Bill's Recording Studio: A Boy's World Bursts Open
When I was 12 years old, my best friend Tony asked me if I wanted to visit his stepfather Bill's office. Most of the offices I'd seen by that point looked like places for people to go practice being stiff and humdrum. But Bill, a music producer and commercial vocalist, ran a recording studio in midtown Manhattan, so this had promise. After all, Tony's home was different - every room was wired for music, and at parties, Bill and Tony's mom Rosemary, also a professional singer, broke out the microphones and sang to instrumental recordings on a reel-to-reel player long before the advent of karaoke. So, hell, yeah, I was going into Manhattan in the "caddy" with Bill and Tony bright and early to check out a scene quite different from my own dad's Savile Row business world.Taking the elevator up to Bill's studio was your standard elevator ride. Entering the studio was quite another matter. I saw one sound recording room after another, with the huge panes of glass separating recording engineers from the people and instruments they were recording. I felt like I'd walked into an episode of The Partridge Family — remember how they'd sing take after take until they'd gotten what they wanted and "laid it down on tape" with their manager Ruben at their side?
Since Bill was the top gun, he disappeared into a flurry of activity as Tony and I poked around, goggling at the massive sound boards with their endless sliders and knobs - you still see these in documentaries where they interview recording engineers. Soon enough, Bill whisked us into a studio session to record singers on a jingle for a Kentucky Fried Chicken tv commercial. About five singers took their cues from Bill, his long arms and precise fingertips conducting and his mouth stretching wide to narrow as he directed them on how to enunciate various syllables. I must have heard the "Follow the Chicken" song around forty times that morning until Bill called it a "wrap." I wasn't bored. Actually, I was spellbound. Each take had its own nuances, flubs, and magic moments. Those singers —a mix of women and men— were such pros. Between takes, they laughed and joked around like kids. Nobody had to tell us to keep quiet and not to interrupt - the feel of the room was clear and I had no desire to disrupt it. At that age, I loved going out for every school play, and this band of professionals showed me that make-believe was worth doing really well. Why get serious and formal when I could work with this very zany, talented, and highly skilled crowd? I was smitten.After the jingle was recorded, the next miracle appeared. The actor who came in to record the voice-over for the KFC commercial was none other than the Trident Gum man (Ron Marshall)— remember the guy in the suit who informed us that "4 out of 5 dentists surveyed recommend sugarless gum to their patients who chew gum" ? This man was an authority! He shook my hand. Despite my disappointment that his loyalties extended beyond Trident, I was in awe.The touchstone image from that day was Bill's vivaciousness - he was working intensely, but he was having a blast. There was a sparkle in his eye, and a really kind firmness about getting what he wanted from the vocalists. He kept on them to get it right and give their all, and he thanked everyone from his heart when they delivered. Bill didn't have to say anything about working hard at doing what he loved - he demonstrated it in spades, and it stuck with me. A spark of mentorship had suddenly ignited.
Listen: Bill sang backup vocals on some Lowenbrau Beer commercials.
Watch the Trident Gum man here: Disco Spot and Football Player
by Eric Pomert