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In The Studio: An Interview With Legendary Engineer Shelly Yakus

Recorded John Lennon, Blue Oyster Cult, Alice Cooper, and many more

By Bruce Borgerson November 13, 2013

Shelly behind the legendary API (originally from Sunset Sound) at Tongue and Groove Studios, Philadelphia.

BB: When was that?

SY: That was August of 1967 when I started there, a kid fresh out of Boston.

BB: How did you get the job?

SY: That was interesting. A year before, my dad had a client that wanted to get some records pressed, and they used to use Decca Records to do their pressings.

So if a client wanted a thousand 45s, they would do the recording and mixing there and then send me down to New York to bring it to Decca for mastering.

I remember going there, and while I was there—I had never been to a New York studio before and it was incredibly interesting to me. And so I remember saying to one of the mastering engineers, “I would love to see some more studios in New York.”

The mastering engineer told me that the guy who had just walked in the room five minutes before, that guy said I should go over to Mirror Sound where Brooks Arthur was working.

Brooks Arthur was a guy that had top twenty records all the time, did a lot of those Red Bird records…so anyway, I got into see him. As matter of fact, they introduced me to this guy name Max Rupfel(?), and I didn’t quite understand who this guy was.

He was going around to all these studios. He said, “Come with me, kid, and I’ll take you around, I’m going to visit a bunch of studios.” And he would walk in like he owned these places.

I couldn’t understand how he could get into all these places I finally found out that he was the musician’s union representative. In those days, it was against the rules to overdub.

If you got caught overdubbing, you had to pay these tremendous fines, you had to pay the whole orchestra again. So he got me in all these amazing studios.

So one studio he took me two was A&R, and I saw Phil Ramone doing a session on 48th Street, which was their original studio, and Donny Hahn was his assistant engineer, and he went on to become a great engineer.

He also took me over to Mirror Sound, this really unusual studio where Brooks Arthur worked, he was engineering this really unusual song, I think it was “Give Us Your Blessings” on Red Bird Records.

He had a whole bunch of songs as an engineer and mixer on the charts every week, a remarkable career.

What was most amazing to me there was, when I came in the room, there was this tape machine against the wall, and then this tape coming off it in a loop that went across the room and around the mic stand, and it had thunder and lightning on it.

It was part of this record they were mixing. They would bring up a fader and you’d hear thunder, but it was a long loop so you wouldn’t hear the same thunder twice. I was watching them do this and I was thinking, “Holy shit, listen to how creative this is, look what they’re doing here.”

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