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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: So did you start looking around for a job at that point?

SY: No, not right away. It was approximately a year later I came back to do another mastering job, and I went back to Mirror Sound again to see Brooks Arthur, because I had made the contact.

They told me he didn’t work there anymore, he was working up at A&R Recording. So I went over there, and he was off that day, but I met Roy Cicala.

Roy took me around and showed me the place. Every great group was recording in that studio. It was remarkable. I asked if I could apply for a job there.

He said, well, yes you can, but it takes some time to get an appointment. I told him I was going back to Boston that day, so he got me an appointment with Don Fry, one of the owners.

He interviewed me, I left and went back to Boston, and for a while in between I worked at WMUR TV in Manchester, New Hampshire. I was a cameraman for the Uncle Gus kids show and the New Hampshire Bandstand, which they would do in the parking lot.

While I was up there, I got this call from A&R, and they asked if I was still interested in a job there. I said yeah, and they asked how soon I could be there. I gave my two weeks notice and headed down, and stayed in the YMCA.

BB: So you started, obviously, as a second?

SY: Actually, on my first session at A&R, I was the second to the second engineer. I was assisting a guy name Major Little, who was a professional second engineer.

He had no desire to be a mixer or producer, just a great assistant. They put me with him, and the first session we worked on was Dionne Warwick produced by Bert Bachrach and Hal David, with probably a forty-piece orchestra.

I’m helping him set this thing up. Phil Ramone was the engineer. I don’t remember all three songs, but I think two of them were “Valley of the Dolls” and “Alfie.”

That was my first day on the job, to see this incredible piece of music being done. This stuff sounded amazing. After that I worked on Leontyne Price and the Vienna Boys Choir, with sixty musicians and forty kids, something like that. She was in the booth, but it was all live.

And then we used to do stuff like Oscar Peterson and Count Basie. A&R was an amazing training ground. Bob Ludwig and Elliot Scheiner and I probably started within three weeks of each other.

They start by teaching you to set up sessions, then they put you in the mastering room for a while, they wanted you to be well rounded. I avoided the mastering room, but Bob loved it.

They used to do three sessions a day in each room. One of the rooms, the large room, they would book ten to one o’clock, usually a large band doing a commercial or a piece of music, two or three songs.

You had an hour to break that down for another session, which was two to five, plus one, which means you had the option of taking another hour if you needed it.

Then at seven o’clock at night, the rock’n’ roll started, and that’s what I was interested in, because Roy Cicala would do most of that. He would stay there until all hours of the night.

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