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The Jim Stern Interview

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Prior to full interconnection and the complete digitization of music mastering we had in this country pockets of eccentric engineers who more often then not wore more than one hat.

Rudy Van Gelder held down the fort in Englewood Cliffs while performing optometry in the daytime. Michael Cuscuna found his way to Woodstock engineering Bonnie Raitt all the while hosting free form radio programs and writing linear notes. Same for Marty Feldman and
Eddie Harris

Major cities in this country had venerable studios that cooked with music from across all musical spectrums. Chess Records in Chicago, Stax Records in Memphis, Muscle Shoals in Alabama, Sigma Sound in Philly, MoTown in Detroit and The Record Plant in LA.

Another major record creator was Fantasy records. My guest today was a major engineer during the gravy years of the studio after Max and Saul Weiss sold the shop to Saul Zaentz. But as with other engineers my guest wads jack of all trades. He was the rhythm and blues drummer for the label when they were still in Oakland playing with Ray Shanklin and Tower of Power singer Lenny Williams.

When he became the lead engineer at Fantasy he sought out and trained younger cats on how to create a warm room sound, when Fatansy expanded he was responsible for outfitting the studios and then hunkering down with a Heavy Axe and David Axelrod, Butterfly Dreaming with Flora Purim, Tambu with Cal Tjader and Charlie Byrd and the NTU Troop with Gary Bartz.

He was immersed with all types of musicians. Cats like Sonny Rollins who might come out to cut an album before heading to Japan to Country Joe and other Bay Area mainstays who helped liven up sessions just by being within the complex.

Put in a live audience for Joe Williams or Cannonball or work with Ed Bogas on arrangements for the Vibes of Truth.

This was coupled with a very open radio dial which played a lot of local area favorites like the aforementioned Tjader, Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders and Bola Sete. It should be noted that without Born on the Biyou none of this might have ever happened.

You listen to the warmth that these records give off. The homey close knit quality and the musicians understanding of how special a place it was and you begin to see how regional music developed. Orrin Keepnews relocation to Berkeley and the acquisition of the Prestige catalog only furthered the eclecticism of the musicians. All of a sudden McCoy Tyner found a home there so did Larry and Fonce Mizell as well as Wayne Henderson and Woody Herman.

It was a family of Zen Tricksters who cared about the music and the musicians. Things were cut using analog tape so there was no way to put lipstick on a pig if Pleasure or The Vibes of Truth flubbed some lyrics. You couldn't fix crappy instrumental takes. The artists had to know their shit and so did the producers and the arrangers and the engineers. Everybody's craft was respected and because of the amount of effort put forth by the team often a good product came from that.

 

Jim Stern [Download]

 

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