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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.

One of the things they stopped doing with 16 and 24 was they stopped adding echo to the snare.

But back then you had to put it on the track, because you were combining it with acoustic guitar and bass. So you had to get it right, a complete and finished drum sound.

Well, when we went to 16-track, I continued to do that, to put echo on the snare, be it chamber or EMT. Nothing excessive, just a halo around the snare, something that would make the snare sound special.

So when you got to the mix, you would have the snare separate but it would have a little chamber on it. So when you put another effect on that snare, you were putting it on an entire, complete sound.

So when you add your EQ and effects to that sound, it’s totally different than taking it off a tape that is dry as a bone, maybe a little EQ. You won’t get the same sound, and it’s not as good a record.

BB: And they would let you do it?

SY: The problem is, producers were scared of this. I would tell them that I’m putting this echo on the track and they would say “Oh no, don’t, you can’t do that!”

And we would talk about it. I would express why I thought it was better, and some would allow me to do it. But most wouldn’t. They would say, “Well, what if I want it dry in the mix?” I’d say, “When’s the last time you’ve had a dry snare?” “Well, never, but what if I do?”

I used to put tape delay right on the electric guitar. The producer would say, “What are you doing?” “Don’t you like the sound of the guitar?” “Yeah, it’s great, but don’t put it on the tape.”

But I’d tell them that if you try to do it later, it won’t be the same, it won’t sound as good.

BB: Back to Big Pink. What was your role in that project?

SY: I was both first engineer and assistant. Donny Hahn did most of the recording at A&R. He wasn’t a rock ‘n roll engineer, he did mostly big band stuff and commercials.

He knew that I was working on all the rock’n’ roll stuff. He asked me to be his assistant. He had a fabulous sense of balance. I started as the assistant, but during the recording I worked up to his equal, which is why they gave me credit.

It was not an easy album to record. It took a lot of fooling around, putting cardboard partitions between the drums, figuring out how to record them to sound like they sounded to us in the room.

The mixed that album twice, both times at A&R. I think Tony May did the mixing. On the first one they had horns, and they didn’t like that one.

They were doing it on an Altec board with limited EQ and not a whole lot of outboard gear. It had to be on the tracks or you couldn’t take it very far in the mix.

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