Part 1: A Conversation with... Record Producer Terry Brown
Terry Brown learned his craft as an engineer and record producer working with everyone from Hendrix to The Who to Barbra Streisand and the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band before coming to Canada where he put his imprimatur on albums by acts such as Rush, Blue Rodeo, Klaatu, Max Webster and Gowan. He's now involved with an Iranian-Canadian band living in London called Blurred Vision. Bill King caught up with him last week for this first of a two-part Conversation with....
Bill King: Off the top what is the Blurred Vision project about?
Terry Brown: This is my latest creation. It’s a young band with nice tunes. We have a song on the Organized Insanity album for John Lennon called “Dear John.” It’s really well written with a great lyric. We put it out in the UK for the anniversary of what would have been John's 75th birthday. We are trying to get some traction on BBC Two.
B.K: Are you familiar with Geoff Emerick’s book Here There and Everywhere about recording the Beatles?
T.B: I’ve heard of it but not read it.
BK: How did you get in the door?
T.B. In a very strange way. I was working for an advertising agency doing some menial work. My father was in advertising for many years at JWT in London. I couldn’t take it at school. I wasn’t really doing well, didn’t feel comfortable at all. So I took a job in an advertising agency and immediately hated it. I realized it wasn’t going to go anywhere for me. The lifestyle was crazy. Then I found about someone going for an interview at a studio. I played in a band and had a little musical background but I recall telling this person that if they didn't take the job I was up for it. It turned out he couldn’t take the job. It paid something like ten dollars a week. It was ridiculous pay but I said 'yes' to it.
I dropped in on Keith Grant who managed the studio and was chief engineer and a wonderful man, eventually a great mentor of mine. He said to start Monday and this was on a Thursday. Monday morning I showed up and never looked back.
B.K: Were you sweeping and cleaning?
T.B: I was setting up the studio, getting coffee, getting to know how to run tape machines. There was no automation and all we had back then were four-track machines. A lot we did was just done in mono. You had to know exactly where you were at in the tune because if the singer wanted to roll back and do the bridge again, or second chorus, you had to be there, not mess around.
B.K: What about your musical background?
T.B: I played classical piano, sort of. It was when I started in the studios I realized I didn’t play piano very well. I was working with the top professionals in England doing mostly jingles and stuff; people like drummer Ronnie Verrell were amazing to watch and learn from.
B.K: I’m sure you were focused on the recording console.
T.B: I was. Once I got set up I stood behind Keith and watched every move he made.
B.K: Your first major recording experience?
T.B: I guess that would have been The Who. Keith said to me at the time that there was a band coming in later in the week. In those days it was a whole different story. There wasn’t this idolization. It was just, there’s a band coming in next week, I think they are called The Who, you are doing it.
They came in one afternoon, we set up, met all the guys and Pete Townshend was producing. We started recording "Substitute" and by seven in the evening it was mixed and done. I was doing the engineering; I even had an assistant that day.
In those days we made a hit record every week. It was crazy. We’d finish it on Tuesday and they’d do a master by Friday and it'd be on the air the following Friday and a massive hit the week after. It was a very quick turnaround.
B.K: There seemed to be a new British band every week and the charts were open to that. America and the world couldn’t get enough.
T.B: It was an explosion.
B.K: The oddest records – like The Troggs.
T.B: I was on that. I was the tape op on The Troggs – Keith (Grant) engineered. It was a great session. So much fun. We did three songs in an afternoon. One being “Wild Thing” with the ocarina (wind instrument) solo. I’d never seen one before.
B.K: “Mellow Yellow,” Donovan?
T.B: That was a little later at Lansdowne Studios (established 1957 by producer' Dennis Preston and engineers Adrian Kerridge and Joe Meek). We cut the demo and then two weeks later Mickey Most came in and we cut the song live with a full orchestra on the floor.
B.K: it must have been a tricky recording, pulling that together.
T.B: It was arranged by John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin. He charted it all out. We cut it it in an hour or two and overdubbed the vocal and that’s Paul McCartney as one of the voices you hear in the party section. A few friends dropped in and by seven o’clock it was done. Everything but the vocal was live off the floor.
B.K: One of my all time favourite bands was Procul Harum. “Homburg” – a great track.
T.B: I worked on the first album. They were making it in two different studios. I was working with Denny Cordell and band day after day and then they’d work at IBC (IBC: International Broadcasting Company recording studios located at 35 Portland Place, London) day after day. Whose version got on the first album I really don’t know. Great, great sessions.
BK: So coming to Canada must have been a bit of a change of pace. The equipment back then wasn't really up to par.
T.B: It wasn’t quite what we were using in London but at the same time the musicianship here was fantastic. I ended up here because of Doug Riley who was in London doing commercials for Labatt’s. I worked with him for two weeks. I just loved what he did. What he was doing on (Hammond) B-3 and piano was just amazing. He was a young kid then. We got along like a house on fire. He came back to Canada and when they couldn’t use the tracks because of some potential litigation issues he had to record them again. I happened to call him at the right time and he invited me to come over and record them again, so I jumped on a plane, came to Toronto, and recorded the tracks at Eastern Sound. I loved it here. The music scene just seemed so vital and I was here only two weeks.
In London I was in the studio sixteen hours a day and lived in the suburbs traveling back and forth and never really got to be in the music scene except for the amazing artists coming in every week and making hit records. It was 1967 when I came to Canada.
B.K: I think there were studios like Sound Canada, Eastern, RCA, Thunder Sound, Pathe in those days.
T.B: We put Toronto Sound together and opened on January 1st, 1969. We were the first multi-track studio in the country.
B.K: Wasn’t it called Revolution?
T.B: For a very short time but when we actually opened it was called Toronto Sound.
B.K: I remember you fretting over monitors. It was difficult getting what you heard in the studio down on tape and accurately through the monitors.
T.B: It was difficult back in those days. I found it extremely hard. Don’t remind me.
B.K: How long was your working relationship with Doug Riley?
T.B: It lasted a long time then we began to drift apart musically. He had his own thing going on and I had mine and we’d sort of meet in the middle and do stuff. We didn’t have that relationship in the later years which is very sad actually. I really miss him but I’m spending a lot of time with his son Ben, which is wonderful.
B.K: One of the early hits to come out of Canada was “When I Die” from Motherlode.
T.B: Lovely band. Great tunes. I was introduced to them through Doug and his friends. We cut an album and it was an exciting process. We recorded at RCA.
B.K: William “Smitty” Smith organ, Steve Kennedy sax – who was on bass?
T.B: Carol Kaye!
B.K: The Wrecking Crew. You flew her up for the session.
T.B: I can’t remember how that came about other than it was Smitty’s idea with Doug and everybody else. She was wonderful – such a great player, too.
B.K: Dr. Music?
T.B: That was a wonderful period. Nine in the band and nine singers.