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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: What were some of the pop acts you did in those years, as an assistant?

SY: I did Peter, Paul and Mary, the Hair original cast album, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, but also a number of unknown things.

BB: How did they do the tracking back then? Was it eight track, or still four?

SY: They had an eight track when I got there, and then they had some Ampex four tracks, two tracks and monos.

And you would have one of each in the studio, though not always the eight track, at least not when I started. If you were the assistant, you were responsible for all those machines.

And if you worked with a guy like Phil Ramone, he’s trying to mix this live, and it’s going crazy in control room. They had this thing called the jukebox, which was about the size of a jukebox without the glass top, and it would split the signal up.

It would go the eight track if they had it, and pass through to the jukebox, and there you would decide which of the eight tracks you would mix to send to the four track by throwing switches.

That’s why if they listened in mono, the balance was always right, because if the bass and drums were on the same track, sometimes bass, drums, acoustic guitar and electric guitar and percussion all went to the same track.

So the only way you could get the balance was to listen in mono, so you knew that as they were going on to the four track you had that balance right.

Then it was also split to go to mono, and sometimes they would try to do a stereo mix at the same time. Then they also had a four track in there for echo and delay.

So Phil would be there mixing it live, and they would go in and use the eight track for a remix only if they missed something in the live mix. In that day, it was viewed more as a safety, and everything else was viewed as a master.

In the mix room, as I recall, they had an Altec board, a 3M 8-track and the rest were Ampex 440s. I remember when Eddie Kramer first came in there, and he said, “Mate, if you could please just show me how to use the room.

You don’t have to hang around.” I showed him around, then he puts on a tape and pulls up the faders and “A Whole Lotta Love” comes out of the speakers, straight from the eight track.

It was amazing. In that day, the stuff that went to tape was huge sounding. For one thing, the boards all had transformers, which the modern boards don’t have.

People equate the modern boards with clarity and top end, but really many of them only have that at the expense of no real low end, or should I say a lacking in low end.

Transformers, in my opinion, are the only way that you can capture what’s going on out in the studio. You notice that a lot of people with modern boards are brining in racks with Neve or API modules with transformers in them.

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