A Conversation with ... David Greene Part 2
David Greene is an internationally-respected and Emmy-winning music producer and audio engineer who has long called Toronto home. Here is the second of a two-part conversation with FYI's Bill King.
Bill King: Why Canada?
David Greene: I can answer that in two and a half million words or less. A&R in New York was such a happening place. One of our clients was a jingle producer, Jack Richardson, who worked for McCann-Erickson. He used to come to New York and record his Coca-Cola commercials and bring them back here. He was a close friend of the studios and found the Guess Who through a Coke campaign, and they decided to work together.
B.K: Was it a contest or something of that nature?
D.G: They did a summer youth radio series, and he went across the country and recorded a Coca-Cola jingle with a bunch of local bands. He went to Winnipeg, and that’s where he met Randy and Burton, the Guess Who, and they did a version of the Coke jingle. They got along, and eventually they decided to form a production company and do an album and, of course, it had “These Eyes.” He brought them to A&R, and we had just finished building studio A2 at 7th Avenue and the deal was we were still fine-tuning the studio and if the album turned out there would be a bill, and if it didn’t, we would find out what else was wrong with the room. We recorded on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The first session on Thursday we did four songs, and I don’t know if it was the first one, but it was certainly “These Eyes” among the first four recorded.
B.K: Massive hit.
D.G: We mixed on a Sunday, and it was because of that Jack and I continued to work together, and that’s how we (B.K.) met. I used to come up here and record stuff here at RCA on Mutual Street as well as other studios around town. Some guys were building a studio in town but didn’t have anybody with the kind of experience I had in running a major studio and it was studio called Manta Sound. They took me to brunch one Sunday and asked If I’d come work for them and offered me a job for a lot of money for a couple years. New York was in a bad space and most of my friends were moving to the promised land. I had worked in California and I’m just not a Los Angeles person. My brother calls it “America’s candy store.” I took a job here for a couple years and the rest is history.
B.K: I remember when I first visited and chatted with you, you pointed out the studio floor was on springs. The reason for that?
D.G: In recording studios to isolate them from the outside world you basically do what is known as ‘float the room.’ It’s not mechanically tied through a singular kind of medium to the ground level. It’s simple to do if you have a concrete floor ……. You put Styrofoam down and put another slab of concrete on top of that. What has to happen is the sound has to make the concrete move and the concrete then has to make the Styrofoam move and the Styrofoam has to make the other concrete move in order to have any transmission. It works like a charm. Air does the same thing by multiple walls. The guys at Manta did it absolutely textbook. Expense didn’t matter. They had some pretty deep pockets.
B.K: A studio that size you’d need deep pockets — large orchestral work — film.
D.G: Absolutely. I think I recorded eighty-two players at a time in that room.
B.K: What did you think when you first arrived and faced Canadian studio musicians? You’d worked with the best in New York and now down front there’s Moe Koffman, the Guido Bassos, the Doug Rileys?
D.G: I had absolutely no qualms about that. We had sensational players in New York yet the players here were nothing to sneeze at.
B.K: They could read anything.
D.G: That’s the key to a studio operation. You can’t build a studio where you can’t get players.
B.K: You wouldn’t get those players in smaller communities — most of the best migrate to the larger cities.
D.G: It’s a different style. The west coast had its sound and New York had its sound and London had its sound. What we were doing with Terry Brown was developing a sound for Toronto with the players we had here and you are right, we had some great ones. Doug Riley, Guido Basso, Rob McConnell, Moe Koffman…
B.K: Arnie Chycoski. That was some list of players on those sessions and tough to crack..
D.G: One person I miss is Stanley Solomon who we lost about a year ago. Stanley would come into a session and almost always bring me a bagel with cream cheese. He was an absolute joy. We had no end of great players.
B.K: What is your most memorable session?
D.G: I’m going to steal from someone else. I once heard a great interview with the late great Burl Ives and someone asked him “what’s your favourite song?” He turned to the person and said, “The song I’m singing at the time.” All the sessions were great. They are all memorable in one way or another. Some stand out more than others.
B.K: Did you ever have one that was overly stressful?
D.G: Of course! Are you kidding?
B.K: You got folks sitting in the client's chair and you are feeling the wind at the back of your head..
D.G: Once again I’ve got to go back to my dear friend and mentor Phil Ramone who taught me very early on in my career. Producers will come and producers will go but every day you come to work and you sit down in this chair and you look through that glass you are going to be looking at the same faces. They can make or break you as you can make or break them. You have to admire, appreciate and respect them. In the day when studio musicians were the thing, Toronto was the place.
B.K: The big studio era has ended although there are a few still in existence. RCA, McClear, Eastern, Manta long gone.
D.G: I’ve worked in the Glenn Gould which is pretty good. I’ve worked in film and a number of people have talked to me about putting together a scoring facility. The economics just aren’t there.
B.K: We were discussing Alzheimer’s yesterday and you are working on behalf of the society.
D.G: As you know I lost my wife Jan (one of the founding faculty of what has become the world-renowned Music Industry Arts program at Fanshawe College) to Alzheimer’s disease a couple years ago. With the technology we have today I can work from home. Eventually, it got to the point where I had to be a full-time caregiver. I took a hiatus from production and did that. It’s a tough one.
My experiences as a caregiver having been by her side from the very beginning to the end and interacting with the health care system and there are certain things I will discuss with people in informal talks that are facing this - Ideas on how to look, where to look and how to work with the system … it is a complex system. I’ve also been able to work with people at the Ministry of Health who are working on developing a provincial dementia strategy. It’s a subject near and dear to my heart.
B.K: Recently, I interviewed Jann Arden and discussed this. She’s gone through and is going through this with both parents. She said it radically changed her life. She said both parents could aid each other through the years because they were so close.
D.G: One of things that are coming to light is a lot of the long-term care initiatives are traditionally modelled on a medical model — which is somebody with a medical condition. With Alzheimer’s and related dementias, it’s a neurological issue. Jan was fifty-five when we first realized something was going on. When we first connected she was teaching aerobics and was in amazing shape and got me involved in physical fitness. That was the only thing wrong with her at the time. She was the poster child at the clinical trials office at Parkwood Hospital.
There wasn’t a wellness model where you kind of suit the treatment or the interaction to the person, the individual. There was a fascinating thing done in London — an intergenerational choir. There was one client of the Alzheimer’s Society in London who was a former high school choir director and he had dementia. Now, for some reason, the place in your brain that stores music is not affected by most dementias. I saw this with Jan’s mother who also died from the disease. She was in a care facility in Ottawa and we were visiting and for the most part non-communicative. She would giggle and smile occasionally. Jan sat down and started playing the piano and I’m sitting there with her mother and her brother and she started playing “My Bonny Lies over the Ocean.” And Bill, her mother sang it word for word, in tune, in time but she couldn’t talk.
A few years ago this guy who had dementia put together a choir (Intergenerational Choir) with some high school kids, and some people with dementia who had formally sung in choirs and did a video — it’s marvellous. Suddenly, it gives people a purpose; they feel engaged. I’m sure the frustration of having dementia and not being able to engage with people the way you used too or do things the way you used to have to be debilitating. I know with Jan when she got involved with their programs she’d forget she had dementia and be on such a high and have such a good time.
"The Myth of Alzheimer’s" by Dr. Peter Whitehouse says — It’s often thought of as a disease, if you think of it as a disease, there must be a cure. And if there must be a cure maybe we can throw some money at drug companies and they can find us a cure. That hasn’t happened. When you label it that way, you are saying to this person you are no longer a person — welcome to the end of your life. He said what we need to do is start thinking about it as brain ageing. In some ways, autism is a similar thing. The brain just doesn’t work the way it used or with autistic people, we would assume it would work. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. It just works differently.
B.K: The both of us have had to adapt over time and our brains are constantly challenged. You being an engineer have come through most of the technological advances in the recording. We are always upgrading our skills.
D.G: Simple. You hit the nail on the head awhile back. It’s all about the song. If you don’t have the song, you don’t have a record.
B.K: As someone who has mastered his craft, you still had to adapt to change.
D.G: I have a new tool set. Let me see what I can do with this. The biggest problem with the whole thing is …… we may have random access — all this may be non-linear but we still live in a linear world. Morning comes and then we have noon time. We never get up in the afternoon and have morning happen after that. The problem is what a lot of people don’t understand is if you want to go back and change it causes a ripple effect …… particularly working in film and television. People in networks will make requests and will have not a clue what they are asking. They just think you can do anything now.