Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Phil Ramone
Aaron Baron was one of the two owners of “Location Recorders, Inc.” Larry Dahlstrum was his partner. Together they had built one of the finest and first recording trucks. They originally called it “Fly by Night Audio”, but nobody would give them a bank loan under that name. At the time expensive mobile audio equipment wasn’t considered a safe bet.
I was working on and off with that truck even before there was an actual truck body. When Richie Havens was recorded live at the Cellar Door, in Washington, I was there. There was no truck body designed yet. So when Aaron needed a second on the truck, when Larry wasn’t available, I was sometimes it. This time the truck was booked to record Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Pat Cooper at the Westchester Premiere Theater. (1976-1977 I think)
Phil Ramone was the recording engineer. I was his second. As far as I was concerned, he was one of the best. I always noticed that the way he recorded the most similar to how I record, very upfront and in your face. What could be better then to spend time with the great Phil Ramone. I would get the chance to ask him things.
We’ve got the truck parked in the back of the theater. We get called into a production meeting. A big guy, Frank Sinatra’s own security, holds the meeting. He has a binocular glass case around his neck. What do I know, they must have binoculars in them? It was unusual but maybe it makes sense. He says, “This is the production meeting for the next two days of shows, four shows” “Nobody goes back stage!” “Nobody goes back stage!” “End of production meeting!”
What the heck is that???? How do you do a show without going back stage?
Well here’s how it works. Frank has all his own people. You want the snake and stage box inside, you hand it to Frank’s people at the stage door and they do it. OK, that works. But wow what security. I’ve never seen such tight security.
So the whole truck is wired and I start to align the machines. When you bounce a truck all over the place the machines get bounced too no matter how good you shock mount the things. I turn on the first machine. They weren’t the usual machines in this truck. Someone in their great wisdom has specified MM1000 Ampexs, because they were using Ampex video machines and they thought the material would match video reel for audio reel. The machines don’t run at the same speeds and the material would never match reel for reel.
So here I am with two Ampex MM1000s to align. I turn both on. Neither work. Aaron says to call a local maintenance man. I know the guy I usually work with. Steve Pekarick lives in a town near Ardsley, excellent maintenance man. Steve says he is sorry to Aaron. His cat is sick and he must take the cat to the vet. Aaron says to Steve, “Why don’t you drown the little fucker and come help us.” Aaron was I guess, very nervous about the machines not working. Steve hung up and never spoke to Aaron again.
So now I’m left to try and figure out the problem. I figure out the motor is not spinning but everything else is “on”. I drop the motor from the first machine and take it apart. WE are all crazy with the time pressure. It turns out there is a neoprene band between the capstan with a flywheel, and the motor. It has slipped off during the transit. I put the band back on, and screw the motor assembly back into the machine. There is no time, I just punch off the machine, and the show has started. Phil is yelling at me what levels he is sending and I’m just trying to make what he says to match what’s on the machine. This aligning is by the seat of your pants, actually my pants. Fortunately I had aligned a bunch of these Ampex amplifiers and could pretty much guess where “0” was supposed to be. I get the machine looking good and immediately fix the second machine. It was ready just as tape began to run out on the first. I punched off the second machine. Wheu! I was very stressed out.
We are now working and I can relax for just a second. Now I can go stand next to the great Phil Ramone and maybe learn something. Just I begin to watch what’s he’s doing, Phil is patching up a limiter. It an API 525, about the only thing API makes that works crappy (in my opinion). Without any hesitation Phil says “You know how this limiter works, man?” I answered and at the same time was completely deflated. I told him how to use it. I didn’t like it much, but it would do the job. And he thanked me. But with that, went away any godlike pedestal I had put him on.
The first show went off without a hitch. I don’t know what happened to Aaron. Maybe he did get back stage? All I knew, he wasn’t in the truck. There was a knock at the door. Two little Italian ladies brought in a shining silver platter of Italian food for us in the truck. How cool is that. This certainly made up for “Nobody goes back stage.”
After the first day Phil drove me somewhere, must have been to home, in his brand new Mercedes Sports car. He told me of some of his woes at home. He just opened up to me, a virtual stranger. That was very real to me, and I keep it confidential. He also told me what his fee was. I also keep that confidential.
The next day same deal, food delivered to the truck, right down to the demitasse. I am impressed with Sinatra’s style.
In the middle of one of the performances a message comes to the truck. “Mister Sinatra would like a Shure mic with an “on/off” switch on it, on the end of a 300foot mic cord. And leave it “on” at the console all the time.” OK he wants that, he gets that. I plug it in to the console and walk the cable and mic to the stage door. At the door, I am met by Sinatra’s personal backstage sound guy. He takes the mic and cable and disappears inside.
Phil leaves the mic recording and “on” at the console, even though the mic is “off” at the switch.
First we have the Las Vegas dancing girls, then we have Pat Cooper the comedian, then we have Dean Martin leading in to Frank Sinatra. Dean is in the middle of his maybe sixth song. Sinatra took the mic held it in his backstage toilet, turned it on and flushed. A giant flush sound came out in the house and in the truck on tape. Dean Martin lost it completely. He couldn’t contain himself and laughed until he fell down on the stage. While he has trying to sing, but laughing on his back on the stage, Sinatra came onstage with a rolling bar and made Dean a drink. What a performance.
I never saw the show aired. I was told that someone had recorded the ISO camera twice and not the switched. If that’s true, they might have become part of the parking lot. (ISO stands for Isolated or extra camera)
For the next twenty years Phil always acknowledged a “Hi” to me at the AES shows. Then I saw Phil at the “Songwriters Hall of Fame” induction. I was there as a guest of my brother, who was being inducted. Phil was producing the show. Phil gave me a nod again, at the induction. Then one day my friend Herman Rodriquez wanted to have a place to play some things for his potential Latin Music Company investors.
Turns out his investors might be Phil Ramone and Michael Tanner, Paul Simon’s guy. (Phil was a Latin Music follower and particularly interested in keeping the recording credits straight, which they are usually not. He even knew my recordings.) They are meeting in my little office on 45th street. I loaned Herman my space to play whatever, and talk. It’s a 3 story walk up to a studio apartment on 45th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, but I can play anything there. It had a huge recording console and a bunch of speakers and some computers too.
Herman played some of his stuff and then I left them there alone for a while. I have prepared some funny hors d’oeuvres; Jewish salami, crackers, olives, carrots, all good stuff but with a Jewish ting. Phil said he had a good time and thanked me. (He actually liked the Kosher Abeles and Heymann salami on Ritz crackers, as I do.) As he was leaving we talked for a moment. I reminded Phil we had recorded the Sinatra thing at Westchester Premiere Theater together, and that was how he knew me. He reminded me he also knew me from all the Latin Music he knew I recorded. Then he caught a glimpse of 6 boxes I had stacked in the corner. He said “Stevie Wonder got the first two and there were none left”. “I’ve been trying to get a hold of a pair of those RADAR 24track units and I was told they were not any available.” Phil was surprised I had six in the room. I told him I ordered them first for the Mystic Aquarium.
Phil then told me that he was going to remind Nancy Sinatra that he still had those tapes of Frank.
I never spoke with Phil after that. We would just nod at each other during the AES.
Some years later a video of Sinatra, Martin, etc. became view-able on youtube. And a few years after that an album called “Sinatra live at the Westchester Premier Theater” was discoverable on the internet, but I’m not sure if that album was from the time I worked with Phil Ramone.