under the influence of psychedelic drugs.
Susie was busy running San Francisco's Music Switchboard during the
Sparky era. Charlie Wolf had come up with the XOX system and did the band's engineering. After Sparky and Wolf parted ways, Susie came on as the band's engineer using the Roberts, a Shure 4 channel mono mic mixer, and a battery powered Sony MX12. A short while later, we acquired a Teac 3340 4track reel-to-reel multi-channel recorder.
In 1972, we moved from San Francisco to Cloverdale, which, at that time was a town of 3,000 people, 90 miles north on Hwy.101. After camping in a tent on the Russian River for a few months, the rain forced us to find shelter. We found an abandoned 3 bedroom house on River Road. We initially squatted, then we went to a local realtor, and contacted the owners, who agreed to rent in the form of improvements to the house.
With the new 4 track, we now had the ability to overdub and create more complex musical productions. I started The Magic Mind with Rick Miller and Johnn Murphy. Susie did all of the engineering. We brought in mattresses and stacked them against the walls, then covered them with sleeping bags and bed covers. We cut a hole in the wall to the closet of the adjacent bedroom, and with the window we put in, that closet would become the control room. The closet was about 4 feet wide and about 3 feet deep, also covered with sleeping bags. We built a shelf across the back of the closet underneath the window. For monitor, we had 2 matched 12" guitar amp speakers mounted on Styrofoam box inserts. The entire closet was the enclosure. We had the Shure 4 channel microphone mixer, the Sony MX12 (running on batteries), a Fender spring reverb, a Gibson Maestro Echoplex. We had our original Shure Unidyne II microphones, an EV dynamic mic with a ribbon mic on the side. Eventually, we acquired 2 Sennheiser MD421's from the Cloverdale Theater, where for a time, there were weekly rock shows that Susie & I recorded and mixed for a local weekly radio broadcast.
The Magic Mind recorded dozens of songs. In 1973, we got a call from
our friend Chris Morris. He had landed a job as a tape op at Larabee Studio
in Hollywood and offered us some free studio time. We trucked down to L.A. and the 1st take of my song "I Can See It" (a song left over from Sparky) became the "A" side of my 1st record, recorded in a "real" studio onto 16 track 2" tape. Once again, Susie was there in the big studio, but this time, she knew what was going on technically, and she realized that moving up to a pro studio was what she needed to do. She brought her Magic Mind mixes to Wally Heider Recording in San Francisco. Impressed with the quality of the recordings made on such rudimentary equipment, Susie was hired as a second engineer by Wally himself.
For the next 6+ years, Susie worked as a staff engineer, working with
some very well known artists like Carlos Santana, LaBelle and Herbie
Hancock. During her off-hours, Susie & I produced my songs, aided by a
variety of musicians that I either knew and brought in or someone working
on other projects in the building that I invited in. During the Heider days,
we had access to the studio's three rooms, "A", "C" & "D", outfitted with
state-of-the-art large format consoles with racks of quality gear and the latest effect boxes. There was an amazing selection of microphones, lots of headphones, cables, gobos, and the rooms were all different. Although we did work in "A", we did most of our work in "C" & "D", which were a bit smaller. "C" was a brighter room.
At Heider's, we did Count Down & The Blastoffs' "Spaced, Man",
"I've Got The Vibes" and "Runnin' Away" initially, and did some remixing and new recordings of Captain Karma & The Honkytonk Stardust Cowboy songs, then came Jimmy Foot & The Athletes recordings, The Bullets, Paradise, & Jah Love (which became Reggae Jackson). Susie and I also produced some tracks for Joey Love and two songs for Steve Komen (of the Coconuts). Susie also did some demos with Pamela Poland on spec.
Near the end and after Wally Heider's closing, my band Jah Love started working with veteran Dylan/Cash/Cohen producer Bob Johnston, who Susie and I had become good friends with. Jah Love became Reggae Jackson after some radical personnel changes and we recorded Reggae Jackson's "Smash Hits" album at Villa Recorders in Modesto. During the making of that album, we worked at The Record Plant in Sausalito, Wally Heider's in L.A., and Kendun Recorders.
Although we had had access to the studios at Wally Heider's, Susie was always very busy working on big albums and didn't have much off time. I built a studio in our garage by building one inside wall with an access door right off of our entry way. The actual garage door was then sealed. While visiting The Automat (David Rubinson's new studio), I noticed a rubber mat manufacturer next door was throwing away literally tons of quality rubber mat scraps. I took all seats but the driver's out of my VW bug, and
made dozens of trips to their dumpster over the following weeks, and packed all of the walls with rubber scraps, held in place by burlap. Wally Heider's threw out a bunch of 2'X4', 1" compressed fiberglass panels with frames that I put up in places where there was no place to stuff rubber. It sounded great! I built a drum stage, and set up my newly acquired Teac 3340S, a 4 track machine with a great sound, and a built-in mixer with outputs for each of the 4 tracks, and powerful headphone out. Using the
same old Shure mono microphone mixer and the Sony MX12, our 5 microphones, and a 5-way headphone splitter box, I recorded over 40 songs, finishing them all off in 1983. At the time, I was studying music (for the first time, even though I had played professionally for 17 years) at San Francisco City College. The instructor for most of my classes was Ziggy Isham (mother of famous trumpet / pianist / composer and film
scorer Mark Isham) and I applied some of my new knowledge to the composition and arrangement of my songs.
After Wally Heider's closing, Susie continued to engineer albums free-lance, which took her out-of-town quite a bit. I got hired by a guy in Marin County to produce cuts for a number of his friends. The engineer was Peter Kaukenen, brother of Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma). The studio was built under a house formerly owned by keyboardist Lee Michaels. It sported a 16 channel console and an Otari ½" 8 track machine and an Otari ½ track ¼" machine with a small but nice control room and a bit-too-small tracking room. Susie was brought in to record and mix one of the bigger projects; a musical called "Breakfast In Marin". I recorded Count Down's "Take Over The Airwaves" there with Paul Griffin on bass and Jim Carrington on
The same guy that owned that studio, Allen Rappaport, bought Lee Michael's Studio, located behind Prune Music (music store specializing in vintage guitars & amps) that he also bought from Lee. My friend Bill Thompson from The Athletes was starting to engineer there. It was a cool set-up; 16 channel Stevens 2" machine sitting atop a 3'X3'X3' box on wheels. The box held 16 high-end V72 microphone
pre-amps and a mixer. You plugged mics into one side, with a stereo output going
to a 2 track for mixdown. We recorded my song "Sidetracked" there.
For a brief time, Susie worked at a studio in Hayward and for Susie to try out
the studio, I asked Jack Reiner in to play drums and recorded "Get A Gun". The
studio stupidly copped an attitude because it wasn't a paying session. The studio
worked, but we didn't like the guy, so Susie left within a few days of going there.
Tascam had just come out with their ½" 8track, and we sold our Teac 3440S
and bought a whole Tascam set-up from our friends at Sound Genesis in San Francisco.
We bought and installed the 8 track, the console, and 2 track. After we got "print
through" on all mixes we did on the first album with that gear, Susie refused to
work with "that crap", and we sold the set-up.
Susie took a hiatus from engineering, working on the Jesse Jackson Presidential
campaign and volunteering at the SPCA. I was forming The Rhyth-O-Matics and our first gig was a Jackson fundraiser at The Ella Hill-Hutch Center. Susie brought together
Bob Johnston and Fred Catero (Susie's mentor and famous recording engineer) and
worked as album coordinator for The Rhyth-O-Matics' "Walking In The Shadow"
The Rhyth-O-Matics also recorded several songs at Alpha & Omega Studio, which was the same studio as Wally Heider's Studio "C" with different but similar gear. The
songs "Ska-Tal-ation" and "Trickster" became the red vinyl single and "Ska-Tal-ation" was on regular rotation on the Bay Area's top radio station "Live 105" for months. Also
recorded at A&O was Dave Somers' "Alana-O", "Unite Ce Soir", "One World" and "Seize The Time". I used the tracks of "Seize The Time" and "Unite Ce Soir" a couple of years later on my "Rhythm Addict" album. "One World" was an okay song and arrangement, but the track wasn't great, and thus never completed. We produced Dave's "Alana-O" shortly before he exited the band.
Susie and I were hired to produce a demo for San Diego's "Top Band" at the time, Borracho Y Loco. BYL had opened for The Rhyth-O-Matics twice at The Belly Up in
Del Mar, Ca. We recorded the album at Fanfare Recording in El Segundo, and also
the theme song for ESPN's "Surfer Magazine" television show. We re-mixed a few
songs at A&O several months afterward.
In 1990, Susie was hired by Michael Ward, who had acquired the building at 245 Hyde Street (and formerly Wally Heider Recording, now under the name of Hyde Street
Studios) as Studio Manager. Susie oversaw the renovation of Studio "A", including
finding and installing a Neve console. She also helped foster the Bay Area's Hip Hop scene by bringing in Digital Underground and other rap groups. She also set up an apprenticeship and training program for house engineers. As the studio was undergoing
a lot of expensive renovation, Susie started taking some of her salary as trade-out and
we produced two albums. As Susie was tied up managing, we brought in Terry Becker,
an engineer who had been featured in a newspaper article with Susie years before. Susie and Terry are considered to be the first 2 female recording engineers in the business!
We did Rod Deal's "Truth & Rights" album and my "Rhythm Addict" album. We
also recorded Hedzoleh Soundz with Larry Shallit engineering at Hyde Street doing their
Susie left Hyde Street after a couple of years to continue to work with animals. The digital age had just come about with recording and Alesis came out with the ADAT, an 8 track digital tape recorder that could be synched together with more ADATs for 16, 24, up to 64 tracks. We bought one and tested it at Hyde Street. It sounded as good and
maybe better to me than the Studer 24 track we had been using. Within a year or two,
I bought a Mackie 8 buss mixer, and 3 20 bit ADATs and recorded numerous songs
for my projects, Harvey Mandel, Susan Shy, and Joni Haastrup. In 1997, we went
public with me engineering. In 1999, I produced and engineered an album for the band Tea Leaf Green, and brought in Susie to mix it. Susie also mixed almost all of the songs
for my projects. I have used a number of tracks from that era more recently (2016-2019)
and re-did this and that for current release.
In 2001, we moved from the Bay Area to Humboldt County, bringing our Bongo Boy business and name with us. Mckinleyville was very rural at the time, and we built our studio from scratch in our back yard. Bongo Boy was a concept we got from the movie "Rockers". In the movie, a drummer makes extra cash running fresh studio mixes to a
place where they stamped out records by hand quickly.
Our concept was that you could show up with your guitar and create a cd from start to finish. We had a recoding studio, we had a cd machine with pro-looking, full-color print
and I learned Photoshop and how to do graphic design and layouts for packaging.
From 2001 until 2015, I engineered literally hundreds of projects of varying styles;
lots of Hip Hop, acoustic groups, Death Metal, Jazz, Christian Rock, experimental. I
also co-produced and engineered an album of the Senegalese band Djialy Kunda Kouyate with the band's keyboard player Tim Randles in 2007. In 2003, I switched from ADATs
to an Alesis HD24, the most reliable and great sounding machine I've ever had. In 2011,
I switched to a DAW.
In 2010, I produced and engineered my "Ska Santas" cd, and in 2011, "Mob Justice". I
retired from engineering in 2015, when Dominic Romano came on as Bongo Boy's